When I tell people that I edit children’s books, they frequently ask, So what qualifies you for that?
Probably they’re curious because it sounds like a great job, and they want to do it too. But the question always makes me squirm a little because I don’t have a good answer. What qualifies me? Nothing in particular. But also, everything I am.
I think it’s more revealing to talk about what qualities most editors possess, instead of what qualifications. (Maybe because I don’t have any specific qualifications, but we won’t dwell!)
Some things to consider:
Do you love to read? I mean, love to read kind of like you love to breathe? Do you carry around not only the book you are currently reading but a second one as well, just in case?
Are some of your best friends fictional? Consider this: I’m in Venice with my mom and sister, exploring an old cathedral, and my mom says, “This is Guido’s mother’s favorite church.” And I say, “Really? How come?” And she points out the paintings and the architecture that make this place special. My sister asks us who Guido is, and rolls her eyes when we tell her we’re talking about Guido Brunetti, a Venetian detective in books by Donna Leon.
Another example: Wendelin is touring near where I grew up, and so I bring her home to meet my parents. We’re all chatting around the dining room table and my mom turns to Wendelin and asks, “So how is Hudson? I haven’t heard about him lately.” Wendelin laughs, looks at me, and says, “Now I understand where you came from.” (Perhaps what this really means is that I have a great book-loving mom. True enough. But I think it’s more—I think it’s that characters truly live for us.)
Do you love words? Do you like slang and lingo and jargon and colloquialisms? Have you ever stopped and sighed over a particularly elegant phrase? Are you always searching for the exact right way to express something? Does it make you inordinately happy to find it?
Do you have a fix-it gene? Are you constantly critiquing things? Do you read a book or see a movie and think, Yeah, that was good, but it would have been even better if only they’d changed this. Or, There is no way that character would have done that. Do you imagine how the whole thing could have played out differently?
Would you rather be pointing the spotlight than in it? An editor’s job is to help. Help writers express their ideas in the best way possible. Or to help them clarify what it is they are trying to say.
For me, I’ve never wanted to be the lead in the play or the rock star. Even in my dreams, I’m a back-up singer. You know, shimmying in a cute fringed dress, adding the perfect harmony, helping keep the beat. (Now that I consider it, I think I got this idea from a book—Laurie Colwin’s Goodbye Without Leaving. Typical.)
Did you answer yes to most or all of these questions? If so, you might just make a great editor!