Saturday, November 13, 2010
Writer Angst Part 3 --- Editors
If literary agents are a bridge between authors and getting published, then editors are thr road signs, if not the very road itself toward that end. The new or aspiring author has to understand the part of the editor. I think far too many believe that once they have an agent, it all comes down to a sales pitch to a publisher. That the next step is, a place on the bookshelf. Something else has to happen before your dream comes true. The something, is a someone. You will know little of who this person is, but the future of your work is in their hands.
Editors have the most amazing, and somewhat secret, way of doing what they do. They add another layer of checks and balances to the publishing process. Actually, more than one layer, since their OCD bretheren, the copy editor, adds a last laugh before publishing. Oh sure, the author gets views after each process, but unless you are a successful author, challenging an editor's requests can often make the "Things not to do" list. Don't get me wrong, an author has to stand up for their work. Just pick your battles wisely.
The editor is part Yoda and Gollum - wise, but obsessed. Paid by an author privately, they manage patience as best they can. Paid by a publisher - just this side of whip cracking can happen, though more often it takes the form of lengthy, very exact, e-mails. (your agent is in the middle of all this, of course) Editor's respect the creative process, but demand in their own unique way, what will make the story "right".
I made an observation to an editor that had him no doubt shaking his head before I finished my thought. I had tried to make the analogy that an author has to hold their work up to a mirror, to see problems from a different perspective. This comment was met with a silence for a few moments. Just as I was about to pat myself on the back for my example, I got slapped back to reality.
"The problem with your mirror, is that it's your mirror," (insert long exhale by my editor friend), "you'll gain no objectivity from holding the mirror just so. I can't tell you how many authors believe themselves to be objective about their own work. They come up with reasons on why or how they edited. In most cases they think knowing the definition of edit is enough." He gave me a gravel tinted chuckle as I listened and tried to think of what next to ask. He beat me to it.
"Your about to ask my advice to an author, right? Well, the first thing I'd tell them is learn to spell,(I pulled at my shirt collar, al la Rodney Dangerfield, and could swear the room was getting a tad warm).The second thing I'd say is read it out loud. Find sentences or phrases that don't work and re-write or remove them. Third, have someone, other than a friend, read your work. Take whatever anyone says to heart, because that's your damn mirror. An editor reads with the thought of the future reader, not the author's dream."
After our conversation, I came up with this:
Think of a statue. A book without an editor, is a glob of clay with a smiley face and catchy name. With an editor, you get MARBLE, with some nice curves, and a smiley face... And suggestions for better names.
You thought I'd say you'd get Michelangelo's David? An editor can't make a bad story or horrible writing great. They can give the story a better foundation, read-ability and shape. Yet they depend on the initial product to be worthy. For my money, there is no better investment than an editor.
Agents have to use their experience to match a manuscript to the editor. Different editors have different strengths. Some specialize in genres or even a voice. A few really can do it all, but most tend to stay in their comfort zones. So add this to the list of things I didn't tell you about agents in Part 2. Agents shop your story to editors, who have limits on how many manuscripts they can deal with in a year.
Great editors are coveted. They have earned reputations for their work. Think getting to be a debut author is tough? Ask an editor how hard they had to work to get to where they are today. They have the academic resumes to back up their successes. My interview with Peter Ginna was extremely interesting. When I read the answers to my questions, I began to kick myself because I didn't ask more than I did. I suddenly thought of fifteen or twenty questions I could have put to him.
Editors seldom get the credit they deserve. I honor those authors that place mention of the editor's work in their books. The editor must constantly adapt to changing literary preferences. I wanted to ask Peter Ginna how long it takes him to write a text message. (LOL) Changes in slang, must drive them to drink... Or miniature golf. Non-Fiction is one thing, but with Fiction, editors must open a new manuscript like a bomb disposal guy lifting a lid.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I think editors are golden. After all I've learned about what they do... Think DIAMONDS...
Posted by Douglas Morrison at 8:55 PM