Taste is in the eye of the editor

A text can be read in many different ways. 

I believe this message is one of the more valuable takeaways from an English degree. So long as you make a compelling argument for the way you read a text, that argument is valid.

Personal analysis shapes an individual’s taste, which is surprisingly central to manuscript revision. If readers have different tastes, then it goes without saying that editors, who are really just readers-with-a-little-more-power, are no different. As I explained in my previous post, one of my responsibilities at Autumn House Press is screening manuscripts and deciding whether or not they merit a second read-through. 

Inevitably, taste factors into my opinion of the text. I knew this going in to my internship, but I had no idea how deeply taste impacted the editor’s decision. 

There was one manuscript, for instance, that I ultimately passed on because it was “telling more than it was showing,” had characters that were “unrealistic,” and writing that was “too wordy.” Naturally, my opinion on this manuscript was only one of many. There are two other interns at Autumn House Press who screen, and the press also hires people out-of-house. 

A few days ago, as I was screening, I couldn’t help but notice that the manuscript I’d reviewed had been looked at by another editor, and that the rating was higher. Curious to see the feedback the editor had provided, I clicked on the manuscript and read what she had written. I was startled by her appraisal.

Where I had seen an over-the-top narrative, she had seen parody. Where I had seen unrealistic characters, she had seen satire. I spent quite a while reading over that review, second-guessing my own reading of the text. Had I read it wrong? Been too critical? 

In the end, it was the wisdom I’d gained from my English education that put me at ease. It was not that I’d read the text wrong, only that I’d read it differently. It was not until I saw a notable discrepancy between reviews that I realized how important taste was in editorial decisions.

Many authors will tell you that tenacity is a necessity in the publishing industry, and that the road to success is paved with rejections from editors. As an aspiring author myself, I know from experience that this is because taste in literature is subjective. But coming at it from an editorial perspective is enlightening. “Anxious writer” and “critical editor” are two very different perspectives.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then taste in the eye of the editor. To experience this firsthand shows just how subjective the publishing industry is as a whole. Though it is the editor’s job to look for quality writing, they are, first and foremost, looking for literature they find personally engaging. I am still mastering that balance myself and, to that end, have been reading the responses of other editors to broaden my own perspective.

Other editing responsibilities from these past two weeks have included copyediting, writing out more detailed opinions on considered manuscripts and–– I am very excited about this one–– developmental edits! These edits are my favorite because they allow me to offer the author and editor feedback on how to reorganize and/or rewrite the manuscript to read more effectively. It is the type of editorial work an English major is particularly good at, as we have experience analyzing literature on a deeply conceptual level. 

Outside of editorial work, I’ve been learning more about the industry as a whole: the difference between an advance reader’s copy and a galley (one is a put-together version of a book sent out to early reviewers, and the other is a compilation of the pages in an organized, but less artful form), the construction of royalty forms, the considerations behind a strong social media platform…

The list goes on. It is impossible to write about all of my experiences concisely but, suffice it to say, I have learned a great deal already. Not just about the publishing industry, but also about myself as a reader and editor. It’s hard to believe that it hasn’t even been a month yet.

As always, I am looking forward to learning more, editing more and, voracious bookworm that I am, reading more!

-Chelsea Abdullah

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