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Opponents of a decision by Fairfax Media to outsource its subediting from 2012, and thus make redundant its subeditors, will take to the streets at lunchtime today. The publisher of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald plans to save $25 million by shedding up to 100 subeditorial and other production-related positions, and outsourcing the subediting work to Pagemasters. Opposition to the move has been widespread and has coalesced around the website Fair Go, Fairfax. Rallies were held on Thursday in Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle, Canberra and Wollongong. The Melbourne rally took place on the grassy knoll outside the Age building.

Coincidentally, Text Publishing senior editor Mandy Brett spoke at the Wheeler Centre at lunchtime Thursday on why the world will continue to need editors even in a world without books. Mandy published an essay on editors and the art of editing a book in the January issue of Meanjin. In it, she deems editing “an essentially bipolar occupation” because “[e]verything about it can go hard one way or just as hard the other and the difficult thing is not that you have to choose, but that you have to balance.” She says the contribution editors make to books are publishing’s dirty little secret: “Good editing is not just important for an individual book, it is crucial to the health of our industry and the survival of reading as a recreation.” Mandy’s essay referenced this blog by novelist and anthologist James Bradley.

In the Paris Review, Toni Morrison’s editor Robert Gottlieb called editing “simply the application of the common sense of any good reader”. Text Publishing’s Michael Heyward compares the relationship to that between a confessor and a priest. There’s been widespread coverage on the demise of the editor in the literary presses for some years now. Just possibly, the days of an author-editor relationship as formative as the one between Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish are behind us. Are we the worse off for it?

In this Guardian report, Alex Clark grumbles, “It is not uncommon, if you are of a certain cast of mind, to fling a book across the room and wonder if there is anyone still alive who cares about hanging participles”. And this blog by Rufus Griscom has a more urgent ring to it, signalling that the editor has morphed into something altogether different: the content producer. Rufus' message to editors? Evolve or perish.

OsloDavisWW20110520_web

Oslo Davis' take on the author/editor relationship


13 comments so far:

Wow, I've attempted to read one or two "self published" novels and that was evidence enough for me that editors are essential and entirely lacking in due credit...

Bill
19 May at 02:44PM

Books from publishers aren't necessarily better due to editing. It could be that the publishers get the better books in the first place. Good writers love words and care about words.

Lizzy
20 May at 09:23AM

In which case, Lizzy, an editor has got those books for the publisher. Possibly by championing their skills in (among many things) editing when courting the writer.

If a writer cares about words, odds on they care about being edited well, whether lightly or heavily.

David
20 May at 09:50AM

David, I think you're a bit naive about how contemporary publishing works, in this country anyway. Publishers hold the power. Where else is a writer meant to put their book but with a publisher? The idea that an editor 'gets' a book or woos a writer is unrealistic. And, of course, writers want careful edits but they don't always get them. And my original point holds true - the manuscript quality will be there before a publisher touches the thing.

Lizzy
20 May at 11:04PM

Lizzy, I think you're being more than a touch condescending. 'Publishers' don't -- can't -- acquire every book. That's why they employ editors. Commissioning editors acquire, and in doing that they need to convince a writer to go with them: if you don't believe me, why don't you ask some?

I didn't say that a manuscript wouldn't have quality first, but what publisher (or editor) never takes on books that they think have huge potential though they may require a lot of editorial work?

The story is about editors being eliminated from publishing. My point is that publishers who want good lists need good editors. I'd be curious to hear from a publisher who disagrees.

David
23 May at 09:51AM

Perhaps Fairfax outsourced their subbing because their subs were often screwing up. See and here for some examples.

Of course, this could be that the subeditors were simply being pared down and slammed with too much work. One can only speculate; I guess the point being that either way, Fairfax doesn't care that much about quality.

Jon
23 May at 11:40AM

Also, I kind of agree that Lizzy comes across as patronising. Controversy!

Jon
23 May at 12:45PM

I am a writer. I know a heap of writers. Sorry if I came across as patronising. I just thought your comments reflected a general naivety. And they still do. There are many things said to writers to get them to choose a particular publisher - if indeed they are in that position where they have a choice - and editorial involvement is often not the main component. For new writers with big publishers, editing can be very minimal indeed.

Lizzy
24 May at 06:11PM

My point in relation to the article is that editing has been deteriorating for a long time. And getting rid of editors is the logical - and very unfortunate - endpoint of that.

Lizzy
24 May at 06:16PM

Lizzy, I have only worked in publishing for many years, so I suppose that explains my general naivety. On the one hand you say writers have no choice but to go with a publisher (which seems a touch extreme); on the other, that they are offered inducements, chief among which may not be editing. Well, yeah: marketing, publicity, an advance. By the way, I'm not sure that saying sorry for being patronising and then being patronising is especially cogent either -- but I guess we could ask an editor to adjudicate? Good luck with your writing, and I hope your publishing experiences improve, with or without editors.

David
25 May at 10:09AM

Ooohh, this has become a touchy one. Lizzy hates editors. David hates Lizzy. It's all happening. I don't know much about it at all, but David do new writers always get decent edits??? It sure doesn't seem that way when I read their books!


25 May at 02:00PM

Nah, no hate -- and edits do seem uneven. Anyway, I'll get back in my box.

David
25 May at 05:41PM

Nice post which The publisher of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald plans to save $25 million by shedding up to 100 subeditorial and other production-related positions, and outsourcing the subediting work to Pagemasters. Opposition to the move has been widespread and has coalesced around the website Fair Go, Fairfax. Thanks a lot for posting.

Heather
11 November at 02:19AM

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