Saturday, May 26, 2012

Editor vs. "Editor"

Depending on which source you consult as a standard, an editor may be seen as a grammarian, an individual who inserts or deletes commas, removes prepositions from the ends of sentences, points out anomalies in usage and meaning, ventures into such serious furniture moving as rearranging the order of paragraphs.

Those more familiar with the book and magazine publishing industries are more apt to see editors as collaborators, supportive rather than the adversarial types they are imagined to be by first-time entrants into the multifarious worlds of publication.

The term “editor” or “editorial consultant” tend to acquire quotation marks as the individual using them in self-congratulation places them in his or her profile on one of the Internet social networks.  This fact becomes even more self-evident as actual book and journal editors list themselves and their resumes on such platforms as Linked-In and Face Book.

Because you have deposited paychecks from six book publishers, a number of literary agents, and a number of magazines, your definition of editor tends toward the more stringent insistence that the individual has seen more than one book-length project through the editorial process, beginning with its acquisition and its presentation to a publications committee, including the preparation of a memo of enhancement notes to be negotiated with the author.  Because you have also served—and still do—as an independent consultant, you’ve had some control over the fate of a work due to having been recommended to an author by a publisher, a literary agent, or another author.

A good example of what an editor does is found in your recent suggestion to an author who’d been recommended to you by a literary agent.  You suggested the work in question begin with the protagonist, a middle-aged woman, having just discovered her husband has fathered an out-of-wedlock child.  This is followed by a brief telephone conversation between the service manager of an up-market auto dealership and the wife, suggesting that her husband’s car, in for repairs, was in dear need of a brake job.  The wife thanks the service manager and says she’ll pass on the information.  Moments later, the husband asks the wife who that was on the phone.  The wife tells him it was one of her girlfriends, with a question about lunch.  The next scene is in the airport of her husband’s hometown, where the wife is bringing her husband’s ashes for interment.  This all happens in the space of a few pages.  The agent was pleased to the point of wanting to represent the project.  A publisher, after hearing the arc of the story, wanted an exclusive look.

In the past several months, your experience with editors of more or less the sort you are has been cordial, but it has also been frustrating.  Significant among the cordial responses were those of the works as individual projects.  The editors were saying they saw the need for these projects, all of which happened to be nonfiction.  Significant among the frustration-inducing responses were those noting the inordinate length of some of your sentences.

Rule of thumb:  One editor says something you find notable, you growl to yourself, then listen attentively to see how much weight to give the observation.  Two editors mention the same thing, you set the growl aside, then listen more attentively, then begin to look for approaches to cure the complaint.

While you are doing so, looking for ways to approach your fondness for sentences that sometimes occupy paragraphs the way seniors from the local retirement homes occupy cafeterias at the lunch hour, you observe how, with equal frequency, use short sentences.

Yes, comes the reply, but those often have no subject or are otherwise more fragments, although intelligible in meaning, rather than actual sentences.

Frustrating news comes in threes, right?  And so you await the third.


Well, yes; there’s this.  You’re in danger of overwhelming the reader with the intelligent tone.

You would not be in this level of discussion with an editor if the works in question were not well along the path to publication.  Were the circumstances any less focused on the ultimate publication, you’d have heard standardized tropes and memes of disengagement.  In these cases, disengagement—rejection—was off the table.

You would of course have a look.  This was said with plans already beginning to form for amicable solutions, the most amicable of all being extended toward the project.

Rule of thumb:  When you are dealing with editors as opposed to “editors,” the degree to which you listen to the note is directly proportional to the quickness and intensity with which the second vision arrives.

Are editors always right?  Absolutely not.  They do have a high degree of rightness.  As you’ve have likely consulted an ENT m.d. with the symptoms of a sore throat, you’d be likely to have the structure conversation with the editor who was asking you to look at some particular symptom, your mutual goal to get the manuscript—your project—asymptomatic.  You would not blame the ENT m.d. for telling you that you might have to lose those tonsils.

Are “editors” always wrong.  Absolutely not, although when they are right, they are more likely to be irritatingly so, which takes the matter back to you in its way because you’ll feel foolish for having missed with the “editor” caught whereas you are grateful to the editor for having caught whatever “it” the it was.

Sol Stein, who has written one of the most remarkable books on storytelling ever written, Stein on Writing, inscribed a copy of this work to you, calling you the editor who edits editors.  This bit of generosity from him is also an inspiration.  Sol has set the bar high.  Your nonfiction work in the works is called The Dramatic Genome:  The DNA of Story.  The one after that will be called Lowenkopf on Writing.  

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