Tuesday, April 12, 2011

GET EDITED AND AVOID THE RUSH: Fashionable Outerwear for Pit Bulls

(NOTE: Oh Mr. Noah /
Oh Mr. Noah / May I take a ride
/ In the Ark of the Lord / ‘Cause it’s gettin’ mighty dark /
Gonna rain mighty hard /
Doodly do
/ Doodly do
/ Doodly doodly doodly
/ Doodly doodly do. / Oh no, you can’t sir
 / Oh no, you can’t sir /
You may not ride
 / In the Ark of the Lord
/ ‘Tho it’s gettin’ mighty dark
/ Gonna rain mighty hard /
Doodly do
/ Doodly do
/ Doodly doodly doodly
/ Doodly doodly do / Well, go to the devil sir
/ Well, go to the devil sir
 / You can go to the devil /
In your durned old scow /
’Cause you know darn well /
It won’t rain anyhow
Doodly do…)

Every trade and craft takes a hit when a recession goes on and on, regardless of any positive prognostication. Publishing is no different. The chain stores that touted their acres of aisles as the future of bookselling are now closing doors and moving to Detroit, but not before rewarding their execs with big bonuses for failure. Small publishers fold and independent publishers are eaten by the big ones or gobbled up by private equity firms. What about the book itself? Readers still care about books, even as their value declines according to formulas dreamed up by the MBAs that fudged their final exams and now run e-commerce.

A skip and hop through the comments about new books on Amazon.com shows that editors are still needed, and right now. Complaints about spelling, mangled syntax, passive sentence construction, and general confusion are spread between nonfiction and fiction books. Nice covers mean nothing when the writing begs for a little tightening or an argument flops from missing that last set of eyes on the manuscript before it went to press.

What the hands-on editor brings to a book cannot be quantified as contributing to its success or failure, only that the cost of editing dips into profits that should go directly to inflated executive salaries. Little is left over for the fussy, demanding, green eyeshade-wearing, and actual working editor. He or she can often be found slumped over in exhaustion from explaining what they do. An editor brings shape and form to a manuscript, keeps the writer honest, and is the first reader in what is hoped to be a long line of readers. An editor is as important part in making a book as a printer.

Like other aspects that used to be the publisher’s responsibility (marketing and publicity anyone?), the decision to have a manuscript edited is left to the writer. A publisher agrees to pay for the printing and not much else. Warehousing maybe, but check your contract. Editors within publishing houses are kept busy negotiating contracts, filling out spreadsheets, and sitting in meeting after meeting after meeting, and rarely have time left over for basic hygiene. Agents try to take on some of the workload, but a look at their web sites shows that agents want complete, ready-to-sell manuscripts. Anything less means a short trip to the recycling bin.

Here comes the freelance editor to rescue the writer. These men and women of the blue pencil are terrific folk who never quit, on account of it’s the only word they can’t spell properly without referring to a dictionary. Quiet or quiz? One of those. No matter how many books a writer reads about being your own editor, hiring a freelancer is best. They dig into a story’s pacing, point of view, character development, and whether the argument holds water better than a vestal virgin’s sieve. The freelance editor also keeps a writer’s vague classical illusions to a minimum.

The freelance editor believes in the importance of the book. In THE IMMORTAL PROFESSION: THE JOYS OF TEACHING AND LEARNING, Gilbert Highet says, “Those are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but MINDS alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice, as inaudible as the streams of sound conveyed by electrical waves beyond the range of our hearing; and just as the touch of a button on our stereo will fill the room with music, so by opening one of these volumes, one can call into range a voice far distant in time and space, and hear it speaking, mind to mind, heart to heart.”

After a long day of consulting dictionaries and THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE, and going back through to see if they missed something, the freelance editor gets a good night’s rest by reciting past participles in alphabetical order: arisen, borne, beaten, begun, bent, bet, bitten, bled, blown, broken, brought, built, burst, bought, caught, chosen, come, cost, crept, and on into the night. Only the lame will settle for counting sheep.


Instead of spending your hard-earned green on a dumb Snuggie, every faithful reader and writer should buy THE DOG WALKED DOWN THE STREET: AN OUTSPOKEN GUIDE FOR WRITERS WHO WANT TO PUBLISH (Cypress House, $13.95). Oh heck, you say, why should I walk down to my favorite independent bookstore and demand a copy of this swell book? On account of you care, dear sweet reader. You can also care by logging on to www.indiebound.com. Every copy is printed on paper, using ink and bound into a real classy cover. Do it.

NEXT: The Beauty of the Leash

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