What does your editor do all day?

Nearly everyone thinks he or she is the busiest person on the planet. Sometimes it’s true. Most times it’s not. Writers in particular think their editors do nothing.

Here's your editor! (www.jamiesale-cartoonist.com)

Here’s your editor! (www.jamiesale-cartoonist.com)

They get angry over waiting for responses to queries and waiting for editing to get done. How hard could it be to sit at a desk, answer an email and go to lunch for the other 7½ hours of the workday, right?

Writers who’ve been editors know the real score. So it is a particular pleasure to see an “editor wanted” ad that touches three-quarters of the iceberg in describing what editors do.

The ad seeks a features editor for Pacific Standard, a national-focus print magazine and website in Santa Barbara, Calif. It describes the type of person most suitable for the job. If you’re a writer who thinks of editors as lazy, you’ll be shocked; if you are or have been an editor, you’ll be pleased to see a rare articulation of what editors really do.

A handful of highlights:

  • Recruit writers and maintain a stable of them to turn to
  • Build fully developed narrative journalism out of nuggets of ideas
  • Aim for influencing national conversation and/or public policy
  • Coach writers who lose the angle, the thread of the narrative, the road through research
  • Generate ideas and turn them into stories quickly
  • Juggle three issues of the magazine simultaneously while also feeding the website
  • Manage a small budget (usually means writing some stories, too)
  • Drive to serve the good of the public, not himself or herself

Books about freelancing seldom discuss editing except in terms of organizing material and shepherding grammar. Because editors work behind the scenes, it’s difficult to get a picture of what they do. They don’t lead lives of quiet desperation – far from it, they lead lives of multifaceted vibrancy. There’s something new to do every hour, and it doesn’t involve ordering a composed salad with a Bellini. There’s no time for that.

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