Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Importance of an Editor

I think that people tend to forget the importance of editors. They read a really good book and forget about the people that helped polish that manuscript into its final masterpiece. They presume that editors are only there to check for commas and capitalization, to make sure the correct affect/effect was used, and at best, to clarify confusing sentences. But there's so much more, so many big-picture items that really need an editor's eye.

Case in point: Succubus in the City. I just finished the mildly painful debut novel by Nina Harper. The concept of the novel was very interesting (Satan as a girlfriend; the main character a succubus that is doing womankind a favor by, well, killing bad men--or bad men in bed--by doing them), and Harper knows her fashion and name brands, so the obvious spin off from Sex and the City worked. What didn't work were the parts that I would expect from a first-time novelist, but not a published, has-been-through-an-editor first-time novelist.

There were the paragraphs in the first chapter that repeated in the third, fifth, and again in the final chapters of the book that could have been cut and pasted from the original. There was the incessant beating the reader over the head with the same knowledge over and over again. (Trust me, I'm going to remember the escape clause for the succubus in her deal with the devil. I don't need to be reminded every other chapter. I'm not dumb, and I want to like the book. Give me credit.) There were the character details that kept cropping up at the needed time with no foreshadowing and no subtlety. (Hum. She should have dated before, shouldn't she? Maybe we'll just stick that in here. No one will notice that there was no mention of this character before...or since.) There were also the secondary characters who didn't really have their personalities described until two-thirds of the way through the book. There was the obvious overlaid theme of friendship lasting forever, men lasting until they're turned to dust. Themes should be a little more subtle than last minute tack ons to meet an expectation. It felt like Harper realized as she was creating a synopsis or a query letter that her book should have a theme, and she scribbled out a few paragraphs and called it a night. (Theme? Hum? Well that's obvious. Girlfriends rule! Get me another glass of wine! Oh, but wait. How should I put it in? Maybe I'll slap a two page intro about girlfriends being the best thing ever, assume the reader is just going to take as long to read the novel as I did to write it, then take the same intro and rework it for the epilogue, because no one will remember they read the same thing earlier. I didn't! Then, voila! I'll have a theme that ties the book together. And now that that's done, I can go shopping! Ohh! SHOPPING!) There was also the very obvious ploy for a series, or at least a sequel, by not tying up the romance. Unfortunately, the book needed that romance tied up. There was not enough build up for a sequel and too much build up for no conclusion. The result: a very contrived ending. Isn't it convenient that book two comes out only nine months later? Any later, and this book would have been long since forgotten by most people. Of course the main characters are going to get together. Of course the succubus is going to be freed of her contract. There's not much of a cliffhanger there, just dissatisfaction.

These are all the fallacies of a book that I would expect an editor to notice and help the author change and improve so that by the time it was published, I could read the story and never feel like I was observing a work in progress.

But the shining example of why a book needs a good, final editorial pass was glaringly obvious: Pages 217 to 264 were missing! Missing! And in their place were pages 99 to 146 of the American Heart Association: To Your Health! "Living Lean" edition. I kid you not!

Nina Harper, you got gypped!


Kate said...

So you're really NOT kidding about pages 217-264 of the book being replaced by a Heart Association publication?! LOL! Now that almost makes it worth picking up. (But not for the right reasons.)

Now I'm wondering: Did you care that 47 pages from the story were gone?

AFY said...

Jesus. Did they not even hire a proofreader? And here I thought that traditional trade publishing made out so much better than we do...