An amusing description recently appeared in the Times Literary Supplement regarding what talents and temperament an editor needs. “Rat-like cunning, a plausible manner, and a little literary ability,” went the quip.
I seem to be a little deficient in the rat-like cunning department, but otherwise that resumé rings true. Of course, different magazines require different kinds of cunning from editors. At Commonweal, I spend a lot of time looking for articles and writers. This is partly because we pay very little and partly because professional writers would rather place their work in magazines with larger circulations. The curious mix of topics we cover is yet another difficulty. There just aren’t many magazines that do theology and politics, movies and encyclicals, literature and bioethics. As a result, I often look for someone who knows something I think readers want to know about or someone who has an important story to tell, rather than for a particular writer. Once I start working with a writer, things usually pan out well, but sometimes they don’t, and for interesting, often telling reasons. From time to time, hints about where American Catholicism might be headed surface in the editing process.