Over at Editor Unleashed, Maria Schneider has a post on whether editing is "worth it." I'm not sure what she means, exactly, by "worth it," but in the post she mentions two authors--Stephenie Meyer and Laurell K. Hamilton--who have been accused of not experiencing enough of the editor's pen. Regarding Hamilton, Schneider says:

I once interviewed another celebrity author, Laurell K. Hamilton, who writes the popular Anita Blake series. She said that once you become successful as an author, your editor stops editing you. And that’s why we see so many series books running 600 pages and up.
Is this true? I have no idea. But there are some authors who don't seem to be working with a good editor now that they have become successful.*

I call this the George Lucas problem. Once upon a time, see, there was this junior filmmaker named George Lucas. And he made this film that everyone thought was going to be a huge flop only the film was Star Wars and wasn't a huge flop at all, but made a bazillion dollars and went on to be the beginning one of the most successful film franchises of all time, ever.

And because Star Wars was so awesome and made so much money, no one thought to tell George Lucas "hey, George, um...even though Star Wars was, like, totally awesome, there were some issues with it, you know? Like, um...the dialogue was impossible,** and the political stuff was...boring. And also it was maybe a little racist in parts, just saying..."

And then, years later, George Lucas decided to make the prequels to Star Wars, but because no one had ever taken him aside in the beginning, the prequels were 90 percent crap dialogue and boring politics and semi-racist tropes and 10 percent Liam Neeson/Ewan McGregor, and if you can't see the problem with that ratio, I can't help you.***

My point, though, is not that the prequels sucked (although they did), but when an artist's worst habits aren't corrected or nipped by a good editor, they can grow and overwhelm the artist's better nature. Weeds are always more prolific than flowers.

I can say that my readers, professional and otherwise, are excellent at keeping my own weeds to a minimum. I need (all writers need, in my opinion) to be called on their bull from time to time. When a writer (or a filmmaker) gets too big and important to allow that to happen****, then we end up with Episode I. And no one wants that.

The commenters on Schneider's post suggest that it's a matter of pride--that they, as writers, want to be edited because it means that they are putting their most polished work forward. I agree with that to some extent, but I think it's more than that. First, it's a matter of time and money--there are fewer editors, who are supposed to do more with less, and an established author has to do a lot to convince fans not to buy the next book in the series. Second, I think, it's a matter of not killing the golden goose. A high-performing author is likely to be courted by other houses and agencies, so the cold hard truth might be hard to speak. Third, I think it's a little bit of author ego in there. Like, five million readers can't be wrong, so why should I listen to Susie Editor?*****

All of these are mistakes. Editors (professional and otherwise) are good. People who can look at your stuff and say "overall it's looking good, but isn't that a weed over there?" are valuable. And if an author isn't getting that at her publishing house, for whatever reason, she should look for it elsewhere. No one ever became a better artist by having his ego stroked, George.

In short: editing? Totally worth it.


* You're insane if you think I'm naming names. But some of the commenters on Schneider's post have some ideas of their own on the subject.

** In fairness, Harrison Ford did say this to George Lucas, but Harrison Ford was a nobody at that point, and managed to become a sex symbol in spite of the crap dialogue, so no one took him seriously.

***Hayden Christiansen took crap for his inability to pull off the Anakin Skywalker role in the prequels, which I think is totally unfair. When Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson# can't pull off the dialogue, there's no way poor Hayden Christiansen is to blame.
# Who can pull off "snakes on a plane," remember.

**** I don't think this is necessarily in the mind of the author, mind you. Like, I don't think Hamilton or Meyer is sending editing letters back to the editor with "SCREW YOU!" written on them or anything. (hee! How awesome would it be if they were? :) ) But when someone is making you a lot of money, you might not want to upset that person. And that means that criticism might be softer than it would be otherwise. And then the work suffers.

***** A fallacy, of course, for two reasons: (1) the author doesn't get feedback from all the readers, so she doesn't actually know how the book was received, just that it was purchased; and (2) presumably the first book was edited, which might have had a little something to do with how popular it ended up being.


If nothing else, it would be nice if some popular authors were edited merely for length, if not specific content and mistakes. I know the publishing companies think people won't purchase "short" books and hence, everything is 400-600 pages long but long books tend to get worse as they go along.

I believe it was Hunter S. Thompson who discussed his writing style and how, when he was blocked, he would simply start typing The Great Gatsby word-for-word. He never tired of pointing out that The Great Gatsby was under 50,000 words. Astonishing, when you think about it.

Makes you wonder if written today, some editor would tell Fitzgerald he needs to beef up the story a bit, ha ha.

Friday, October 9, 2009 at 8:58:00 AM EDT  

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