What separates someone like myself from most other book editors is that I am a writer first and foremost. There are many advantages to this – sometimes using my own craft I can easily conjure up an example of what I think should be done in a manuscript: embroidering a scene; a certain kind of character description; or even a punctuation of a moment that gives a sense of marking time.
The disadvantage is that my ear that so carefully listens to the use of language and snippets of dialogue that I overhear on a daily basis, is sometimes overly sensitive to the effect of certain kinds of writing. In this way my tastes are admittedly a bit narrow; for example, I find myself shying away from manuscripts that are filled with what I call description for description’s sake.
I would say the majority of writers who study writing are taught that good details make for good fiction. And I say not all details are good details. I remember one novel, in particular, a published novel that I read because it was nominated for a prize of which I was one of the judges. When the author, a well-known author, started describing the contents of a refrigerator, I closed the book and read no more.
One thing being an editor has taught me is that most writing careers are uneven and good writers can and more often do write books whose quality is below their capability. It happens to all of us and there is no shame in recognizing it. The reading public perhaps doesn’t understand this, but those of us in the business should be aware and try and tell authors that perhaps they should put a certain book on hold and begin another. More often than not this suggestion is never made, especially in the case of famous writers who consistently sell well. Publishers don’t want to lose these revenue streams to another competitor, so they will willingly bring out a book that they know is not editorially sound but which they feel will be profitable. Then too, if you are a fan of a certain writer, you will likely buy their book irrespective of reviews unless the reviews are positively abysmal.
The end result, of course, is that the overall quality of books published today, due to stronger financial considerations, is probably lower than it was twenty-five years ago, computer technology notwithstanding.
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