Book Review

Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do. Edited by Gerald Gross. New York: Grove Press, 1993. 377 pp. $16.95 (Paper).

Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do, first printed in 1962, is an anthology published by Grove Press. Grove Press was founded in 1951 as an alternative book press, and it was known for straying from mainstream media. Grove published French avante garde literature as well as American Beatnik literature of the 1950s, working with authors such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs. Notably, Grove was the first American publisher of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch after its ban was reversed in 1962. Grove Press merged with The Atlantic Monthly Press in 1991, and is currently an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

The completely revised third edition of Editors on Editing, published by Grove Press in 1993, was compiled by Gerald Gross. At the time of publication, Gross had been working in various editorial positions in the publishing industry for forty years. After graduating from City University of New York City College in 1953, Gross began his career as a first reader for Henry Simon of Simon & Schuster, and was mentored by both Henry Simon and Donald A. Wollheim, a major influencer on the science fiction genre. Since his apprenticeship with Simon and Wollheim, Gross was Editorial Director at Warner Books for four years, Associate Editor in Chief at New American Library for four years, and Senior Editor at Dodd, Mead, and Everest House for eight years. He has since created Gerald Gross Associates LLC, which has been in operation for twenty-eight years, where he develops, critiques, and edits fiction and nonfiction proposals. Gross also attends many writers’ conferences each year, at which he presents on editing, writing, and publishing.

Gross’ hope for the book is that it would “inspire would-be (and currently practicing) editors to similar heights of dedication and delight” and show authors “that the editor-author relationship need not be and should be an adversarial one. At its best, it can be an unforgettably rewarding collaboration” (xx). Gross also hopes that, for the general reader, Editors on Editing sheds light on the factors that inspire both editor and author “to give unstintingly of their time and their talents to that singular act of creation—the book” (xx).

Editors on Editing takes an in-depth look at the role of an editor within the publishing industry. The collection of thirty-eight essays, written by some of the industry’s most influential editors, is broken up into two sections: theory and practice. For each essay, Gross provides a brief biography of the author as well as an abstract for the text. The theory section discusses the author-editor relationship and the editor’s duty to authors and to society as a whole. The practice section, which makes up a majority of the book, walks readers through the editorial side of publishing—“from inception of the idea through development editing, line editing, and copy editing to publication and afterwards” (xiv).

Editors on Editing covers a wide range of editorial practices within the publishing industry. It looks broadly at the practices related to fiction and nonfiction, but also focuses on specific genres such as true crime, crime fiction, science-fiction and fantasy, children’s books, reference books, and romance novels. Additionally, it looks at editing practices when editing books for Christian and Jewish markets. It also covers both mass-market and small press publishing. That the essays cover such a broad range of editorial topics makes Editors on Editing a useful tool for authors and editors alike. Within the theory section of the book, M. Lincoln Schuster’s “An Open Letter to a Would-be Editor” caught my interest. Gross describes this essay as “a collection of pensées” (22) about one’s editorial duties rather than a letter. Schuster says to not “follow current vogues and fads, and never think of doing ‘another’ book imitating the best-seller of the moment. Start trends, don’t follow them” (25). He also urges editors to “forget or disregard any glib oversimplifications about ‘the reading public.’ There is no such thing as one reading public” (27). The practice section of Editors on Editing also contains many great essays. Paul D. McCarthy’s piece on developmental editing and John K. Paine’s piece on line editing suggest to editors the use of suggestions to help guide the trajectory of a book. The final chapter of Editors on Editing by Jean-Louis Brindamour and Joseph M. Lubow, “An Annotated Bibliography of Books on Editing and Publishing,” provides a comprehensive list of titles spanning over ten pages. I think that this annotated bibliography could be invaluable to an editor looking for any kind of information dealing with publishing or editing.

While Editors on Editing is certainly a wealth of information, it does at times feel redundant. There are several essays that focus generally on fiction or nonfiction writing. In including multiple essays on a single topic, some of the information, especially the steps of moving a text through the publication process, is repeated and feels unnecessary. Some of the essays, especially in the theory section of the book, have off-putting tones regarding the evolution of the publishing industry. Richard Curtis’ “Are Editors Necessary?” paints the publishing industry as extremely bureaucratic, which is a stark contrast from the golden age of editing, pioneered by Maxwell Perkins. In his essay, Curtis also included a time table, charting the number of days an editor spends in his office each year, and the “total hours devoted to advancing the cause of literature” (39) during those days. The conclusion shows that out of the fifty-eight total days spent at the office, editors spend no time at all actually editing. Much of the time seems to be spent dealing with the various financial and legal hoops an editor must jump through to get a book published. While this information is probably not inaccurate, the negative tone at the beginning of the book was discouraging as someone interested in the industry.

Overall, I very much enjoyed reading Editors on Editing. Of course, there were chapters that I was not particularly interested in reading, but the book was extremely informative. Many of the essays included anecdotes and read more like stories than academic papers, which made Editors on Editing very approachable. While the scope was broad, I think it was necessary to cover an industry as large as publishing. I would recommend Editors on Editing to any prospecting authors or editors, or anyone interested in the publishing industry. Authors would gain valuable knowledge of the publishing process and an editor’s roles within the process, which would likely strengthen future author-editor relationship. Editors would gain an equal about of knowledge through the numerous examples of symbiotic author-editor relationships, and through the discussions of an editor’s theoretical roles and his ethical and moral obligations.

When I started reading Editors on Editing, I was mostly interested in technical editing and copyediting in a corporate communications setting. The publishing industry was never something that particularly appealed to me. After reading the theory portion of the book, I was concerned by the bureaucratic nature of the publishing industry; however, Scott Walker’s essay, “Editing for a Small Press: Publishing the Way It Used to Be,” really caught my attention. Small publishers, to me, sound like literature’s saving grace. For small publishers “all its books are equally important; every title must sell well.” I think working for a small house would allow for the more intimate author-editor relationships that I so admired from the Maxwell Perkins era. In this setting, I would love to pursue a lead editor position, where I am able to work directly with authors to produce books. This introduction to the world of small press has opened my eyes to a new possibility within the field of editing that I had never considered.

I interviewed Professor Lara Smith-Sitton for my career project. She has worked as an industry-related editor in corporate communications, as a freelance editor for fiction writing and journalistic pieces, and most extensively as an editor for academic publishing. As the managing editor of the South Atlantic Review, a quarterly publication on the humanities, literature, and language, Smith-Sitton spent a lot of time in meeting. She had staff meetings with editorial teams or interns to gauge progress on existing projects. She would also meet with specific editors individually to discuss their specific concerns about a project. She would also discuss with editorial assistants the number of submissions and what was being done with each of those. Smith-Sitton would often evaluate whether an article submission provided new information or added to an existing argument. She worked with procurement editors to ensure that articles met submission requirements. Procurement editors would leave for her an edited copy of each article to review before it was sent to publication. Smith-Sitton also worked with copyeditors to discuss queries to authors, layout and production editors on galley proofs for author review. Additional time was spent communicating with current or prospective authors and corresponding with publishers.

To get a get a job as a managing editor requires a substantial amount of knowledge and experience as well as business sense. It also requires surpervisory and organizational skills. To obtain an entry-level position in the field of editing, Smith-Sitton recommended having content-specific knowledge as well as editorial experience, and the ability to edit independently and to manage editorial work.

To get a promotion, Smith-Sitton stressed the importance of professionalism, including the way you look and talk, and your conduct inside and outside of the office. She also stressed the need to engage in what is happening around you. She also suggested becoming an expert in your specific field, and to own whatever entry-level job you are able to acquire. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Smith-Sitton said that making contacts within the industry is invaluable. Making contacts with departments and organizations is useful, as are relationships with the other editors you work with. In getting a promotion, Smith-Sitton said that talking to other people in your field can be particularly helpful, even if it is just a quick conversation over lunch.

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