Quick, get me rewrite!

I was talking with Thing Two yesterday - his sister is writing a book about her years working with the AIDS epidemic. I've read a couple of chapters and the chapter outline and they'd asked my opinion. I gave it, and he rejected most of it (notice: he rejected it, rather than passing it along to his sister). One reason? The in-house editor would catch these things if they were a problem.

HAH! What in-house editor? It's like asking for a fact checker these days: they just do not exist. Back in the day, yes, you had someone who'd work on your deathless prose, crafting that timeless work of fiction/non-fiction. But today? The art of editing is a dead one. I've read many a book that would benefit from better editing.

Take, for example, the book I just read, The Case of the Missing Books. It was remaindered, which is always a sign. Then there was the endless repetition. A good editor would have cut that in half, if not more. Why? Because it wasn't "charming" in quite the way that the author probably thought it was, it was just annoying. Within the first few chapters I heard way too many times about the main characters pudge, wrinkled suit, Jewishness, and other traits that just didn't really matter. Who cared he was vegetarian? Clearly, given the number of times it was mentioned, I was supposed to deeply care. I didn't.

Another couple of examples? The Lovely Bones and The Da Vinci Code. All other aspects aside, let's talk pacing. Both books proceed at a certain pace, and then in the last chapter or two, they speed up immeasurably. My guess? An editor told them that the book was getting a bit too long. Rather than tightening it up throughout the book, the last couple of chapters got slashed and the pace ruined.

In other words, Thing Two's sister hasn't a hope in hell of having some thoughtful person edit her work. That's too bad, because with good editing, this could be a very nice book. If it's allowed to go the way it is (or with little revision), I can't see reading it.


Sherri said...

There's another factor in his comment that flies in the face of everything I've heard from every writing group, literature or writing professor, and the several people I know in the book business (editors and published authors). TURN IN THE BEST MANUSCRIPT POSSIBLE -- that is, make sure EVERYTHING you can possibly fix is fixed. Spell check is not enough -- have at least two, maybe three, intelligent, literate, and (if you are lucky) grammatically tight-assed people go over your manuscript with a fine toothed comb. The one thing an editor doesn't want to do is muck about over typos or awkward sentence structure.

It's not even special effort. It's Not Being Lazy about something for which, frankly, you want someone to pay you money. A book is a commodity. Why buy a nasty car if you can get another one almost like it in good shape?

I pay a lot of attention to this subject because becoming a published writer is one of my ambitions. I'd never consider sending in a manuscript thinking someone else would "clean up" my writing. That would be like going to a job interview expecting the receptionist to "clean up" my resume and make up.

Silly Thing One.

Lazygal said...

Sherri, Thing Two's sister is actually quite literate and has published before (not in this form, but as a journalist and as a researcher). It's more a question of making sure the "tone" stays the same from chapter to chapter, editing out the unnecessary (which "outside eyes" usually see better than the writer) - that sort of thing. Which good publishers used to have people in house to do, but have ceased to hire because it delays the time from submission to bookshelf, not to mention being an extra salary to cover!

Sherri said...

I grasp the "tone" thing as well. I still find it a little ... well, weird... that someone would ask for an opinion and then discount that opinion because they expect someone else to do it. Even the successful, multi-book published authors I've met have people they regularly ask just to read their work for exactly that sort of thing, because there is no one in the publishing house who will do it. I've also stopped reading some authors who have published books that showed desperate need for an editor.

Why ask you to give an opinion if the opinion you give is tossed off like that? If nothing else, why waste your time?

Amy said...

Oh, thank god!

I thought I was the only one who didn't care for "The Case of the Missing Books."

I found it very irritating.