It’s humbling to see them in the flesh. Once in the same room, the satanic creatures covered in slimy green scales we’d pictured are washed away, while their penchant for: a) not responding to emails, and b) rejecting pitches, now seems somewhat unlikely.
They’re not gnawing on the bones of their previous intern or flossing their teeth with the hair of their last writer. They’re sitting on a stage in a rather crowded room with no armour or pointy objects. Only pens, paper and a slightly nervous – in some cases neurotic – look.
As an evening curated by five established text aficionados, this year’s Industry Insider: Emerging Editors
features Dale Campisi, Jo Case, Penny Modra, Aden Rolfe and Karen Pickering
as host. These people are the eagle eyes; the problem solvers; the editors. As proficient wordsmiths they discuss the relationship between editors and writers, their own hurdles, their sneaky tips and those little niggly things that so quickly boil their blood. Sitting before a mass of seated punters and some tardy crouchers, self-confessed ‘feminist organiser’ Pickering leaves the reins behind as she casually peppers the session with questions for the panel editors. While we patiently lend our ears they generously lend us their editor eyes.
The hour isn’t dedicated to the inception of ideas; it’s not a think-tank as much as a chance to hear some anecdotes which hopefully dispel some misguided myths (see: scaly green monster) while solidifying others. Much of the advice given to the aspiring editors is painstakingly obvious but so often overlooked.
Their top three include:
1) Write well
2) Meet deadlines
3) Be an easy person to get along with
After all, being an editor is like “being a problem solver that works in words,” shrugs ubiquitous Thousands
’ editor Penny Modra. As the loudest of the group, she tells us to turn down the volume: “When reading, every time you get to a word that everyone's heard a million times before, turn down the volume until you get to something people haven't heard”. Australian Review
editor Jo Case didn’t study writing, and though it wasn’t an impossible hurdle to overcome, it admittedly caused friction between some professionals - especially those of the older generation. Modra highly recommends the Professional Writing course at RMIT: “they break you” only to help build you back up.
Grab a diary, familiarise yourself with iCal or cover your wall in Post-It notes. It doesn’t take much to tick this box and more often than not it’s what you’ll be remembered for. As much as it is about your writing, as someone who deals with freelance writers on a regular bases, Dale Campisi stresses the importance of reliability. Meet your deadlines and you’ve won half the battle. Modra adds: “At The Thousands
we’re always excited by those who get on base. They may not be the best writer or get all the facts right, all of the time,” but they’re always up for it and able to meet submission dates. What does “always on base” mean? “Watch Moneyball and then you’ll understand. That movie is not just about baseball,” says Penny.
Be an Easy Person to Get Along With
While food metaphors saturate the street press publications (see: a ‘smorgasbord of beats’), Aden Rolfe often plays tug of war with the writer. As a book editor “you have to make a judgement call,” and if the author disagrees it’s often necessary to go higher. If the publisher disagrees with you sometimes it’s best to take it on the chin. Arcade Publications’ Publisher Dale Campisi agrees because sometimes it’s easier to be 90% happy with a writer’s piece, than it is to fight for that meagre 10 per cent - if not to maintain some level of sanity. In keeping with the theme of mental health, Modra interjects: “try not to work on jobs where the writers aren't being paid because then it’s like the writer is doing you a favour - and that's very unhealthy.”
At the close of 2012’s Emerging Editors, we’re left with a quote by Australian poet Geoff Lemon: “It pays to remember that the highest paid gate keepers once stood where you are and we're daunted by the same things.”