Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#17)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #17
In her 2012 book The Literary Legacy of the Macmillan Company of Canada: Making Books and Mapping Culture, Ruth Panofsky quotes the editorial policy of the legendary publisher John Morgan Gray: “Gray’s ‘first job’ was to help authors realize their ‘full potential’ and he consistently followed his own ‘golden rule’ for editors: ‘[When] dealing with writers who know what they are doing don’t edit any more than requested to do; stand by to help if called on. Occasionally even the most assured writer will get too close to his work and may then welcome a hint of how it appears to someone else . . . The ideal role for the editor calls for sympathetic understanding, some talent for listening, judgment and good sense.’”

 

A Remarkable Book Launch for a Remarkable Book

On March 18, I went to an event at Ryerson University to celebrate the launch of an important book just published by University of Toronto Press. The book is The Literary Legacy of the Macmillan Company of Canada: Making Books and Mapping Culture, and the author is Ruth Panofsky, who is a Professor in the Department of English at Ryerson.

Canadian book publishing has not been a subject well covered in our books. The striking exception is The Perilous Trade, by Roy MacSkimming (which I would praise, even if I had not published it at M&S). Now this fascinating new book by Ruth Panofsky turns a spotlight on this now-disappeared company that for 90 years, from its creation in 1905, was one of Canada’s most important publishers, arguably M&S’s main rival in the great work of creating Canadian Literature.

A warning and a disclaimer: I am hopelessly prejudiced in this matter, because I was Editorial Director and then Publisher at Macmillan from 1974 until I left to set up my own imprint at M&S in 1986. So I am delighted to see attention paid to this vitally important company, and in such a thorough and wide-ranging way as Ruth Panofsky has achieved.

A further disclaimer: Ruth, who interviewed me at length, has chosen to tell the sweeping story in six sections, each attached to a leading figure. The last such figure is me, in a section entitled “Editorial Coda 1974-1986: Douglas Maitland Gibson.” And the portrait painted of me is very, very kind. If I were to quote many of the last 30 pages you might accuse me of being conceited, instead of the true situation, where I am humbled. Here are the last two sentences in the book.

“Moreover, Gibson brought Macmillan’s publishing ethos to McClelland and Stewart where it touched his own imprint, Douglas Gibson Books. In the end, notwithstanding the company’s gradual demise and the eventual disappearance of its imprint, Macmillan’s legacy endured in Gibson’s lasting relationships with writers and the landmark books he edited – many by authors with former ties to the venerable Macmillan Company of Canada.”

What can I say?

Except thank you to Ruth Panofsky to devoting her attention to this now-vanished company, and to U of T Press for bringing it out so expertly, and for staging a launch party where the author and Quill & Quire’s Steven Beattie staged a discussion that was so lively that even retiring members of the audience (that would be me!) felt obliged to get involved. An interesting event, about an interesting book.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#14)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #14
In her fine new book, The Literary Legacy of the Macmillan Company of Canada: Making Books and Mapping Culture, Ruth Panofsky quotes the “urbane, cosmopolitan and well travelled” editor Kildare Dobbs. He wrote that the fiction writer must have “intuition and moral taste,” avoid cliché, melodrama, and especially “the curliness of a Victorian bandstand.” A strong novel was carefully structured, appropriately paced, and “told with skill and perception” if not “flourish and wit.” When these qualities are lacking in fiction, Dobbs asserted he “would rather embalm a corpse” than undertake revision.

Missed the previous tips? Check out Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3Tip #4, Tip #5, Tip #6, Tip #7, Tip #8Tip #9Tip #10, Tip #11, Tip #12, and Tip #13.