People (putative authors especially) tend to have a lot of misconceptions about what editors do - and, more importantly, don't do. The one that tickles my funny bone the hardest is the misconception that editors sit at their desks during the day and, like, edit books. HA! As fucking if. More likely, editors are answering a phone that never stops ringing while trying to answer emails, coordinate schedules, put out fires, amateur-therapize authors, actually sort of skim some small percentage of their submissions, and make sure all the other departments are actually doing what they're supposed to be doing on behalf of the editor's books (they're usually not). Okay, I caught that yawn. On to the more digestible Unsolisticle portion of the column, where we'll explore what an editor isn't in more detail.
So we've established that editors don't edit (except at night and on the weekends. Sigh). Editors also don't:
• know everything there is to know about spelling and grammar and punctuation. The people who get paid to know that shit are copyeditors. I know plenty of editors who can't spell. Spelling turns out not to be related to literary savvy at all. Take that, snobby commenters!
• sit on submissions because they're afraid of offending the author/agent with a rejection. More likely, we just haven't read the damn thing. And if you pressure us for an answer rightnow (without any offers in your hand), the answer is going to be 'no.' Happy?
• have some magical power that enables us to know whether or not something is crap or good (or, you know, good, marketable crap. Da Vinci crap.) We just use our common sense and our opinions. Oh, and also Bookscan.
• find things in the slush pile. If you can't ally yourself with one of the ten bazillion agents who currently exist, there is something really wrong with you. Also, most publishing houses have ironclad no-unsolicited-submissions policies. So get an agent. It's not that hard! (to get a crappy one). It is hard to get a good one, but that's another Unsolicited.
• lead glamorous lives. Maybe there is, like, one rockstareditor left in this city, swilling hard liquor long into the night with his rockstarauthors while discussing, you know, Sartre v. Camus. He is statistically insignificant compared to the thousands of us who steal milk and toilet paper from the office because we can't afford our own, and go to readings for the free canap s.
• want to hear about your genius idea for a book. I'm talking to you, Uncle Morty. If it's Thanksgiving and I have a drink in one hand, I do not want to be holding your proposal for a children's book about The Tree Who Had No Friends in the other hand. I can't help you. Even if I wanted to, I still wouldn't be able to help you. Talk to God. Last time I checked, s/he was the one in charge of handing out talent.