In Need of a Good Editor

Every author has a story to tell.

Every author has a burning desire to tell it.

Not every author tells the story very well.

The author could, I’m sure.

But in the frantic, fast-paced, hectic, and frenzied world of indie publishing, authors are far too eager to see their well-chosen words birthed alive and well on a Kindle somewhere.

Thomas Wolfe

Too often, they collect assorted words and assemble them in no particular order. They create sentences, then paragraphs, and finally chapters. They tack three hundred pages together, more or less. They slap on that final period.

And off the manuscript goes to some company who will format anything they receive, with a fee attached, and stick it on Amazon.

The author has a book.

But is it a good book?

Maybe.

The author may have crafted a dynamic story line, created a tantalizing plot, interwoven a series of brilliantly conceived subplots, and hammered together an ending that might well be talked about for a long time.

But still, I ask, is it a good book? A really good book?

In their haste, the author may have overlooked, ignored, or bypassed his or her most important and valuable asset: the editor.

An editor can turn trash into gold.

Editors are magicians. Editors correct your mistakes. Editors make sure your words are spelled correctly, that commas are where they belong, that tenses are accurate and consistent. Editors can turn a bad book into a good book.

In the old days, a year or so ago, authors were frustrated because they believed that agents and publishers in the publishing maven of New York were conspiring against them and preventing their novels from ever seeing the light of day. And they might have been right.

New York was a barrier they could not break down.

Then came digital publishing.

Then came the eBook revolution.

And the publishing maven of New York was no longer needed. Then again, maybe it was.

Sure the big boys with access to the big presses in New York had their faults. They published a few books. They didn’t really market any of them unless the author had a name like Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Danielle Steele, or James Patterson. There was little or no money left to build the reputations of new authors. I once read that a typical New York Publisher produced 300 titles a year and hoped seven of them would sell enough copies to earn the company a profit and pay off the losses on the other two hundred and ninety-three books.

In reality, unknown authors were running solo then.

They still are.

Edward Aswell: Wolfe's editor

In reality, indie authors still have to handle their own marketing. But then, even if they do find a publisher – in New York or anywhere else – they are responsible for being in charge of their own marketing.

It’s just that New York Publishers sent every manuscript across the desk of an editor or team of editors. The book, the story line, the plot, the pacing the spelling, and the punctuation, was scrutinized, changed, revised, and polished until it was viewed, if nothing else, as quality literature. It might not sell. But it was done right.

So many new indie books are missing the handiwork and craftsmanship of a good, strong editor, someone who knows a good story and, more importantly, knows how it should be told.

For some reason, I was always been infatuated with Thomas Wolfe, who, I know, wrote long, convoluted sentences and would have never passed muster in today’s style of brief, concise, high impact writing.

I loved his style.

I loved his passion.

I loved the emotion he could embed into every sentence.

Then, not long ago, I found out that Thomas Wolfe wrote wonderful fragments but very few novels. Not on his own anyway.

He was a genius.

Thomas Wolfe could have easily been ignored as a tarnished genius.

But Thomas Wolfe had an editor.

Thomas Wolfe

Wolfe had been writing for a few years on a novel and believed he was still a year away from completing the manuscript when death struck him down. His editor, Edward Aswell, sat down and began thumbing through the two bundles of paper.

Wolfe had left him a few chapters that had been completed. Some were in rough draft, some in partial draft. Many of the sections had not yet been typed. They had been merely handwritten in Wolfe’s typical scrawl, and Aswell had to guess at some of the penciled words.

He discovered that the leading character in the book had at least six different names. Some chapters were written in first person, some in third person. In part of the book, the protagonist had several brothers and sisters. In other sections, he was an only child.

There were stories. There were fragment of stories. There were fragments of sentences. In addition, Aswell was concerned because the manuscript was far too large, containing at least ten times more pages than the traditional novel. No one, he reasoned would ever wade through so much gray type. So the editor made a command decision. There was no one left or around to debate him.

Aswell, being the word magi, turned the manuscript into two novels: The Web and the Rock and You Can’t Go Home Again.

Both would be remembered as part of Thomas Wolfe’s lasting legacy. Through the years, there have been whispered rumors that after You Can’t Go Home Again had been published, Wolfe was never again welcomed into his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina.  Maybe not. He didn’t need to be welcomed back. He was already buried there.

We would not have had these two classic Thomas Wolfe novels at all. Or if we did, they would have no doubt been unreadable.

But Thomas Wolfe had an editor.

It’s proof enough that every author needs one.

 

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  • Gosh, I didn’t know that! Great to learn something new! If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will!!

  • Stella Atrium

    I enjoy your writing style. I look forward to each new post to connect today’s indie marketing to industry standards. Thanks for sharing.

  • Christina Carson

    Point really well made. Plus, I, like you, enjoy learning something new every single day. The facts around Wolfe’s writing make the whole effort that much more possible in my mind now. Thank you.

  • What a great post! It just goes to show that many times the greatest novels were really a team effort. As an editor, my passion is helping writers create the best book possible by helping them see their work from the readers perspective. http://www.helpmeselfpublish.com

  • Caleb, another great post. For me, the process of the final edit is the most tedious because even I as the author get tired of reading my own books over and over again. Because we all have blind spots in our writing, an editor’s eye and input are invaluable. Each book I have written has grown stronger after it went through the editing process. It grew stronger not just because the commas were in the right place, but because subtle changes in layering and the timeline, etc., made the story clearer and better.

    Thomas Wolfe is a favorite of mine, maybe because his historic home in Asheville, NC, is located on a great street, that’s right–Woodfin Street.

    Keep those great writing tips coming.

  • DarleneSteelman

    Wow… what an awesome post.. you make some valid points about indie publishing… and I love your bit about Wolfe.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Jo: As an accomplished writer, you understand that without a good editor, we are all adrift in the verbal wilderness.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Stalla: Thanks for your kind comments. We are all in this together, and the key for us all is to keep sharing good information that we run across.

  • Caleb: This is the first of your blogs I have read. I am hooked and will be back for more. You are a gentleman and a scholar, not to mention a consummate editor.

  • Newbury

    It was said that Thomas Wolfe thought it a bad day if he didn’t write 5,000 words. Hemingway thought it was a good day when he turned out 50, or something akin to these numbers.

  • Jiji

    My thought to writers has always been : make me want to read the next sentence. Your sentences do that. I try.

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