What are the qualities of a good editor?

What are the qualities of a good editor? Veteran editor Silvia Justino shares a few insights in this interview with MAI. She is editorial director of Mundo Cristão, one of the largest Christian publishers in Brazil.

Can you describe the context in which an editor does his or her work?
The work of editing is closely linked to the reader, as well as the author.  This connection is reflected in the style, level and content of the text.

The editor needs to understand not only what happens within the editorial department, but also the other areas and interests of the publishing house.  This is more than just making a book.  It’s much more than that.  Not all editors are aware of this because they become so immersed in the different stages of producing a book.

What are the some of the qualities needed for a successful editor?
Passion is a fundamental quality of an effective editor.  Passion is what stimulates an editor’s growth and development of needed qualities and skills.

After all, the editor does more than correct grammar and spelling (as important as this is).  The editor is passionate about attaining a final manuscript that is stylistically pleasing, elegant and true to the author’s voice.

Do you think a person is “born” with editorial passion or is it something that can be learned no the job?
That’s a difficult question to answer.  Passion is reflected in a person’s satisfaction in their work.  I frequently tell my editorial team that they must love what they do;  if not, they may become good professionals but not excellent ones!  It is not enough simply to attain knowledge.   And, interestingly, one seeks fuller and deeper knowledge as a result of passion (as evidenced by the greatest accomplishments in the fields of art, science, education and literature).

How can we help the beginning editor develop a passion for editorial work?
I do believe that passion can be awakened.  In  other words, I believe that it is sleeping deep inside each one of us.  Is it possible to “create” passion in another person?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  Yes, you can expand the vision of a young editor, but perhaps the fruits of that passion will not become as fully developed.

The editor with passion is incessantly seeking to do better.  Without such passion, the editor will become satisfied with his or her efforts without striving for true excellence or at least aspiring to continually improve and do better.

What more can you tell us about the role of editorial passion in publishing work?
Passion does pose one danger, however:  perfectionism.  As I see it, not every perfectionist is passionate about what he or she does, but every passionate person is a perfectionist.  We must be careful to avoid  extremes, because excesses are harmful.  For instance, the exaggeratedly perfectionist editor will never be satisfied that a manuscript is truly finished—becoming a victim of the “unfinished syndrome.”

Finding the proper balance is key to every passionate writer, editor or other professional.   We must discuss this challenge openly with our fellow editors, and especially with the less experienced ones.

Read this article in Spanish. Leer este artículo en español.

Silvia Justino will lead our first Spanish-only webinar on Tuesday, March 14, 8 a.m. CST. The topic is the role of a book editor. Depending on response, we may hold more Spanish-language webinars in the future. Learn more about the webinar


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