Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#16)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #16
Sometimes there is a clash between the wide-ranging expectations of a publisher and the difficult detailed work that the luckless editor has to do on the manuscript. This (except in the case of schizophrenics who are both publishers and editors, cough, cough) reflects a basic difference in character. As the wise John Le Carré has one of his cynical characters remark in The Russia House, “Publishers can get their minds halfway round anything.” Editors, by contrast, can’t just be halfway professionals.


Advertisement

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#15)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #15
Every so often the book world erupts in furious argument about whether a new title should be classed as “fiction” or “non-fiction.” My advice here is to follow The Bartender’s Rule: If a drink has any alcohol in it, it’s an alcoholic drink.
So it is with fiction. Even if a book is 99% true, the 1% that is invented makes the book fiction. Consider the horror of congratulating a non-fiction author on a particularly striking fact, or true-life scene, and being told “Oh, that scene? I made it up!” Follow The Bartender’s Rule.

Missed the previous tips? Check out Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3Tip #4, Tip #5, Tip #6, Tip #7, Tip #8Tip #9Tip #10, Tip #11, Tip #12, Tip #13, and Tip #14.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#14)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #14
In her fine new book, The Literary Legacy of the Macmillan Company of Canada: Making Books and Mapping Culture, Ruth Panofsky quotes the “urbane, cosmopolitan and well travelled” editor Kildare Dobbs. He wrote that the fiction writer must have “intuition and moral taste,” avoid cliché, melodrama, and especially “the curliness of a Victorian bandstand.” A strong novel was carefully structured, appropriately paced, and “told with skill and perception” if not “flourish and wit.” When these qualities are lacking in fiction, Dobbs asserted he “would rather embalm a corpse” than undertake revision.

Missed the previous tips? Check out Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3Tip #4, Tip #5, Tip #6, Tip #7, Tip #8Tip #9Tip #10, Tip #11, Tip #12, and Tip #13.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#13)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #13
Recent experience with Alice Munro’s new collection, Dear Life, reminds me that the editor of a short story collection has the advantage of seeing a collection of stories in “real time,” the present, while they may have been created years apart. Links and contrasts between stories may leap out to the reader/editor, while they come from different years, perhaps even different eras, in the writer’s life.

Missed the previous tips? Check out Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3Tip #4, Tip #5, Tip #6, Tip #7, Tip #8Tip #9Tip #10, Tip #11, and Tip #12.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#12)

Every two weeks we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #12

Leonard Lee, of Lee Valley Tools, once startled an Editors’ Association of Canada meeting by announcing that editors proofreading the vitally important catalogue on which his company depended were instructed to read each line backwards, comparing it with the original. It was a striking affirmation of just how unreliable most of us are in this task. Our eyes and our brains fill in the missing letters or words, or see what they expect to sea. The trick is to proofread assuming that there are indeed mistakes hidden there, and that the text is guilty until proven innocent.

Missed the previous tips? Check out Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3Tip #4, Tip #5, Tip #6, Tip #7, Tip #8Tip #9Tip #10, and Tip #11.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#11)

Every two weeks we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #11

(I think) While a manuscript is being discussed in detail, most contact between the author and the editor is likely to involve errors, perceived weaknesses, or suggested improvements. To avoid the role of nit-picking whiner, the editor must remember to sprinkle these criticisms with praise for a fine phrase (“Great!”) or a well-handled chapter. This will reduce the sense of tiresome nagging, and emphasize the editor’s role as enthusiastic assistant in an exciting project.

Missed the previous tips? Check out Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3Tip #4, Tip #5, Tip #6, Tip #7, Tip #8Tip #9, and Tip #10.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#10)

Every two weeks we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #10

The hardest lesson for many editors to absorb is that the book should not be re-shaped until it is written as they would have written it. It should be re-shaped until it is the author’s best version.

Missed the previous tips? Check out Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3Tip #4, Tip #5, Tip #6, Tip #7, Tip #8, and Tip #9.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#9)

Every two weeks we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #9

Precise copy editing and proofreading are both very important, as “Dr. Douglas Victim, The rapist” will tell you, with some bitterness.

Missed the previous tips? Check out Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3Tip #4, Tip #5, Tip #6, Tip #7, and Tip #8.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#8)

Every two weeks we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #8

Any time an editor says, “Wow, you should have seen what a mess that manuscript was before I fixed it!” you know quite a lot about that editor. You know, for instance, that he or she has failed to absorb the most basic rule of the profession . . . that you are in the business of invisible mending, and of keeping your role secret. Discretion and modesty are basic editorial requirements, and to boast is to break faith with your author.

Missed the previous tips? Check out Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3Tip #4, Tip #5, and Tip #6, Tip #7.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#7)

Every two weeks we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #7

From the chapter on Hugh MacLennan: “I should note that the rule is unvarying; the less experienced writers are the most defensive in the editorial process, insisting that not a hair of their baby’s head, not a comma, be touched.”

Missed the previous tips? Check out Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3Tip #4, Tip #5, and Tip #6.