Monday, March 10, 2008

An English teacher is not an editor

I congratulate all writers who submit their work to proofreaders and editors for a final polish before submitting. A review by a professional is especially important for book manuscripts. Yet, more often than not, when pressed as to who was the editor or proofreader, a writer will respond that the manuscript was read by a friend or relative who was an English teacher, majored in English in college, or got As in English while in school. I would bet the vast majority of literary agents and editors would back me up on this statement.

An English teacher or major is not a professional editor nor a proofreader. I was an English major who got As in English. That gave me the natural inclination to seek employment in the publishing industry. My first job was editorial assistant. My first day I was given a sheet with proofreader's marks to learn and a style book, Words Into Type. I spent one year learning the basics of copy editing before becoming an assistant editor, at which point I was assigned a few minor titles to work on under the supervision of another more experienced staff member. I learned how to move a book through the various stages of the publishing process from manuscript to bound book. After another year, I was promoted to associate editor and became responsible for more titles and more in-depth analysis of what it takes to create a successful book in terms of content, organization, ancillary products and marketing. Then I became an editor and my last position at that publishing house (after 5 years) was senior editor and I supervised 16 titles, 2 staff editors and a host of freelance editors.

I'm bringing this up to point out the difference between an editor and an English teacher or someone who is gifted with language. We have the same basic talents, but very different training. There is much more to fine tuning a manuscript than finding spelling and grammatical errors. I have reviewed manuscripts submitted to me that were edited by English teachers. I find errors. It's not that the teachers are not good in the classroom, but they are not trained in print production. I have a two-page checklist of things to review in a manuscript. An English teacher who is editing your work is looking for spelling and grammatical errors, which is last on my list—not unimportant, but it's the final step, not the only one.

An editor's job isn't limited to finding errors; an editor can make suggestions for better organization, presentation and flow. Everyone needs an editor, including editors. Two pairs of eyes are a must [period]. Make your second pair of eyes a professional editor. Yes, it is an expense. Publishing is a business. If you're serious about seeing work published, then investing in a good editor is a cost of doing business.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

"Truth" turns out to be fiction

In the Boston Globe article, "Liar, liar, bestseller on fire," author Steve Almond examines the possible reasoning behind the recent "I made it up" memoir confessions of Margaret Seltzer (Love and Consequences) and Misha Defonseca (Misa: A Memoire of the Haulocaust Years). Almond examines the validity behind Seltzer's statement to The New York Times that she was driven to deceit. She said, "I just felt that there was good that I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen to it."

Almond suggests there's truth to Seltzer's seemingly ridiculous statement because today's declining book readership demands "ripped from the headlines" memoirs and editors are pressured to respond by supplying readers with what they want. According to Almond, editors don't believe fiction can supply the sensationalism of a "true" story, hence they jump to print author survival stories because "such books are 100 times more likely to get reviewed and featured on National Public Radio and anoited by Oprah."

Was nothing learned when thousands of readers returned their copies of "A Million Little Pieces," after author James Frey admitted that he made up portions of his bestselling memoir. Some readers went as far as to initiate legal action. Doesn't that tell the publishing community and memoir fakers that people want to support a tragic hero, not a liar?

I don't buy into the rationale that it's necessary to turn fiction into fact in order to get noticed or as Ms. Seltzer said, "do good." (The irony of that statement could launch a novel itself.) I also don't buy into the popular notion that sensationalism for profit is an excuse to tolerate subterfuge and downright dishonesty. The publishers get little sympathy from me for not checking facts before racing to get the next bestselling survival story on shelves.

My previous post discussed the power we hold as writers. With that power comes responsibility. In 4Ps to Publishing Success, I devote an entire chapter to developing an authentic voice and establishing a bond of trust with the audience. Authentic writing stems from the desire to share the insights we've gleaned with others and leave the world a slightly better place for our efforts.

Let's wield the power of the pen, but do it responsibly. Our purpose is connect and make a difference, not just a profit at any cost.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Inspired by Oprah

I've been intending to get back to blogging and make it part of my writing life for weeks. I advise others to blog when they consult with me. So why haven't I done it? Poor excuses mostly and I won't bore you with them.

I read some incredible statistics on Friday in Publisher's Lunch about what has happened to A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle since being selected as an Oprah Book Club title. In advance of the announcement, the publisher, Penguin, shipped an initial order of 775,000 books. Then, Oprah and Tolle announced a free 10-week online webinar for readers. In the past four weeks, Penguin has shipped an additional 3.34 million books, "the record for the most copies ever shipped by Penguin Group USA in a four-week period."

Four million books in slightly over a month. Because Oprah endorsed it. That's power. Not only of the woman, but of her words. Now millions of people are reading Tolle that never read him before and never would have. (Think some of them might even buy his previous titles?) Do you think he will influence lives?

You and I have the same power. Every time we speak or write, we send out messages. As writers, our words have lasting power. And so, I am once again inspired to write in my blog as well as in my weekly newsletter The Wordy Woman because I, too, have a mission and I believe in the power of the pen.