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Why Editors Lie

 

Editors are a oft-invisible part of publishing, at least to readers. Many companies neglect to put editor names prominantely on the cover. And when was the last time someone bought a book saying "Ooh, Lynn Willis edited this one, it's got to be good!"

Editors operate in a nebulous state between art and craft. Writers and artists create works. Editors see that they get published in, well, publishable form.

The reason few mention them, of course, is that all editors are base decievers. They are the bane of writers-- the cut the good stuff and add typos to the rest. Editors make arbitrary decisions as to the direction of books, specifically to alienate their fan base. Often, they manage things poorly enough to delay the book and anger retailers.

Yep, editors are scum. I should know. I was editor for Metagame (the first professional larp magazine) for two years. I've also freelanced, and thus no doubt had my work ruthlessly cut and ruined by editors (even if I did like the final versions). And, I've talked with many editors over the years. Usually, these are secret gatherings where we plot the underthrow of the publishing world.

This essay, then, is an expose on the secret world of that greatest of evil-doers, the Editor. They laugh as they maul writer's works, make magazines run late, and fail to pay freelancers. Such villainy!

In fact, I'm not even going to cover bad editors. Bad editors will lie intentionally. They'll be incompetent, and do bad work. But that's so... so... over the top. Just being a good editor is already sin enough, as you'll shortly see.

Deadlines are a lie

A deadline from an editor usually is not a 'deadline' in the sense of any honest person's conception. A deadline is, say, when the IRS says "pay now or lose your firstborn". So you'd think a writer or artist deadline would be 'miss it and the work won't get published'.

Ha! What a lie. Pity the naive editor who thinks writers will fall for this. After all, late work leaves the editor in a bind: it's too late to get someone else to do it, so they have to wait.

No, a deadline is merely a recommended time. It means, in one sense, "work after this date, while likely to be accepted, will make my job as editor-- and the rest of the publishing team's efforts-- much more tiresome". As if we should care.

At best, all they can do is suffer and then whine later. So there are two 'dead' in missed deadlines:

  1. The editor, receiving late work, suffers sleepless nights to get things finishing in time, and
  2. The freelancer who submitted late gets hopelessly slandered and can't find work, simply because the editor wasn't happy pulling 24-hour shifts and whined to their colleagues.

All clearly the editor's fault. They'll get the work when it's damn well finished, and it's their job to ensure the book gets out in time anyway. Imagine them passing the buck and blaming others! The nerve!

Lies in Retrospect

Often, editors take point of view that, in general, the rest of the company can be assumed to have a clue. Worse, they often assume that the financial books are in order, and that the company has some fiscal sense. As a result, even the best editor can lie a half dozen times a day-- without even knowing it!

"You will get paid this month" is a very common lie. As if the editor really believes that a signed contract and incoming cash flow means payment at any point! Poor naive editors, making promises others can't keep.

"Your order/request was received and will be taken care of". It seems people often send in money to a publisher and then expect something, usually a product of some sort. Since editors are the ones building it, they get asked "so, what's up?" And naturally the editor, believing that the rest of the staff will handle this, confidently answers "it'll be done".

Any good editor would drop everything to do it themselves, thus ensuring it gets done. Otherwise, well, it's clearly a lie since they can't prove others are doing their jobs well, so any errors are their (the editor's) fault. It's so obvious.

So, if you ever have any complaint with a publishing house, blame the editor. As you can see, everything is their fault.

The myth of 'under control'

An editor is one link in the whole publishing chain, that runs the gamut from creation through printing and marketing and sales. Because they are often queried as an authority on the progress of a work, they have to make certain statements. Certain frequently untrue statements.

Editors generally put forth that progress is under control. That the material will be delivered on time, be of good quality, be laid out properly, ship to the printers in a timely fashion, be printed correctly, distribute well, and please gamers.

Their job is to make a good product-- and so they put forth that they will do so. It'd be kind of silly to do otherwise.

Do you want the truth?

"Well, I'm working with several freelancers, in-house staff on multiple projects, and outsourced agencies like the printer. It's a creative work in a new direction. So I have to expect that 6-12 people will actually do their jobs correctly-- and on time-- and that there will be no snafus, mail errors, or technical problems. And, the final product will match audience expectations, even though it's impossible to please everyone with a creative work.
Odds are, at least 1 freelancer will be late. We'll be rushed and some typos will creep in. The printer may bump us in the schedule. At least some distributors will mis-order, and shipping will be delayed to several stores. And the item will probably piss off at least a quarter of our readers (who wanted more of X) as well as the eighth of our readers (who wanted more of Y).
So really, I'd give it an 80% chance of success.

Somehow, that just does work as a good soundbite.

Sin by Omission

Editors lie to conceal writer's sins. The regret of many publishers, after hiring a 'name' writer based on their previous work, often brings forth the same comment: "I should have hired their editor instead".

After all, an editor's job is to take the raw creative words of the writer and make them readable. Then, run it as if the author alone had done it. Few look at editors as contributing, and yet in some cases their efforts really is what makes the piece work.

So they lie about their influence. A truly great editor would make their efforts clear. Perhaps by having all the writer's original words in normal text, and adding their editorial changes in bold. That would certainly lead to a more fair presentation of the writer's true skill. And since the writer's name is (frequently) on the cover, it would therefore be a more honest book.

But editors don't do that, and instead perpetuate the masquerade. Immoral, I say.

Editors are cheerleaders

One big role for editors is as cheerleaders. They encourage the writers and artists to do good work. They try to make sure what is created gets handled properly by production. They try to scope a general direction that radiates enthusiasm for the game product, and the entire game line.

In short, they help generate the dream. They strive to do good works. Publishing ain't easy, nor perfect. But the editor has to keep morale up among all participants, in order that they can achieve their best work. Editors have to radiate optimism. They're the front line of image for the company. A totally candid editor is doomed.

"How's the latest issue coming?"
"Oh, we'll be late, very late. Probably miss all deadlines. And it'll sell poorly as a result. How many did you want to order?"
"I hear your new sourcebook is by wunderkind Fred Bofo. How's his work?"
"It sucks. He must have had a good editor previously.

Unlike marketing, whcih generates hype based on what is intended, editors actually are in intimate contact with the material. They know what was actually achieved. However, they can't really go public with their opinion of a failed project; they're too low in the totem pole for that.

They can't state problems openly, and their public statements must always be upbeat. So an editor has to, at best, sin by omission.

The Ideal Editor

From the above, it should be clear what the truly ethical, candid, completely honest editor must do. Let's enumerate it.

  1. Since writers and artists may miss deadlines, and yet the book will still come out, eliminate stating such artificial deadlines.
  2. Never promise that anything will get done by the company
  3. Do everything yourself; never delegate or trust in others
  4. Highlight writer's errors so people can appreciate your work better
  5. Always be absolutely candid about the odds of a book failing

I have no doubt that, if you follow this advice, you will achieve appropriate results. In fact, I can guarantee that, as written, this article is completely and totally factual, and that it is indeed the one true path to achieving publishing success. After all, this work had no editor.

Aren't you glad editors lie?

Until next month,
Sandy
sandy@rpg.net

What do you think?

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