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Posts Tagged ‘editor’

I was reading an article this week on tips for obtaining a literary agent. What struck me was the author’s authoritative insistence that without a “perfect” manuscript, drafted and redrafted and redrafted yet again, a writer is doomed to be ignored and never to be published. If that is true, I am wondering why so many books are out there, indie and traditionally published alike, because I am yet to read a “perfect” one. Have you?

I myself hate the cult of “perfectionism” because it creates a myth that victimizes the rest of us who are just trying to do our best work. Note that “ best work” is not “perfect work.” In between learning that Dance For A Dead Princess had been nominated by Foreward Reviews for its Book of the Year Award in Romance and learning Dance was the sole Finalist for the Beverly Hills Book Award in Romance, I got an e-mail one morning informing me my “review was ready” from a indie author book review service I had contacted ages ago. I scrolled down and read absolutely the nastiest, snarkiest review of my book imaginable. No, let me rephrase that. The nastiest, snarkiest review of any book imaginable. Apparently I’d unwittingly fallen into the hands of the High Priestess of Perfection. So while munching my slightly underdone egg and overdone toast, and drinking a less than perfectly brewed cup of coffee (but happy to have a warm breakfast anyway), I learned that the High Priestess found my plot “contrived,” thought the use of the diary to tell the inner story was “the oldest literary cliche” out there, and was just outraged because the word “lame” got into the text without an accent over the e. Oh, whoops, my eternal bad. High Priestess said nothing about my ability to draw a reader vividly into a scene. (A New York editor had given me that accolade years ago.) High Priestess had nothing to say about all the readers on GoodReads and Amazon who had stayed up at night to find out what happened. And, of course, she had no idea what the judges at Foreward thought of Dance for A Dead Princess. No, she was dead set in her opinion that Dance wasn’t perfect and therefore not worthy of anyone’s time of day.

Well, I agreed with her. If perfect is your bag, Dance is not for you. But, then, neither are the rest of the books out there. Wonder if High Priestess has given that much thought?

Fortunately, I’ve been a writer long enough to know what I do well, and where I can improve. I listen to honest reader feedback. I learn. I grow. But I have not one single aspiration to be Perfect. My heart was broken enough times on that wheel growing up, and I have no intention of the punched-in-the-gut feeling that comes from hours and hours of working and hoping for that “Perfect” accolade, only to find all effort wasted because the accent mark didn’t find its home over the “e.”

I think it is useless and wrong to preach the religion of “Perfectionism.” One Christmas I went to a luncheon here in San Diego that a local group of attorneys sponsored in honor of the season. We sat in a semi-dark cavern of a room, at fifty or sixty round tables covered in spotless linen (or the lights were dimmed to hide the spots, take your choice), and potted poinsettias were plopped in the center of the table (to give the proceedings that “festive” air, I guess). We ate rubbery chicken with a glob of gravy on top, dressing that I swear was made out of old newspapers, and green beans that had been run through a pot of boiling water for ten seconds flat. (I assumed those beans spoke French.)

Since I was starving, I opted to search for food value in the wilted lemon meringue pie that had probably been parked by each diner’s place around 8:30 that morning. And as I sent my blood sugar soaring on an empty stomach, I listened to the speaker, a middle-aged attorney in a bright purple suit, who was presenting a writing award to a student from one of the local law schools. What interested me was the Speaker’s awe-inspired assurance that this student was “Perfect” because she put every one of her writing projects through at least ten drafts. Had Madame Middle-Aged Purple Suit taken leave of her senses, I wondered. Which one of her clients would have paid the hourly rate of a junior attorney who couldn’t produce a fileable document (fileable, not perfect) in one draft and a final? No client on earth is going to pay for ten drafts. Nor should he or she have to. What unreasonable and unworkable standard of the cult of “Perfectionism” was Purple Suit advocating in the midst of stultifying boredom?

Perhaps Miss Ten Drafts went on to be a disciple of the High Priestess, I don’t know. I never went to another holiday luncheon. I’m not perfect, my books are perfect, my readers aren’t perfect, and I love us all just the way we are. I’m throwing my hat in the ring to stamp out the religion of Perfectionism!

The High Priestess

The High Priestess

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I started life as a listener, became a writer, worked as an editor, and drifted into being a lawyer. While a listener, I learned to love stories. While a writer, I learned to tell them. While an editor, I learned to tell them well.

It never occurred to me until I became a lawyer that the process of writing is a mystery to many people. Law schools have something called “law reviews” where students edit each other’s “case notes.” “Case notes” are not notes at all but are long deadly dull treatises on legal subjects not even a lawyer can love. The point of being on the law review is to learn how to pick a subject, write about it, and use a legal style manual to make sure all the citations and use of punctuation throughout the deadly dull case note are consistent. The theory is that later on, when lawyers write trial memoranda and appellate briefs (intended to keep the reader awake, unlike case notes), their written work will look professional instead of sloppy and haphazard. A legal brief with correct grammar and punctuation and consistent citation style is the equivalent of putting on a suit to go to court instead of appearing in your pajamas.

In the book publishing world, everyone knows traditional publishers have editors and proofreaders and copy editors. Their function is to make the fiction and nonfiction books the house publishes look professional. Like lawyers, publishers set standards for their written work by designating the style manual or manuals and the rules for punctuation, grammar, and citations that will make the house’s book internally consistent and appealing to readers. The point is not that every publisher uses the same style manual or follows exactly the same rules. Rather, the point is consistency within the works the house offers for sale.

One of the last steps in producing a brief for the court of appeal is editing and proofreading it. Proofreading yourself accurately is nearly impossible. Back in my editor days, we used to take turns acting as proofreaders for other editors’ projects because after anyone has read and re-read a document a number of times, the accuracy rate for proofreading slips into the toilet. Since I work without staff, I have to proofread my own work; and I have found that reading aloud and taking the sections of the brief out of order help me find my errors. And because I used to teach writing and grammar and punctuation, I do know where those pesky commas go. (They are logical little beasts; and no, they don’t go where you pause to breathe when reading out loud.)

This has always been my world. First, the story. Second, the writing. Third, editing the work. Whether writing poetry, fiction, non-fiction or legal briefs (a sometimes blend of fiction and non, but never mind), I never thought of deviating from this routine. And I’m not going to stop now.

But after I published my novel and began to read author discussions on various forums, I was surprised to discover that many who call themselves authors do not respect the process of editing. They see it as optional. That, in my mind, creates a problem in the world of self-publishing. Whereas a reader can rely on a traditionally published book to be edited and internally consistent, buying a self-published book can be a crap shoot. It might be presenting itself to the world in its professional dress. Or it might have been let loose still wearing its pajamas. I’ve downloaded a few of those books, and I haven’t gotten beyond page twenty-five in any of them. And failing to respect the editorial process leads to a divide among reviewers. A lot of them either won’t consider a non-traditionally published book, or they demand assurances a self-published book has been edited.

Treating editing as optional hurts everyone in the self-publishing community. Ignoring the editorial process is a mistake. A good editor has the art of cleaning up a manuscript while preserving the authentic and individual voice of the author. Good editing is never, ever optional. No reader wants to buy a book still in its pj’s.

Chicago Manual of Style

The Grandaddy of Style Manuals

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Legal Style Manual:  Dreaded Blue Book

Legal Style Manual: Dreaded Blue Book

California's Answer to the Dreaded Blue Book

California’s Answer to the Dreaded Blue Book

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