Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mucking things up


So there was this USA Today article about self-publishing, and, as expected, it said all the things you expect a mainstream paper to say when covering this issue—which is to say not much of use to anyone actually doing the work of making books. There was this priceless paragraph on editors though:
Another reason: There's no editor to muck things up. Don't get me wrong: Nothing beats a good editor. I've had excellent editors. (And I'm not just saying that because they might be reading this.) But even the best editor can send an author off on a really-not-good tangent. There's nothing worse than having your editor say something to the effect of: "What if, instead of a lawyer racked by guilt for defending a murderer, the heroine is a shape-shifting dolphin falling in love with a werewolf? In Arizona." Go ahead and laugh, but I guarantee there are authors out there vigorously nodding. Having complete control over your own story is as irresistible as a highlander in a Janet Chapman novel.
Now of course, I wonder if I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. I thought I was supposed to buy manuscripts, nurture their potential, and eventually guide them into becoming books that are the best expressions of the author’s vision (and establishing that I understand and buy into that vision happens before anyone starts editing).

My mistake.

Here’s how clueless I was about how to be an editor. The screen capture below shows the version history of Meagan Spooner’s Skylark, a book we’ve been revising* since June (note that it took two screen caps to get all of the files).

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The book will come out next fall, and—*spoiler alert*—there are no dolphins.

I’ll do better next time.

*And Meg is an extraordinary reviser, so think of this list of revisions as the evidence of an extraordinary dinner party—empty bottles of wine, the gnawed carcasses of exotic birds and beasts, rinds of fine aged cheeses, etc.—rather than the failed, crumpled, and discarded first pages of some frustrated scribbler.