Tag Archives: Kate Morton

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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Picking My Fleas – aka, Constructive Criticism Part 1


I’d mentioned ages ago that I would share the feedback I received at the Festival of Writing, so today I’m finally getting around to it. Along the lines of my post last week, the 10-minute one-on-one sessions were geared toward discussing the marketability of my story based on its first chapter (which the agent/author read in advance). I met with UK literary agent Juliet Pickering of AP Watt and author Emma Darwin (yes, she’s related to Charles), and this is what they wrote on the standard session form…

Market Appeal:  Is the concept of your MS well-designed for the market?

JP – “Literary fiction – female readership? Any authors you could reference in intro?”

ED – “Always room for well-written high-end commercial women’s fiction, but it still needs to be strong in narrative drive, and the history-plot needs to have an effect on the story of the modern strand.”

Me: Juliet had a harder time discerning who my market would be exactly, so she recommended being more specific in my query letter. I’m still not exactly sure what authors I would list…My inspirations for story came from Rumer Godden’s A Fugue in Time, Penelope Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes, and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw to an extent, but I kinda modeled my approach (*wishful thinking*) after more modern books by Audrey Niffenegger and Gregory Maguire (Lost, not his fairy tale retellings). I haven’t aimed to copy anyone’s style nor do I want to, but I guess I’d aspire to Kate Morton if I did.

In any case, during our session, Juliet did say she thought the ghost-story element of my manuscript is marketable at this time. I have two threads of narrative running through the manuscript of different time periods, so Juliet had also echoed what Emma later said about one narrative needing to have an impact on the other. Rest assured, they do relate, though the interaction only gradually becomes clearer by the second half, and I leave the reason for this relationship open to speculation until close to the end. Right or wrong, I’m relying on the mystery of that to keep the reader going and give the ending its ta-da!, so hopefully it’s okay that the connection isn’t readily obvious from the start.

Prose Style:  Is your prose style strong enough to sustain an agent’s interest?

JP – “Yes”

ED – “Potentially rich, and very evocative at its best, but it is over-written: too many elaborate words getting in each others’ way. Also I think it’s blinding you to where you’re using words loosely or wrongly, or a sentence doesn’t actually make sense.”

Me: Juliet’s commentary during the session was short-in-sweet on this point, too. Emma, however, was invaluable in calling me out on what I do get criticized on time and again. I had a professor in grad school who told me, “You’re a very good writer. You could be great if you relaxed it more.” The indie publisher who previously offered me a rewrite opportunity likewise said that my writing at the outset of my story was “very ‘erudite’ sounding with lots of metaphors and description, lots of almost ‘purple prose'” and needed to be “simplified a bit to make it more accessible so as to meet with the expectations of our typical readers.” So let’s just say I know this about myself and have for quite some time. I was also reading A.S. Byatt and stuff like Of Human Bondage and Victorian Gothic fiction at the time I started, which made a lot of old-school formality creep in. I’m working on it.

Interestingly enough, that publisher found my language to evolve over the course of the book, which no doubt has to do with practice making, well, closer to the elusive “perfect.” The act of writing itself is the way to become a better writer, and, not having tackled such a lengthy project before, I know that I fell into a more natural groove as the story progressed and had been applying other lessons learned along the way. So I’ve been concentrating lately on these opening chapters to make the writing more consistent. And when Emma says, “using words loosely or wrongly,” ha! Ouch! She’d noted specific instances in my first chapter, and they were definitely parts where I let myself drift into a bit of prose poetry without considering whether I’d let myself get too experimental/abstract. I’m hoping my writing prompts or Eda vignettes will be my outlets for that sort of thing and help get it out of my system for longer prose that should be more straightforward. 🙂

There are a couple other items on the list that I’ll leave for Part 2. In the meantime, happy writing-to-write-better, everyone! And please do tell what feedback YOU’VE received on the two questions above. How did you respond?



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