Over the years I’ve accepted the task of defending editing as both a vocation and discipline necessary for any mortal with the intent of becoming published by a royalty imprint. Then as self-publishing became more common and eventually routine I championed the use of a professional editor as a means to design text that would be deemed readable, regardless of the medium. This of course wasn’t meant to imply that the self-published material would make it at the major royalty publisher level; instead, that the quality of the prose would in many instances be indistinguishable. Comparability was indeed a lofty goal, but as I’ve pointed out during my recent discussions on even Pulitzer Prize-winning material often containing blatant flaws, the line between perfect prose and what readers accept–if the story is strong enough–can often be quite blurred. A section I read in a recent Publishers Lunch column motivated me to discuss the value of editors in this vignette, as it also goes to the heart of the oft-asked question regarding whether or not publishers edit for their clients.
In the PL section, it was mentioned that Mr. Lorin Stein, an editor with the Paris Review, will edit four to eight books a year by such authors as Ben Lerner, Richard Price, Lydia Davis, and Donald Antrim. Richard Price needs an editor, most will ask? Everyone on this planet except for Joyce Carol Oates (as dictated by her response to a question from the audience during a seminar) uses an editor in one capacity or many, including the guy who writes this drivel and is an editor by trade. No writer except Ms. Oates always sees what’s on the page that he or she has designed. (Those brave souls who have read my detritus for any period of time know my opinion of Ms. Oates’s remark, even though I consider her an outstanding writer and keep two of her books in my personal library.) No writer ever wants to admit to not writing perfect syntax, but using an editor is not something to be ashamed of, as the four brilliant authors Mr. Stein lists can attest, since I have to assume they gave him permission to publicly mention them as clients.