Archive for October, 2010


The editor’s despair?

October 19, 2010

A British literary agent, writing under the pseudonym Agent Orange sees a possible transformation of the current publishing business model:

Here’s a modest proposal. Let’s get rid of editors. Seriously, would publishing be better off without them? Should we abolish lunch?

Any agent worth their salt will be able to tell you many recent stories of editors – senior, well known editors – who have loved books that the agents have submitted to them but for which they have failed to gain the support of their colleagues.

Of course editors are as status conscious as the rest of us and are keen to present themselves (particularly to agents) as mighty forces within the organisations they work for. But in unguarded moments it is possible to get them to concede that the majority of the projects they take forward get shot down during the acquisition process – often for reasons that seem to them to be obscure or arbitrary ….

…. Let’s say I pitched a novel at this meeting, everyone agrees it seems a good idea, solidly in genre, with a marketable author. The publishing director then decides which editor should read it. They love it, others agree and the publisher offers. Fantastic, everyone is happy, except one has to ask, what is the role of the editor in this process?

Traditionally agents pitch books to editors (lunch!), get them fired up, send them the book, the editor loves the book, drives that ‘passion’ through acquisition and editorial, sales conferences. They choose the image on the jacket, the blurb, even the title and author name in many cases. They are the publisher, the apex of a pyramid with sales, publicity, design and marketing all feeding into them. They own the project.

If, as is increasingly the case, that is simply no longer true, then what are they for?

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The gay man and the uterus

October 13, 2010

David Sedaris, considered by some to be the funniest American writer going, talked with The Guardian last week about his latest book:

“But then a woman came up to me later after I read the story about the rabbit and the unicorn” – in Sedaris’s new collection, Squirrel Meets Chipmunk – “and she said, ‘You know it’s just wild that you read that story because I went to see my gynaecologist yesterday and he said my uterus is shaped like a unicorn.'” Sedaris leans back in his chair, clouds cleared and replaced with a smile of delight. “I mean, someone handed me a gold coin there.”

Fun, fun. I mean, any time you get a gay man and a uterus joke in the same place, right?



Whoops! HarperCollins apologizes for printing errors

October 4, 2010

Jonathan Franzen - photo by Greg PhillipsOne can only hope, each time we reach a new zenith, that this will be the moment when everything changed.

You know … hope.

Anyway, Julie Bosman reports:

In a case of “Freedom” meets “The Corrections,” Jonathan Franzen’s British publisher has apologized for a printing error that left dozens of spelling and punctuation mistakes in the first edition of his new novel.

About 8,000 copies of the edition containing errors were sold before the mistakes were discovered, said Susanna Frayn, a spokeswoman for HarperCollins, the British publisher. The company has rushed to reprint the book and has promised replacement copies to customers who purchased the flawed edition.

Two anecdotes from my own library: I have a 1987 hardcover edition of Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, published by Poseidon Press, that includes an erratum page (II.7.iv; pg. 300) restoring three and a half paragraphs of omitted text. And then there are the books of Steven Brust, one of my favorite authors in the history of literature. The second volume of the Khaavren Romances (Five Hundred Years After) includes in its afterword an amusing tale about how the fictional author of the story threw a tantrum in a tavern while on a book tour, railing against his publisher for having refused to correct a one-letter misprint, the difference between “not” and “now”. In the context of some cosmic joke, then, I found my eye drawn to a ludicrous number of typographical errors and omissions, including one bit in which the dialogue switches characters so that an emperor is answering to his general, to the point that it seemed very nearly deliberate.

I always wonder about the red and green lines—

(Real time digression: If I ever want to hear from my mother, all I need to do is start writing a blog post, and rest assured that she will call before I’m finished. Not that I’m complaining, but … well, yes, I do digress.)

—that we see in our word processors. Is this how editing goes these days? If there’s no red or green line, it passes muster? To the other, what counts as a spelling error between British and American English? Oh, hey, that’s right … we have some editors we can ask.

At any rate, Jonathan Franzen won the National Book Award in 2001 (The Corrections), and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer. So, yeah, it probably is a bit embarrassing for HarperCollins to feel the need to come out and apologize for a sloppy printing. Victoria Barnsley, chief executive of HC UK expressed her appreciation for Mr. Franzen’s “patience and utter professionalism over this”.

What else can he do? Or is there a Christian Bale-type temper tantrum waiting to pop up on a paparazzi site?