In a folder marked TO DO/READ, I came across a yellowed Wall Street Journal article about “Joy Luck Club” author Amy Tan and her nearly 12-year pursuit for the perfect editor. Whether or not you are an Amy Tan admirer, the WSJ story is a moving portrait of a writer and her relationship with her editors. The newspaper also provides vignettes of enduring relationships between other authors (Franz Kafka) and their editors.
Why this is worth sharing
The proliferation of self-publishing has many young writers — and those using too many magic mushrooms — believing it does not matter whether they have an editor. Let me assure you, it does.
Fan girl would be the best way to describe my behavior the first time I met (name removed to save embarrassment). I praised his work until he blushed. Clear and concise, his elegantly written columns also evoked emotion. Soon, I became the editor tasked with reviewing his raw copy. The emotion was buried beneath incomplete, disorganized thinking. Turns out I wasn’t just a fan of the columnist’s work, but of his editor’s.
One of the benefits of being arts and entertainment editor at a large metropolitan newspaper was the hundreds, if not thousands, of books publishers sent each year in hopes for a review. A considerable number of those were advance copies and among them were uncorrected proofs. Read one uncorrected proof and one’s belief that highly ranked authors are infallible dissipates.
While reading an uncorrected W.E.B. Griffin novel, likely penned by another author, I became engaged in the intrigue of one clandestine operation by a team of highly trained spies. And then I became confused. Who was this new man suddenly leading the team? After flipping around the book a while, I realized the man was the same character from the beginning of the novel only his name suddenly had changed. The story was further complicated when a duplicate (though slightly different) chapter appeared. Eventually, I gave up reading and decided to wait for the final edited version.
“I thought I could write my book and it would get published just like that,” laughed Angela Flournoy, author of “The Turner House,” speaking recently at Trinosophes in Detroit.
While shopping her book, however, she learned agents and publishers wanted more than a few revisions. Flournoy spent months in rewrite mode. To maintain her voice, the author refused to make some changes; however, she conceded to others and confessed that many of the bidden modifications made her novel better. Now she is on tour and experiencing modest success as a National Book Award finalist, finalist for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, short-lister for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize…
No, she did not win the named awards. The point is, Flournoy is critically praised because she is a gifted writer—who had a good editor.
Good editors correct, question, push and praise. They aren’t there to silence the inner Man Booker Prize winner. They are the writer’s guide. They are the voice saying, “You can do better. You are better. Yes, you did it!”
Whether taking the traditional publishing route or self-publishing, get thee to a good editor.
An editor is one of the most important parts of the writing career. I’m fortunate enough to be going the traditional route and have now had three different editors look at my book and even with that many eyes on it we still notice small mistakes and things that we over looked. I planned to self publish if I received 300 rejection letters and I would not have hired an editor. If I ever self publish in the future I will spend money on a good editor. It is the difference between a book and a good book.
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Thank you, Nic. We tend to unknowingly memorize what we wrote, or thought we wrote, which makes it easy to leave typos large and small throughout our copy. I find it takes another eye to identify those problems.