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Booker judges shouldn’t blame editors for overlong novels

10 October 2018

From The Guardian:

Every year, there is a controversy at the Man Booker prize; this year, it is all about the work of editors. Or rather, the supposed lack of work that editors are doing.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, chair of the judges, implicitly blamed editors for the poor quality of some of this year’s submissions while announcing the 2018 shortlist: “We occasionally felt that inside the book we read was a better one, sometimes a thinner one, wildly signalling to be let out.” Fellow judge Val McDermid went further by suggesting modern editors don’t know what they’re doing. “I think,” she said, “young editors coming through are not necessarily getting the kind of training and experience-building apprenticeship that happened when I was starting out.”

As an editor, my immediate reaction was to bite back. Yes, I’ve read a few saggy titles over the past few months. (Two of them crime novels endorsed by none other than Val McDermid.) And when you read a book you think is overlong, it’s hard not to wonder why it wasn’t cut into shape. But I’d still caution against the reflexive tendency to blame editors. A title belongs to an author, first and last. We at the publishing end are there to make suggestions, not to implement changes with an iron rod. If an author is determined to save a few darlings that we want to slaughter, it’s their call. We can’t force a writer to do anything. Nor should we try.

I’m yet to meet an editor who doesn’t work hard on the books they take on, and who doesn’t take pride in that work. But I can see how problems arise. Editing takes effort and skill, and it’s carried out by humans – and we all make mistakes. Maybe those mistakes multiply if you have a large number of titles on your list; I’ve certainly heard enough complaints from editors at the Big Five about being forever distracted by spreadsheets and meetings, ending up as much a product manager as an artistic facilitator.

. . . .

We’ve spent months, sometimes years, editing novels, trying to check the flow and sense of each individual sentence, as well as working on all the wider questions of structural flow. We’ve laboured long over obstacles that lie between the reader and the author’s vision. Most importantly – and enjoyably – we’ve had endless back–and–forth with our writers as they carried out improvements.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Editing, Non-US

3 Comments to “Booker judges shouldn’t blame editors for overlong novels”

  1. What the judges like may not be what actually sells the book to the readers. By their way of thinking the longest Steven King book shouldn’t be more than a hundred pages …

  2. Some of us prefer to be completely responsible for the books that go out under our name, with tactics including ferocious self-editing and no meddling by outsiders.

    I wonder if we can get the judges to insist on that? Being responsible for your own book: what a concept!

  3. All else being equal: covers are equally good, description interests me in equal amounts, same genre, price is relatively the same, etc…

    I am FAR more likely to buy the longer book. Because I have finite entertainment dollars. And if the book isn’t for entertainment, but education, the longer book likely provides more value, everything else being equal.

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