There have been a lot of articles floating around the interwebs lately detailing the uglier side of editing, the harsh reality and bitter truth that publishing generally prefers to keep hidden. And I’d guess a lot of you are wondering why anyone would sign up for a job that clearly comes with a large side of misery. Or, if you’re a fledgling editor, you’re probably thinking it won’t happen to you, that those of us “griping” are just jaded old farts yelling “GET OFF MY LAWN!” at anyone who comes near. But trust me, you’re wrong. It will happen to you. I said I’d never fall prey to it either, and now look. I struggle daily to hold on to the passion and enthusiasm I started out with, to avoid turning into that hateful, jaded editor I said I’d never become. Because, you see, being an editor is a lot like being a statue in a sandstorm. Each stressful project wears down a little more of that initial optimism and joy, replacing it with marble-lined walls nothing can get through.
But it’s not all bad. And this isn’t going to be one of those bare-all-the-skeletons-in-the-closet type of articles (in case you didn’t glean that from the title above). No, to counter-act the very valid, albeit depressing, truth behind the editing life, I’m going to show you the good, the reasons we battle our way through the ugly, day after day after day. The reasons, when asked, we’ll still tell you we love it and it’s the best job on Earth.
I give you, the ten best things about being an editor, in no particular order and with just a touch of snark. 😉
1. Nerdery Welcome
If you’re an editor, you’re an avid reader. You have to be. It’s literally job requirement #1. Okay, proficiency in grammar is probably job requirement #1, but you know what I mean. You are a self-professed book nerd and you wear that label proudly.
But growing up, you were likely teased for it. A lot. While others spent their afternoons playing video games, sports, or lusting after the opposite sex, you were Belle from Beauty and the Beast, walking around with your nose stuck in a book. Admit it, this was you:
Well, one of the best things about being an editor is that your unabashed love of all things books is returned and fed by others who also unabashedly love books. All those things that riddled your childhood with taunts are no longer a weak point. The fact that you’re a book nerd is par for the course, and in fact, nerdery in all forms is highly encouraged. They say that nothing beats finding your people, your tribe. Well, book nerds, the land of editing bears its nerd flag proudly, and if you have the skills, you’re more than welcome to add your sigil to our banner.
2. Buying Books Becomes a Business Expense
This is legit. Seriously. Part of an editor’s job (especially an acquisitions editor) is knowing the ins and outs of the book-buying market. And how do you accomplish this? By buying books. No joke. Therefore, those extensive receipts from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and whatever other book haven you haunt, become what is known as “market research” and according to my tax professional, that is a deduction. **Note: I’m not a tax professional and make no claims to be. Make sure you talk to someone who is before taking my word for it.
As if we needed another reason to buy books, right?
3. Hoarding Books No Longer = Mental Disorder
Ah, yes. This is probably one of my favorites. I am a book hoarder. There, I admitted it. My apartment is crammed to the gills with books, to the point that one of the first comments any visitor says when they walk inside is, “Man, that’s a lot of books!” The second is always “Cool weapons,” but that’s a story for another time.
The point is, I like books. No, scratch that, I LOVE them. I love their smell, their feel, their beautifully linear sqaureness (Don’t ask. It’s been noted before that I have a touch of OCD). And someday, I will own that library from Beauty and the Beast. I will!
Anyway, this habit to collect books in droves has long been considered strange, obsessive, and cause for concern for any who have to help me move. But guess what? No one bats an eye now that I’m an editor. All that judgment I used to have to fend off gets checked at the door. It’s considered normal and, apparently, is completely understandable now that I live my life surrounded by words and literature and the soothing smell of printed paper. Now my only problem is my lack of shelf space. (Thank God for Kindle!)
4. You Become a Mystical Rainbow Unicorn with Super Powers
No, not really. But it will feel that way sometimes. I believe I wrote before about how I considered “Editor” to be an unattainable, near-mythical job title when I was younger. Well, apparently, I’m not alone in that. People seriously look at us like we’re some shimmery Fae creature that can’t possibly exist in real life. And I’m not talking about writers, whose reaction is usually more akin to the fangirl/fanboy response of a super-fan at a rock concert angling to get backstage. No, I’m talking about everyday people who have no affiliation to the publishing industry whatsoever. There’s an impressed awe that tends to come across someone’s face when I mention what I do for a living (no, not the Day Job of Doom part). And honestly, who doesn’t want to feel like a rock star, even the literary kind?
5. Books! Books! Books!
I think that’s self-explanatory, don’t you? Moving on . . .
6. It’s Intellectually Challenging
Now we’re starting to get into the more serious reasons editors become (and stay) editors. So I’ll try to hold the sarcasm in check.
This one in particular is probably one of the main things I find appealing. Editing is like Crossfit for your brain. It’s often mentally taxing and can leave you feeling like you’re seconds away from having your eyeballs abandon ship, but that’s also part of why it’s fun. Not the mutinous eyeballs part. The mental gymnastics.
The best editing projects are like a massive puzzle, requiring you to shift and move and tweak and tune things until, like a camera lens, the focus snaps into place and the picture becomes perfectly clear. I love that feeling, and for me, it is a visceral feeling. I know the rules and regulations, but honestly, I edit primarily by instinct. I’m lucky to have been born with an innate sense of storytelling (and yes, I have had people tell me its a super-power) and I can actually feel in my bones when a narrative clicks into place. That sensation alone makes all the hard work, all the sweat and blood and tears (because editors expend those just as much as the authors do in this process) worth it.
7. Proud Teacher Moments
If the last point wasn’t enough to convince you that being an editor is awesome, this one should. Yes, I just said that feeling a story find its groove makes it all worth it. And it does, but this is the icing on the cake. Completing a project definitely feels good, I’m not going to lie. But there’s one thing that feels even better:
Watching your author step into the much-deserved spotlight, their polished, perfect new book-baby clutched in their hands.
I call it the Proud Teacher Moment, because that’s the only way I could think to describe it. I imagine it’s very similar to the swell of pride and emotion teachers feel when they watch their students graduate. It’s sort of a bittersweet sensation — one part love, one part pride, one part sadness. Most people don’t realize how invested editors become in the projects they work on. Yes, the author wrote the thing, but we helped train it, helped shape it into the perfect piece of literary brilliance flourishing out in the world. And that creates a special bond. We may be relegated to the shadowy corners of Hell writers call the Editing Cave, but we watch from those shadows, cheering our authors on with proud tears glittering in our eyes.
8. Discovering Hidden Gems of Awesome
Okay, now that we had our little moment of seriousness, back to the fun. This one is a perk that most people automatically know — we get to read (and find) awesome books before they’re published. Boom. Go ahead and be jealous. You know that’s totally awesome.
9. Creating Magic
Writing is a magical process. I mean, come on, authors paint fully-realized worlds, characters, and plots that elicit emotions in readers with words. Letters on a page. That’s pretty magical, if you ask me.
Editing may not seem all that magical — it’s more like polishing a car than say, painting one — but it has its own kind of magic. Especially in the developmental phase. Editors are like spirit guides, helping authors find their way when they get lost in a forest of words. The best ones can actually step into an author’s voice, mimicking their syntax, their style, with the efficiency of a Pooka. Which, come to think of it, may be the perfect analogy for editors in general, given the oft touted love/hate relationship writers have with us.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that writers create magic, but editors help contain it. And for that, we need our set of spells.
10. For the Love of All Things Books
When it really comes down to it, there’s only one true reason someone decides to pursue editing: a genuine, deep-rooted for all things books. The reasons listed above are great, but if I lost all of them tomorrow, I know I’d still have a love for books. Because nothing beats the ability to escape into a million other lives and worlds. It’s even been scientifically proven that reading enhances our ability to empathize. It’s a fundamental human gift, storytelling, and it’s one I will always cherish.
And that, my friends, is why I adore being an editor. Why I strive to look past the gritty, harsh truth of an editing life. I love storytelling. Plain and simple. And I love editing because it lets me pursue that love of storytelling. I enjoy the process, as painful as it may be sometimes, because I love the challenge, and I love helping others achieve their literary dreams. And best of all, I love that I get to spend my days surrounded with all things books.
I can’t sum up this last point any better than with this quote: