Many Genres, One Craft
Putting Our Heads Together:An Introduction to
Many Genres, One Craft
by Michael A. Arnzen
Once upon a time, writers worked with editors like apprentices under mastercraftsmen. Writers were understudies to their editors, who would patiently walk them through every step of the revision process, teaching them about the finer pointsof style and training them in the business side of publishing along the way. Editorswere a kind of educator, and writers were their students, working on their finalthesis: a published book.Yes, once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, the writer-editor relationshipwas like getting your Master’s degree in fiction writing. Writers, once they got theirfoot in the publisher’s door, worked with mentors who they could call or lunch withfor advice as they collaborated on a title, refining a raw book into a best-selling work of great merit. And, just like Pygmalion, these advisors would transform the writerfrom a hack dreamer into a celebrated master wordsmith along the way.As you might guess, this “My Fair Manuscript” scenario is a nostalgic fantasy.It simply doesn’t work that way in publishing. Today, more than ever, economicneed drives the business—which in most cases is a relatively cold corporate busi-ness that can’t afford the luxuries of yesterday’s independent operations—and edi-tors have to answer to a publishing house’s marketing team more than they do theliterati down the street. It is true that writers learn a great deal of their art from theireditors, and editors often do have to educate their writers about the way the book business really operates. But the rules of the game have drastically changed since theearly days of publishing and the writer-editor relationship has sadly suffered.Editors don’t teach writers so much as they manage them and usher their manu-scripts like footballs through the corporate goalposts. Writers are already expectedto be “masters” of their art when they first come knocking on their door; there is notime for teaching and that’s not what editors are paid for. The competition for aneditor’s attention, moreover, is tougher than it’s ever been, because so many of themanuscripts that come over-the-transom are written by well-educated writers. Pub-lishing is more like Donald Trump’s
than a true apprenticeship, andif you don’t know what you’re doing when you enter the boardroom, you’re goingto get fired (imagine the trademarked finger point when you open your letter: “You’rerejected!”).Writing is a tough business and it’s only grown colder as the trade has evolved.