I spend a lot of time, as I have mentioned before, sitting in Barnes and Noble doing my work. In fact, I am here right now waiting for midnight so I can pick up my Harry Potter book!
In the course of staying here, I have observed published authors such as Carrie Firestone working on her book, “The Loose-Ends List” One aspect of this work that I found particularly striking is the question of how much her editors gave her feedback regarding her manuscript. I was particularly impressed with how much care they took to make sure that her book was in the very best shape it could be by the time it was published.
Granting that level of dedication, I can’t help but wonder at situations where it appears as though publishing companies couldn’t care less about the way a book ends up. In these situations, the editors appear entirely indifferent when books that are published with their names on them include gross illogic, vast swaths of poor grammar and punctuation, along with jumble and fragmentation.
One book, or rather series of books, that are guilty of this is the Harry Potter series. If you want to check out the truth of what I’m saying, just go onto google and type “J.K. Rowling is a bad writer”into the search box–you’ll get thousands and thousands of hits.
Because J.K. Rowling is a really bad writer.
Nonetheless, her editors allowed her to slip through their fingers and into the view of the reading public without even doing anything to fix that. You would think they would be embarrassed or ashamed or something, but they are not.
It appears, bottom line, that the Philistines have stormed the publishing castle and won.
Of course, this doesn’t really matter if the story is so juicy, nobody could care less about the editing as with J.K. Rowing. However, what about situations where good editing is essential. For instance, Frank McCourt’s book “Tis” would have been truly outstanding if only a good editor had taken it in hand and straightened it out. Instead, whoever was responsible for the book let it appear in the public eye an unruly, undisciplined, irredeemable mess.
The same can be said for Susanna Kaysen’s “Cambridge” and “The Camera My Mother Gave Me.” To be clear, I am not saying her grammar and punctuation was bad, but in terms of structure and development of the ideas, I thought these two books left a lot to be desired. Of course, this is just my opinion. But a good editor can make the difference between an OK novel and a great one.
On the other hand, you have books that explode onto the reading scene and take it by storm, defying judgements like mine–go figure.
What I’m curious about is how an editor in a publishing company can chase my friend Carrie around with suggestions and advice and then leave other authors alone to fall flat on their faces. Most intriguing is the question of when they have the smarts to just keep their hands to themselves as with J.K. Rowling. I suppose sometimes greatness is its own excuse, but first you have to recognize it.