writers and books

I found this blog post interesting. I always read the Subversive Copy Editor blog, and also the Chicago Manual of Style and the "After Deadline" blog of the New York Times, although I am not a copy editor.

According to this post, writers often have trouble accepting suggestions, even helpful ones (perhaps especially the helpful ones – I understand that the thing Hemingway found unforgivable about Fitzgerald's suggestion that he remove the first chapter of The Sun Also Rises was that Fitzgerald was right).

But where do writers get this idea, that they should "go it alone," accepting (and needing) no help from others?

Well, probably at least in part from the books themselves. Pick up a novel and look at it. XXXXXXX by yyyyyy. One title, one name. No mention of editors, proofreaders, teachers, spouses, fellow writers, typesetters, cover artists, book designers, friends, etc.

Compare this to the hundreds of names that scroll down the screen after any movie. Only a lunatic would think that a movie was the product of a single person's creativity and effort, but people (including aspiring writers) do think that about books, because the books tell them so.

Even an editor like Maxwell Perkins received no "screen credit" (well, Hemingway dedicated The Old Man and the Sea to him after his death, but that's sort of like a posthumous, honorary Oscar). Not even for Thomas Wolfe's two posthumous novels, and I read an article once which made a case that Perkins was actually the co-author of those books. The same is true the nameless editor who trimmed away two-thirds of Hemingway's manuscript for The Garden of Eden (and then reportedly rearranged a lot of what was left) to produce the book which was published in 1986.

It reminds me of Pete Townsend's "review" of the Who album Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy in Rolling Stone, where he actually detailed where he'd swiped the various riffs, the times Roger Daltrey gave him help and received no songwriting credit, and so on. The article doesn't seem to be on the RS website, but excerpts appear here:

I went back and forth about whether to include a "thank you" page when I published A Sane Woman. After all, I was author, copy editor, proofreader, typesetter, and book designer, but I certainly didn't do everything alone. I finally decided against it because the "thanks" I had listed on the website were mostly for U-town, and I thought at that point that U-town would probably end up in book form at some point as well.

This is unlikely now, so I'm going to update the "thank you" page and post it here, where it belongs.

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4 Responses to writers and books

  1. Also, in terms of editors, there’s an article in the NY Times today about Jacqueline Onassis. Two books are coming out about her career as a book editor. (It points out, by the way, that she spent “more years as an editor than as first lady and the wife of a Greek shipping tycoon combined.”)

    What I’m trying to figure out is why this article is in the fashion section of the paper. Would an article about Maxwell Perkins have been placed in the fashion section?

  2. Pingback: A Sane Woman» Blog Archive » thanks

  3. tpaulin says:

    When I read the first bit about authors having a hard time taking suggestions, I smiled. 🙂 I take my reader feedback very seriously, and I was pleased to tell one of my Betas that I made almost every single change he suggested. All my Beta readers will get a thank-you! If there are enough pages – ha ha.

    I think if I ever e-publish, I’ll mention the copyeditor prominently. I think people would like to know if a work has been copyedited!

  4. Tamara, good point about the copyeditor. I can’t follow it, though, since I did a lot of that myself (professionally, I’m a lot more qualified to proof a novel than to write it). It would have been great to have a second set of eyes, but the only volunteer bailed in order to waste her time with higher education, and I don’t have the money to pay anybody.

    For my current project, I just got the idea of asking for a couple of volunteers to read and give a very specific type of feedback. I’ll probably post something about it over the weekend.

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