Why We Edit…

Last week I received an email from an authors asking to be let out of his contract for our upcoming noir short story collection. The reason was that the author didn’t like the edits we had made to his story. The fact that an author disagreed with our suggested edits normally would not be news-worthy, but it was his reason that elevated the request to being the topic of this blog:

We had corrected his grammar.

Now I know some of you are reading this saying, “I don’t get the punch line.” Specifically, the author told us that the moments of bad grammar were part of his style and were done to create a certain rhythm. In his reply, the author said, “Your suggestions are certainly valid, just for a style that isn’t my own, and incorporating them would change the style of the story in a way that would make it no longer mine (at least, in my eyes), and thus I must withdraw my story from your anthology. I don’t mean in any way to sound imperious.”

I really wish I could make this stuff up…

Our contract makes it very clear that we will correct grammar and that we do not need to have those types of corrections approved. So in fact we could have gone ahead and published the story as corrected. Nonetheless, I agreed to let the author out of the contract. Personally, I would rather let an author out of a contract than work with someone who is not happy; life is just too short. I suppose I could have agreed to just publish the story as it was submitted, but my reason for deciding to let him out of the contract instead of doing that was summarized in my response:

“The unfortunate truth is that, because we are a small press, when a reader sees grammatical errors in a work they do not assume those errors are an intentional part of the work; the assumption is that the errors were due to poor editing by a small press.”

Everyone makes mistakes, even the large publishers. A recent true crime book said that a famous beach was in the wrong state. But at the end of the day we will be judged more harshly than the large publisher for the mistakes we make, and our mistakes will be used as an example of why people should avoid small presses. Truth be told, we could turn out a lot more books if we were less selective when choosing manuscript and spent less time doing editing. This strategy, however, would make us no better than some of the vanity presses, and our goal is to turn out the highest quality books possible. So I guess writers will just have to put up with our editing their manuscripts.



Filed under For Authors

7 responses to “Why We Edit…

  1. That author may believe he needs to heed his own inner voice, unfortunately that’s where it may stay (inside). One has to be willing to work with the editor/publisher. They are allowed to have a vision of the final product as well.
    The link on your submissions page doesn’t work.

    • I’ve clicked through all of the links here and on our submissions page and they’re all currently working. Which link were you having trouble with?

      • It was the “Submission Guidelines” under the heading “Blogroll” and it works. When I tried it before it only gave me a “page not found” error. I have no idea what the problem was before, some glitch in the system apparently.

  2. I’ve always had it as a personal rule never to mess with grammar in narration. All told, as someone who has been on both sides of the desk, at least a little, I would say you made the right decision.

    Although didn’t Ms. Harvey have a blog about style and narrative voice a month or two ago?

    • I’m not talking about the occasional sentence fragment (which I think is fine in narrative and dialog because that’s how some people talk). In the case of this manuscript I’m talking about things like incorrect punctuation. Also, the part I left out of the blog is that Elizabeth contacted the author offering to work with him on the edits. The author responded by reiterating that he just wasn’t ready to make any changes to the story. At that point we had gone from this being a disagreement about grammar to an author giving an ultimatum. In my opinion, the best course of action in that case is to let the author out of the contract and to automatically reject future submissions from the author.

      • Oh well yeah, you mention all the time that authors have to meet you halfway and be willing to work with you to make the story better and more marketable, so it definitely makes sense.

        And I thought you meant the sort of thing where the narrative is in an unusual speaking voice or some-such. Fiddling with that can be tricky, so I usually just leave what I hope is interesting grammar and cadence and whatnot to dialog itself.

  3. I think that you made a wise decision to withdraw the author’s story from the anthology. Unfortunately, some authors do not understand the reasoning behind edits and grammar improvements. They take those edits as a personal affront to their writing style.

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