To your mind, where does an editor come in?
This is where the (I now see) horribly long preamble pays off. The Last Samurai only came about in the first place because a close personal friend introduced me to Kurosawa. DSL is now Professor of Latin at NYU. He loves Moby Dick, Faulkner, All the King's Men, Cormac McCarthy; loves Wagner, Richard Strauss, Schoenberg; has an extensive knowledge of cinema; introduced me to bridge and poker and came up with the idea of a book showing the way mathematicians think about chance. Introduced me to Mel Brooks' The Producers.
DSL is not a DeWitt alter ego; through him I come to work I wouldn't otherwise have considered. If he comments on a book, I can put his comments in context; I know the writers I love that he doesn't care for, I know the kind of thing he likes in a work of art. I also know that this is someone with an extremely powerful mind whose views carry weight.
DSL has a photographic memory and a meticulous eye for detail; I could call DSL up while revising Samurai and say: David, you remember that comma on page 283? I'm wondering whether this is really a good idea. And he'd remember the comma on page 283.
No editor can compete with DSL on his own ground. If DSL introduces me to Kurosawa, of whose work he has a photographic memory, it would be ludicrous to expect an editor with no knowledge of the films to have something useful to offer.
Is this to say that there is no point to having an editor? Surely this is simply to say that DSL is what an editor should be: someone with strong tastes which do NOT simply replicate mine. Someone with profound knowledge of material relevant to the book under consideration. DSL started out with an advantage on books written so far, for the entirely unsurprising fact that an intelligent reader with whom one has intellectual rapport will come up with suggestions that prove fruitful – whose results he is then in a privileged position to judge.
In other words, it would be perfectly possible to have an equally fruitful relationship with an editor in the publishing industry. But that would require something that agents strenuously resist, namely giving the writer a great deal of information about editors' intellectual strengths early on, giving the writer a chance to talk to editors early on, so that an editor's intellectual strengths were of some use to the book.
[At this point, obviously, I'm talking about the role of editor as someone who strengthens the book, rather than as someone who selects it for publication.]
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