Toiling in anonymity

We can all name writers we admire. But can you name an editor?

Writers get the byline and the glory. Editors toil in anonymity. There is no Pulitzer Prize or Ellie for editors. Clark and Fry discuss this in “Coaching Writers, ch. 5.” Make sure you’ve read the chapter, then let’s tackle the questions they ask at the end of the chapter:

Is it necessary for editors to suppress their own egos and work in the background? How, then, do editors have fun and gain satisfaction?

Is there such a thing as a typical “editing personality,” or is that a myth?

Post your initial response by 6 p.m. Tuesday, then return before class Wednesday to read your classmates’ responses and respond to at least two.



44 responses to “Toiling in anonymity

  1. Perkins’ explanation regarding why he does not write was simple and eloquent: “Because I’m an editor.” I believe that he would argue that it IS necessary for an editor to suppress his ego. Many of his values center around how the editor must treat the writer: respecting individuality, passing out praise and encouraging idiosyncrasies are just a few. Supporting writers is the basis for Perkins’ values, and I think truly acting as a supporter is difficult when egos are involved. To truly support a writer, an editor must be attentive to that individual. Such attentiveness is difficult to achieve when editors worry primarily about themselves. But I do think editing can be fun. Just as the stage crew is essential to a play’s success, the editor is essential to a publication’s success. A good editor will be the type of person who is proud of their work, not because of praise, but because they are passionate about journalism and want stories to be told. If the story is important to them, they will feel pride and joy, regardless of whether they are recognized for their work. Passion can take many forms, so I think the “typical editing personality” is a myth. Each editor has different methods for encouraging writers, just as each writer has a different style of writing. So, I don’t think all editors will come across the same way; their passion will give them their own special personality or “brand.”

    • I like the play/stage crew analogy. I think it’s important to remember that (like in the play example) a publication cannot live without both writers and editors. I think writers and editors are both pushed to be better knowing that someone is holding them accountable.

      • Very well said! I’ve had bad editors in the past who shared similar personalities (like controlling and intimidating), but every good editor who coaches is never the same.

    • We’ve talked a lot in this class about how an editor needs to help the reader, but I agree that supporting the writer is equally important. I also agree with Perkins’ claim that editors need to suppress their egos–this is a very important step in order to set up a good relationship between himself and the writer.

  2. In response to Angela’s claims on the difference between a writer and an editor, I agree. “Perkins’ explanation regarding why he does not write was simple and eloquent: ‘Because I’m an editor.'”

    Editors do what they do because they enjoy it. They are called to edit, rather than write. While Angela compared the writer and the editor to the stage actor and the crew is legitimate, I could make a different comparison. I want to work in fashion as a stylist or personal shopper. I’ll be the person behind the presentation or final product. While people are going to compliment the model or client, “You look so beautiful! I love that dress,” they don’t know that I picked out those clothes or styled that woman for that particular occasion. And that’s okay with me. I get enough joy out of doing the job that I’ve chosen without that type of recognition. I can get recognition and appreciation in other ways – for example, from the person who I’m dressing. In a similar way, editors get praise and recognition from their writers for helping them with the final product. While “toiling with anonymity” could be considered with a problem, it could also be approached from the point of view that the editor is doing what he or she knows how to do, enjoys doing it, and does it well.

    • I like your analogy to your own career. I think every career should involve the satisfaction of a product ending well. I also agree that the editor should enjoy what they’re doing. I hope that the editor sees the advantage of helping the writer rather than being jealous of the writer’s fame.

    • Molly, I think it’s really cool that you connected your own desire to be behind the scenes in the fashion world to the editor’s job. It all seems to come back to passion; if you love what you do, you don’t need to worry about the praise. Creating a beautiful outfit, or dressing a model to perfection, represents an important part of fashion. Without you, how will we ever see the new styles that exist, or understand how exciting fashion can be? Your readers may not understand that, but they still benefit from it. I also like your mention of receiving compliments from a writer. A coworker understands the business more, so does their approval have more weight than a reader’s approval, who may not understand the importance of your role or have any idea at all about how a publication is made? If that’s true, is it possible to view your readers as your number one priority/responsibility, even if you value praise from a coworker more?

  3. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a typical editing personality. There are representations of editors in the media, but each editor is doing a different job, working for a different company/topics, and working with different writers.

    Contrary to popular belief, editors are people, not machines (ha). People have different personalities, and editors are no exception. Like we read in chapter 5 of Coaching Writers, editors are just as eccentric and complex as their writers. Each editor has his or her own expectations and work ethic, and this plays into the relationship editors have with their writers.

    • You make a good point. Each editor bring their own positive influences to writers since each editor is different. There are writers who connect more with one editor than another. But, as editors, I do think it’s important to try to find a way to connect to every writer effectively.

  4. I think it is necessary for editors to work at least somewhat in the background because at the end of the day, it is not their story, it is the writer’s story. Yes, the editor probably worked really hard on editing it, but hopefully the majority of the story came directly from the writer rather than the editor. An editor should be coaching their writer and not fixing them, so it is ideal that the story the writer is getting credit for really did come from them completely, and therefore they deserve complete credit for writing the story. The article says that good editors get their voices into the writer’s head. Taking this into account, I think it is important to remember that while the editor’s voice may be in the writer’s head, when they write, they will make that voice their own.

    • “…at the end of the day, it is not [the editor’s] story, it is the writer’s story.”

      This really hit home for me because in my own editing experiences, I’m learning to let go a little and realize that just because I don’t personally like someone’s writing style doesn’t make it bad or wrong. (Of course, if the individual’s writing style is interfering with reader understanding and comprehension of the article, that’s a whole different story.)

  5. Lauren said that editors work hard at what they do, but the majority of the story should come from the writer. As a writer and an editor, I think that the entire story should come from the writer. As a “coach”, the editor should ask the writer questions to stimulate the writer’s own ideas. The editor shouldn’t suggest his or her own ideas, because then it turns into the editor’s story as well. The editor’s job is very important, but what we need to remember is that the story is the writer’s ideas, words, and cumulative thoughts (with guidance from the editor.)

    • I can see where you’re coming from in that the writer should feel proud of the finished product. However, I think it’s important to realize that the editor is in charge of making an entire section feel cohesive. What happens if one writer just isn’t fitting in with the publication’s voice? After so many chances, shouldn’t the editor be able to adjust the piece?

    • Nowadays, very few magazines have a stable of staff writers. Instead, they rely on freelancers, who are commonly working on several articles at once, for different magazines. Does that change how you view a writer’s autonomy?

  6. I think editors should obviously be aware of their significance in the writing process. Having said that, I think the editor should not expect any recognition for a writer’s successful work regardless of how much the final piece came from the mind of the editor. In chapter 5 it is mentioned that writers tend to have low self-esteem. So, an editor should use their own ego, or confidence, to build up the writer’s. The beauty of editing is that you get to make writing and writers better behind the scenes.

    To answer the second question, I think it takes a certain personality for editors to be able to work in the shadows and gain satisfaction from it but all editors do not have similar personalities. As Perkins says, the editor should respect and work with a good writer’s quirks.

    • I definitely agree that the editor should work with the writer’s quirks. I feel like this is so important because to a writer, in order for it to really feel like their story, their personality has to be seen in it. And if the writer’s personality can not be picked up in the writing because of changes the editor made, that is a problem.

    • I like your comment on an editor using her confidence to build up the writer’s. Some editors seem to think it’s their job to tear apart stories (and their writers), but really it’s an editor’s job to stand behind the writer and support the story, in whichever ways are necessary.

  7. I think that editors are a very important part of the writing process. However, I think that it is important for them to let the writer shine. I think that the editor should encourage, as it says in the chapter, the idiosyncrasies and individual strengths of each writer that they work with. An Editor should gain satisfaction from their work by witnessing the progress that the writer makes throughout the editing process. I also think that when you become an editor you should know that most of your work will not receive a great deal of recognition.

    I don’t think that there is, or needs to be, one set editing personality. That being said, I do think that each editor should have certain values, such as the ones that are laid out in the book chapter, and I also think that there are some personality traits that are important to have in order to be a successful editor. Some of these include a willingness to work behind the scenes, and a “satisfaction in helping others,” as Chapter 5 says. I think that editors can follow this list of values while still maintaining their own personality.

  8. I don’t think editors necessarily “work in the background.” I think the writing and editing process should be more of working together to achieve a finished product/results. I’m working as one of the copy editors for the TD this semester and the satisfaction I get from it is seeing the issue come out knowing that my fellow editing team and writers all came through to make it happen.

    Personality wise, I think editors need to have an eye for detail, an ability to work quickly and efficiently and be willing to help/coach others. (as we’ve discussed) A sentence that stood out to me from the reading was “The good editor tempers perfectionism with reality.” I know that I am definitely a perfectionist, but there comes a point when I have to say, “Okay, what can I do here to realistically make this work?” (ie. without rewriting an entire manuscript myself)

    • I agree that editors are not always relegated to the background. Within the community of employees at a publication, I suspect that the editor enjoys quite a bit of exposure. In working for Drake Magazine, I don’t know all the writers, but I am definitely aware of (and slightly intimidated by) all the editors. I recognize that my job (writing) would not exist without their job. And I suspect that my appreciation for their “toils” is just as important as the reader’s; I have insider knowledge about just how much an editor does to make a publication happen. I would rather have the respect of someone who understands just how hard my job is than someone who only appreciates the finished product.

  9. Regarding the first question, I do think it’s necessary for editors to work in the background–most of the time. I think one of Paula Ellis’ values, “sharing control,” applies here (46). Editors play an important role in a writer’s story, but they shouldn’t take over total control, as we’ve been discussing. As for satisfaction, as mentioned in the chapter, editors get it from helping their writers, from seeing their stories grow. And, personally, I think the act of editing is just fun in itself, even without recognition.

    For the second question, I definitely think a typical “editing personality” is a myth. I’ve worked with various editors so far, and no two are alike. Editors all have their idiosyncrasies–just like writers. Many qualities and combinations of qualities can make up a good editor (or a bad one).

    • After working with many different editors, what qualities make a good editor? What qualities should be suppressed by editors because they aren’t helpful?

      • Patience, open-mindedness and understanding are all good qualities in an editor in my experience (as many have already said). Micromanaging should definitely be suppressed. This comes from my own editing style, as I tend to want to make everything the way I’d say it. It’s definitely something I need to work on, and a quality I would hope not to see in other editors, as well.

  10. A good editor should prefer anonymity over recognition. While writers may gain that sense of success when they see their name printed in the byline, editors should pride themselves on the continuous growth of their writers. It is important that editors remain in the background while giving their staff all the tools they need to continuously improve. While good editors may not gain recognition from the public, they often receive praise from writers for their continuous support. That, in itself, should be enough recognition.

    • I totally agree with this! Editors are there to support and help the writers, and it is therefore not their job to receive credit for the stories, but rather, to share credit with the writer for the writer’s improvement.

      • For a while, the New York Times Sunday Magazine gave editors bylines. At the end of the story, there’d be a a credit line: “Edited by so-and-so.” It was an attempt to give credit to editors, but also to enhance editors’ accountability and transparency. What do y’all think of that idea?

      • I think giving the editors bylines is wasted space. One can assume that the editor helped shape the story in some capacity. I’m sure the editor is not the only one to make edits to the story. If we add the editors name, suddenly we will feel obliged to also add the names of all of the copy editors or whoever else edited the article before it was published. One can assume that a team of individuals work together to create a publication. I firmly believe that the writers name should be the only one that appears alongside the final article.

    • Your description of an editor instantly made me think of a teacher. I could see how in many ways an editor’s purpose is to correct the writer through trial and error. That’s an interesting angle I’ve never thought of before.

  11. When editing an article, it is very important to maintain the writer’s voice. Although you’re working in the background, there is a balanced team effort taking place, and both sides should be happy with the final product. Sure, the editor doesn’t receive a byline, but they do get an overall satisfaction. Most of the time, an editor oversees an entire section of the publication. Editors aren’t pulling together an article, but they are creating a section that unifies the voices of several writers, which can be just as difficult a task. To see an entire section go from ideas to print is a pretty satisfying achievement.

    • If an editor wanted physical recognition for their work, I believe in most publications the editor is mentioned somewhere in the front of the publication anyway. But, I certainly agree putting together an entire section and seeing it come to life is rewarding.

    • I’m glad you brought this up, Melissa. To me, this is the biggest distinction between writers and editors and in how they work. Writers are focused on a story, maybe a few stories at once. They have – and should have – tunnel vision on those stories. But editors are nursing along dozens of stories at once, in various stages of completion. They don’t see those stories as discrete elements. All the stories have to jell into a cohesive department or section. At a newspaper, editors strive for a variety of coverage, on section fronts, within sections, over the course of a week, in the Sunday edition. Stories don’t exist independently. They exist in relation to the stories around them. And the editor has to make that mix of stories interesting and of service the readers. And that part of editing is SO much fun.

  12. I think that an editor must enjoy helping others enough to know that the end result isn’t about getting an award. I visualize an awards night, where singers go up and accept the awards, but the editor is one of the many people singers thank during their acceptance speeches. There should be enough satisfaction in helping win that award for the editor to keep moving. I think sometimes editors are stereotyped, like we’ve talked about before in class, but there isn’t a personality formula that works for every editor.

  13. Like we’ve learned from past readings, the editor’s allegiance is to the reader. But because the editor’s only contact with readers is through the story, the editor’s job is to make the story the best that it can be. A great story, then, should be enough for the editor. Even further, editors are usually responsible for more than just one story, so a successful publication should bring the editor a huge amount of satisfaction.
    I definitely think that editors have “personalities.” For example, some are “fixers,” some are “coaches.” Some are more hands-on, others take a hands-off approach. The problem is that writers have personalities too. Sometimes writers and editors work perfectly together, which results in a well-written and well-edited story. Other times, their styles don’t mesh, causing the writer and editor to butt heads–oftentimes this can lead to a flawed article.

    • I definitely agree that writers and editors need to align their thoughts as much as possible. The writer’s voice should still be noticeable even at the end of the edited version. In the end, it’s the writer’s story, not the editors. I think the best editor is flexible and can transform a writer’s voice into a better version of their voice.

    • I agree. I think that when the personality of the writer and the personality of the editor conflict could lead to poor editing and thus a poor story.

  14. Editors do need to suppress their egos while also being constructive for writers. The writer has to have ownership over their story, but an editor need to refine that story so it is “perfect.” I think an editor can and should be satisfied with a successful story—although their name isn’t on the piece, it’s still a personal and team success to have a recognized story. An editor should also be satisfied with thriving writers. Editors do a lot in shaping a writer, helping them find their voice, and instilling confidence. A writer could not be successful without their editor, so an editor should find joy in seeing a writer do well. The fun for an editor comes in with building those editor-writer relationships and seeing their work take shape into a story.

    While I think anyone can become a good editor, I do think that there are some personalities that have an easier time being in editing positions. Some traits, like patience, creativity, and communication, are key to being an effective editor—some people are stronger in these areas than others. Like I said, I think anyone can be a good editor with training and practice, but there are certain people that come to it more naturally.

  15. I don’t think editors need to work in the background. Editors are one of the most vital parts of the writing process. That being said, they don’t need to seek recognition (especially in terms of bylines). As an editor, it’s rewarding to see the publication printed well and error-free. This finished product makes it worth taking more of a hard-work-behind-the-scenes approach as an editor and not taking recognition for each individual story.
    As for a typical editing personality, yes, each editor has their own distinct personality and style, but I don’t necessarily think that that would show up or be apparent in the finished product. I think that has more to do with the process of editing and the relationship with the writer.

  16. I think editors gain satisfaction when the story is a success. That being said, I don’t think editors should suppress their egos. A good editor is obviously more knowledgeable in editing than a writer, so an editor can be allowed to be egotistical (to a certain extent) but still remain humble.
    I think that editors should suppress their personality though. An editor might have their own way of writing, and editing a story to fit more of their style is not ok. Editors shouldn’t let their personality and style replace the personality the writer provided.

  17. If editors only gained satisfaction for through public recognition of work, I think there would be a lot less people in the business. I think editors should remain the background, because that really is where they are best suited. They shouldn’t take over the work, but push the writer to do better. If we started crediting editors, would we add copy editors to the bylines too? It would be confusing to the reader. Sticking editors in the background I think also keeps them focused on helping draw out a good story from the writer, rather than trying too much of themselves in it.

    As for a “typical” editing personality, I think editors are varied. I think just like writers, they all have different personalities. I’ve learned that already with my different j-professors and what they expect of me and how they respond to my writing, and they all have very different personalities, though they value a lot of the same things mentioned in this chapter.

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