Secret Santa

What Editors and Writers Wish For in 2003

One freelancer imagined a perfect editor with "a curiosity about the world," "the ability to ask the right questions and improve a story without trampling on the voice," and the willingness to be a "strong advocate."

A few rounds of group therapy might not hurt. For example, while writers expect prompt pay, editors expect prompt delivery. Some writers feel editors insert too many errors, but some editors say the best writers fix these without treating the editor like an idiot. Writers who completely rewrite an edit seem to be saying they can't trust the editor. And it's not just writers who want to know a story's status. "I don't mind if people file late," says one editor, "but I don't like sitting around waiting. If you're not going to have the copy on time, tell me!"

The book editor doesn't want to feel used. "What I want from writers," he said, "is an e-mail or a phone call or God bless it an actual letter on real paper that doesn't begin and end with whatever their needs of the moment happen to be." He continued, "If you're a freelancer or a book writer, it would be smart to send a holiday card to everyone you do business with. Why not give it a shot? It's what Jesus would have wanted."

Asked for his wish, novelist and Harper's contributor Vince Passaro recalled the days when publishing houses put out bad books in order to bankroll the good ones. "I would like editors to let their intelligence out of the cage that they've kept it in for the last 10 or 15 years," said Passaro. "If editors celebrated intelligence rather than marketing on a daily basis, all the serious ones would get out of the corporations, open up independent companies, and produce the quality work that attracted them to publishing in the first place."

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