Yes, Book Editors…Edit?

By Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newsletter, New York [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

By Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newsletter, New York [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I just read this article from a tweet, and it was most interesting.

Do book editors…edit?

And, as the article’s author pointed out, “I probably mark up fifty to a hundred pages a week, most of it on the weekend.”

Did you catch that?

“…most of it on the weekend.”

Now, it’s not that I’m taking issues with the “not editing at work” part, so much as it is that I totally understand the sentiment. I work for a big company, so I know, yeah, Big Company Structure and Business do get “in the way” of your “paid job” at times. It’s the nature of running Big Companies. You have training and meetings and round tables and whatnot. Phone calls. Needy clients. It’s simply the nature of Big Biz.

Yet, there is the issue brought forth that editors don’t edit. But, whether they edit at work (where they’re, uh, supposed to work…?) or at home shouldn’t really be the issue, should it? And the “agents do the editing” discussion. How agents are doing the editors‘ work. Or that no one really edits anymore and everything should be “camera-ready” before it hits an editor’s desk. Or that it’s only the disgruntled few who don’t get published rattling all the cages….

Blah-blah-blah.

Look, people are going to complain about anything and everything, and those who don’t get what they seek are going to complain the loudest. It’s the nature of Humanity. Add to that all the troubles going on in the publishing industry over and above–and yes, directly related to some of these discussions–and you get quite the complicated picture.

Or, perhaps, it’s simple not that complicated at all.

Once you factor out the basic Human need to complain, the basic Human need of those who feel conspired against complaining, the need for those who do edit feeling left out and overlooked, or any of a handful of obvious variables, what’s left?

A publishing industry at odds with itself.

I’m not saying there is no validity to the piece, and I’m certainly no insider myself–heck, you could call me one of the disgruntled masses, since I’d had an agent for several years, we got nowhere, we parted (amicably) and I went Indie–but is there no truth to any of the claims–or counter claims?

I think there’s a little of both.

Look, nothing’s perfect, and the past wasn’t perfect either. Publishing (and agenting) has changed. From everything I’ve learned about publishing, there is some truth to the claims that editors don’t edit as much as they used to do (I’ve heard it from their own mouths)…sure some do…but some don’t. And, yes, agents are doing more editing than they used to (I’ve heard it from their own mouths). And, yes, publishing (talking execs, here) does want everything that comes across their transits to be “camera ready” (once, again, have heard that from their underlings, aka editors…and agents). And, yes, some editors do editing…at home, at the office, or both.

Where’s the evil, here?

It’s not black and white, it’s not all or nothing. There are, if you’ll permit me…shades of gray. Lots of it. Get over it. Quit being so quick to take [public] umbrage at every little jab at your profession. Sure, be proud of the work you do, but understand…it’s not what it used to be, and that is not necessarily a good or bad thing. Some of you do more of it than your peers.

So, really, this is the big discussion we need to be having about publishing?

 

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6 Responses to “Yes, Book Editors…Edit?”


  1. 1 Paul March 29, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Good piece, Frank. No question about it: There is NOT as much editing as there used to be, and it’s very much to the detriment of both authors and readers.

    Some of it may be the result of push-back from authors. As an editor, I encounter that attitude all the time. It takes a great deal of diplomacy to handle it properly. It also takes effort to establish and maintain good working relationships, and to restrain from editing too much.

    It’s a real art, but an art nonetheless. And because it’s not easy, it’s becoming more and more of a lost one, I think. I have many satisfied customers (writers who tell me “work your magic, please”), but I won’t kid you: It’s hard. Well worth the effort, but hard. I’m sure that’s helped make it more scarce.

    Another factor is the proliferation of outlets for people to publish. It’s a wonderful development in many ways, but it can also make an editor (or a reader, for that matter) feel overwhelmed. There’s so much to read, so much to do, that it can lead one to almost give up. Edit less. Let it go, as long as it’s “good enough.”

    So we wind up with a lot of bloated pieces that, with some extra time and effort, could truly be a good read. And that’s a shame.

    • 2 fpdorchak March 30, 2014 at 6:57 am

      Thanks, Paul.

      It really should be a give and take…and it comes down to how much you’re willing to accept what the editor proposes. Theoretically, editors should be there to make the work better…and, for the most part, I have to say I have to believe that. I’ve met some editors that were quite arrogant and intimidating, but you get that in any area of life. Most I’ve met seem to be good people, really caring about the work they take on. For the most part, I feel editors are just trying to make a piece better…but, as Joe says, there seems to be a growing “corporate model of efficiency” out there, for good or ill. What makes the quick[er] buck.

      But there is also a time where one has to “let go,” and let the work go out there. I do believe one can edit something to death. It’s letting a fine wine breathe, so to speak. Each work is different, for sure, as you say, in the “bloated” comment. And it is truly an “art” to edit something properly, where you don’t kill another’s story or voice or intent.

      And, in today’s environment, I can see how editors can feel overwhelmed—great comment, there, Paul! Didn’t really think of it that way. Editors are people too! :-]]]

  2. 3 karen Lin March 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Yes indeed, almost nothing in this world is anything but a shade of gray (except for some evil exceptions like child molestation or something egregiously heinous like that). And I have seen that agents and editor so some editing – much less so than before and much more for something they see as HOT HOT HOT rather than midlist. Sadly it is the nature of our game that we can’t throw out a prototype that has been perfect as have many inventions just to work. In part because our product isn’t cut and dried, there is artistic leeway AND we have a hard time objectively even addressing craft, let alone the nuances of voice and plot and character development. Complaining gets us nowhere. Approaching our product as one in process until we get enough of the BRAVO feedback from respected readers, is what we need to do usually before throwing it out there. Self publishing makes it easy to throw, maybe harder to stick to the wall. Some of us aren’t marketers by nature, that puts us at even more of a disadvantage for catching fire. Some lacking edit can even spark better than those that can’t get that initial traction. I’d still like to think a great book finds its way into hands. Maybe the teaser approach (like taken with Wool) is the way to go with self publishing. And networking savvy certainly doesn’t hurt; but in the end some damn good editing can make a so-so book sing.
    Thanks for the post, Frank.

    • 4 fpdorchak March 30, 2014 at 6:49 am

      There’s just so many gray area, even in my response to Joe, I can make all kinds of exceptions, which is why I have to stop expanding on my comment! :-] Really, editor opinions are just that—opinions. Sure, they carry a little more weight, because this is what they DO and are professionals at it, but they’re still OPINIONS. We can take them or leave them, dicker with them, or whatever…and hopefully, their opinions don’t change our work too drastically where we can’t work with them or stomach the changes. And there are still those trad edited work that get published that still isn’t all that great (no one’s perfect, we all have bad days, etc). Shades of gray, wrtiers, shades of gray….

  3. 5 jpon March 29, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    As a writer, I ask only one thing from an editor—tell me why. I’ve had stories published that weren’t touched, and others on which the editors and I went to the mat over phrasing and meaning and depth. But if an editor can’t explain why s/he feels it’s necessary to change something, then I’ll always refuse. So much of editing is arbitrary. (Just ask Gordon Lish and Ray Carver.)

    But the issue here seems also to be one of corporate models of efficiency. If much editing is indeed arbitrary, then the less time spent on it, the more fiscal sense it makes to the company. If we can get the agents to do it, we save money. As always, that approach is just wrong.

    • 6 fpdorchak March 30, 2014 at 6:44 am

      I always say I’m not married to any of the words in my work, so don’t mind editorial comments, in and of themselves, have never really worked with a trad publisher editor, beyond conference critiques sessions, so I can’t really say what they’re like (though have worked with fellow writer editorial comments), but I have heard many discussions over the years, and heard them speak at conferences. So, I agree, if there’s a good reason, sure, okay, that’s fine (and I think I can truly see if the reasoning is sound, for the story), and I know there’s a time and place to “fall on your sword.” I think I’m pretty good, by this point in my life, in seeing the value of editing any of my work, given my experience, to make it better. I went through that with my agent. We got along quite well in the department, and she’d brought out some good points. And, I feel, I’m pretty easy to work with. As to “corporate models of efficiency,” again, haven’t had any direct experience there, and see your point. So, the “camera-ready” concept would be, “hey, editor, quit spending so much effort/salary working a piece and ‘pass’ on it if it requires too much work!” I could say, “hey, writers, use critique groups,” but, in general, at least in my experience, I don’t always find them to be good sources of editorial comments…the first and foremost being “too many fingers in the pie” kinda argument, but also: too many different WRITER opinions (and writer-versus-reader opinions, along with the next issue I have with critique groups can hurt your work), and usually, too many “INSIDE-the-box” rules they usually follow. I don’t know, there’s just so much gray area, and this comment keeps growing, so I think I’m just gonna stop. :-]


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