At Copenhagen’s Literary Festival Kbh Reads, Consumers See and Hear Editors at Work

In Feature Articles by Marie Bilde

Taking audiences behind the scenes of the editorial process, publishing house editors at the recent Kbh Reads festival showed how they handle their work—and an author’s.

Audience members at this year’s Copenhagen Reads festival. Image: Kbh Læser 2018, Kristoffer Juel Poulsen

Among a publishing house’s functions, editing may be the most difficult for readers to grasp, not least because they never see it happen. At Denmark’s recent Kbh Reads festival (Kbh for København, Copenhagen), audiences saw and heard editors from Lindhardt & Ringhof and Forlaget Gladiator work over prose onstage at first sight, or ‘prima vista.’ —Porter Anderson


By Marie Bilde | @MarieBilde

At First Sight: ‘Open, Hesitant, Expectant’
Since 2008, the annual Kbh Læser literary festival has taken place annually during late winter in the Danish capital, and this year’s edition took the concept of “Manifesto” as its theme. With events staged in libraries, bookstores, cafés, and other venues, the goal of the festival is to stimulate Copenhagen’s readers to “boil with literature” while awaiting the spring.

And this year, Marie Hauge Lykkegaard and Rasmus Lund Nielsen, two curators of cultural events, took the opportunity to bring editorial processes out of publishing offices’ cubicles and reveal them to an audience.

Two sessions were titled Kbh Redigerer—Kbh for København, or Copenhagen: “Copenhagen Edits.” In them, professional editors from Danish publishing houses were engaged to read two or three literary texts—prima vista, or on first sight, without preparation—and then to conduct spontaneous editorial discussions about them.

The texts, created by writing school students, were displayed on the screen for the audience to read along as the editors worked their way through the copy, exposing their candid editorial responses and rationales for what they recommended doing to the content.

Forlaget Gladiator’s Jakob Sandvad and Lindhardt & Ringhof’s Lene Wissing onstage in a live editing session at Copenhagen Reads, Kbh Læser 2018. Image: Marie Bilde

‘To Invite People In’

Publishing Perspectives first asked the organizers, Lykkegaard and Lund Nielsen, what prompted them to develop these sessions for the reading public. What did they expect would come out of them?

Marie Hauge Lykkegaard

Marie Hauge Lykkegaard: We both have a background as editors, and first we wanted to answer the question people often have asked us: “How do you edit a book?”

We thought it would be rewarding to create a common experience of the editing process, and to invite people in. We wanted to show how editing is a reflective practice focused on helping a text to find its own, and best, expression.

Publishing Perspectives: So how did it go on stage?

Rasmus Lund Nielsen

Rasmus Lund Nielsen: We were pleased to see how open but hesitant a first take on the text actually can be. Even very experienced editors must allow themselves to be hesitant, inquiring, and expectant, when initially presented a text.

Prima vista reading is chaotic by nature. It can take any possible direction. To be valuable, the process needs a well-defined framework. The editors on stage asked each other questions, which allowed them to analyze the texts’ possibilities together. The audience was engaged, and supplied relevant and thought-provoking comments.

‘More Confident Readers’

Publishing Perspectives then talked with Lene Wissing, a senior editor at the publishing house Lindhardt & Ringhof, and Jacob Sandvad, editor and CEO at Forlaget Gladiator. They were together onstage in the editing program.

PP: What did you hope the audience would take away from the live editing session?

“Together with the author and your colleagues, the editor establishes a reading, much as we did with each other and with the audience on stage last week.”Jakob Sandvad

Lene Wissing: We wanted them to be entertained and informed [but] I also hope that as readers they’ll now pay more attention to their immediate impressions of a text—and to become more confident readers. They saw us working to understand the text. We examined it and we proposed changes along the lines of what we understood of it.

Jakob Sandvad: I expect them to become better readers as a result of seeing a live editing session. Reading together always sharpens your awareness. This is what editors do. We often read texts with somebody else. Together we establish a common understanding of what the text says, an understanding of what kind of literary work we’ve been trusted with.

PP: Do your publishing houses profit from your having presented these live-editing sessions at the festival?

LW: Of course you could say that we’d demonstrated our “key publisher services” in live editing. But the actual motivation was curiosity and delight in innovation. What’s more, I found that I’d like to hear more from some of the authors we read.

JS: We value the dialogue with readers a lot, and this is a chance to meet future authors, as well. We’re generally happy to support any initiative that encourages people to read.

“We wanted them to be entertained and informed [but] I also hope that as readers they’ll now pay more attention to their immediate impressions of a text—and to become more confident readers.”Lene Wissing

PP: Does your participation in live editing also contribute to your craft, your editorial work? Does it bring something to your professional identity and expertise?

JS: You’ll always profit from sharing your process and expertise. When you read prima vista you fly blind, and this is a general editorial condition. There will always be a first reading. You meet the text when it’s coming into existence. Prima vista reading means breaking new ground. You need to examine a text if you want to understand it. Together with the author and your colleagues, the editor establishes a reading, much as we did with each other and with the audience on stage last week.

Forlaget Gladiator also runs a “Gladiator school” program, in which we teach people in writing. Live editing is part of what we do there every day.

LW: Live editing follows my daily work quite naturally. I present and discuss my understandings of a text with its author—my misunderstandings as well. The fact that there’s an audience in live editing makes it even more interesting to me.

Normally, I’ll have read the text before meeting the author, but I’m neither shy nor nervous to see the text for the first time with a live audience. I am only happier if they let me know that I’ve failed to catch something that could be important.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the market in Denmark is here.

About the Author

Marie Bilde

A digital publishing enthusiast focused on disruption, infrastructure, globalization, and new business models, Marie Bilde has spent 20 years in various areas of Danish publishing, holding positions as lexicographer, digital editor, and manager of digital production and distribution. Today she works as an independent book industry consultant.