I went to a seminar at LBF on this topic and it struck me how this question is often avoided, yet it is clearly evident in the production of e-books. The numbers of e-books which I read that have unforgivable errors and typos makes you wonder if some stages are being skipped and we are relying too heavily on technology to catch errors before we upload.
Ruth Borthwick, the Chief Executive of the Arvon Foundation claimed that publishing becomes tricky when a publishing house chooses to prioritise its marketing team over its editorial team. Coming from a marketing background I did find this hard to hear but admittedly, she has a very good point. Ruth also highlighted the importance of the marriage between both the writer and the editor. The editor should always have in mind what it means to be a writer. Freelance editors hired by companies who have disbanded their editorial team have the power to save writers who are on the brink of giving up, this is why editors should read everybody’s work, no matter how awful it may seem.
Rebecca Carter, an editor at Random House has just made the brave leap and become an agent. She realized that within a publishing house there is often more time spent writing copy for Amazon and analyzing jacket covers than there is editing. The apparent trick to editorial success is to be brave and take a risk. The success stories the panel spoke of included an author not sticking to deadlines or briefs, being tardy and having a manuscript exceed the prescribed limitations. The stand-out factor here was that the editor for this book didn’t cancel the contract even though the author had broken their terms of agreement. This is now so rare that authors have been known to lose their editors and great texts are slipping through the margins. An agent on the other hand specifically needs to give the author reassurance. This is the great aspect of Rebecca’s current role. With her editorial experience, she can step in and work with her authors if they lose their editors due to creative differences or time restraints.
There is an inevitable shift in editorial roles with the current digital adjustments, but that shouldn’t scare people off, they should see it as motivation. Skills take practice and with the different skills that are emerging it is bound to take time to adjust. With so many eager professionals in this industry I really don’t see that being a problem. I think the more people that adapt to the skill sets required, the easier the skills become to teach and transfer those skills throughout the company – like a ripple effect. It is an absurd thought that the editorial process is being shoved out of publishing and it is consistently putting pressure on agents to begin the editorial process before they even try to pitch a book to a publishing house. It definitely seems that the roles of editors and agents are becoming increasingly blurred.
We as an industry also have to take notice of self-published authors. Do their readers know they don’t have an editorial team behind them? Does this devalue their work? I think it is admirable of any author to put their work out in the market with the weight of the editorial process also on their shoulders. Publishing in whatever media is a team effort. Authors need an agent, editor and publicist at the very least to put their book on an even keel. There is always the romantic idea of the author as an isolated tormented soul but the truth is they will remain tormented and especially isolated without a team of professionals rooting for them. Authors depend on other people pointing out the obvious to them. It is too easy for authors to be lenient or blind to something that they have lovingly created – they need that external hawk eye to point out their errors and help them progress. As Blake Morrison, author of And When Did You Last See Your Father? pointed out, Lord of the Flies was rejected a whopping 20 times before Faber picked it up. Faber had to heavily edit William Golding’s work to make it the classic novel it is today. Would Golding succeed as a self-published author today if he didn’t have an expert team behind him protecting his work?
Poet and editor Nii Ayikwei Parkes quite rightly stated that it is easy to use a broad brush in publishing and approach all authors and poets with the same attitude. Some people need editors more than others and some people can’t see their own mistakes. Authors deserve to have creative control and stand-by the key aspects of their work that they feel need to be kept in the narrative. We can’t blame digital advancements for the lack of quality control in the market. Badly written and edited books have been around for a long time – the digital progressions just mean that these books are on the market quicker. If the industry is pushing books out without taking into consideration the editorial responsibilities of the publisher then we are being disrespectful to our readers, and that ultimately is damaging to both the author and the publisher’s reputation.
We can’t hold back the future any more than we can go back to using mangles. Self-publishing is bound to survive, but there are some books out there that have been rejected for a reason. We run the risk of losing quality control by neglecting the editorial process.