OT: McKinley

mks at brisingamen.demon.co.uk mks at brisingamen.demon.co.uk
Wed Feb 18 03:12:49 EST 2004


On Tue, 17 Feb 2004 23:36:00 -0700, Robyn wrote:

>As someone who teaches stylistics to unwilling journalists, I totally 
>empathise with this experience.

This was an academic who had branched out into polemical fiction. He
knew a lot about nineteenth century novels, less about the need to be
consistent in spelling, punctuation, and so on; also, his plotting and
structuring was erratic and he just plain hadn't done some research in
places. 
>
>I have long thought that many successful authors *cough* McCaffrey *cough* 
>have this kind of an attitude. I hadn't heard about Rice actually making 
>the declaration, but it just confirms my prejudices. Authors obviously get 
>uppity -- do copy editors get less willing to make suggestions, or are they 
>overruled and ignored?

Ah, now McCaffrey was the name I was not going to mention. I really
enjoyed some of her early Dragon novels when I was in my early
twenties, not to mention some of her early sf, but I think one of the
saddest publishing phenomena I've seen in my adult life is the
deterioration of her work through the last twenty-odd years, from
fully formed novels to what are little more than coherent synopses of
the novels she should have but didn't write. It's like looking at the
leftovers of a filleted fish; you've got the bones and a little bit of
flesh left on them but the actual 'meat' is somewhere else altogether.
In her case, I guess it's still in her head.

So far as I can tell, there are as many combinations of
author-editor-copyeditor relationship as there are people to fill each
role. One publisher I work for, the editorial department seems to
think I'm some kind of magician (of course I am); the authors I work
on are mainly mid-list, mostly competent writers who have occasional
lapses or people who can tell a story but who wrestle desperately with
the finer points of vocabulary (I have one author who usually inspires
several rounds of 'wtf ... what word sounds like this but fits the
context?'). I make suggestions and comments, which are sometimes
ignored, sometimes taken on board; it depends on the general approach
of the author. One or two I know to be desperately arrogant and I tend
to only go for the really problematic things that need to be fixed Now
and regretfully leave the finer points. I suppose that makes me less
wiling to suggest, but at the same time, it does mean that we get down
to what really matters. Others I know are more open to comment which
makes the (one-sided) relationship more relaxed. 

For another publisher I have been working on what can only be
described as notes for unwritten novels from a once popular author,
rehashed by people who know a moderately lucrative bandwagon when they
see one. I am not allowed to do anything other than to check that the
sentences end in full stops and the opening quotation marks are
matched by closing quotation marks, and to correct any misspellings I
come across. The standard of writing is frankly appalling but I cannot
do a thing about it. 

Yet I also work on one of their bestselling living authors; I've been
his copy editor for years; he had some really strange descriptive
tics, including a complete inability to understand that certain ways
of describing women, intended to be complimentary, are quite the
opposite. Over the years I've tagged these and I've noticed that they
rarely surface in his work nowadays. Nothing has been said, but
obviously he has taken the comments on board. 

I know an author who, when she delivers her work to the publisher,
sees the work as complete, finished, no negotiation. In this instance,
I do believe she is correct as her novels are complex, fully realised
and she is fully conversant with the grammatical workings of the
English language. I work for her publisher and we are agreed that I
will probably refuse to copyedit her work because we'd like to stay
friends. And then we have Rice, and McCaffrey, and, allegedly, Stephen
King. 

I think, for some authors, as they become increasingly famous and
bankable, they lose their humility and  they forget that others are
involved in the process. By which stage, others aren't involved in the
process because they can demand whatever they want, up to and
including insane publicity budgets to promote works that would
practically sell themselves anyway on the name alone. 
>
>>Maureen Kincaid Speller
>
>What an appropriate name!
>
Family name, taken on some years before I set off down this road.  You
wouldn't believe how many people ask me, when I give my name on the
phone, 'how do you spell that?' and then say 'ooh, as it sounds'. Er,
yes. 

Maureen


Maureen Kincaid Speller
Folkestone, Kent, UK

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