According to this article from Columbia Journalism Review, there is a trend in publishing that’s growing: editors who don’t edit. Judging from the books I’ve been reviewing for work recently, I believe it–and have suspected it for some time.
The problem seems to stem from the increasingly market-driven business publishing is becoming. Elisabeth Sifton at Farrar, Straus and Giroux is quoted as saying that by the 1990s, it was clear “editors were valued for the deals they could do, not for work well done or talent nurtured.” While this isn’t true across the board, more and more editors concern themselves with looking for big-selling books rather than well-written or well-edited ones. And according to this writer, many simply ask to see a complete manuscript when it’s finished and send it for a copyedit.
What has happened to the good editors? Who is making the effort to work over multiple drafts with the author, invest time into a collaborative relationship, and develop the book into the best communicator it can be?
Even the Christian publishing industry has changed, ineluctably going the way of advertising and publicity. The result, as the subject of the CJR article points out, is that authors are left to get their own editing accomplished to avoid the embarrassing yet inevitable publishing of a book that could have been so much better. “It’s your book,” the author now must tell herself. “It’s not your agent’s, not your editor’s, not your publisher’s. It’s your baby and you are the only one who will care enough to nurture it.”
That’s sad. I don’t know if you see this the same way I do, but I think book publishing is sort of the last great stand of a former age where marketing and sale-figures didn’t hold as much sway as the value of the message–and the other “entertainment” mediums like film, television, and radio were the coarse, crass, commercial-driven industries. There’s just something special about the printed word bound into a book. Maybe it’s the idea of permanence. But we’ve reached the point where that specialness is taken for granted. And maybe it’s simply that now it’s especially important to take extra care against the encroachment of the almighty dollar, and seek harder for the best help we can find for our written messages.
As good editing becomes a lost art, the influx of the next wave of poorly-edited books should convince you of one thing. If you’re an author, please do us all a favor and edit your book!