What makes a great editor?

In June 2015 on July 2, 2015 at 11:18 pm

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Sarah: The editorial in my Winter 2015 edition of Adelaide Hills Magazine tells me it’s the last volume to be headed up by Max Anderson.

Max was an important influence when I was working out how freelance writing was going to pan out as a career for me. He took a chance and gave me a story to write for the magazine (it was a shocking act: I’d just sent him a terrible pitch for a completely unrelated and mind-blowingly boring article idea). Also, he believed in the power of science stories. And he still does – if you have the chance, please do track down Adelaide Hills Magazine Winter 2015 edition: the interview with Climate Scientist and Ecologist Corey Bradshaw is quite outstanding (it’s written by Lainie Anderson – you can catch snippets of it here).

But best of all, Max — along with other editors in my life — provided a chance for me to see how a great editor can help your own writing progress.

Here’s a quick list that summarises 5 of my thoughts as to what makes a great editor:

  1. A great editor doesn’t leave you floundering, wondering what he or she wants from you. He or she is clear in what the word count should be, provides examples of similar articles, gives a little bit of early guidance and options as to what it might turn out like, and then leaves it up to you.
  2. A great editor doesn’t accept exactly what you’ve written the first time. She or he provides a critical appraisal – tells you which bits work and why, and then gives it back so you can make it better. All of it.
  3. A great editor might change his or her mind as to what the piece should consist of after the first or second draft. This feels terrible as a writer — you’re in the zone, you’ve created what feels like a good story…and then suddenly BANG. It needs a new section?! But yes, it does. Once you reach the final version, you will see it.
  4. A great editor insists on a kick-butt beginning and an unforgettable ending. There’s no point in having a brilliantly crafted meat in the sandwich unless the reader actually gets through the top layer of bread, right? Similarly, it’s utterly disappointing to finish a meal with a bad taste in your mouth. Open with a bang, finish with polish.
  5. A great editor asks you what you think of other stuff in the magazine and the world, and actually listens to your answer.

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