Booker judges shouldn’t blame editors for overlong novels

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

Editorial Power Means Blowing Up the Machine from the Inside

From The Literary Hub:

Many of us aren’t surprised by the revelations of sexual misconduct and abuses of power that have recently come to light, and as editors, we have long expected similar reports of sexual discrimination and abuse in the literary world. Literary Hub decided to bring together nine women editors to have a discussion about these issues, focusing specifically on journals and magazines and the way women in positions of leadership have navigated these issues throughout their careers, and how they continue to navigate them.

. . . .

What does editorial “power” mean to you?

Elissa Schappell: Getting to blow up the machine from the inside. Being able to amplify the voices of the writers whose stories aren’t being told and need to be.

 Marisa Siegel: Editorial power means the following to me: 1) The power to shape an editorial mission, and in doing so, to shape a publication’s identity and to use its platform in the ways I believe are most important, and, 2) The power to share writing with readers, and hopefully, to open readers’ minds to new ideas, possibilities, and worlds.

Eliza Borné: It’s the freedom to create the kind of magazine I want to read, and it’s an enormous privilege. Many people have put their trust in me as I occupy the editor’s chair—the magazine’s readers and contributors, my colleagues, our board of directors. As editor, I have a responsibility to maintain their trust.

. . . .

Jennifer Acker:  Marisa’s definition is spot on, and I also want to highlight Eliza’s point about management. Keeping an organization running is a behind-the-scenes business—one that’s a prerequisite to publishing anything. As a founder, I am keenly aware that we need to keep the lights on in order to create literary conversations and launch the careers of writers.

Medaya Ocher: Editorial power is an odd thing to dissect because it is extensive and pervasive in some ways and negligible in others. There are a few people in this world who decide who speaks and when and where, and editors are part of that small minority. Not only that, but editors also have power over how someone speaks. That is a massive privilege to hand to some other person. I wouldn’t even let someone else order for me at a restaurant. It involves trust and a measure of faith that is kind of shocking if you think about it. Of course, part of being a good editor is maintaining and respecting that voice, but still, I’ve got someone’s language in my hands. What a thing to handle. The other way of looking at this kind of power, is the power of making a text or a voice stronger, clearer, helping another person articulate something that they may have trouble saying. Legibility, making one person’s thoughts legible to another, is a significant power in itself.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG suggests that real editorial power looks like this:

Edward Garnett, an ‘Uncommon Reader’

From The Wall Street Journal:

The honor roll of truly great modern literary enablers is a short one. T.S. Eliot had Ezra Pound, who cut “The Waste Land” down from a flabby hodgepodge into the allusively lean masterpiece we know. Samuel Beckett, teaching English in Paris, was inspired to try his hand at non-academic writing by another Irish iconoclast, James Joyce. William Faulkner had Sherwood Anderson to convince him to stop wasting time on poetry and start writing novels about his native Mississippi. Well before that, though, Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, John Galsworthy, May Sinclair, Sarah Orne Jewett, Edward Thomas, T.E. Lawrence, Arnold Bennett, E.M. Forster, H.E. Bates, Liam O’Flaherty and Sean O’Faolain all had Edward Garnett, a talent scout with an almost unerring nose for what we now recognize as the modernist note. Never before or since has one mentor been so influential in shaping the direction of English letters—not just for his own age, but beyond.

. . . .

Born in 1868 into a bookish middle-class Victorian family (his father was a librarian at London’s British Museum), Garnett had an extraordinary influence upon the creation and reception of some key works of the next century. Though Garnett started out with his own literary aspirations—he attempted both novels and plays, all daringly experimental and each an unmitigated flop—what allowed him to make his mark on English literature was his day job as publisher’s reader, first at T. Fisher Unwin, and later at Heinemann, Duckworth and Cape. In this capacity, Ms. Smith reports, he assessed about 700 manuscripts submitted for publication each year.

. . . .

In the days before professional literary agents had become commonplace, Garnett served many authors as promoter—bullying magazines to take their work and placing puffs in the national press—and as agony uncle and writing coach. Two of Ms. Smith’s chapters are called “Rescuing Conrad” and “Fishing Out Lawrence” (D.H., not T.E.).

. . . .

Ms. Smith notes wryly that as an editor Garnett adapted his approach “to the temperament of the protégé, reassuring the timid, cajoling the reluctant and bellowing at the bloody-minded.” Joseph Conrad, whom Garnett met when the sailor-novelist submitted the manuscript of his first book, “Almayer’s Folly,” to Unwin in 1894, needed to be constantly reassured and cajoled. Garnett saw that the highly strung Conrad, though still actively seeking a new berth on a ship, really “desire[d] to be encouraged to write.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Here’s a link to An Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett, Mentor and Editor of Literary Genius

Driving Down the Price of Publishing

From Good Ereader:

Not too long ago, self-published authors were collectively admonished about the need to invest in their work. Hiring quality editors, proofreaders, cover designers, and formatters before attempting to sell a book was the constant mantra of industry experts. While some hapless writers continued to slap their Word docs up on Amazon and hope to snare a few readers, authors who took their careers seriously made the proper investments.

Around that time, a number of startups emerged, all billing themselves as eBay-like marketplaces for author services. Many of those startups have shuttered their virtual doors, while a few that produced meaningful connections between authors and publishing service providers have managed to thrive. But that hasn’t stopped newcomers to the game from trying to continually undercut the concept of paying for quality work.

“When I first began finding clients through online freelance postings, the self-publishing industry was a different place,” stated one editor who did not wished to be named. “Authors who had done their homework not only knew how much editing might cost, but they also knew enough to have sent their work to their writing group for critiques or even beta readers before declaring it ‘ready’ for editing. Now, I find new job postings almost daily requesting full edits of an 80,000-word book for $100.”

That’s one of the double-edged swords of self-publishing, of course. An indie author without a solid backlist and sales to go with it may not be able to invest thousands of dollars for a full suite of services, but that doesn’t change the income needs of those who are expected to do the work.

“I love spending time with other local authors, but conversations about finding editors and cover designers have become heartbreaking,” said Andrea Patten, award-winning author of The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head. “Poor quality isn’t good for any of us. If we don’t support talented, experienced editors and designers, all that will be left are those who are willing to be the lowest bidder.”

Link to the rest at Good Ereader

Book doulas: the new way to push your writing into the world

From The Guardian:

“Are book doulas a thing?” asks a writer I know. “I’d love to get one.”

Book doulas are a thing, because where there is a need, there is a service. Traditionally, they were non-medically trained professionals who cared for the emotional wellbeing of women in labour. These days, doulas are used in many other contexts where you may need someone to ease you through a process and provide emotional support, for instance abortion, divorce, death – and, now, for writing books.

Distinguishing themselves from agents and editors, book doulas offer a sort of coaching service, a kind eye to reassure nervous authors who are having trouble getting their book published. Ariane Conrad, who calls herself an “editorial coach and consultant, AKA book doula”, refers to her services as “bookbirthing”.

“I take my time getting to know you, your project and your voice. I listen and focus deeply. Committing your ideas, experiences or life’s work to writing can be intimidating. I will reassure you,” writes Ariane on her website, in the warm and fuzzy tone common to many birth doulas.

Editor, writing coach and book doula Ali Lawrence says the service involves: “Meeting my clients where they are most vulnerable – needing guidance, support, encouragement, empowerment, accountability – and helping them to achieve their book goals.”

Lawrence, who says the term “really resonates for me when thinking of the creative process of book writing”, stresses: “I’m not a publisher, I’m not an agent. I’m a partner in reaching your book goals.”

. . . .

But is it all marketing rubbish? When I describe book doulas to other writers, most take issue with the basic analogy. As a mother and writer myself, I agree that giving birth is most definitely more painful than producing a book.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The Book He Wasn’t Supposed to Write

From The Atlantic:

I had written five books for Scott Moyers, following him as he moved from editing jobs at Scribner’s to Random House and then to Penguin Press. We worked well together, and in part thanks to his strong editing hand, my last three books had been bestsellers.So what happened when I finished years of work and sent him the manuscript of my sixth book stunned me. In fact, I was in for a series of surprises.

They began about 18 months ago, after I emailed to him that manuscript, a dual appreciation of Winston Churchill and George Orwell. When I had begun work on it, in 2013, some old friends of mine thought the subject was a bit obscure. Why would anyone care how two long-dead Englishmen, a conservative politician and a socialist journalist who never met, had dealt with the polarized political turmoil of the 1930s and the world war that followed? By 2016, as people on both the American left and right increasingly seemed to favor opinion over fact, the book had become more timely.

But two weeks after I sent him the manuscript, I received a most unhappy e-mail back from him. “I fear that the disconnect over what this book should be might be fundamental,” Scott wrote to me, clearly pained to do so. What I had sent him was exactly the book he had told me not to write. He had warned me, he reminded me, against writing an extended book review that leaned on the weak reed of themes rather than stood on a strong foundation of narrative. I had put the works before the two men, he told me, and that would not do.. . . .

Partly, I was crushed. But even more, I was puzzled. How could I have been so off in my perception of my manuscript? This wasn’t a hurried work of a few months. For three years, I had steeped myself in Churchill, Orwell, and their times, reading hundreds of books, which were scattered in piles across the floor of my office in the attic of my home in Maine. The biggest of the piles was books by Churchill himself. The second biggest was diaries, memoirs, and collected letters by British politicians and writers of the 1930s and ’40s.

Scott followed up with a lengthy letter—I think it was about 10 pages—detailing his concerns.

. . . .

I spent the next five months, from mid-January to mid-June of 2016, redoing the whole book, rethinking it from top to bottom.

I began by taking his letter and his marked-up version of the manuscript with me to Austin, Texas, where my wife and I were taking a break in February from the long Maine winter. (Austin is a great town for live music, food, and hiking—and its winter feels to me like Maine in the summer.) I sat in the backyard and read and reread Scott’s comments. I didn’t argue with them. Rather, I pondered them. If he thinks that, I would ask myself, how can I address the problem? I underlined sections. At one point he pleaded in a note scrawled in the margin, “If you would only defer to the narrative, you could get away with murder.” I liked that comment so much I typed it across the top of the first page of the second draft, so I would see it every morning as I began my day’s work.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

8 Top Publishing Lessons Authors Need To Know

From Digital Book World:

Writing is not the same as publishing. That may seem obvious to most. But picture a young author with a lot to say – This person writes and writes, day after day. Amasses a seven-foot-tall stack of words on paper. This person then thinks everyone would love to read what they wrote.

Why not? They enjoyed writing it. They know it’s good. They send one of their stories off to a publishing house – maybe two. Okay, they send it off to five dozen.

And the answers come back: Not a chance in H. E. double hockey sticks!

Our author is crushed, heartbroken. Vows to never write again!

Quick show of hands – How many authors approach their writing careers in the same way?

. . . .

1. You’ve spent hours writing your manuscript – now what?

After writing your manuscript for more hours than you can count, you’re not finished. Now it’s time to invest in a Manuscript Overview. What’s that? It’s a process whereby you send your work off to a trusted, experienced editor. They read your work and give you professional, genre-specific feedback: tell you what’s good, what needs work, if your manuscript is ready to publish. It can be painful – but it’s a necessary step on the road to publishing. A roadmap to make your work more successful in the marketplace. It’s to your advantage.

2. You’re tooling around on social media – time to get real.

At the same time as the Manuscript Overview is going on, begin strengthening your on-line presence through interactive social media. These days, even Fiction authors need a platform. Facebook is still a good way to do this, so is Instagram. Whatever you do, invite your community into a relationship. The thing to remember is publishers are looking for authors who already have a following that can be motivated to purchase books.

. . . .

6. Say cheese! Get a professional author photo.

What’s needed is a high-res, professional photo to place on your book, stick on your business cards, add to your sell sheets… get the picture?

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Red Pens and Invisible Ink

From Slate:

In 2008 I published a short piece in Cabinet magazine on the fate of writer Thomas Browne’s skull, stolen from his coffin 158 years after his death. It caught the attention of an editor at a small press called Unbridled Books, Fred Ramey, who contacted me and asked if I would develop it into what became my first book. He particularly praised the final line of the Cabinet piece, saying that line showed him I was a strong writer. I didn’t have the courage to tell him that the line in question had not been written by me but added by my editor at Cabinet, Sina Najafi.

Who can properly claim credit for such a line, written by the editor but appearing under the name of the writer? Where is the editor’s hand evident—if at all—in the writer’s work? Ramey asks these questions in The Insect Dialogues, a book-length conversation with another writer, Marc Estrin, on the role and responsibility of the editor.

In early 2000, Estrin submitted a 900-page manuscript to Ramey, then an editor at Penguin Putnam; Ramey agreed to publish it only on the condition that they cut 300 pages and significantly revise it. The result, Insect Dreams: The Half-Life of Gregor Samsa, went on to garner critical acclaim (though moderate sales) and initiated a professional relationship and friendship between the two. Ramey eventually left Penguin Putnam and co-founded Unbridled Books; there he published five more of Estrin’s books through 2009. (Ramey also published my second book, though we haven’t worked together in over five years.)

Since then, though, Estrin has founded his own press, Fomite Press, and in 2016 decided to publish his original, unadulterated manuscript, now titled Kafka’s Roach: The Life and Times of Gregor Samsa. While Ramey gave Estrin his blessing, he feared such a move might be seen as a repudiation of his original editing, and so a third book was born: The Insect Dialogues, a transcription of a three-month email exchange in which the two discuss the history of this book in particular and, through it, much larger questions of publishing, editing, and authorial authority.

So within these pages there’s a hint of recrimination, at times even bitterness. What’s clear is that Estrin, despite his gratitude for a publishing break, never seems to have considered Insect Dreams entirely his. He refers to it as “my book in Fred’s edit,” or “Fred’s Gregor,” the novel that’s been “fredited,” all the while keeping hold of the manuscript he calls “the original Gregor.” Ramey in turn sees Estrin’s decision to publish his original manuscript as, at least in part, a repudiation both of Ramey’s editorial work and the larger question of editing altogether. “At the end of the day,” he worries, “Kafka’s Roach will become and always be the real novel; Insect Dreams will be the artificial, tainted construct.”

Link to the rest at Slate