I can probably use a million and one metaphors to describe the relationship between an author and an editor; there’s the player to the coach, the actor to the director, the bread to the meat (in the sandwich that is), there are a lot of good comparisons to be made. However, one thing in all these metaphors rings very true; the editor is the unseen hand guiding the product towards success before it hits the market.
Both articles discussed the edits and changes that editors made on specific pieces of raw literature. On the surface, these criticisms sound like they can be tough for both writer and editor. For a writer, it is hard to see a piece of work broken down into scraps. However, it is hardly any easier for an editor who is trying to find a polite way to fix mistakes in a potential piece of literature.
I think the Saunders article displayed a positive dynamic between a writer and an editor; Saunders and his editor seem to dialogue the writing process with a tone of mutual understanding and agreement. It is quite obvious that they have been working together for a long time. That being clear, I feel that this article gave a little too optimistic of a view on the editor-author relationship.
I liked the Carver article better. This article described a complex relationship between two friends who just happened to have to work together. Lish gave Carver so much feedback that at one point he no longer wanted to publish his work anymore. Now I’m not sure if this makes Lish a good editor for asking his client for nothing short of perfection, or a bad editor for going so far as to make a writer doubt his own skill and profession, but either way I feel that this shows just how complicated this relationship can get. Criticism is a hard thing to both give and recieve.
“But beyond their editorial skills, what has kept editors in demand is relationship skills. The skill that is commonly associated with the pinnacle of editorial talent -picking the right book- is, frankly, nonsense. Success, in terms of picking things, is a hybrid of luck with the non-self-evident and money with the self-evident, and even the self-evident often requires luck.”
We have talked a lot in class about the unpredictability of the publishing industry; it is nearly impossible to determine just what book is going to sell, and what book is going to sell well. This excerpt from “What is the Business of Literature?” stood out to me because I realized that it represented the social capital in which publishing houses must invest. The article goes into more detail about the role of ‘luck’ in an editor’s pick (with obvious references to successful authors like JK Rowling and Dan Brown). However, the author also used an interesting, while completely appropriate, analogy of comparing the “next big thing” to the person who wins the $50 million Powerball ticket.
More often than not, I let my mind wander. Reflecting on this post took my thoughts way off the beaten path to a place that may be a rather different response to the role of “luck” that must accompany an editor. In class we tried to find the exact concept which made less-than-artistic novels like Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray sell, yet I know that I have read books that I consider to behold literary merit that most people will never even hear of. Is this concept luck, or is it just taste? What gives an editor the qualification to determine what book will sell? After all, JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter manuscript was turned away on more than one occasion. Perhaps some editors are too close to the puzzle to see the picture that is forming. After all, a well-educated editor who has a masters degree in analyzing literature will certainly be able to better value a complex plot with major underlaying themes and allegories than I will. However, the editor is the one selling the book and I am the one buying it; while he may be able to appreciate the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanon’s dock, a ‘good’ editor will make the realization that some readers will miss the symbolism and will just see the story as it is told. A ‘lucky’ editor will be able to pick for all audiences, making his social capital worth the while.
My lit mag will be an annual book (and by that I mean I will release it once a year) and will be open for all types of writing: Poetry, short stories, short dramas, non-fiction essays, anything that garners literary merit. Our only stipulation is that we do not accept artwork. The hitch about my litmag, however, is that we will only take submissions from unpublished, ammeter authors with the point being to showcase new work. Someone who has previously been published in a national magazine or journal (such as Dogwood) or who has recieved payment for the publication of any work will not be eligible for publication in this book.
My litmag is meant to be a final door for someone who has always harbored the dream of seeing their name published upon a page but has yet to live that fantasy. A few weeks ago in class we discussed how these days an author needs to gain some sort of traction to prove to a publisher that they can sell a book. This magazine is meant to be that opportunity. That being said, however, selection is not an easy thing. We will accept submissions on a rolling basis through the first six months of the year with the deadline being June 1st. After June 1st there will be a team of highly trained editors and literary agents going through each submission to determine what belongs in my book with the goal of having it printed and ready for distribution by December.
The coolest part about this process, however, is the end game. My magazine is not only submitted to the every day coffee-house readers, but is also sent to big name publishing companies so that they may be able to scout out new talent, just in case there is a story in one of my editions which Scholastic may want to develop.
My book will be titled Swan Song; I feel this title gives a sense of irony as well as makes a beautiful statement. It is a publication meant for all those out there who dream of being writers but need the incentive to get their foot in the door.
So far we have had a lot of discussion about the publishing industry (which is good, considering that’s the nature of the class). However, I cannot lie when I say just how surprised I am at the politics that go into the book publishing industry. A few weeks ago, Sonya mentioned how some publishers won’t even considering publishing an author unless they have accumulated some sort of internet fan base first. We spent almost an entire class trying to dissect the appeal of what made books like “50 Shades of Grey” and “Twilight” sell like hotcakes. We also went through the thought process which every agent, editor, publisher, and artist must consider before even making a move on a book that they may want to sell. Overall, I had no idea that the publishing industry was so….shark like.
The topic that has struck me the most thus far in the semester is how it is an editor’s job to go up to bat for a book they want to sell. In the introduction of Merchants of Culture, it was discussed how some editors will put their jobs on the line to get a book to print in hopes that this little story will make it big (in class we continue to use the phrase “the next Harry Potter”). Upon learning this, I can’t help but feel a notion of anxiety towards these individuals. Their job could literally be considered a gamble; if they support too many ‘wrong’ books, then their expertise will not be a social capital worth investing in, according to publishers. In some cases, editors describe how they have to fight for books to make it to print (disclaimer, that’s a scene from a movie. But in the world of publishing, editors may have to pull out quite a few bargaining chips to fight for the manuscripts they believe in). Our guest speaker last week, Colin Hosten, talked about the weekly meetings his publishing house would have to discuss what manuscripts were worth the company’s time. However, these meetings went far beyond the simple “Hey, guys, this guy named J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a pretty cool book. Should we publish it?” Instead, there will have to be drafted proposals, projections, a look into the author, a look into the story, and a consideration of how much effort this manuscript will need before print (Colin mentioned how some manuscripts had been rejected because they would need ‘too much work’).
Putting stock into a book sounds like a stressful job; if a novel won’t sell it is the publisher who will suffer. Therefore, if an editor cannot invest in a book that will bring in revenue, then that employee is seen as a greater expense to the company. It is even harder for books to sell this day in age, especially considering the rise of e-readers and capitalism directly connected with the film industry. Basically, the topic that stands out to me is the high-stakes industry that publishers and, more vulnerably, editors must engage in. Merchants of Culture gave me the impression that editing is a gamble; not only can you put stock into a book that ‘flops’ but you can also miss the opportunity that will bring your company tons of revenue (and may even secure your corner office).
As a society, we like to be entertained. We start young on our parents laps every night as they read aloud to us Goodnight Moon or, in my personal case, The Princess and the Frog, and then we evolve into finding other ways of entertainment. The Princess and the Frog on our parent’s lap becomes Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix in our dorm room bed. We never grow out of wanting to hear stories; this is a concept which has been demonstrated since the beginning of time. Yet before there was Netflix and Amazon Prime, before there was any type of television or electronic media, we used literary magazines to hear our stories.
What struck me most about the article “To Popularise Literature in the States” was its historical context. Algernon de Vivier Tassin published an original letter in his text which stated, from a first-hand account, “we seldom see a European publication here, unless it be of a peculiarly popular cast…the establishment of your magazine will materially subserve the interest of letters and science in America.” (24). The first literary magazines were published just after the Revolutionary War; based on this concept it is my belief that these editions were used to promote a feeling of pride for the newly founded country. ‘Lit mags’ were a way to put a personal stamp on new ground, and they were used to create an identifier for a new sense of nationalism. These authors weren’t British, they were American! Additionally, what I found really funny about this article was its opening paragraphs concerning Andrew Bradford and Benjamin Franklin’s battle to produce the first magazine. It reminded me of certain parallels regarding the controversy of the Facebook start-up.
Relating to that point, I also noticed parallels in the second article between the ‘Magazine Age’ and today’s ‘Information Age’. The author of “Influence, Commerce, and the Little Magazine” describes how the Magazine Age “Had to do with taste and cultural identity and a new popularity for literature.” (28). Magazines and publications boomed and people ate it up like hot cakes, similar to the social media phenomenon arguably kicked off with Apple. Similar to how people could now be connected with others from far away with these new and creative publications, we know we have a world of answers and technology at our feet. People in the Magazine Age would line up and wait for the newest installments of their favorite books. People today line up around corners for the newest iPhone. The picture posted below shows a computer with the text coming out of it; I selected it because I thought it would be a good depiction of all the information (such as entire magazines) we have at our fingertips. The text even looks like the setup of a magazine or newspaper article.
In the final article, J.D. McClatchy writes how “Journals are the prime archeological dig for the American Imagination.” I feel that this relates back to what we discussed earlier in class; if there were to be a monster apocolypse and the entire human race were to be wiped out, save for a few people who were able to repopulate but had to start from scratch, we would have the writings, journals, and novels of today as a record. Very similar to oral tradition, literature is passed down through the ages to tell a story of what a time period once was like. It is a more in-your-face form of digging for fossils because these fossils literally tell people of the future what we are doing today. The most significant comparison that comes to mind regarding this argument is that of cave paintings; today historians are able to see how pre-historic people lived and socialized by these drawings which tell a story.