by Rosina Grove (www.rosinagrove.com)
I admire good writers, and beyond that I remember good writers. Years after cracking open a Norton anthology for a literature class, I remember and care about the works of Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Virginia Woolf, and Flannery O’Connor. These women–along with other renowned authors–presented their ideas to the world and made lasting names for themselves.
I’ve been involved in the publication of countless books, and my name is infinitely more obscure. Why? Because I chose the path of being an editor rather than a writer; I chose the work of elevating the genius of others over drawing on my own creativity. I chose a profession that is best embodied in my ability to remain invisible.
Good editing is intentionally invisible; a reader should never be distracted from the author’s prose by the typos and punctuation mishaps that are inherent in the process of writing. A badly edited piece is glaring, a neon sign screaming “WHO EDITED THIS?” But if an editor is doing her or his job well, no reader will pay any attention. This is the nature of our work.
And this is the trap: to be good at our work, we must be invisible, but to get work, we have to be highly visible to our colleagues and potential clients. Many of us are introverts by nature, but we have to push and promote and sell our skills through networking, online and off.
The most notable example of this blend is, in my mind, Carol Fisher Saller–author, editor, mentor, and for many the voice and face of the Chicago Manual of Style (“the Q&A lady”). Her identity as the answerer of all style questions was a famous secret for most of the time I worked at the Press (2005-2007), and I was delighted to see more open coverage and promotion of her as an editor around the time her reference book, The Subversive Copy Editor, came to print (2009).
This gradually led me to embrace the idea that an editor could be a form of celebrity, at least within a community of writers and readers, while maintaining invisibility within the manuscript.
It requires the development of several different skill sets, naturally, and networking online is a boon to people who are more introverted, or who simply don’t live close enough to network in the industry in person (e.g., in a move entirely devoid of strategic reasoning, I left Chicago for Oregon). I can build and promote my online persona, who is complementary to and distinct from who I am as an editor and proofreader, silent behind the scenes with my fuchsia Uniball Vision Elite gel pen making sure that the running heads are consistent with the table of contents.
Now my day job is in marketing, where the discussion frequently revolves around branding, consistency, engagement, and name recognition. I can apply those same principles to myself as the brand I’m promoting: make the information available, present it consistently, and be involved enough in a variety of forums to develop name recognition.
For all the nameless editors who have gone before–who helped Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman shine–I can only tip my pen and promise to keep fighting the good fight, and keep standards high.
Follow Rosina on Twitter @rosinagrove