When Writing It’s Easy to Forget That the Reader May Need More Grounding

Q: You have said that “the editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one.”. . .could you explain how that actually works out in practice?

A: It means helping the author fulfill his or her intentions, not imposing your own ideas. Of course editors may have their own notions about a subject, but they’re there to supplement, not contradict. What can help a biographer, I think, is the editor’s curiosity about the subject, leading to questions that may prompt useful paths for the author to explore. It’s all too easy when writing on a subject about which you’re obsessive to forget that the reader may need more grounding —that you have to gently set the stage. On the other hand, it’s easy for an obsessive writer to be swept away by every detail, particularly when he comes upon a fact that is new; the temptation to deploy it, even if it really doesn’t really add anything to the overall picture, is almost irresistible. A triumph of research doesn’t always lead to a triumph of narration, and a tactful editor often has to rein in research just as occasionally he has to spur it on.

From an interview with book editor Robert Gottlieb by the Biographers International Organization.

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