Thursday, January 19, 2012

Nose in the Air

Welcome to the 4th edition of Agent Tweets, a weekly post that highlights and responds to
 publication-centric comments from agents and editors, gleaned from Twitter.

FYI: I do not name agents and editors quoted in these posts. 
The quotes listed here are indicative of the spectrum, and 
just happen to be the most compellingly worded variations. 

Today's Agent Tweets: Blunt Honesty #1

Agent Tweet:  "There's no editor to muck things up." I disagree with this. I speak from experience, having read self published stuff that needs an editor.

Why This Matters: Oh my, how this hits home with me - especially now, that I'm getting feedback from my first real battery of beta readers - you know, the ones who don't owe you any compliments, and haven't sat at your Inner Circle Writer's Meetings and listened to you drone about your wonderful vision for your tale, and who you want to star in the movie when Hollywood inevitably comes knocking at your door. Getting solid feedback on your WIP (work in progress) is a huge part of the journey toward getting published; and the more hard-core the feedback, the more you realize that you can't go down that editing road alone.

But even beta readers are not editors. Unless you hit on a very savvy beta reader who happens to be an editor in real life (which I figure is the publishing world's version of winnning the lottery), you're not going to get the real, bare-knuckles, literary fistfight you need from a beta reader. And your manuscript certainly won't achieve it's highest level of greatness from purely your own edits.

An excellent example of this is, I think, The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. You're probably already familiar with the teenager-turned-bestselling-author who created the four volume series about dragonrider Eragon. I know quite a few people who are entirely enamored with this series - very savvy, well-read, creative people whom I love and admire. But on this one point - the literary worth of the Inheritance Cycle - we do not see eye to eye.

If you've read the entire Inheritance Cycle - congratulations. You are to be commended for doing what I could not. You have endured a long, wandering, detail-obsessed, superfluous tale whose verbosity would have made Charles Dickens cower. (Incidentally, I am very much a Charles Dickens fan. Just sayin'.) For my part, I could not get halfway through the first book. I just couldn't. I felt as though I was trying to read tar, or eat taffy that has the annoying habit of never dissolving in your mouth.

Please do not misunderstand me. At rock bottom, I do think Paolini is a very talented young man - but a talent unleashed a little too soon, and with too little mastery of his inherent skills. His original book, Eragon, was self-published - and I think it shows, loud and clear. He gave too free a reign to his natural gifts, while his inherent weaknesses were never strengthened. Though he did eventually find a publisher, Eragon was left largely in it's original form, thereby dooming the remaining three volumes to only build on - and thus magnify - the structural weaknesses of the first book. (I've had readers tell me they were able to skip entire chapters of book four without ever once losing the thread of the main action. The only other book of which I've heard such a disheartening assessment was Moby Dick.) The truly brilliant work that the Inheritance Cycle could have been never happened - because the tale went straight from a seventeen-year-old brain to a public audience, without a professional edit to bring discipline and precision to his overall work.

Which, of course, brings us back to the original Agent Tweet - that an editor really is NOT there to "muck up" your story. They are there to help. Since an editor is not emotionally tangled up in the tale (which we, as authors of our own stories, inevitably are), they have the objectivity to see structural issues in your tale that you cannot see - things that obscure the overall message of your book, that dim its brightness, or undermine its emotional punch.

Even if you do self-publish, you still want to enlist the help of a reputable editor, such as Sirra Edits - and she is by no means the only capable editor available to self-pubbed authors today. Check out the web, find someone willing to take on your novel and give it the spit-polish it deserves. Making your novel the absolute best it can be is, after all, the only way to stand out in an increasingly-chaotic publishing crowd.

Anyone out there self-publishing? What are your thoughts on the editor stage of the process?


  1. I think every project needs an editor. I also think that it is more important for that first book to be published than to sit moldering for want of the budget to get an editor. That's my bottom line.

    I think that I should likely discuss this in more detail on my own blog, instead of soapbox-ing here.

    That said, as usual, Angela, another great blog post. Thanks for making me think. :o)

    1. Very good point! The cost is certainly a contributing factor (though by no means the only one) in my decision to go the agent/query route, even though I hope to have my work as spiffed up as possible before querying.

      You should totally do a blog post on that. Can't wait to see your insights and observations.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with the need for an editor. My problem is the cost. I know people will say it's worth the cost and to do it anyway, but as a low income family spending that kind of money as an unpublished writer is just not feasible. (Kids need shoes first etc...)
    I sort of agree with Michel, getting it out there is (hopefully) worth it. I self-published with Kindle last year before I joined Twitter, before I had access to a huge amount of advice on writers' blogs, tweets etc. I know the book isn't perfect, and I would edit far, far more since learning so much more in the last six months, but it's a learning experience!
    It's out there...people have bought it, I've had good feedback and I've spent months since worrying about 'this sentence' or 'that' and decided not to worry, there's not much I can do now!
    The experience is positive, I know so much more, I will do so much more...
    Wish I could afford an editor, or know how to get a beta reader...but in the end I'm still learning, and I'll get better!
    Great post to offer more much needed learning! I'm really enjoying your 'Tweet' series!

  3. Great post, Angela, I always find Agent Tweets informative and entertaining.

    And I couldn't make it through even a chapter of Eragon. I only made it through the movie by reading an (unrelated) book while it was on.

  4. I really enjoy this Agent Tweet series. The necessity of an editor cannot be underlined enough, as Angela clearly illustrated in the Paolini example.

    I empathize with the tight money scenario. Another option would be to find a friend or acquaintance via social media that will give your WIP a good scouring so you can at least publish it with confidence.


  5. I've never read Eragon, but after reading this post (and comments) I think I'll skip it.

    Great post! I'm enjoying the series as well :)