November 19, 2010

When Is an Editor Not an Editor?

These last weeks I've been mulling over where I fit as an editor as roles in the publishing process shift. By "editor," I've meant someone who works with the text, from big-picture developmental wrangling to fine-scale copyediting. And I've been talking traditional book publishing, because that's where I've traditionally worked--write what you know and all that, right?

Or, in this case, about what I want to know. What will working as an editor look like in the twenty-first century (nevermind Buck Rogers's twenty-fifth)? How will making my living as an editor change, stay the same? And when I start thinking about where we're going, I get curious about where we've been, who we've been.

Susan Bell, in her book The Artful Edit, gives a tidy little history of editors, from medieval scribes to Renaissance printers to Manhattan in the mid-twentieth-century golden age. In all that, the particular domain and reign of the copyeditor seems particularly small and recent.

Now, this probably has something to do with the segmentation of work, the division of labor post-industrialization, the modern work world--that there are editors who work at different stages of the publishing process, and that my corner looks especially small when compared to say, a Medici, or to Ezra Pound editing T.S. Eliot.

This is probably one reason that copyeditors branch out--into developmental work, into marketing and consulting, into the world of literary agents, even. As a developmental editor, I still feel like I'm doing editing, working with the text. But as a self-publishing consultant? When is an editor not an editor anymore? When would I be doing work I don't especially want to do?

Which isn't to say that other editors won't love some of the new roles that seem possible these days. A reader of this blog posted a really thought-provoking comment the other day, wondering, in part, about where editors as marketers might fit in as self-publishing takes off.

The entrepreneur in me sees all this change as exciting--new niches opening up, new possibilities for working with authors, for engaging with words in print and on-screen. But the brat in me sometimes just wants my little world to stay the same. Given the history of editing, though, it seems that's one possibility that's not on the table. So what do I do about that?

That same blog reader thinks "there is still a lot of room for us freelance editors. The need for editing hasn’t changed much, though educating the new clients (authors rather than publishers) is going to be critical. I think working collectively on this could be really valuable." Working collectively on this, yes. Now that seems promising.

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