Review: Editing Ignorance

Press Room Contributor Bridget Lutherborrow reviews Saturday’s Editing Ignorance panel, with Samantha Forge, Emma Marie Jones, Jennifer Dougherty and Leonie Hayden. 

It’s frankly ridiculous that editors don’t get credited on books. Not even in some tiny print lost between the publisher and the ISBN. Just nothing. “All the effort, but none of the glory,” says Samantha Forge, the moderator of Editing Ignorance. It’s a good thing we have writers’ festivals to put them up on stage and make them spill their guts.

This is a fully female panel about negotiating diversity as an editor, a pairing that fits like whatever kind of glass footwear you fancy. With Samantha Forge asking questions to Emma Marie Jones, Jennifer Dougherty and Leonie Hayden, this panel is full of witty banter and editorial horror stories. Throwing rocks at dogs, creepy male gaze journalism: they’ve had to deal with some dumb stuff.

Things start off with each editor discussing the kinds of issues they have to look out for in their specific line of publishing. Jennifer is a children’s and YA editor for a commercial publisher and so for her the focus is on making sure everything is age appropriate. She once left a “shit” in a book for 10-year-olds – right up to the proofreading stage. But, she says, the things she has to look out for most in terms of representation are fat shaming and depictions of race. Working in shorter form non-fiction for an adult audience, Emma has to be more careful about representing identities outside her own experience.

When asked whose say is final on a piece or an issue the responses are varied. For Jennifer the author always gets the final say. Leonie completely owns her bossness. Emma isn’t sure. She says she’s never had an author disagree with something. There is incredulous mumbling from the audience. “What would happen if we disagreed on something, Sian?” She yells out to festival co-director and writer Sian Campbell. After some deliberation, Sian reckons, if they disagreed on what the article was, they’d not publish it. “Oh, but if it’s a semi-colon, that’s all me,” Emma says. When Jennifer says she had to “Fight for every colon” when she worked in corporate editing the audience snicker. We are a festival of children.

The panellists discuss whether it’s the writer or readers who they serve. Jennifer sees it as going both ways – if she’s serving the reader by shutting out something offensive, she’s also serving the writer. Emma says she’s thinking of both, but mostly the writer – the editor is the only person whose job it is to think of them. There are times all the panellists have felt they’ve let down an audience. Leonie talks about publishing something she thought was offensive to women, because she wasn’t yet confident enough in her own role and the author was an older male. There were complaints from three women, and she says, if she were shown the article today she would put her foot down and not publish it. Emma feels she let down readers when she wanted to publish a piece about how to engage with trans issues, but couldn’t find a trans writer. She ended up writing the piece herself – using some trans sources to back up her work – but still feels uncomfortable about it.

When asked by an audience member about whether any of them ever approach an author about their beliefs to try and change their mind, the answer is unanimous. “I’m not getting paid to give some dickhead a lesson on how to not be a dickhead,” says Emma. I’m only worried about the all line-by-line, says Jennifer. Which is really the greatest tool an editor has for changing the world – tackling things line by line, colon by colon.