Authors Are Like Pioneers. Editors Are Like Settlers.

Bill was thinking about a mid-life career switch and wondered if publishing might be the right thing for him. He knew conventional wisdom says that you should move into expanding industries. But since he likes books and ideas, editing came to mind. So we talked.

I told him authors

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are like pioneers and editors are like settlers.

Authors tend to come up with new ideas and push them forward. They like to move into literary territories not explored before. Creating something new is like a shot of caffeine to their systems.

Good editors see how to improve a book, make it read better, clearer. They don’t try to shape the book in their own image. Rather they see the good that is already there and find ways to make it even more effective, better organized, clearer. They can visualize what will happen if a chapter is cleared of weeds or if the flow of the table of contents is diverted around a dam of dead-end ideas.

“Are you an entrepreneur?” I asked him. “Do you like starting new ventures, new ministries at church, building furniture from scratch? Or do you like repairing broken furniture or making an church task force more effective?” He was definitely a settler, he said.

It is possible to

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be both an excellent author and a quality editor. James Sire, my predecessor at IVP, is a great example of this. He made his mark with over twenty books on worldviews, new religious movements and more. But as editor at IVP, he was always happy to publish good books with different ideas, different styles and different structures than he would use. But he also saw how to make them better.

Usually, though, people are mostly a pioneer or a settler. It depends on how you see the lay of the land.

Image credit: www.nps.gov