by Steve Laube
I came across a remarkable section in a book written around 124 B.C. The editor of the book wrote the following preface to help the reader understand his methodology and purpose. It shows the concern a good editor has for the ultimate reader. His job was to abridge a massive five volume work into an abbreviated 16,00 word document. Can anyone tell me where this comes from and the name of the editor? (Without googling the text!) I’ll reveal the answer in the comments later in the day.
The number of details and the bulk of material can be overwhelming for anyone who wants to read an account of the events. But I have attempted to simplify it for all readers; those who read for sheer pleasure will find enjoyment and those who want to memorize the facts will not find it difficult.
Writing such a summary is a difficult task, demanding hard work and sleepless nights. It is as difficult as preparing a banquet that people of different tastes will enjoy. But I am happy to undergo this hardship in order to please my readers. I will leave the matter of details to the original author and attempt to give only a summary of the events.
I am not the builder of a new house who is concerned with every detail of the structure, but simply a painter whose only concern is to make the house look attractive. The historian must master his subject, examine every detail, and then explain it carefully, but whoever is merely writing a summary should be permitted to give a brief account without going into a detailed discussion. So then, without any further comment, I will begin my story. It would be foolish to write such a long introduction that the story itself would have to be cut short.
Note a few pearls of eternal wisdom from this ancient editor:
Editing is hard work (sleepless nights). When at one working it looks like the editor is just staring at a page and making an occasional mark. Actually that editor is mentally juggling content, clarity, grammar rules, house style, author’s intent and more, all at the same time.
Editing has its own satisfaction. In my office is a bookcase containing a copy of every book I edited while working as an editor for Bethany House Publishers. I can tell a story about every one of them. They became a part of me even though my name rarely appears other than on the occasional acknowledgement page. Editors take pride in their work. It is important to respect that.
The Editor knows their role. The metaphor of the house builder versus the house painter is perfect. Every editor knows they are part of the process and that their job is to make the author look good. It is the same for the literary agent. That is why our slogan is “to help change the world word by word.” We are not the author, but our job it to help the author navigate the publishing industry labyrinth.
The next time you think your writing or editing trouble has never happened before, remember this ancient editor who was wrestling with the challenges of his profession over two thousand years ago. Then give thanks to your editor like Tamela did so well the other day.