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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

A novel is a work of fiction longer than a short story, and flawed.

via The Deipnosophist, "Black day for the blue pencil." Interesting article, but I can't help but think it needed an editor, as the journalist seems to be stabbing kind of tentatively around for a thesis. Is the art of editing dead, or isn't it?

My own experience with editors and copyeditors is almost universally good. I've had one bad copyeditor experience, on a piece of short fiction, which was speedily resolved by an appeal to the editor of the magazine in question. (NB: a copyeditor is welcome to fix my word repetition, crappy writing, to query my factual errors or inconsistencies (eye color creep is an infamous case), to repair grammatical wackery and malapropisms, and generally do her job. She's not empowered to restructure an entire short story. And if she gets snippy with me when I answer her queries with factual references, photographs, and footnotes, I will tell her boss on her. That said, copyeditors are among the great unsung heroes of writing, and I know I owe, at the very least, Paul Witcover and Faren Bachelis a very nice dinner apiece for keeping me from going out with my skirt tucked in my knickers. And there are other CEs I would praise as well, if I but knew their names. (Which is not to denigrate the contributions of the other unsung heroes of publishing--a good book designer, art director, publicist, and sales staff are all worth their weight in gold, and independent booksellers are an essay unto themselves. But this is not that essay.))

A good editor has his or her own style, and every editor has strengths and weaknesses (like every novelist)--but a good one will tease out the heart of a story, identify inconsistencies and the hesitation marks and bracketing shots that creep in while the writer is sighting in on the target and wrestling the mighty anacondas of theme and plot. He'll identify the bits where the writer is thrashing, or masturbating, or explaining the story to himself (we all do it--books are often too big to fit neatly in one's skull all at once), and also the bits where something seemed so obvious to the writer that it needed no explanation, whereas to the reader it's an elephant in a dark room. She'll settle infelicities and bring the writer's style to the fore.

In extreme cases, she may indeed rewrite entire passages. Sometimes there are reasons for this choice.

I've got my fingers crossed that I never have the experience to write a similarly discursive essay on what a bad editor is like.


Heh: that'd be "via The Deipnosophist and comments on my own recent post", would it?

You're right that the piece doesn't work as a journalistic report on the Death of the Editor; Blake Morrison is a writer, primarily (I think) a poet, and he's writing an essay for the Books supplement; it's a stroll around the question, not a polemic.

But the context in which it belongs is the one in which the thing to fear is not the Bad Editor but the Absent Editor; it's a publishing structure in which the editor's job is to find the next J.K. Rowling or Horse Whisperer, and persuade the board to publish them, not to help them produce better books. I take your point that what Rowling does right matters more than what she does wrong, but I still think that book IV (as far as I've got) didn't appear to have been edited at all, and would be a better book if it had...

Which is also why I was interested in what you said about it being your agent who was talking to you about word-counts...


My editors talk to me about word counts, too. My favorite request on that front having been, "please either get 10K out of this book, or write another 100K and make it two books."

It's a stroll around the subject, sure, but it's rather an unfocused one. Which is not to say it's not an interesting article, mind you. But I do think it's a bit... randomly organized.

And I understand that he's talking about absent editors. I'm talking about good ones, which has been, in general, my experience. Though some of my critics will differ.


Writers who move the kind of units that a J.K. Rowling or a Tom Clancy do also have the power to refuse or limit editing. Hell, *I* have the power to refuse editing, within reason. (And I have in several cases disagreed with my editors, and discussed with them the reasons why, and changes suggested were not made.)

Also, in a case like several of the Rowling books where they were delivered late and there was a tremendous demand, there isn't going to be time for an extensive rewrite.

Anyway, my (limited) experience with editors as a neo-pro headed for the mid-list, currently, is that they're very present and engaged and dedicated to making better books.
What are the differences between novel editors and magazine (short story) editors?
The length of what they edit.
Ahem. Cute answer, but not quite an accurate one....

Do feel free to expand on that.
Allow me to rephrase :)

Just as writing short stories requires different skills (keeping the focus tight, economy of words) than novel writing (juggling many characters, chapter breaks), I would have expected different skill sets depending on the length of the material. What are some such skills, and what priorities ought a novel editor have as opposed to a magazine editor?
Argh. You're enabling me to avoid wordage that needs to be accomplished, dangling a line like that...

(with the caveat that this is all IMPE, and not to be taken as The One True and Only Gospel)

Okay. A short fiction editor's job is to identify something that will a) fit the needs of the market (antho, magazine, cereal box), work with the author to clean it up, and then put it in with the other stories that will work best (i.e. the ordering of the ToC, etc, which is a bitch of a job, let me tell you). Generally speaking, there's not as much hands-on editing done with short fiction; many of the pieces that are bought and published as-is (after fine-tuning and copy-editing).

A novel editor does the identification and buying in similar ways, and gets to skip the placement (the editorial director usually gets that job, such joy as it was) but the editing tends to be far different. Instead of 2-6,000 words, you're dealing with 60-200,000 words, with an increased complexity of storyline -- and an increased complexity of editorial needs. Revisions letter(s). Occasionally there are developmental discussions required, as well, especially if books-in-a-seies are bought. Line edit. Occasionally a go-round in proofs, as well, standing between author and managing editor.

THEN you get to the additional responsibilities. Every novel bought needs a cover -- the editor is responsible for communicating with the art and copy departments, to create the package. Every novel needs a sales sheet -- the editor is responsible for creating that, which a) the editorial director uses to present the book to the sales force, and the sales force uses to coax buyers into taking copies for the shelf.

And then, if the book is given a PR budget, there are things the editor has to prepare for that, as well.

And let's not forget one of the most important jobs a novel editor has, that short fiction editors tend to miss out on: long-term hand-holding of the author. A short story is sold and published, and sometimes you develop a relationship with the editor and sometimes you don't. You sell to an editor and, ideally, you are in a relationship. It may -- like all arranged marriages -- be rocky or uncertain at first, but it is there for the long-haul, and needs be maintained.

Um. Not that I have strong feelings/experiences on the subject, no...

-- she who has edited many books and several anthologies, but never a magazine...yet.
Thank you, Laura Anne. It's pretty opaque from the outside--I know how much work editors do on my books, and I know how short fiction editing works from the inside (and we do sometimes work with writers on promising-but-not-there short fiction--the infamous rewrite request, sometimes through many rounds of it) but much of the process that doesn't involve the writer is very black box from our POV.
Hee. Yeah. I'm *still* finding tyops in Hammered. Got a lovely fan letter yesterday that pointed out four more. Hopefully there's still time to fix those before any third printing.

In my defense, I only got 24 hours with the galleys, due to a scheduling problem.
there ya go. The voice of experience.

Thank you!

(And yes, Anne is a bitchin' editor.)
He'll identify the bits where the writer is thrashing, or masturbating, or explaining the story to himself (we all do it--books are often too big to fit neatly in one's skull all at once), and also the bits where something seemed so obvious to the writer that it needed no explanation, whereas to the reader it's an elephant in a dark room. She'll settle infelicities and bring the writer's style to the fore.

ahhh, yes. I'd love someone to do that for me. :) Editors must surely rock the casbah.
I bet you would be a marvellous copyeditor. And eh, it was an afternoon's frustration, and now I have a funny story. *g*