Tag Archives: editing

Bits, Bobs, and Birds that Beatbox


Word, bird! Shout-out to the feathered friends in my tree for giving a Monkey music to bust a brag to, yo. (Can you tell a square white girl writes this?)

On to the bits and bobs, then. It’s been an eventful couple months on the editing front. My publisher represented for the first time at the London Book Fair in April. International reps visiting our booth clamored for smart contemporary tales but not YA or paranormal, markets they find pretty tapped, at least in Europe and Asia. And a Chinese agent began his criteria with “no sex.” But through random outside conversations, I learned e-published erotica is huge in the Middle East, and on audiobook it goes gangbusters among senior citizens in general…who knew.

In other news, the ongoing debate between traditional and self-publishing amused me as per usual—the mutual bitterness and disdain has not diminished, though they coexisted peacefully enough under the same roof. The big publishers and agents remained aloof, toasting each other in self-congratulation but otherwise totally unapproachable to walk-ins, whereas the non-traditional platforms sowed the seeds of revolution among the plebeians in the Author Lounge. Relative to the States, the UK still seems slow to adapt to both indie and e-publishing, but it’s getting there. At any rate, London is not where the big deals are made; it’s just a primer for Frankfurt in autumn, when publishers are looking to stuff their catalogs for Christmas.

Oh, and I met the publicist of a certain presidential intern of the 1990s. And learned that life is not happy for the “unmarriable and unemployable” thanks to that scandal. Which actually makes me quite sad, considering said president made out relatively okay in the end.

Also during this time, I was promoted, reviewing manuscripts on acceptance to determine whether they’re ready for micro-editing or need to go back to the author first for big-picture revision. In either case, I give the editor/author recommendations on how to more effectively shape the story and its characters. I usually only need to read a manuscript once for this (as opposed to the five-plus times for a deeper edit), maybe twice for a substantial rewrite. And as utter lack of luck would have it, I’m finding that the ones I usually send back for rewrite are previously published authors who seem to be sliding by. Ah well. Another discussion for another day.

But for every bunch of rotten bananas like that, there’s one that’s green and ready to ripen into something sweet indeed. A book I edited in winter has been on Kindle’s Top 100 bestseller list ever since its release this month. It’s made its way to the single digits, topping its categories as well. Yes, yes, truth be told, I am Dan Brown’s editor…okay, no, not really, so I am gobsmacked—and ecstatic for my actual author. Two of the Big Four publishers have already purchased rights to several of our books, so I won’t be surprised if this one follows suit…I just selfishly hope I can edit the sequel first! Meanwhile, I’m developmental editing a sequel for a YA author and paranormal series that I adore (your loss, Europe and Asia!), and think I’ll go on hiatus thereafter to make more time for editorial direction.

So that’s my editing news. My writing news is not nearly as eventful. I did finally finish drafting manuscript #2, but surely we all know revision is only the beginning. The story is partially set in the 1920s, so I had hoped to query by now while Gatsby‘s back in the  limelight, but what can ya do. In the meantime, I managed to find a home for one of my short stories, which was actually inspired by one of my early writing prompts on this blog—remember how I used to do that? Anyway, it should appear in an anthology later this summer, so I’ll follow up on that when the time comes…as in, when I know for sure it’s actually happening. Unlike a 9,000-word story of mine that had won 1st place in a 2010 short-story contest and was supposed to be published in an anthology but went homeless after that prospect went bust. No luck finding new shelter so far. One publication said they “were really impressed by the writing” and “enjoyed the different voices and POVs,” but they’re more into flash novels and my tale didn’t have the temporal breadth for that. Fair enough; I’d kinda known that but thought I’d try anyway. 🙂 Then there’s good ol’ novel manuscript #1, which has received a couple more rejections, but while one publisher “just wasn’t excited enough” by it, another said:

This was a near miss. We were intrigued by your proposal, and it seems that the genre and style in which you write match what we are looking for. We would be happy to see more of your work in the future, either when book submissions re-open, or for consideration in future anthologies.

And there ya have it. I’m back up in my tree and making a royal racket in the branches—clearly, more beatboxing animals are in order. Barnyard, cameras on you in three…two…[silent one]:


The Curious Case of the Missing Editor

OMG, the Monkey screeches again! (for those of you who are still left to hear it)

Though I’ve obviously been MIA, my title isn’t in reference to me. As an editor, I’m always at the ready—always on the job, in fact, even if it isn’t my own, apparently. You see, I mentioned before how I’ve been more in Reader than Writer mode lately, and I’ve got to say I’m gobsmacked by some of the poorly edited work I’ve read lately. And I’m talking traditionally published stuff by best-selling authors. Even the best indie authors know not to dare self-publish without consulting the expertise of an editor. At least they should know if they take their writing seriously and want others to as well. Repeat after me:

Everyone needs an editor.

Everyone needs an editor.

Everyone needs an editor.

We can be ever so proud of our book babies and earnestly believe in our talent, but it’s downright diva to think that any of us could possibly be above the need to have someone else edit our work (and neglectful of editors to let anyone slip through the cracks). I don’t just mean proofreading to clean up the spelling/grammatical bits; I mean deep copyediting, where, yes, you might have to let go of that sentimental scene or hack out some delightful description, no matter how poetic the prose. Anyone who wants to evolve from rookie status should understand the value of a fresh pair of eyes. None of us are perfect in any way, shape, or form.

Hats off to indie author Tahlia Newland, for instance, who in the last few months has published an imaginative suite of stories through Catapult Press. Having myself offered some input on a couple of her projects, I was just one of several beta readers Tahlia makes a point to share her pre-published work with before then employing the services of a professional editor. I’ve been following her blog for a while and, consequently, her journey to bring her short stories and soon-to-be-released Lethal Inheritance novel to readers, and her revision process has been nothing less than comprehensive, involving a team of critical eyes. She also runs the Awesome Indies website, which upholds a standard of quality for the independently published.

Some traditionally published authors, on the other hand…

Well, of the last several novels I’ve read, one that I enjoyed while reading but was quick to criticize in hindsight was The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht. Now, this is a bestseller that has had readers falling over themselves in absolute love with it, and I just have to say, “Eh.” NO QUESTION, Obreht is a debut author that will be a literary force to reckon with going forward. She has a spectacular if not intimidating command of the English language (which is not her first language and surpasses many of those for whom it is!), a maturity transcending her years, and her capacity to describe is absorbing. I’ll delve more into that last observation in a future post about 1st-person POV, but for now I just want to say that, while a tremendous and captivating storyteller, Obreht should have trimmed down a substantial amount of that description, along with secondary characters and story lines. A classic rookie case of wanting to keep in every great idea that crosses the mind, she was just too ambitious with all the folk stories of sorts that she chose to interweave—we’re introduced to an exhausting list of characters who are described in exhausting detail, only for them to fall off the planet with no lingering consequence. The tangle of tales, I felt, ultimately rendered none of them as effective as they could have been (standing alone as part of an anthology, maybe?) and, in the end, left the primary story thread underdeveloped. And her editor should have known this.

To be honest, I think a lot of the readers who gave The Tiger’s Wife rave reviews did so because they didn’t get it and attributed that fact to some profound, intellectual meaning that was surely just going over their heads. That their comprehension simply and understandably fell short in the face of genius. And, hey, you can bet I originally gave benefit of the doubt that my own questioning was a product of me being dumb as rocks. But I don’t think we readers should be so quick to sell ourselves short. When I find myself discussing this book with a group of women on the same page, and all of us educated, well-read, and discerning yet equally baffled as to whether there’s indeed some grand overarching purpose unifying the excess, methinks it actually all boils down to, nah, it was just really crappy editing.

But by far the most abysmal absence of editing I’ve recently encountered was in Julian Fellowes’s Past Imperfect. Now, Fellowes is another brilliant storyteller. He’s brought us the Oscar-winning Gosford Park and hugely popular Downton Abbey. But after just finishing the aforementioned novel (as well as reading his book Snobs a few years ago), I’ve come to the conclusion that screenplays are clearly his forte. Why? Because there’s no doubt he knows his subject matter (rich people). No doubt that he conceives compelling stories, engaging dialogue, and settings that are a feast for the eyes. But he can’t write narration. Or, rather, he has a clumsy handling of it. He’s very good at description and development, but in Past Imperfect, he seems to have invented an entirely new narrative POV: 1st person omniscient

That’s right, his 1st-person narrator can read the minds of every other character in the novel:

A pink cloud of nostalgia hovered over him for a moment. “The library was one of the prettiest rooms I’ve ever seen, never mind lived in. But no.” He shook his head to loosen these disturbing, self-indulgent images. “I’m finished with all that.”

*

“What happened to her?”

“She died.”

“Oh.” She sighed, saddened by the inexorable process of life.

The narrator can also see what other people do while on the phone with him:

“And Terry.”

He was puzzled for a second, and then he nodded and smiled. “You’re right. I’d remembered it as being before we left.”

Unless this was a video-conference (which I assure you it wasn’t), seriously, WTF. Or should I say, WTE, as in “Where’s The Editor?”

Because he/she certainly wasn’t there to correct the error in “reaping what you sew.”

And certainly didn’t caution Fellowes against too much telling or constantly interrupting the flow of dialogue with needless narration:

“Are you on good terms these days?”

The question seemed to take him by surprise and return him to the present. My words had told him something beyond their content. “Why did you want to see me?” he asked.

*

“Which ‘some’?”

“Sorry?” The phrase sounded foreign. I couldn’t understand him.

*

He shrugged. “It was obvious she was talking about Damian.” He must have caught and mistaken my response to this news, and hurried to undo any possible hurt. “She was always very fond of you, but…” How was he to phrase it?

I helped him out. “She wasn’t interested in me.”

We both knew she wasn’t, so why should he argue? “Not like that,” he said, accepting my own verdict.

*thump*
*slam*
*swish-swish*
*bam-bam-bam*

Oh, sorry, that was just the sound of me tripping over narration, brushing myself off, then proceeding to deliberately bang my head against the wall. Back to what I was saying…

The long and short of it is, Writers: Each of you needs an editor. And Editors: Even if your authors are already best-selling superstars, don’t cut corners in polishing their work. Just as every writer should take pride in their writing, editors should take pride in their editing, whatever the constraints we face.

I like to think I do, and yet I still don’t claim to master the art on my own—for the work that I do for a small publisher, I have three other editors on my team for any given manuscript, and it’s always a learning process for me. I’m pleased to say, though, that two more guinea pigs I’ve developmentally edited on this publisher’s behalf are out in the world as of September, making five published novels in total, with three more on the way this winter. I also just finished editing a short-story prequel to one of those books, and a freelance manuscript that I’d proofread for the sake of querying has already found itself an agent. SO proud of my authors, and may we all continue to write, edit, and prosper.

See my related post: “Editing Out the Editor

Also, stay tuned for some reflection on use of 1st-person narration


Editing Out the Editor

This shit editing is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

Hey, Editors, are ya there? Editors? Editors? Bueller? Bueller?…

I recently saw this editorial, “The Price of Typos,” which comments on how “typos are everywhere” now—in large part because publishers are employing less editorial staff and rushing to publish books ever faster. And modern authors are playing their part in it, too:

“Use of the word processor has resulted in a substantial decline in author discipline and attention. Manuscripts are much longer than they were 25 years ago, much more casually assembled, and beyond spell check (and not even then; and of course it will miss typos if the word is a word) it is amazing how little review seems to have occurred before the text is sent to the editor. Seriously, you have no idea how sloppy some of these things are.”

Though editors arguably have more work cut out for them in light of the above (man, don’t I know it firsthand!), when I read traditionally published books I’ve wondered the same: where are the editors? How did that typo get through? I’ve always said that I’ve never read a book without a typo, which is fine—annoying but fine, as I understand how that can happen maybe once or twice—but lately I see several mistakes, and it’s not just typos anymore.

Back when I read the Twilight series (disclaimer: my Freshman Year students were squealing about it incessantly and kept begging to write book reports on it, so I felt it my duty to understand what they were talking about…and obsessively read all four books, and joined Team Edward, and watched all the movies so far, and…), and, I’m sorry, where was I? Oh, so when I read Stephanie Meyer’s decent storytelling but crappy writing, her overuse of words like “guffaw” and “mutter” bored a hole in my head as they plunk, plunk, plunked against my skull like water torture. Where was the editor to chuck a thesaurus at her and make her vary word choice? [See Also: “Sloppy YA Editing: Tic Words]  And when each book got longer than the previous (and not in a good JK Rowling way), when plot didn’t thicken so much as stretch like taffy and read like a fanfiction of her own work, I asked myself, where was the editor to hack out those paragraphs and pages of redundancy and filler?

So maybe Twilight is an unsurprising example, but I was in a bit of despair when I read the most recent book of one of my new favorite authors: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I loved her first two books in a way I hadn’t anything that I’d read in such a long time, and while I still enjoyed this third one, it needed a good, solid edit. The thread of an interesting story was there for me, which did keep me reading, but I found myself in a frustrated “get on with it” mode—and this from someone who can totally nurture the slow-going and character-based. I don’t need action and rapid pace, really I don’t, but I also don’t need constant dancing around with dazzling wordsmithing and every detail about yet another thunderstorm raging outside while, go figure, conflict between characters is on the rise, too. That’s my two cents, but here’s a sample of what I saw at Amazon as well:

“What on earth went wrong with this book? Was there no editor involved?”

“[T]oo long and too repetitive. A great deal of the fault lies with the editors.”

“What did this book lack? An editor!”

“This seems to be a problem with modern publishing…some way down the line in an author’s output either the editors stop thinking they need to edit or they believe it OK to drop an earlier piece of work on an unsuspecting readership who naively expect new books to be better books.”

Hear, hear! to that last one; I really do think publishers think we’re chumps when it comes to best-selling authors. I don’t read much Philippa Gregory, so maybe she’s been doing this all along in her historical novel series, but I recently read her The White Queen and, while her writing style otherwise does keep a good pace (especially considering the mammoth amount of factual history she manages to distill), I felt little explosions in my head every time I chanced on passages like this:

“More importantly, I think, but I do not say, not even to Elizabeth, that once we are living in a private house quietly, my boy Richard might be able to join us. As we are stripped of our royalty my son might be with me again. When he is no longer a prince, I might get him back. He has been Peter, a boy living with a poor family in Tournai. He could be Peter, a visitor to my house at Grafton, my favorite page boy, my constant companion, my heart, my joy.”

Listen, I know there’s merit to lyrically using repetition for emphasis, but it loses its efficacy when this sort of thing is done over and over and over again for the length of a novel. I mean, seriously, this reads like she wrote the same thing a handful of different ways in brainstorming which she wanted to use and just forgot to scratch out the losing options.

And by this point, you’re probably all wishing I had an editor to keep this post concise. 🙂 But before I go, I leave you with this: eliminating redundancies might be a subjective task, but spelling and grammar are not. An editing colleague recently emailed this sentence:

“A woman without her man is nothing”

Evidently, an English professor wrote this for students to then punctuate. Most of the boys wrote:

“A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

Most of the girls wrote:

“A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

The power of punctuation! Never underestimate the importance of attention to detail—the importance of EDITING!

 


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