You’re Never Writing for Your Academic Doppelgängers

I often say that as an editor, I try to inhabit the perspective of an intelligent nonexpert. Yes, by training I’m a specialist in the field of religion, but even when I’m editing books and articles in religious studies, I’m never an expert in the specific subject matter being analyzed. That’s because my religion PhD is the product of a lot of choices that aren’t written in fancy display type on my degree. There’s some breadth to the degree, certainly, but within religion, I focused my studies on scriptures. Within scriptures, I focused on the Bible, and the New Testament, and the letters of Paul, and his Letter to the Romans in particular. And of course I don’t just approach that material from any old perspective: I employ a signifying-on-scriptures hermeneutic, identify myself as a feminist interpreter, and draw on ideological criticism. My religion PhD is not your neighbor’s religion PhD. So virtually all the manuscripts I edit are not really in my precise area of research expertise. Sure, some projects overlap with my training more than others, but for an editor that matters less than a commitment to adopting the role of intelligent, interested nonexpert. Only in that mindset can I effectively advocate for the proverbial reader, which, when you get right down to it, may be the most meaningful aspect of my work. Alas, even though audience advocacy is a significant part of editing, nobody hires me expressly to be a readership stand-in. And presumably my clients care more about my PhD and postgraduate editing training than they do my ability to be a generalist. But thinking like a...