First, I want to thank Richard for a wise and nicely worded article. Please read the entire thing; it's wonderful. He talks about the supposed demise of "great editors" like Maxwell Perkins--you know, those genius editors who found those genius authors and worked with them painstakingly on manuscript development and personality management.
Actually, the reason I love Richard Curtis the most is because he talks about how unfair it is to say there are no great editors left. As he points out, the industry has changed massively, and if you're not sensitive to the huge pressures editors are up against, you might misunderstand how much work they're actually doing for you.
One of my personal favorite lines:
Editing is a highly complex set of functions, and no single individual is capable of exercising them with equal aplomb. The editor who wines and dines agents and charms authors may be a clumsy negotiator; the dynamic deal-maker may have no patience for the tedious and demanding word-by-word task of copyediting; the copyeditor who brilliantly brings a book to life word by word, line by line, may be completely at sixes and sevens when it comes to handling authors.
So. What is a good editor?
I don't want to bore people who've hung around these parts for a long time, so I'll refer you to this earlier piece on things I hope you can expect from your editor. If you're in the process of having your agent submit a novel, print it out and use it as a check list.
It's true, we can't all be masters of everything. And in fact almost all of us are really only masters of one of those three things, and perhaps a bit awkward in the other two.
But the fact is, there are things you deserve in an editor for your book. One of them is an editor who can at least hold their own in each of Richard's three mentioned categories. You deserve someone with good taste and judgment. You deserve someone who can hold their own socially to the point that they'll be able to express why your book is great to other people. And you deserve someone whose reading of your text will make it better than you could have made it on your own.
And yeah, we exist. We do. I'm that person (she says oh-so-modestly). No, but seriously, I am. I'm not a genius at any of the three areas, but I know I need to do my very best regardless. And I hold my own.
And so do a bunch of other friends and colleagues. Really, we exist.
The people who think Max Perkins's spirit is dead are the same ones who think the publishing industry is also dead. They're the ones who can't cope with fresh ideas to counter fresh challenges. Which is sad for them, not me.
But we're here. Really, we are.