Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Edit This

Does anyone edit anymore? By anyone I mean editors, and by editors, I mean those ladies and gents at the big houses.

I'm reading lost boy, lost girl by Peter Straub, and bammo, right in the middle of the book, he slips out of the 3rd person omniscient narration for a paragraph of 1st person confessional. I read and reread the section: did I miss a piece of dialogue? Was I confused? No?

It seems this slip of perspective was purely accidental. Ouch. I haven't mentioned the unnecessary insertions of exposition. Talk about show vs. tell.

It's a good book, all in all. I won't run out to snatch A Dark Matter off the new releases table, though. I'm not sure Straub is my style. Too dense and forced at times...maybe that's an editing issue, too.

I've heard rumblings that editors (at the big houses) don't edit anymore. Usually, a writer and agent make this happen (once a writer has an agent); unagented writers edit themselves until landing said agent, and then...

So is this gossip or truth, sour grapes or reality?


Sophie Playle said...

I can tell you that in education publishing, the editors don't do the editing. Proof-reading and copy-editing is all done freelance.

Not sure how it is in the world of fiction publishing.

But, man, you'd have thought someone would have noticed that error!

Barry Napier said...

I've seen much mention of this on Twitter and don't find it hard to imagine. I've seen some doozies in books from the big boys. And I sorta agree with you on Straub. I love his ideas, but some of the narrative DOES seem forced.

brady said...

I'm pretty sure all the PoV shifts in lblg are intentional.

Aaron Polson said...

Sophie - Freelance editing it is, then.

Barry - Me too. There's a threshold of fame; once you pass that, free ticket, I guess.

Brady - The POV shifts within 3rd person are intentional, sure, but I'm talking about shifts in the use of first person / third person pronouns. This particular error was not intentional: if it was, it made no sense. One paragraph in the whole book?

katey said...

I've been trying to read an epic fantasy series, and I have to do it a little bit at a time because the editing is just. so. bad. It's weird how I blame certain things on the writer and certain things on the editor-- but honestly, there is a difference. And dude. So ridiculous.

Another point for indie press!

Cathy Olliffe said...

I think with cutbacks everywhere that editors are often the first to go. At the newspaper I work for there have been so many cutbacks that some stuff sees print without even a spell-check. Surely publishing houses are better but sometimes I wonder. There's nothing more disconcerting than burying yourself in a good novel only to come across an obvious typo or bad grammar.

Cathy Olliffe said...

I think with cutbacks everywhere that editors are often the first to go. At the newspaper I work for there have been so many cutbacks that some stuff sees print without even a spell-check. Surely publishing houses are better but sometimes I wonder. There's nothing more disconcerting than burying yourself in a good novel only to come across an obvious typo or bad grammar.

Natalie L. Sin said...

From what I heard, several of the big houses fired their copy editors. It was a cost saving measure, which (as you mention in this post) certainly shows!

Elana Johnson said...

I think it's a reality. I just read a published book that had a word missing in a sentence. I read it like fifty times, thinking I just wasn't getting it. And I wasn't. Cuz it wasn't right.

So I know what you mean.

Cate Gardner said...

As Katey said, another point for the indie press.

Rebecca Nazar said...

I read this awhile back. For the most part I enjoyed it. Excuse my memory hiccup, here, but aren't there chapters with third-person limited (the son's, the 'lost' boy) too ? Yeah, POV ping-pong.

Aaron Polson said...

Katey - Most writers seem to have a problem with cutting out unnecessary bits and streamling a story. Editor? Anyone?

Cathy - I can forgive most of the simple typos and grammar issues...this first/third person flip-flop, wowza.

Natalie - I don't want to show my typos. ;)

Elana - I hate having to check my sanity.

Cate - The indie press is winning, you know.

Becca - Yeah, I get the third-person ping-pong, it's just this one instance of "he didn't know I was staying there" or something to that effect. It isn't a thought or dialogue, it's just wrong. "I" could have been changed to "Uncle Tim" and everything would be fine.

brady said...

It's been a while since I've read this one, but I remember stumbling over this passage too, and at first thinking of it as a mistake. But Straub is a pretty experimental writer (if a quiet one). He's also a huge moneymaker, so his publishers aren't about to skimp on his copyediting budget.

Without wanting to get spoilery (this is stated much more explicitly in In the Night room), Straub is playing pretty deliberately with p.o.v. in lost boy lost girl. The slip into 1st person isn't a gaff, I don't think; rather, it's a clue to readers that we should perhaps be thinking of Tim Underhill as more than just a character in the story.

BT said...

Straub has always been this way, as has Saul. I read both quite a lot in years gone past (long before I knew anything about writing). Then, when I learned some things, I reread a couple of books from each and found them full of things we're not supposed to do as writers.

I ended up throwing my hands up and waving the white flag. If you have a big enough name, you can do whatever you want.

As for editors - copy editors are where all the work is done. Editors only make final decisions. They should be relabelled as project managers.

Robert said...

As was mentioned, Straub likes to play around with first and third person. Most of the time it's actually a first person narrator telling the story from a third person point of view ... so it doesn't quite make sense until later in the book.

As an aside, my editor did an edit of the anthology, but it was a surface thing. The copy editor came through and cleaned up everything else. In fact, when I had some questions, my editor simply said, "We'll let the copy editor worry about that."

Sophie Playle said...

Might be of interest!


ggray said...

I found typos in books by best sellers from big publishing houses such as Salman Rushdie (one of my fave authors so I was stunned) and Paulo Coehlo, but none in Jack Kerouac or Anais Nin. What does that tell you?

Jamie Eyberg said...

I have been finding more typos and structural problems in books I have been reading lately as well. I don't know if I am just paying more attention to it or if it is more prevalent than it used to be.

Aaron Polson said...

Brady - I get the POV shifts elsewhere in the book; this particular line (because it was just one line) comes in a different section, out of nowhere, and knocked me flat out of the narrative. Not sure if that was the intended effect.

BT - Damn us for trying to read up on the craft. ;)

Robert - I don't have a problem with a little experimentation, but this doesn't seem consistant with the rest of the book (even with the other POV shifts). This instance read like more of a slip--someone needed to go back and clean up after an edit. And if it is a 1st person narrator working the 3rd person angle, why do I need to know that a 15-year-old's penis is "stiffening" when he sees his friend's mom? I'll try to reserve final thoughts until the last page.

Sophie - Nice link...it is the New Yorker after all.

Gail - It tells me I'm more confused than I thought. ;) Kerouac even?

Jamie - I'm sure it's a little of both. Typos, IMHO, will always happen. The structural problems...not okay.

katey said...

Anything that knocks the reader out of the intended headspace is not good. And a sign of bad editing. Call me a philistine if you will, but honestly, I like reading things that make me work. I just don't like bad things.

Streamlining is a big one-- how can we even know if we've made a point without an editor? Of course we know what we meant, and we know what we wanted to show! Hell yeah.