When you’re an un-agented writer, The Editor seems like a mythical creature—a phoenix, a unicorn, a Great White Whale. People talk about them all the time—often in excited whispers—so it seems likely that they exist. But you’ve never seen one in its natural habitat, so they remain shrouded in mystery. What’s the best way to catch one? Should you wear virginal white and a crown of flowers and lurk very quietly on the fringes of BEA, waiting for one to emerge and lay its head in your lap? Do you need some sort of special net, woven in the wilds of Siberia while Tuvan throat singers chant prayers for your literary greatness? You wait and watch as your fellow writers go off into the wild and return home triumphant, editors in tow. But the details of those quests are always fuzzy. Eventually, you learn that The Editor reveals itself only to agents. This is a bit of a relief—like most people, you look terrible in virginal white.
Once you find an agent to do your questing for you, The Editor starts to seem more like The Bachelorette. Each acquisitions meeting feels like a rose ceremony. Will you receive that coveted flower and move on to the next round of the competition? Or will you be sent home in disgrace? You try to swallow your nerves and smile pretty for the cameras, knowing you have no control.
When The Editor finally chooses you and invites you to go out and celebrate, she morphs once again. Now she most closely resembles That Really Attractive Person on OKCupid Whom You Never Thought Would Actually Respond to Your Email. You’ve already charmed her in writing, but what if she doesn’t like you in person? What should you wear so that you look like you’re trying just hard enough, but not TOO hard? What if you laugh too loudly at her jokes or spill your drink in her lap or get something green stuck in your teeth? What if you’re unbelievably awkward? Friends remind you that all writers are unbelievably awkward and that all you have to do is be yourself. But what if your plain old self isn’t good enough for The Editor?
Then you get your first editorial letter, and The Editor becomes The Mean Girl. How could she say all those horrible things about your book? How dare she call your main character unlikeable and accuse your subplot of meandering aimlessly? If she had twenty-seven pages worth of problems with your book, why did she bother to buy it in the first place? You rant and rail and throw things, then curl up in a ball of despondence and try to hide from the bullying. Nobody understands you, least of all The Editor. Why did you even bother wearing that cute new dress in order to impress her? Nothing you do will ever be good enough for her. You might as well give up now so you never have to see her again.
And then the edit letter sinks in, and you realize that The Editor is, in fact, The Omnipotent One. How did she untangle your snarled plot lines so effortlessly? How did she make your world-building snap into place? How could she have known that giving your main character that one extra personality trait would make her eight thousand times more interesting? You are nothing compared to the genius of The Editor. You want to shower her with cupcakes and flowers and prostrate yourself at her feet.
Then you start your revisions, and The Editor steps down off her pedestal and starts to feel like The Unavailable Significant Other. You’re busting your ass for her in that revisions cave, day in and day out, sequestered from everyone you love and surviving solely on take-out food full of MSG. Why isn’t she there to cook you a nice dinner, pat your head, and tell you how shiny and amazing you are? Should it really take her so long to reply to the angsty emails you write in the middle of the night? Maybe she wants to break up and just hasn’t told you yet. You suspect she might be cheating on you with other books.
But through it all, you know that one day—far, far in the future—your book will be finished, and it will belong to both of you. When it’s sitting on shelves all around the country, your mystical, intimidating, all-knowing editor will finally feel like your partner in crime, your equal, the other proud parent of your beautiful baby.
And then it’ll be time to start the process all over again.