Editing

Against Editors

20 August 2014

From Gawker:

In the writing world, there is a hierarchy. The writers are on the bottom. Above them are editors, who tell the writers what to change. This is backwards. How many good writers has Big Edit destroyed?

“Pish posh,” you might say. “You’re one to talk. Your grammar is wronged, your metaphors are blunt bricks, and your similes are like a hot needle to the eyeball. Your infinitives are split, your participles are dangling, your spelling is eroneous, your cliches are old as time, your sentences are repetitive, and your sentences are repetitive. Your concepts appear to have been plucked from thin air with no foresight, hindsight, or insight. If anyone is in need of a good editor it is you. And you are ugly.”

Yes. I’ll grant you that. That is beside the point.

. . . .

[W]riting and editing are two completely different skills. There are good writers who are terrible editors. (Indeed, some of the worst editors are good writers!) There are good editors who lack the creativity and antisocial personality disorders that would make them great writers. This is okay. This is natural. It is thoroughly unremarkable for an industry to have different positions that require different skill sets. The problem in the writing world is that, in order to move up, the writer must stop doing what he did well in the first place and transition into an editing job that he may or may not have any aptitude for. It is impossible to count how many great writers have made the dutiful step up the career ladder to become an editor and forsaken years of great stories that could have been written had they remained writers. Journalism’s two-step career path is a tragedy, because it robs the world of many talented writers, who spend the latter half of their careers in the conceptual muddle of various editing positions.

. . . .

Go find a story published a few years ago in The New Yorker, perhaps America’s most tightly edited magazine. Give that story to an editor, and tell him it’s a draft. I guarantee you that that editor will take that story—well-polished diamond that it presumably is—and suggest a host of changes. Rewrite the story to the specifications of the new editor. Then take it to another editor, and repeat the process. You will find, once again, that the new editor has changes in mind. If you were a masochist, you could continue this process indefinitely. You would never find an editor who read the story, set down his pencil, and said, “Looks fine. This story is perfect.” This is because editing is an art, not a science. To imagine that more editors will produce a better story is akin to imagining that a song by your favorite band would be better if, after the band finished it, it was remixed by a succession of ten producers, one after the other. Would it be different? Yes. Would it be better? I doubt it. The only thing you can be sure of is that it would not be the song that the actual musicians wanted it to be.

When any industry fills itself with middle managers, those middle managers will quite naturally work to justify their own existence. The less their own existence is inherently necessary, the harder they will work to appear to be necessary. An editor who looks over a story and declares it to be fine is not demonstrating his own necessity. He is therefore placing himself in danger of being seen as unnecessary. Editors, therefore, tend to edit. Whether it is necessary or not.

Link to the rest at Gawker and thanks to Karen for the tip.

You and Editors

26 June 2014

From author David Farland:

I got an email the other day from an unhappy writer who said that editors aren’t really editors anymore. He said that they’re just “choosers,” picking stories that need the least amount of fixing. Nobody edits.

I certainly see his argument. There are some incompetent editors. For example, I recently got an email from an author whose novel was rejected by a young editor because it was written in third person. She said, “Young adult novels are written in first person, not third!” The same editor wrote another rejection letter to another author saying, “You have adverbs in your manuscript. I would never publish a book with adverbs in it.”

. . . .

Let’s face it: traditionally, say thirty years ago, many editors weren’t formally trained. They often rose up from the secretarial pools, where they worked as slush readers. They may have had no training at all as a creative writer, or editor.

What they did have going for them was “literary sensibilities.” In other words, when they saw a story that moved them and they knew that it would touch other people, they had the good sense to buy it. Their literary sensibilities might have been their best qualification. A good eye is a gift. It can’t be trained into a critic.

. . . .

[T]hough I have worked with dozens of editors over the years, I probably have had more training than any of them. Does that mean that they weren’t helpful?

Not at all! A good editor brings his or her literary sensibilities to the table, along with their experience, which may indeed by quite vast. My editor at Tor, for example, has more experience as a book editor than anyone else in his field.

. . . .

Sometimes I will get letters from people who desperately want me to write their stories for them, or to teach them everything that they need to know to become a writer. I will usually respond by saying, “I really can’t do that.” There are just too many people who want to become writers without doing the work. I’m not a ghost writer, and I don’t have the time to be anyone’s tutor.

Editors will often feel the same. It’s not their job to go in and “fix” every manuscript. Indeed, most manuscripts can’t be fixed. Too often the authors will tell stories that are stale, where the basic concepts to the story make it so that the tale isn’t worth telling.

Link to the rest at David Farland

How to Hire the Right Editor for Your Self-Published Book

4 April 2014

From PBS MediaShift:

The book publishing industry is going through a huge transition. It’s easier than ever to get a book out into the world. All the resources you need to publish a book are available you. You no longer need to go through the traditional gatekeepers (publishers) to publish a quality book.

Because it’s so easy to publish a book and get it out to market, authors sometimes skip the critical part of editing. No matter how good of a writer you are, you need to hire an editor. If a book has too many typos, readers typically stop reading. Not having an editor go through your work is like sending an untested drug out to market.

. . . .

A developmental editor will take your manuscript and work with the content itself. If needed, they might reshape your work and rearrange sentences to make the book flow together better. This type of editor helps an author find their voice and help refine their vision.

When looking for a developmental editor it’s important to choose one who has experience in your genre or specializes in your book topic. Don’t pick a travel editor for your romance book. If the editor has only edited magazine articles it might not make sense to have him or her do a developmental edit for your book. Working with an editor who you connect really well with is key.

. . . .

Copy editing is a crucial step in the publishing process. A copy editor goes through and catches spelling mistakes, adjusts for grammar, punctuation, capitalization and consistency. A copy editor will check your manuscript line by line to make sure your work is consistent and syntax error free.

. . . .

A proofreader makes a final check of the work before it gets published or goes live. They’ll catch any mistakes that a previous editor hasn’t caught yet: spelling mistakes, extra commas or spaces, and other minor errors.

Link to the rest at PBS MediaShift

Media Group Content Chief Institutes a Zero-Tolerance Policy for Typos

4 April 2014

From JimRomensko.com:

In January, St. Augustine Record’s publisher recruited readers to help accomplish her 2014 goal of eliminating typos and grammar mistakes.

“It seems to take an army to help turn this tide,” wrote publisher Delinda Fogel.

Northeast Ohio Media Group content chief Chris Quinn is similarly frustrated by what he and readers see on Cleveland.com.

“We hear from people about typos every day,” Quinn writes in a staff memo. “It’s a genuine crisis, and it threatens our long-term success. So I’m taking the drastic action of instituting a zero-tolerance policy for typos.”

. . . .

Update: A Plain Dealer staffer sends this email:

We predicted this would happen when the company moved to this digital-first philosophy. Now, with no copy editors in the digital mix, far fewer of us on the print side and an entire layer of editors gone after layoffs, the company is reaping the consequences. It’s no one’s fault but Advance publications’. Typos are important mistakes, of course, but typos are only a symptom of the problem at the core of this backward system.

Link to the rest at JimRomensko.com and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Yes, Book Editors Edit

29 March 2014

From The Page-Turner blog at The New Yorker:

Where do book editors fit in the culture of American fiction? After reading “MFA vs NYC,” the provocative essay collection edited by Chad Harbach and published by the literary magazine n+1, one might be forgiven for thinking that we don’t fit anywhere at all. “MFA vs NYC,” according to the back cover, “brings together established writers, MFA professors and students, and New York editors, publicists, and agents” so that they might explore, if not really square, the “two cultures of American fiction.” Oddly, the voice of the New York City book editor is absent from these proceedings.

As an overview of the pressures that bear on an emerging writer today, “MFA vs NYC” is delectable reading. It also proves that there are some very good essayists who have devoted themselves to the publishing careers of others—whether as teachers in graduate programs (George Saunders, Alexander Chee) or as literary agents in New York (Melissa Flashman, Jim Rutman). I don’t think Harbach intended to send a message about book editors by excluding the voice of the professionals who help to bring many novels and short-story collections to bookstores. I know that he asked at least one of our number—not me—for a contribution. Still, the fact that “MFA vs NYC” doesn’t contain the voice of a book editor seems significant, an indication of where book editors stand in the “culture of American fiction.” I attribute this omission, accidental or not, to the longstanding rumor that editors don’t actually edit.

I was first exposed to such piffle when I was in college and working as an editorial assistant atZoetrope: All-Story, Francis Ford Coppola’s short-story magazine. I once asked a Zoetropeeditor why he didn’t move to New York and edit books. This was during a walk home from the office that made me feel grownup and like a pseudo-peer, even though I was just the kid logging submissions into a computer database. I don’t remember his exact words, but the gist of his response was: book editors are business people. Since I moved to New York, where the smaller publishing houses of yore have combined—and are combining still—into global behemoths, I have heard some version of this over and over. The real work, the saying goes, is performed at literary agencies, the “R. & D. wing of the publishing world,” as Flashman, the well-respected agent, puts it in her lapidary piece.

. . . .

“MFA vs NYC” suggests a growing rift between fiction writers and the so-called Big Five publishing houses, which is not helped by the persistent rumors of our laziness and obsolescence. None of the essays in the book’s New York City portion challenge, or even engage, the ingested rumor that the editing of book-length fiction is not performed by editors at publishing houses but, instead, by agents heroically spilling ink for their fifteen per cent.

. . . .

True, sometimes a submission arrives from an agent in publishable or nearly publishable shape. No less real is the existence of writers who “refuse” editing. Fair enough—it’s their name that appears on the book’s cover. But the idea that editors don’t have time to spend on manuscripts, or simply don’t bother, insults the job entirely. In a business as reliant on hope and potential as book publishing is—a business, in other words, reliant on the development of talent—the accumulation of exceptional anecdotes of perfect manuscripts does not tell the whole story. “Cloud Atlas” is a piece of genius. That doesn’t mean that editors don’t edit.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

A Response to Kensington

19 January 2014

A few days ago, we had a visit from Steven Zacharius, President and CEO, Kensington Publishing Corp., who responded to this post about a traditionally-published author who apparently got in trouble with her publisher because she revealed how little she was earning from her romances.

Among other things, Steven spoke about the important services his company provided for its authors/

Steven’s comments generated a lot of reponses, many of which disagreed with him. PG thinks this was the most commented-upon post that has appeared on TPV.

The following is a response to Steven that PG just approved.

Steven, I’m posting this anonymously because Kensington still has the rights to some of my books. I’m afraid that if you knew who was publicly stating this, you would retaliate by refusing the reversion I am owed under my contract.

The only reason I’m posting the information here is that my conversations with other Kensington authors assure me that at least 10 other authors could write this exact same post using this exact same language. I have altered a few items to obscure my identity, but I have not bent the underlying truth.

If you’re serious about everything you’ve said here, you don’t know what is going on inside your own company.

I requested reversion on the titles I have with you a long time ago. Your time to respond to requests under the terms of my contract passed months ago, and I have yet to hear from your legitimate publishing company despite my multiple attempts to get an answer.

I was published under the Kensington debut romance program. Your legitimate publishing company acquired my books without telling us that you were already planning to scrap the program and therefore no matter how my books performed I would not be getting a second contract.

My editor for those two books, John Scognamiglio, did not edit my books. The only response he gave to my second book was “Good.” I admit that I changed the one word I got from him here on the off chance that his single-word edit letter to me would identify me, but the friends I talked to who had him from an editor say that one to five words is the typical response he gave to their books. John is notorious among Kensington authors for not editing books.

You gave my books covers that were made from $10 pieces of stock art. The covers did not match the genre of the books.

The only reason I am not auditing my royalty statements is because it means my rights will revert to me sooner and I can start making real money off your titles.

Are you serious about wanting your company to be a legitimate publishing enterprise?

Go choose 10 random books from your catalog that John Scognamiglio has worked on and ask him to send you the edit letters he sent the authors. See how much deep editing he is really doing to make those books better.

Ask your royalty department to send you the royalty statements for all the books that sold less than 10 digital copies in the last six months, and then perform an in-house audit on those titles. (If you’re not performing in-house audits on your own royalty statements, how do you know they are accurate?)

Go tell your legal department that when a contract says they have X number of days to response to a reversion request, they should respond in no more than X number of days.

I wish you and traditional publishing all the best, but you are either lying on this page or do not understand what is happening inside your company. Neither bodes well for the long-term future of Kensington.

The Editing Myth

18 January 2014

From author Melissa Bowersock:

Periodically a new blog post or article surfaces that complains bitterly about the proliferation of indie authors, the inundation of the unwashed that is swamping Amazon and muddying the waters for the traditionally-published. This almost always boils down to two major points: (1) just ANYbody can self-publish (which obviously is very true but sounds suspiciously like sour grapes to me) and (2) indie books sometimes (maybe more than sometimes) need more editing than they get. Very often these posts bleat about the fact that if authors wait and work to be picked up by a traditional house, they will have the benefit of thoughtful, detailed, professional editing and will, therefore, produce better books.

I beg to differ.

My first book was published in 1984 by a New York house. The book was complete when they optioned it and they never suggested so much as a comma to me. The fact that they accepted the manuscript verbatim and had zero editorial suggestions seemed like a silent nod of approval, and on good days I could believe that if I wanted. On bad days, I might just believe they deemed the book “good enough” and were not interested in spending time polishing it. When I got a letter from them saying I needed to add 70 pages to get to the proper page count, there was no hint of what the content should be. Story line, plot points or character development all seemed to be of no concern whatsoever. I duly added the pages, resubmitted them, and the book went to publication without any other changes. Even my few typos went in exactly as my fingers mangled them.

A far cry from the cozy dinner-and-coffee tete-a-tetes we see between authors and their editors in the movies.

Meanwhile, I’d finished my second book and asked if they’d like to see it. Yes, indeedy; send it on in. I did, and as before, they never uttered a word of editorial wisdom, just accepted the book as written. Oh, except for the fact that for this one I needed to cut 50 pages. The dreaded page count reared its ugly head again. No other suggestions of what areas might be cut, just get the page count down.

. . . .

As an indie writer, I now get more editing input than I ever did when I was traditionally-published.

Back in the 80s when I was dealing with the New York house, this was the day of query letters via snail-mail and lugging 20-pound double-spaced manuscripts to the post office with a hand truck. I wrote in isolation, could count my willing beta-readers on one hand and exchanged terse letters with my publisher once or twice a year.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited and thanks to Patrice for the tip.

How to Keep Track of Your Elements of Style

15 December 2013

From Beyond Paper Editing:

Do you use a style sheet to keep track of details as you’re writing? Almost any writing project will benefit if you do — books, essays, instruction manuals, even blogs.
A style sheet is the organizational tool copyeditors use to record specific details about a piece of writing — things like spelling, capitalization and hyphenation — in order to make sure that these features appear the same way throughout. Basically, it’s a list of decisions you make about how you want the text to appear when it’s finished.
For example, in the paragraph above, I’ve written copyeditors. It would also be correct to write copy-editors or copy editors. By recording my decision, I’m telling others — an editor, for instance — that this is the format I’ve chosen. Keeping track of these details is an important step in ensuring that the finished product will be uniform and consistent.

. . . .

  • how dates and numbers should appear (10 Dec 2013 or December 10, 2013?)
  • spelling, including British/American differences and how names and places should be spelled throughout (Jon or John?)
  • how specific words should be hyphenated
  • how to handle possessives (Douglas’s or Douglas’?)
  • how references and citations should appear

. . . .

If a style sheet is a tool for editors, why should writers use one?
Short answer? You want to be taken seriously.  Even if you hire a copyeditor to polish your book — and especially if you don’t — you want to provide as few opportunities as possible for readers to trip. Readers perceive inconsistencies as errors, and the more of these they encounter, the more likely they are to question your trustworthiness as a storyteller or an authority on a subject.

Link to the rest at Beyond Paper Editing

The Most Underrated Novels I’ve Edited

20 November 2013

From The Daily Beast:

In book publishing, in which I was in for 15 years, eventually becoming Editor in Chief of Random House, about five out of six books don’t “work.” (Or six out of seven, seven out of eight, etc., depending on what kinds of accounting shell games are or are not being played in the back office.)  That is, they don’t earn back their advances, their sales are negligible, and/or their reviews are scanty and ignorant.  But almost every book, except those that are published most cynically and graspingly, has the passionate support of its editor. The only people sadder than the editors to see book after book sink into the mire of disregard or financial and critical failure are the authors.  For an editor, it’s as if you were a parent sending child after child out into the world only to see most of them stumble at the first curb, lose their lunch money, fall down in the playground and scrape their elbows, get into trouble for something they didn’t do, and develop eczema.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Maggie for the tip.

How Do You Spot a Good Editor and Avoid the Amateurs?

14 November 2013

From Publishing Perspectives:

There are editors, and there are people who call themselves editors. There are those in both groups who say they are good editors, but many are clearly not. This is a painful reality for the authors who put their money, faith and precious words in the hands of such editors, only to be disappointed when the text comes back with basic errors missed or, worse still, their voice and style usurped by the editor’s.

As a professional editor with many years’ experience, I have often had to pick up the pieces when an author has had a negative experience. This is bad news all round as, once confidence and trust in the editing process is shaken or lost, it can take a lot of hard work and cajoling to restore an author’s faith.

. . . .

So, how do you go about choosing a good editor for your cherished first novel or your short story? How can you tell the difference between someone who says they’re good and someone who actually is good?

. . . .

An obsession with grammar is pretty much essential. Check out the grammar and punctuation on the editor’s website and in any correspondence you have with them. An earlier career as a journalist or in publishing is common but not imperative. Being an avid reader (of anything and everything), and having an empathy for writing is a must. Indeed, being a writer, blogger or tweeter can all enhance someone’s qualifications for revising your work, but they don’t automatically qualify that person as an editor — and more accurately, a good editor.

Self-discipline is important for a good editor, as is good judgement and, crucially, an ability to express thoughts clearly and succinctly. But the thing that distinguishes a good editor from a bad one is a willingness to accept the role of an unsung hero, located firmly in the background, without even a mention in the acknowledgements. A good editor maintains the author’s voice. We walk in your shoes and never leave evidence of our own footprints. At my company, Novel Gazing, our editors have a mantra: ‘It’s your book, not mine!’

. . . .

A bad editor is often a frustrated writer. They are more interested in showing off their own skills as an author than helping you to hone yours. They change words needlessly and suffocate your style. You will get a bad feeling in your stomach when you read your edited text; you’ll feel like you’ve lost your voice. Remember, a good editor won’t change words arbitrarily or on the basis of their preferences. We won’t change ‘boundaries’ to ‘borders’ or ‘fumble’ to ‘grope.’ We will make sure that your original voice shines.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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