Monday, March 24, 2008

Edits and Idjits

Girl Peeling Potatoes,
Evert Pieters (1856-1932),
oil on canvas.

Now and then one may read an assertion by some poor sod who categorically and hysterically rejects the concept of any editorial oversight. Their preciousss work. Their work of transcendent genius. Written in blood.

Publish America serves a purpose, I suppose.

But it is gob-smacking, flabbergasting, and altogether astounding to read of an (allegedly) legitimate publishing house that can't be bothered to waste time and money on editing because (a) writers are too dumb to learn from the process, and (b) readers are too dumb to care.

Insert Miss Snarkism here: Your choice: WTF or clue cannon. Either will serve.

Dumb, clearly, is not a condition restricted to (a) and (b) above.

Then there are writers who claim to suffer palpitations at the prospect of an editorial pen.

I don't get that either.

And I'm not particularly machochistic.

No matter how good your basic skills in story telling (both macro and micro), no matter how acute your beta readers and critters, it's a rare piece indeed that can't be improved by the industry-trained eye of a competent editor.

Good editors will not suggest changes to a text without a clearly-expressed raison d'etre. And good writers--if they reject those suggestions--should always have solid, objective arguments to justify their stets.

I'm sure there are autocratic editors out there, just as there are recalcitrant writers, but I doubt if either class comprise the majority.

Editing is not an adversarial situation; it's a joint effort, a co-operation.

And that's the only attitude a writer should bring to the table.


BernardL said...

I think writers should also bring the writing confidence, which plotted and sustained the book from beginning to end, to the table with them too. In launching the final editing process with the same people crusading for the elimination of adverbs, similes, dialogue markers, and various other whimsical declarations, writers must also have faith in what they created. As there are certainly clueless writers, there are also most certainly clueless editors. :)

Bernita said...

You know, Bernard, in spite of all the "don'ts" out there, don't think I've ever read a book with no adverbs and with none of the other "oh noes."

ChristineEldin said...

I agree with Bernard. Sometimes it's hard to edit and maintain your voice, but certain digressions are obvious.

idjits I learned how to ski last year. The instructor kept warning me about the 'eedjits.' I keps looking for those horrendous things, only to discover he was saying 'edges.' LOL!

Jaye Wells said...

Bernita, considering I'm on probably my twelfth re-through of my novel and I'm still finding mistakes and weak sentence structure, I have to heartily agree with your sentiments. I'm sure even with all this, the copy edit phase will be quite humbling.

bunnygirl said...

The professional editing process is daunting but can result in a much more polished work. There's nothing like an impartial eye.

I went through several edits for a flash fiction piece that was published in an e-zine in Feb and just the back-and-forth for that little story was exhausting, but highly instructive. And yes, it made for a better-told tale.

As in any profession, there are good editors and less-than-good ones, but the good ones are well worth listening to!

Regarding the picture, isn't it interesting that prior to our modern age no one thought it odd to let a child handle a sharp knife like that?

Bernita said...

A good editor will maintain and strengthen a "voice", Chris.

And there's the "inner tweak" syndrome too, Jaye.
I suffer from that as well.
Every house has their "style manual," so many things won't be "wrong" they'll just be preferred.

Dare I say, Bunny, I actually enjoy the process?
Have seen the editor save my ass.

A paring knife, a jack knife was seen simply as a tool, a quite necessary one.
This modern age prohibition is within the last 30-40 years.

Aine said...

Is it just me, or does it seem that cooperation is (sadly) becoming quaint?

As a rehab therapist, I was trained to collaborate with my clients. But so many healthcare consumers want a quick fix. They expect a practitioner who can do something "to" them, not "with" them.

I find myself feeling old when I have such "what is the world coming to" thoughts.

Bernita said...

Aine, I wonder if that attitude is a form of bewildered passivity resulting from our complex world.
And then I wonder if it's just quick-fix syndrome.

bookfraud said...

having sat on both sides of the writer-editor divide, i have pretty strong feelings about this topic. i've found that a writer's violent reaction in editing his or her work edited is often in direct proportion to his or her insecurity, and often is in inverse proportion to the quality of their work.

that said, editors at publishing houses don't do much editing any more. they're all about acquiring best-sellers. many authors hire out their own editors and proofreaders because they know the publishing house isn't going to spend the money to do so. as you say, they assume the public doesn't care.

Bernita said...

Book, I have a profound distaste for the idea of an author hiring an editor or a proofer, because I think a writer, to call themself such, is obligated to learn writer skills before they submit.

Lisa said...

Writers who are paranoid about being edited bewilder me. I'd give my eye teeth for input from an editor at a publishing house.

Bernita said...

I can't relate either, Lisa.

raine said...

When I read about the house that freely admitted they couldn't be bothered with editing, I'll admit that my jaw dropped. It didn't say much for what they thought of their writers--or readers, for that matter.
And I have no problem with working with editors generally speaking. I've had some excellent ones, and that objective eye is invaluable. I've had one bad experience with an editor who is now out of the business, and rightfully so. But the majority have been godsends.

Robyn said...

I'm going to speak as a reader here. I'm incredibly offended at the notion that I can't spot bad editing and bad writing when I see it, and even if I do I won't care. If all these people are expecting me to plunk down my hard-earned cash, they damn well better make it worth my time. I didn't spend a mind-numbing, soul-depressing hour at work to take that money and give it to a publishing house (and author) who thinks I'm too stupid to notice laziness.

Wavemancali said...

Being an unpublished writer, I can see the fear of the editor's pen.

I would be thinking, what if they want to cut one of my favorite things?

Brandon Sanderson, the gentleman taking over the Wheel of Time series for the late great Robert Jordon has a weekly podcast at with 2 of his friends.

They titled this topic killing your darlings. I thought it was great advice.

One of my other favorite non-prolific writers Stephen R. Boyett blogged about his struggle dealing with the editors pen as well.

I think the reason I dread the pen so much is at the moment when I write, I'm writing for myself. I know what I like.

When I get to the point where I feel more comfortable with the thought of writing for others, I don't think I'll fear the pen as much

Bernita said...

Raine,that comment from that house is so utterly stupid as to be sublime.

Exactly, Robyn.

Wave, as Bernard said above, if you have confidence based on a solid grasp of the fundamentals, you will know that all "darlings" need not be killed.
I don't believe writers are totally incapable of objectivity regarding their own writing.
And the more you write, the less precious individual "darlings" become.
One could look at it this way - any editor might well love your "darlings" too.

StarvingWriteNow said...

I have been noticing more errors out there in magazines and newspapers over the last couple of years. And just the other day a couple of clear, blatant errors in a book that made me say, "Hang on, aren't they paying people to take care of stuff like this?" Or, as you so eloquently put it, does the publishing world think we're too dumb/apathetic to notice/care?


Josephine Damian said...

I think the biggest leap forward I've taken as a writer is the ability to ruthlessly self-edit.

Whatever you can do to stand out from the slush pile, the better, and a polished work should convey the message that you're already a self-sustaining pro. I'm sure an agent and editor will find room for improvement in my MS, and I'm more than eager to listen and make changes if it'll lead to a sale.

But I'm growing less and less patient with writers - published and unpublished - who need a bunch of betas and CP's to get a work in decent shape - to me, editing is part of my job as the writer and not some task I'm not capable of because I'm too enamoured with my own prose to know when the writing sucks.

Kill YOUR darlings - all of them - and don't leave it for somebody else to do.

Bernita said...

WriteNow, I don't think the publishing world in general believes that.

Josephine, if one can self-edit, one will know that all darlings need not and should not be killed, because one will have honed one's craft to the point where one can recognize that now and then one gets it right.

I have no patience with these absolute mantras.

Dave F. said...

When I worked (before retirement) we had this "editor" at work who supposedly made all the technical publications perfect. She was a royal pain in the buttocks. She caused no end of grief because she wasn't technical. But what are you going to do? And besides, there was value added (with grumbles).

Well, we sent a paper to the Journal of FUEL (very British and the pinnacle of my work at the time) and I saw what the final editor did to make that paper fit the style of the Journal. This is the type of publication that gets promotions for the writers. (all four coauthors)...

The manuscript, which was damn near perfect regrading usage and punctuation, the final editor made changes in nearly every sentence. When I read the changes to the paper it sounded sophisticated and professional according to the standards of the Journal of FUEL. Our version, while good, paled in comparison.

I don't know who that editor was, but I worship the ground he or she walks on.

A good editor will make the paper or the story better. If a writer can stand back from their writing and objectively read through the edits, they'll most likely find out the novel is better for it.

I've seen Self-Publishers that don't edit or copyedit and just depend on the writer to provide the text. I wouldn't waste my money on printing without at least a copyedit. I know how I write and I know the value of an editor.

Bernita said...

Ah, Dave, vanity pubs and self-publishing is a whole different ball of wax. There I definitely would consider a writer might hie his/her self to an editor.

Gabriele C. said...

All those publisher kerfuffles and problems I've come across the last months made one thing clear to me: no e-publishers and no small presses. If Tor or Bantam won't want my books, I can go via Lulu with less hassle than via New Concept and Co.

And get an agent.

Bernita said...

The attitudes and opinions coming out of NCP didn't do small press/ e-pubs any good, Gabriele.

kmfrontain said...

Hiring editors and proofreaders before subbing to agents and publishers....

Oh, my. If editors at publishing houses, print publishing houses, don't edit much, then... The work ethic... I'm getting a nose bleed. Brain...melting...urk!

Bernita said...

No wonder, Karen, since you are an excellent and conscientious editor.

spyscribbler said...

But it is gob-smacking, flabbergasting, and altogether astounding to read of an (allegedly) legitimate publishing house that can't be bothered to waste time and money on editing

What? Where? What'd I miss? Will you post a link? Or send me one?

My epubs do some to no editing, depending. As a result, I've improved a ton at self-editing. It's part of my writing process, now. Not having that safety net has forced me to eagle-eyed and ruthless.

But, I'll take an editor any day. Lord, definitely. Heck, my dream agent will go through it once before my dream editor gets it. I know that's not often done, but, goodness. That would definitely be a dream.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

My editorial team just had this discussion last night! (Caveat: we've had remarkably few problems.) But it is interesting how many writers forget the other half--and yes, I give it a full half--of the equation: the reader. If you're writing to sell, you're writing to be read. At that point, be the reader a paying editor or a purchaser of a magazine or book, they add their own mental insertions, their own perspective and experience, to your precioussss work.

To me that's how two halves add up to more than one whole. I didn't really learn that until I started editing.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Additionally, we discussed the "million word" theory: that writers must write a million words to start to come to grips with all the must do--one of which is ruthless revising and editing. I envy anyone who doesn't need a million words on their hard drive to proceed in any professional manner--I certainly did! Passed that milestone last year. :)

Bernita said...

New Concepts Publishing, Natasha.
I believe the e-mail outlining that attitude can be found at Karen Knows Best as well as other places.
I am surprised to hear that other e-pubs don't edit.

SS, it's a given, if one submits work, one expects/intends it to be read, so the reader must be considered, as Robyn expressed above.
The editor is the funnel in the jar.

Ello said...

This is why I've been told many published writers hire editors to edit for them, not being able to trust that editors have the time to do so anymore. Kind of odd to my mind of thinking, and an expensive endeavor for the unpublished. This is truly a puzzling situation.

Billy said...

It's regarded by many authors as adversarial--you've hit upon a good point. John Updike has some good stories on the perpetual tug-of-war between editors and the writers who want them to leave the work alone. I think writers are always too close to a work, but even the rich and famous do their share of bitching.

Bernita said...

Puzzles me too, Ello.
All the professional editing in the world won't get a dull work accepted.

I have no idea whether I "passed" that benchmark or not, SS, because I've never kept count.
The thing is to learn from one's efforts and it's not automatic.

There's no question, Billy, that the established writer is in a far different position than a new one.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've always been grateful for a fresh look at my stuff.

Bernita said...

A good editor is gold, Charles.

Jeff said...

Excellent post, Bernita!
In my mind, a good editor plays an invaluable part in helping any writer make his or her work the best it can be.

Shauna Roberts said...

When an editor (or critique partner or agent) makes my work better, I am always very pleased . . . although sometimes I suffer a day or two of despair or anger before I fully appreciate the improvements.

The Anti-Wife said...

I would clap my hands in glee and do a happy dance if an editor wanted to assist me. That would mean an agent had signed me, and my work was in the final process for publishing. Oh, happy day!

Bernita said...

The eagle eye, Jeff.

Shauna, with me it's more "oops" than anger at myself - the despair might arise when I have trouble figuring how to fix it.

That's the attitude, AW!

Chumplet said...

Don't, please don't lose faith in e-publishers and small presses just because one knob can't be bothered to edit. The editor of my first book treated my manuscript with respect and yet helped me make it so much better.

A good editor is like a good parent - not a rigid tree nor a bending grass blade.

Jennifer said...

A good edit is like a polish to a gemstone. Occasionally I've seen an editor take a sledgehammer to a book (rare, thankfully, very rare). An author must be willing to keep an open mind and work with the editor, but a good writer will also see the sledgehammer coming and be able to speak up with the knowledge of his / her craft.

Anonymous said...

Poor quality of proofreading and editing used to be readily found in PODs, but lately it's in a lot of other books I've been reading lately. (paranormal romance, in particular, not to knock that genre, which I enjoy.) Wrong words used (homonyms), poor grammar, misspellings, etc.

Editing is a writerly skill that writers should pursue; but that said, fresh and professional eyes should be provided so that the books sell better. If publishing houses really t hink readers don't notice or care, I'd suspectbook sales will fall off.


Bernita said...

Sandra, perhaps "do you edit?" is a question one should ask when contemplating a contract with a publisher, because no editing/no professional oversight puts the writer a bare step away fron an author mill and makes a pub credit fairly useless.
Also, one poster on a message board commented how one can tell if a publisher edits by reading the on-line excerpts - if one finds several egregious errors in 500 words, one knows what to think.
I certainly ( and thankfully) can attest that my small publisher edits.
Now I understand why they put the warning notice in their submission guidelines that submitted works WILL be edited.
I had always assumed editing was a given, obviously they knew that some houses don't.

Such deep revisions, ie. sledgehammer, edits might make one wonder why a book was contracted in the first place, Jennifer, and wonder about the editor.
Of course, certain category lines might require that sort of revision/conformity.
As you say, an open mind towards revisions is imperative. So is confidence in one's story.

Bernita said...

Written,to me, discarding editing is a self-defeating policy.
Not all, or even most readers, are gushy, fandom wank types who might forgive lazy unprofessional products.

SzélsőFa said...

Being my own self-editor, and having no publisher at all this topic was still of interest for me.
I find editing necessary even if the writing is only intended for home-use only.

Demon Hunter said...

I'm on one of many edits of my dark urban fantasy, and I am still finding errors. I want to make certain that it's shining before it goes forth into the world. :*) I always listen to my betas and criticism because it only makes the novel better, IMHO.

Bernita said...

Indeed it is, Szelsofa. We want our work to shine.Even if, in Biblical terms, it's hiding under a bushel basket.

A good writer always finds room for improvement, my Demon.