By David M. Youngquist
Before anyone goes screaming away from this blog, I’m not going to read from The Bible, nor am I channeling Charlton Heston in his Moses mode. I am, however, going to talk about who has final say in the publishing industry.
Say what you will about publishers running the show, agents, writers, printers, booksellers, and wholesalers all have their say. When you get down to brass tacks though, the editor is the one who has final say in a manuscript.
Shock and horror you say! Editors don’t understand the process. Editors are a bunch of schleps who can’t write. That’s why they edit. Editors don’t get what I’m trying to say with my art.
I’m an oddball in the publishing world today. I’m a fiction writer who came up through the ranks as a journalist. I’ve actually written as long a time in the nonfiction realm as I have in all the fiction genres I strive in. Started in 1992 writing for my college newspaper. I learned to fit the nuts and bolts of a story in three inches of type-space. I learned not to use lots of big words to show off my writing skills, and I learned to meet deadlines.
That continued after I graduated and went to work for the local newspaper. I did interviews. I did investigations. I covered county board meetings and school board meetings. The newspaper was put to bed every night at midnight. In that time, a reporter needed to write their stories, self-edit them, get them to the editor, fix the mistakes the editor found, resubmit it, fix it again if needed, and turn it in to the layout crew to have it fit into the columns of space available.
Did it always go that smooth? Hell no. There were times both at WIU and at the Republican I had my rows with the editors. There were things I believed were important that I wanted to keep in the story. Things I fought for, and things that stayed in the story. There are other times the editor actually killed the story. Several hours’ worth of work and it never saw print. Who had final say? The editors.
Most fixes actually were simple punctuation errors or misspellings. Other times, it was big chunks that either needed a total rework, or were irrelevant to the story.
When I started focusing on my fiction work, I carried these things I learned over to this line. Deadlines are there for a reason. Leave out words you don’t need. Make sure of your facts, because someone will call you on it. And the word of your editor is as final as the word of God.
I’ve got two editors here at DCP that I work with on a regular basis. Julia is our editor-in-chief, and she keeps me in line not only with my writing, but on some of the business matters we deal with daily. She’s got more than a decade of editing experience, and she’s edited my work even before we formed DCP. I trust her abilities implicitly. Tracie McBride is another great editor, in addition to being a great writer. She’s got an eye for mistakes and story, and she’s proven herself a great editor as well. If I didn’t trust these ladies to do the work under the pressure we have, I wouldn’t have asked them to take the job.
Since we formed DCP, I’ve discovered a lot of people in the fiction world don’t abide by these same thoughts. Not really the people we work with on a daily basis, but on writers out there in the industry. Believe it or not, people on “the inside” talk. And we talk about more than just selling books. We actually talk about writers. Who we believe will make it, those who are over-rated, and those on the downhill slide who are just costing on their name.
There seem to be two types of writers who believe their work is above editing. The first is a group of people who are the self-important newbies. These are people who either have graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Lit or MFA who have maybe sold a piece or two. They believe every word they write is golden. Nothing that falls from their computer should ever be changed or questioned. It’s perfect just the way it is, and how dare you question their brilliance! They act like prima donnas who have sat on the NYT Best Sellers list since they were spawned from their mother’s loins. Everyone should run out and buy their self-published tome because it’s the next best thing to sex.
Sorry newb, doesn’t work that way. Editors have saved my ass more than once. From Julia, to Serenity Banks to Stephanie Cartwright to Tracie. Each has found mistakes that can be changed, fixed or made better. Even now, with 19 years worth of paid writing experience, I make mistakes. If this is your first piece out of the gate in the real world, my dear young writer, you have mistakes in your work. Guaranteed.
The second type of writer who seem to not think they need editing are those who actually have been on the NYT Best Seller’s list for the last 20 years. Tom Clancy and Stephen King are two that pop to mind. And it may not be them so much as the agents and publishers who believe their cash cow has gotten to the point where he or she shouldn’t have to be edited.
Sorry, when Tom Clancy takes almost three pages to describe the launch and operation of a Soviet Era satellite, and then never come back to it, it’s a lot of wasted words. Three pages in the book and 30 seconds in the movie? I feel dirty.
So, next time a writer doesn’t think they need editing, remember, next to the Word of God, the Word of your Editor is law.