First the brag: I recently edited an essay by Ursula K. Le Guin for The Cascadia Subduction Zone, and afterwards she told me I was "not only a good editor but a nice one." (Thank you, Ursula!) Next the confession: As a zine's "poetry editrix" I once responded to a letter from a rejected submitter by peeing on it and mailing it back. 25 years passed between these two exchanges--years during which I got a lot of experience on both sides of the editing equation. So now I look at where I've ended up and where I started out and I feel qualified to wonder:
Do editors have mighty powers? Do they ever use these powers for ill? Or only for good?
The Fem-SF list serve, on which feminist science fiction authors discuss topics of concern, once considered banning editors. The idea was that participants would feel freer to talk about their work and careers, maybe snark about turnaround times, compare pay rates. Editors were classified as bosses, and Fem-SF was going to be configured as a boss-free environment.
Then Nalo Hopkinson protested that she edited as well as wrote. Turned out there were others like that. Turns out I'm one of them. Timmi's another. In this day of independent small presses and multiple simultaneous career tracks, the editors-as-bosses model of publishing's hierarchy is really rather dated.
Editors who write--or writers who edit--want to do both things best. Also, we think we know what "best" means. Our mighty powers range from Fresh Pair of Eyes through Chicago Manual of Style to Flush Bank Account. Our origin stories are particularly helpful for us to keep in mind when it comes to understanding what our contributors are trying to accomplish and making sure they do so.
We worry. We're careful. We're busy but concerned. We don't see ourselves as villains. We don't actually intend to do ill, and we're always as diplomatic as possible--peeing on correspondence aside.
Understand this, though: we're sweet because honey is a better lubricant than gall. Or urine.
Another episode in the interval between my editorialistic nadir and zenith: I attended Clarion West in 1992. There I was introduced to the Milford method of critiquing. One of the key points I learned about this method: start out telling the writer what they did right because that shows them you know what you're talking about. This technique doesn't just make them feel good, it makes clear your bona fides. It gives your subsequent remarks credibility. Credibility you as an editor will need, since you yourself can't change the text. You can't. It's not yours; it's the author's, and only the author can change it. So if you want to see something revised, get out your plastic bear full of golden bee vomit and squeeze.
I guarantee you'll be happier thinking back on having done that than if you apply another liquid.