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17 May 2012 @ 11:25 am
editorial horror stories  

I’ve certainly been following the Mandy De Geit Saga, though I don’t know if you have been. Short version: a sorry excuse for a publishing house rewrote the story they’d accepted for an anthology, without telling her about it, then got snitty when she objected. But that doesn’t really do the horrors of it justice, so you should go read the link.

It caused a friend to email me and ask what I thought of the substantive part of the issue, which I take to mean “what do I think of editors rewriting stories,” and my answer got so long I thought I’d make a blog post of it:

I’ve never met anybody published with a major publisher who’s claimed this has happened to them. Editors don’t do that.

Editors say “I think there’s a problem with this book in that it falls too perfectly between romance and fantasy. Would you consider removing the 30,000 words that are the hero’s point of view and revising it to keep the same story only without his POV?”, causing you to cut 30K and rewrite the other 70K and substantially improving the book by doing so. They will also say “If you don’t want to do that, I will give this book to our romance department and see if they think it would work for them instead of in our fantasy line.” (TRUTHSEEKER)

Or they say “I think X Y and Z need some looking at,” causing you to finally grimly accept that the book actually has no plot (which, frankly, you suspected all along and were hoping your editor would not notice) and that XY&Z can be fixed by ripping out 2/3rds of the book and rewriting what’s left (HOUSE OF CARDS).

Or they say “This book is wonderful except I don’t understand why the main character is doing anything. Can you add motivation?” (URBAN SHAMAN. THE CARDINAL RULE. THUNDERBIRD FALLS. HEART OF STONE. I’d started to get the hang of it by COYOTE DREAMS.)

Or they say “I’m concerned that the cruelty of this scene will lose readers for good. Can you make it more clear that it’s the magic pushing this?” (THE QUEEN’S BASTARD, and if you’ve read it you can guess the scene, and it’s the one change I’ve ever made in a book that I understood and agreed with the editor’s reasons, but don’t necessarily feel it was the right thing to do for the story.)

Once in a great, great while, they say “You know what, I think this one hits all the notes we need, no revision letter this time!”, causing you to be paranoid and suspect that really in fact time got too short and the book probably desperately does need revising but it’s going to print anyway and you’ve never been quite brave enough to reread it to see whether it stands up (THE FIREBIRD DECEPTION).

A legitimate editor/publisher would not do what was done to Mandy DeGeit. Vast numbers of people who are unpublished seem to have a hardcore belief that this kind of thing happens all the time. That sex scenes are added to books, that storylines are revised, rewritten, removed, all without the author’s permission or notification.

This does not happen. Not in real publishing. Editors don’t have time to rewrite your book for you. Indeed, if editors wanted to write your book for you, they would be writers, not editors.

The most ungodly rewrites I’ve gotten from editors have been from copyeditors who apparently dislike my style and feel they should improve it. And believe me, if I ever have that happen again I will send the manuscript back as it was originally, with a big fat note on it that says “Don’t waste my time.” (I was too new to the game to do that when it did happen, which is a goddamned shame, because there are paragraphs in HANDS OF FLAME which are nearly incomprehensible because not everything I fixed back got transferred smoothly to the print files. And yes, I’m still pissed.) That is not a CE’s job any more than it’s an editor’s job, and although almost everyone in traditional, legitimate publishing does seem to have a CE horror story, nobody I’ve ever talked to has said an editor rewrote their book.

As for Ms. DeGreit, I hope she’s a terrific writer and is able to parlay this entire fiasco into a relevant and useful career launch.

(x-posted from the essential kit)

Tim Liedermarlowe1 on May 17th, 2012 11:11 am (UTC)
Well, she's a beginning writer. Tony G's awful publishing house was her first "sale" such as it is. If she's still giving her stories to the no-pay markets, it will probably be years before we know if she has the potential to be a professional in this field. Sadly, by that time this debacle would have passed from memory.
UrsulaVursulav on May 17th, 2012 02:55 pm (UTC)
Good god, I can't think when my editor would have TIME. I get frantic notes that say "I'm sorry I don't have edits yet! Crap! I'm so sorry! I swear I'll have them soon!"

The biggest edit I've ever gotten from a major publisher (and my books are much smaller, mind you, so the rewrites are proportionally smaller!) was "This scene here interrupts the climax, and I just don't think we get the momentum back--can we move this scene over here and that other one to here?"

Seriously, if they think the book needs a complete rewrite in order to be publishable, I can't imagine why they'd buy it in the first place. (On a first sale, anyway--it's always possible for something in a series to go weird, I imagine.) Nobody's ideas are that novel/good/fascinating.
rfrancis on May 17th, 2012 10:26 pm (UTC)
Well, the answer in this particular case is (a) it was a story, not a book and (b) they didn't buy it; they're a non-paying "for the love" market. So in summary, they accepted her story because then they could just screw around with it instead of having to write a story on their own plus they could pretend it was a legitimate anthology. Also, because they're scum.
anthony_lionanthony_lion on May 19th, 2012 05:03 pm (UTC)
Actually, the DID 'purchase' the story. Or the EXCLUSIVE right to publish it for a year, to be specific. They 'payment' in this case was exposure.

Unfortunately, with their extensive rewrite, the 'exposure' she got is very different from what she expected, and not that likely to build a healthy fanbase.
Almost like being paid in Greek Drakhmer instead of $USD or Euros.
(Sure, they have some value - to collectors - but you can't bring it to a store and buy a loaf of bread. And frankly, people who collect coins are a bit stranger than stamp collectors... Says the one who has 200+ computers... )