WRITERS AT WORK: About this Business of Internet Publishing, Part 3

Hi everyone,

Wecome to our third Tuesday session of WRITERS AT WORK. This month’s topic is using technology to publish e-books and books on demand. I went first on March 6 with a telling of my first e-book experience: GOOSE LAKE. Last Tuesday we heard from editor Paula Morrow whose remarks were titled, “Independent Editors: What We Do and Why You Need Us.” Today it’s our pleasure to bring you another strong voice of experience in this field: Michael Wilde. Sandy Asher will bat cleanup on the 27th when she discusses her current experiences with publish on demand.

Why an Editor?

by Michael Wilde

Wondering what to write on this timely topic, I was instantly struck by two things: this recent article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/05/business/media/e-books-on-tablets-fight-digital-distractions.html?hp ) about e-books on tablets—a primer on the future of how we read; and a letter I received from a potential client. In the article, the conclusion looks grim: instead of providing that long-sought-for solace and comforting retreat from the world’s insane distractions, a book must now compete with every kind of addiction-forming instant gratification: “[T]he millions of consumers who have bought tablets and sampled e-books on apps from Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble have come away with a conclusion: It’s harder than ever to sit down and focus on reading.”

So here is the not-so-distant future of how a book will behave: it will reorganize itself to accommodate every digital temptation—a dark current that flows under a lot of professional conversations these days. What happened to focusing on one thing at a time? The editor in me is constantly asking, by the time you reach the end of this sentence, have you already gone to Twitter? How can a book possibly survive?

It will, and the why and how came in a query I received only yesterday, four days after the Times article had me ruing not only the demise of books but the death of meaning itself (the Times is good at that). Having surveyed the poor quality of self-published books, the writer decided to seek out an editor. “No matter what the future of the book industry is,” the person writes, “editors are still crucial.” Apart from the obvious validation (that in fact means everything to me), this brief, simple statement gives me hope and a galvanizing optimism: here is understanding, at its core, of a fundamental relationship, an age-old calculus, that determines how a book comes into being and why it acts as it does, no matter the medium or how the end result is marketed.

A writer needs an editor and vice versa; that simple. The disparate activities take place in different sections of the brain, I’m convinced, and the writer is not well served should he or she attempt to do both at once. In the same braincase, the editor inhibits the act of writing until the flow is dammed to a dribble. One of them has to be switched off for the other to function properly (i.e., disinhibited, not easy and not recommended). What does all that have to do with publishing, self or otherwise, you might ask? It turns out, everything. Now, in the e-universe, a writer needs an editor more than ever (assuming, of course, the editor knows what she or he is doing, another subject for another day’s blog)—and nowhere is this more emphatically true than in children’s books, which are deceptive if not downright treacherous from an editorial point of view.

I don’t have space to go into the particulars, but generally speaking, of all the levels and genres of writing and reading out there, children’s books come closest to poetry in style and composition—and are therefore that much harder to write. In children’s, as in poetry, every word is important, and even more, the order all the words are in, on every page, in every sentence. I can’t stress it enough. There isn’t any wiggle room at all. The text must engage at once and entertain. A first-time author—even a brilliant one—might not automatically know this. A sweat lodge worth of effort and draft after draft may yield a pile of rejections for want of an active verb, a musical phrase, choice of voice, a character’s disposition, any of a thousand factors; then, of course, it has to be somebody’s cup of tea. A grown-up first has to love it. Frustrating, I know.

An editor can help.

Michael provides all manner of editorial services and help with writing. Contact: michaelwildeeditorial@earthlink.net . Also www.wordsintoprint.org

11 comments on “WRITERS AT WORK: About this Business of Internet Publishing, Part 3

  1. David,
    Thank you for Michael’s post. His list of the similarities of poetry and writing children’s picture books makes my heart swell with love. Yes, he understands, and his “sweatlodge” of experience is brilliant. How inspiring! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    • Good morning, Joy,

      I like Michael’s post too. Sandy and I are blessed to know such knowledgeable people in the field as Paula Morrow and Michael Wilde. We owe them much for going to the trouble of writing such helpful advice for this month’s conversation.

  2. Dear David:
    I love the way you review and preview the Internet Publishing Posting at the top. It reminds me of Ed Sullivan introducing the Sunday night show after the men of Texaco finished singing.

    and Dear Michael:
    I applaud your reminder that the children’s immediate interest has to first grab an adult’s. I often write for children of all ages, and no age notices. Here is an example:
    by Jeanne Poland

    Visible vapor from a plane:
    Amorphous mysteries.
    Skyward clouds that swirl and twine –
    As God’s polyphonies.

    We reply, from far below,
    Elliptic wanderings;
    And all comes clear, in music’s call,
    The soul’s meanderings.

    • Dear Jeanne,

      Thanks for joining the conversation and for sharing “Translations.” It’s always good to hear from you!


  3. Loved the analogy of poetry and children’s literature. I understand one cannot write and edit their own work. Can a writer successfully edit other people’s work?

    • Dear Meryl: an excellent question. I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon. The short answer is, of course; sometimes; it depends; and maybe not, according to how you define “successfully.” My definition may not be yours (or someone else’s). Here’s an example. A first-time author came to me with a byzantine political thriller that involved four interwoven narrative threads. The challenge here was to create suspense. Some people use formulas; I don’t. We would do this from scratch, build it from the ground up. The manuscript needed a lot of work. He agreed, and together we fashioned something not only unique, but the book he wanted to have at the end of the job — in his voice and to my eye, seamless and without any fingerprints. He was happy, and so was I. Then he showed it to a friend, a writer, who had some preconceived ideas about how a political thriller needed to behave. Since this one didn’t fit the mold, he began to criticize it — not according to its merits or defects, but rather according to his rules that were carved in stone. My client became anxious at once, and began revising, according to this friend’s ideas. The result was that he was being pulled in different directions, questioning everything we had built together up to that point, because it didn’t fit the boilerplate according to his “successful” friend. This writer (whoever he was), with perhaps the best of intentions, sabotaged the book and its effects and surprises by imposing ideas onto it that the work never had to begin with — which is to say, a formula. So my answer to you is yes, of course, but beware. The result might not be so successful. –Michael

      • Excellent example of editing gone wrong, Michael. I think one of the hardest lessons to learn as one develops as a writer is how to weigh other people’s opinions against what you and your story really need. Many critique groups, for instance, provide effective feedback for their members. More power to them! But I know myself well enough to know I would soon begin writing to please the group, even against my story’s best interests, so I’ve gone my own lonely way. The trick is finding the editor who feeds you and your vision. If you can feel yourself and your story growing in a way that excites you, that’s a good sign.

  4. Meryl:
    Can a writer edit other peoples’ work?
    (A poem for two voices)

    Rights Illusions

    1 To copy 1 To copy
    2 To privacy 2 To own
    3 To choose 3 To create something new under the sun
    4 To observe 4 To monopolize
    5 To create 5 To hide
    6 To respect 6 To stay the same
    7 To have a turn 7 To be #1
    8 To apologize, make amends and restitution, try again, start over
    8 To be objective
    9 To make claims 9 To demand respect, allegiance, honor,
    freedom, acknowledgment, validation
    10 To produce evidence 10 Go public with everything
    11 To remain silent 11 Avoid criticism
    12 To share 12 To ignore the opposite view
    13 To publish, post, blog, comment 13 To be famous

    All rights © (ha ha)
    Jeanne Poland

  5. Thank you, David, for this informative eye-opening series.

    Thank you, Michael, for your frank and inspiring presentation. You have given me much food for thought.

    • Thanks, Cory,

      We’ve had a good conversation this month and still have Sandy Asher coming up on next Tuesday to wrap things up.


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