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Whitebow

What do editors do for novels now?

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I read a lot of books that don't seem to have been edited very well, or at all. Do editors have any power any more? (Did they ever?) Do writers have the final say on a manuscript--as in, "I don't care how illogical/poorly written/badly plotted it is! Those words are mine and they're staying!" Is this something that's written into contracts or does it depend on the previous success of the author? (That is, editors can't insist on changes to the work of best-selling authors because the authors think they know best--that's why they sell.) What do you think?

 

Whitebow

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I read a lot of books that don't seem to have been edited very well, or at all. Do editors have any power any more? (Did they ever?) Do writers have the final say on a manuscript--as in, "I don't care how illogical/poorly written/badly plotted it is! Those words are mine and they're staying!" Is this something that's written into contracts or does it depend on the previous success of the author? (That is, editors can't insist on changes to the work of best-selling authors because the authors think they know best--that's why they sell.) What do you think?

 

Whitebow

 

The answer to your question varies a lot by publishing house. Most copy editors work freelance, and many publishers who want to cut corners do so by skimping on hiring outside editors and proofreaders. A good editor (fiction or nonfiction) acts as the first and most helpful outside reader, noting which parts of a book are confusing or need building up, which characters aren't quite developed, which plot detail got lost somewhere along the way, and so on. An author can't do this for him/herself at some point because we see the characters and story so clearly in our minds that we fill in the blanks, so an editor is essential. Unfortunately, as you note, a lot of books now get published without sufficient editing.

 

And yes, the writer always has final say--editors query, they don't change things wholesale--although the publisher can refuse to publish something that isn't up to snuff (in practice, though, they generally don't, if a contract has been signed and things have made it to the copy-editing stage). And yes, writers with strong publication records have more clout in terms of refusing editorial suggestions or not receiving them in the first place--not necessarily a good thing, as the flap over Anne Rice's most recent book demonstrates. Everyone seems to feel that s/he knows more than a beginning writer (often they're right, but not always), so agents, publishers, book doctors, and your mom will all chip in with suggestions!

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I just finished a wonderful biography about Max Perkins, the legendary Scribner's editor who discovered and edited Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe: Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg.

 

Perkins was a prolific letter writer, as were his authors, so the story is largely told in their own words. It is fascinating to read his feedback to authors on issues in their manuscripts and to watch him "develop" his writers over the course of several books.

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I just finished a wonderful biography about Max Perkins, the legendary Scribner's editor who discovered and edited Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe: Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg.

 

Perkins was a prolific letter writer, as were his authors, so the story is largely told in their own words. It is fascinating to read his feedback to authors on issues in their manuscripts and to watch him "develop" his writers over the course of several books.

 

On the front page of today's "Week in Review" section of the New York Times, there's an interesting column by Charles McGrath, who edited Raymond Carver's stories for the New Yorker, on the pluses and minuses of editing. I can't post the article, since it's copyrighted by the Times, but for the next couple of days it will be available on their website: nytimes.com. After that, you need an account to access the archives.

Best,

Marguerite

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On the front page of today's "Week in Review" section of the New York Times, there's an interesting column by Charles McGrath, who edited Raymond Carver's stories for the New Yorker, on the pluses and minuses of editing.

 

Thanks Marguerite. Interesting that an editor would write what might be titled "What do editors do to novels now?" I wonder if he and Gordon Lish were rivals.

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On the front page of today's "Week in Review" section of the New York Times, there's an interesting column by Charles McGrath, who edited Raymond Carver's stories for the New Yorker, on the pluses and minuses of editing. I can't post the article, since it's copyrighted by the Times, but for the next couple of days it will be available on their website: nytimes.com. After that, you need an account to access the archives.

Best,

Marguerite

 

Publisher's Weekly had a little more on this in their 10/22 issue. Apparently the widow is seeking to publish a new edition of Carver's stories sans edits.

 

-Steve

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