Malcolm Gladwell: Editors will ‘be in business forever’

That’s what he told the Association of American Publishers. Plus, what it’s like to be a food ghostwriter and more in this Week in Writing: The five stories writers need to read.


This week, we explore the value of editing. The New Yorker‘s Malcolm Gladwell says the craft will live on forever, while an author urges writers to self-edit, lest they suffer the wrath of tracked changes.

Also, what it’s like to be a food ghostwriter, writing about “the narrative,” and some of the Web’s best parodies of the Goldman Sachs resignation letters.

Steve Jobs, editor? In his concluding remarks at the Association of American Publishers annual conference this week, author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell told the audience of his belief that Steve Jobs was more editor than inventor. He improved the work of others, and took a “know it when I see it” approach. Gladwell’s remarks echo his piece in The New Yorker on Jobs last November in which he claimed “Job’s sensibility was editorial, not inventive.” Gladwell also told the presumably friendly audience that the value of quality editing will push the publishing industry forward. “Don’t give me more,” he said. “Give me less and make it good, and you’ll be in business forever.” Read the story here.

The editor within. Be your own editor and you will limit the feedback from people with that job title, writes Author Luc Sante in The Wall Street Journal. He recommends writers learn to constantly re-read their work, cut words liberally, and develop some method-editing skills. He writes, “Some editors will always feel they have to meddle, but having already considered their objections, you’ll be able to head them off at the pass.” Read the story here.

I was a cookbook ghostwriter. Ghostwriters must let go of their ego. That’s especially true for “food ghosts,” according to Julia Moskin, who has written several books under the names of famous chefs like Bobby Flay. In The New York Times, she writes about the experiences of several food writers, and why almost any recipe you read was not the invention of the famous chef whose name is on the cover. Moskin describes some of her horror stories, but closes with the idea that to be a successful ghostwriter, it helps to enter the project ignorant to the topic you’re covering.

Who’s responsible for the narrative? The Economist’s Democracy in America blog veered from its usual topic this week to address journalists’ reporting “the narrative” of an event rather than just the event. It’s something NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen calls, “Möbius strip journalism.” Journalists, the idea goes, create the narrative, so to write about it is a little like inventing a story. But the writer of this post (who goes by W.W.) says it’s not always this way. “So long as one sticks to the consensus interpretation, one can present oneself as simply reporting on the interpretation,” he/she wrote in a very Economist kind of way. Read the post here.

Why I am leaving… The Chicago Tribune highlighted the impressive slate of Goldman Sachs resignation letter parodies. You could find some form of mockery related to literature, sports, “Star Wars,” and pretty much everything else. Read the story here.

Evan Peterson is a writer and communications pro in Chicago who has written speeches for executives and presidential cabinet members. His writing has appeared in USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, Politico, and other publications.

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