Like Breath Mints, Always Accept Editing

I’m surprised by Seth Godin’s post Editors from late last week. Particularly this sentiment:

Great products, amazing services and stories worth talking about get edited along the way. Most of the time, the editing makes them pallid, mediocre and boring.

Sometimes, a great editor will push the remarkable stuff. That’s his job.

The easy thing for an editor to do is make things safe. You avoid trouble that way. Alas, it also means you avoid success.

I say that not accepting editing is like not accepting a breath mint when somebody spontaneously offers. Think about it. The editor doesn’t understand what you wrote? Rewrite it.

If you wrote it, being understood is your responsibility, not the reader’s.

I’ve learned to like editors and like editing, but it took a while. Early in my career, when I was still a journalist, the editor had the last word. Sometimes I didn’t like the changes, but I had no authority. As time passed, I realized I’d had some very good editors — at BusinessWeek, for example, and at UPI — who made my work better. Among my editors at Hayden Books, McGraw-Hill, and Dow-Jones, some were annoying, some became friends, all of them made my books better. They didn’t rewrite, but they told me where they didn’t like it. Usually, but not always, I rewrote.

I’m surprised at how negative Seth’s comments sound. He’s an excellent writer, very concise, interesting, easy to understand, and right to the point. Has be been arguing with his editors?  How? Is there a more successful business writer in the last few years? Who has the last word in that relationship?


  • Tim Berry says:

    Thanks Seth. Your comment makes me sorry I edited out a draft paragraph noting the nicely edged ambiguity, as in two sides of a question. So I guess this time we're both making the editors feel appreciated.

  • Seth Godin says:


    I guess I wasn't very clear! This was a pro editing piece, not a negative one.

    My point was that a great editor makes things work. (And gets you an Academy Award).

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