The Value of Good Judgment

Martine Rothblatt on cover of NY Mag

Martine Rothblatt on cover of NY Mag, 2014

Back in 2005, I met and had the privilege of working with someone very special—Martine Rothblatt, who contacted me after she saw a sign I posted in town advertising my services as a website designer. At the time, I had a small business creating websites (using that old dinosaur Dreamweaver) for local businesses. This was back when do-it-yourself apps like Squarespace didn’t yet exist. I learned to use Dreamweaver while creating a website for my husband’s business, Restoration Performance Motorcars of Vermont.

It’s ironic that I moved from NYC to a small town in Vermont, and the latter is where someone who has graced the cover of New York Magazine found me. The one-stoplight town I live in is adjacent to a (very hilly, very rural) hamlet that’s home to some very interesting and accomplished characters, including the NYT bestselling author Chris Bohjalian. Martine has a home in the area, and maintains an office for the Terasem Foundation here as well. A few years ago, we were all entertained when Randy Quaid escaped the Canadian Mounties by holing up in these parts (he may still be here; only the mountains know).

Martine needed a website for a book she wrote, called Two Stars for Peace, about the Arab-Israeli conflict. She later asked me to create a logo for and edit the Terasem Journals.

Martine’s stature (both physical and professional—she’s quite tall, and she invented Sirius satellite radio and runs a pharmaceutical company, among other things) was slightly intimidating when we first met but quickly dissipated as I got to know her kind, smart, and nonjudgmental nature. In addition to her palpable warmth, I’ll never forget something she told me. She said that I had good judgment. It sounds silly but—due to my young age at the time and the fact that it came from her—it meant a lot to me. It still does.

Now that I’ve been working as an editor for several years, I’ve noticed time and time again that effective editing and an inclination to be carefully discerning go hand in hand. An editor can know a style guide inside and out and commit Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary to memory, but if she can’t assess a book in a more holistic way—using a combination of heart, hard-earned wisdom, and intuition—she can’t edit well. By “edit well,” I mean bring an author closer to what they’re trying to realize and coax a piece of writing into bloom, which is only possible when there is a genuine sense of trust between writer and editor. And you can’t trust someone whom you don’t perceive as having good judgment.

Of course, sound judgment alone does not make a good editor. Editors also need to be familiar with reference materials, language trends, and publishing practices. But even when using tools, judgment comes into play. Louise Harnby describes (inadvertently) how a tool alone can’t save the day in this post on her blog The Proofreader’s Parlour. And a favorite Twitter hashtag of some editors is #SpellCheckCantSaveYou. My experience has been that authors want to work with someone they feel connected to and can trust. Don’t we all?