Publicity-Shy Heroes of Publishing

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.

Oslo Davis' take on the author/editor relationship

Oslo Davis' take on the author/editor relationship

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