In Praise of Editors

At least this post is in praise of one particular editor: Nicki Leone.

Nicki has been BiblioBuffet’s Managing Editor since mid-2007, and it is primarily because of her that BiblioBuffet has the reputation for quality it has. Well, that and the writers and me as the visionary.

But in this week’s post I want to share some things about Nicki as an editor and as a person. She lives in North Carolina, in a small town not far from Wilmington. Though born and having lived in the northeast—she attended Boston College—her life is now set in the coastal southeast. One of her most startling physical attributes is her height. She stands nearly six feet tall unless she is wearing her favorite three-inch red heels. Her medium-dark hair is long and thick and swings around her shoulders. Her face is attractive, vivacious, intelligent. She commands attention not with a booming voice but with a soft one containing a slight southern accent that has been media-trained. When she speaks at conferences her connection with the audience is personal and intimate. People don’t just listen to her; they are with her.

For more than twenty years, Nicki was a professional bookseller. Selling books wasn’t just a career, it was (and continues to be) a passion. Her knowledge of books old and new is nothing short of astounding. She is in fact a reader’s reader.

The depth and breadth of knowledge she has acquired  is one of the reasons she is what I consider a natural editor. Another is that she reads with attention. And when she is reading the contributors’ columns as they come in, reading them as she assumes our audience does—with curiosity, intelligence, perhaps with more experience in a specific subject than the writer—she brings that knowledge and attention to bear on her editorial work. Rather than my telling you this, I asked Nicki to explore her own style.

My editorial process, such as it is, is somewhat ill-defined and self-invented. I can tell you what I do though.

First, I read through the piece without attempting to change or edit anything, but just to get a sense of what the writer is trying to say.

Next, I go through the piece again more slowly, change anything that needs correcting to conform with BiblioBuffet’s style conventions, fix the occasional typo or repetitive phrase, and double check facts. I don’t exactly fact-check every statement, (as must be abundantly obvious) but I tend to look things up, confirm that what the author says is true, actually is. Especially if it is a subject on which I am unfamiliar. I’ve learned a lot of military history editing David Mitchell, for example. Not just from reading his pieces, but from looking up references to make sure that dates/times/names/places are correct. I’ll also sometimes add in clarifications if I think a casual reader might not immediately understand a reference—like what “SS” stands for when you are talking about Nazi Germany, or what all the abbreviations mean on a baseball  player’s stats.  Basically, I look things up so the reader doesn’t have to.

Then, once I’m done copyediting a section, I start writing comments. That’s the most interesting part of the process for me—summarizing what I think the writer is getting at, and highlighting places where I think they could make their point better (or passages where I think they did a really great job). We live in an era now where the space between writing and getting published—online, anyway, in blogs and whatnot—is practically nonexistent. And where our common methods of expression are shorter and shorter and less and less flexible. It’s all text speak and twitter hashtags now. We rarely take the time to say what we really want to say—the way we want to say it.

As self-evident as it sounds, one of my main goals when I’m editing is to make sure that every piece has an actual beginning, middle, and end. I’m continually amazed at how much of what I read online in blogs and e-zines ignores this basic truth of composition. A lot of our columnists will tell you that I’m constantly asking them to rework their endings, so that their pieces feel finalized, rather than just fizzling out. The architecture of a column is important to me, because a good framework helps the writer to make their point more clearly and efficiently. Plus, I think pieces that have good architecture are more satisfying for the reader.

The very last thing I’ll do—and only rarely—is rewrite. Mostly I think editors should stay the hell out of the way of the writer. One of the first things I had to learn to do at BiblioBuffet was not impose my own opinions or style on a columnist. That takes some concerted effort to train yourself into, let me tell you! But sometimes I’ll think that one of our columnists is reaching for something, so I’ll offer a suggestion—always with the caveat that they should revise or reject however they see fit. I should say here that we have such a good group of writers at BiblioBuffet now, that I almost never have to rewrite anything. It’s just a real pleasure to work with all of them.

Hopefully, at the end of all this, you have a piece that is more confident, more smooth, more clear, and—most importantly—more fun and interesting for the reader.

And we know it works. What you, our readers, see is the best the writer produces because it has already passed muster with the best reader. All of us—myself as founder, the contributors, and BiblioBuffet’s readers—benefit from Nicki’s passion, experience, and background. It simply wouldn’t be the BiblioBuffet you know without her.

(Ed. Note: I also act as a follow-up pair of eyes but tend to focus on copyediting and fact-checking. Given Nicki’s thoroughness, however, there isn’t much I find.)



Filed under BiblioBuffet

2 responses to “In Praise of Editors

  1. And what a wonderful editor Nicki is! Thank you for sharing the process with us.

  2. I love reading about process. Thanks to Nicki for sharing hers.

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