Who Are These Terrifying People? New York's Top Editors Speak to The Writer's Institute

This week at The Writer"s Institute: A “Meet the Editors” event last night hoped to dispel the fear all writers have of editors, the almighty deciders who so often hold our fate in their hands. Generously speaking with us were an illustrious panel; Dorothy Wickendon, executive director of the New Yorker, Lorin Stein, editor at The Paris Review, Lucas Wittmann, editor of the book section at The Daily Beast, and Adam Moss, editor-in-chief at New York Magazine – undoubtedly New York’s top editors. Program director Andre Aciman introduced them by asking, “What is an editor’s life? Who are these terrifying people?”

Each of them walked us through the professional trajectory of an editor’s career, and in each case it seemed a great game of chance, luck, tremendous perseverance, and grand passion. (Perhaps surprisingly, not one made any mention of journalism school…) Fascinated by their audience, who packed the room wall to wall enjoying their presence, wine, and quickly disappearing sushi, these editors explained what separates a writer from an editor, and the cardinal mistakes a writer can make while trying to find their pieces a home.

The difference between an editor and a writer, it turns out, is temperament; Writers want to be alone in a room with their thoughts. Editors? They must be social, making things, letting their OCD run wild and putting their significantly shorter attention spans to use. The takeaway for writers: Brevity is everything. With the exponential speed of the news cycle and online publishing both expanding the landscape and making it more competitive, the best way to get a foothold is to pitch several ideas together, to be concise and catchy, and start with a bang. The surprise? The biggest mistake writers make is the failure to spellcheck, proofread drafts, and address pitches to the right magazine! Writers take note: Not only must you address your letters to the right person, but most importantly make your piece fit the character of the journal. There is no writing for a publication without reading it.

The roundtable ended on a heartening note: all types of writing, our editors claimed, and all pieces themselves, are as different as their writers. The relationship between and editor and and a writer differs accordingly. Sometimes, the best way to be heard is to publish yourself, says Adam Moss, and “we might pick it up.” In other words, fear not! Editors are as human as us all, and often scrambling as we are for excellence. At the Writer’s Institute, New York’s un-MFA program, all courses are taught exclusively by editors so that every piece has the luxury of a discerning eye, and most importantly, perhaps, a friendly face.

Our next event is on March 18. Explore our website to learn more.

Submitted on: FEB 21, 2013

Category: The Writers' Institute at The Graduate Center