Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tip O'Day #304 - Serious Authors Need Serious Help

Neil Marr, managing editor of BeWrite Books, on an editor’s role.

The breathtaking opening paragraph of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude carried these words in English: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Aureliano Burendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

Magnificent. As brilliant as the opening lines to Rebecca or 1984. A full synopsis in a simple paragraph.

The original Spanish version was immensely outsold by its English translation version by Gregory Rabassa. The translation was so powerful that Márquez himself said it outshone his original. Rabassa in return wrote a book about his translation called If This Be Treason. That sums up where the editor stands in fiction: Every act of communication is translation of author intent. Is our editorial intervention an act of complicity and cooperation or of treason?

There are many examples where an editor turned a tepid manuscript into a work of art. Google ’em. I recall no record of an editor destroying an original work. You?

A manuscript arrives on my desk and shows promise. But it’s horrific in terms of typos and grammatical error (no problem), as well as continuity hiccups (fixable). The hitch is that the chapters are out of whack, and character presence should be lessened here, enhanced there. Story-lines are weak, loose or incomplete. Let’s fix ’em. Writing style isn’t consistent, dialogue is stiff and unreal. Let me have a go.

Then comes the gatekeeper’s decision … take it or leave it. And that’s largely down to how flexible and cooperative the author behaves in early contacts. In many cases, the editor actually becomes the author, taking (and desiring) no credit. So my pet peeve is authors who think they can go it alone and self-publish raw drafts through all the freebie channels now open to them that present a slush-pile for the reader to sift. All they do is try to sell the unadopted.

I’m a spoilsport? Sure I am. But my thoroughly professional editorial team and I (with an average of 40 pro years in the job) often spend as much time perfecting a promising work as its author did in writing it. And we don’t publish bum steers. We also do it free of charge, as any true publisher should. And produce professional cover art, text design, independent international distribution channels, and promotion.

Authors CANNOT go it alone if they want to be taken at all seriously. They need pro help, and all they must do is to come up with a presentable submission to crack that nut and save themselves thousands of wasted bucks or to save a book that’s dead in the water without sound input.

Learn more about Neil at his website.

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