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.