Robert Gottlieb, The Art of Editing No. 1

The Paris Review interviews are just fantastic.

This is No. 1 on the art of editing, with Robert Gottlieb, published in 1992, and despite my best efforts at finding others on editing, it seems to be the only interview on that topic (there are lots on The Art of Fiction, and Poetry, Biography, Non Fiction) and I have already greedily made a list of those I want to read.

Gottlieb worked with many name authors and was one of the old-school Manhattan editors. He started work in publishing when the big houses were owned and run by their founders:

…publishers were frequently willing and able to lose money publishing books they liked… ‘It is not a happy business now… and it once was. It was smaller. The stakes were lower. It was a less sophisticated world.’

He worked at Simon & Schuster as managing editor and then editor in chief, and then moved to Knopf. In 1987, he moved again to take over The New Yorker and after five years, in 1992, he agreed to leave TNY to make way for Tina Brown. He decided he didn’t want to be in charge of another publishing house so offered his services back to Knopf, for free, and was still editing there at the time of the interview.

The piece contains responses from a range of authors and is a really fascinating read for anyone interested in the inner workings of the writer-editor relationship, or indeed any of these particular authors: Joseph Heller, Doris Lessing, John Le Carré, Cynthia Ozick, Toni Morrison, Michael Crichton and Chaim Potok among others.

Toni Morrison says something which I find intriguing, on ego:Bob and I used to joke about our egos being so huge they didn’t exist — which is a way of saying neither he nor I felt we were in competition with anybody… a large ego can be generous and enabling, because of its lack of envy… our confidence was wide-spirited.

It seems Morrison and The Skyhooks would have agreed. Mostly we think of ego as something that gets in the way and inhibits or spoils a person’s other better qualities, something a person should be ashamed of and keep hidden if they have it. We all need to be humble otherwise we become contemptible. Morrison is saying that a large ego, a healthy ego, and the self-confidence and assurance that comes with it, can be generous, enabling and wide-spirited. That confidence in oneself and one’s work can mean there is no envy or coveting of other people and their work, and instead allows collaboration and openness to assistance with making a thing (as Hemingway called his writing projects) the best thing it can be. An ego so large it doesn’t exist. Fascinating.

One thought on “Robert Gottlieb, The Art of Editing No. 1

  1. I love this! You find people who are happy and confident in their lives and work are the same. I’m guessing their egos are huge and I’ve never thought of it like this before. There’s a lot of food for thought here 😉

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