We all, unless versed in the publishing ethos and trained in its modus operandi take books for granted. How hard can it be to write good copy and produce a good book after all? Very difficult it turns out. Today in class we received several drafts of books that have either been published or that are currently being published by Bluemoose Books. Sometimes I wonder if an author feels that they are redundant beyond draft submission. I found that I have an eye for editing, hardly surprising for a bestselling writer, however I found that my ruthlessness in slashing texts apart and liberating them of what I thought was poor work was probably a little overeager. In editing down the texts I found that at first I was quite a good deal too subjective in my appraisal of the work before me. Of course I knew full well how precious a writer might become, but I briefly believed that my willingness to carve open these drafts was noble, however I quickly deduced that in fact it is not quite the literary heroism I initially suspected it might be. I was not, in fact, saving these authors from the oblivion of their own mediocrity. Once I calmed down and learned that the job was not to do a rewrite and produce the text I like, but rather it was to produce a readable and beautiful prose in keeping with the vision of the author (whilst remained eminently publishable) I discovered that my writer’s eye was advantageous in this area. I actually think that this is something I may be good at.
So when is a book a book? Do not ask. The truth is that sometimes the camel is not always the horse that a committee designed and that teamwork matters. Differing opinions are only worth anything if one knows which to discard and which to keep, and that is always going to be a value judgement. The point is that in order to make a book a book to be proud of, rather than just a book, takes a lot of agonising over text and meaning, and a lot of (I envisage in future) standing up to the author and making them do better. Very often a concept can sound fabulous, but the execution can be a letdown at first, which is not so bad if an author is willing to try again. Of course, the market value of a concept is indeterminate which is where one’s nous, or mojo, perhaps even that elusive je ne sais quoi comes in. This strikes me as a field where you have it or you do not, and I think I have.