Editors are hunters. We’re always on the lookout for something. Acquisitions editors look for great writers. News editors seek out scandals, tragedies, and anything else that can justify a big headline. Copy editors search for comma faults and misplaced modifiers.
We keep hunting even after we find our prey. An editor who finds a terrific writer is like a big game hunter who comes upon a cave full of tigers. An editor can’t simply order a writer to produce great work, just as a hunter shouldn’t simply sprint into the cave and shoot blindly into the darkness. (He shouldn’t shoot at all; a great editor is more like a bring-‘em-back-alive hunter.) To leave the jungle with a great trophy and his own skin intact, the hunter should patiently draw the tigers out into the open. To get the writer to produce a spectacular story, the editor has to know when to encourage the writer with praise, when to prod her with criticism, and when to leave her alone.
But a hunter has to do more than bag big game. He has to get it home in great shape. And so do editors. Even after a writer produces something wonderful, the editor stays on the hunt. He’ll track the manuscript through the editorial and production processes, watching alertly to kill any problems. He’ll search the schedule and prowl the budget, hoping to grab the funds and time that the writer and the production department need. He’ll lure an illustrator, photographer, designer and anyone else who can make the project look its best. He’ll chase down executives who can promote the project into the public’s mind.
And so it goes. I’ve done many things in my career, and one of them, often, has been editing. I am an editor.
And I hunt.
P.S. I don’t hunt for animals, nor do I approve of killing harmless creatures for sport.