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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I Think I Thought I Saw You Try

For me, the whole thing is editing. Yes, I love discovering a mushroom under a rock, yes I love hearing the words, “we would like to make an offer,” yes, going to lunch with handsome young editors who might still change the world is lovely, but it’s the pencil in my hand, turning my mechanical pencil a smidge and writing a note in the margin, or untangling a sentence, or offering a more precise word that I find endlessly satisfying. I love thinking about pacing, tone, and timing. I love taking the back off a watch.

Once when I was a young editor and struggling mightily with a manuscript, my boss stopped in, it was after 7pm. What are you still doing here? I looked up, eraser shavings blanketing my chest, post its stuck to every available surface, pages taped to the door and wall. Editing, I said. He shook his head, “can it possibly be worth it, will it sell a single extra copy?” I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times since. Does this word for that, this structure over that one, sell a single copy more and does a reader appreciate it? Are we just kidding ourselves. Are we just Nippers and Turkey?

51 Responses

  1. I think it goes beyond making a book marketable. It’s about loving and preserving the art of editing. So yes, it makes a difference that is not always obvious in the beginning.

  2. I think a poorly edited book can kill and author’s career, so yes, in that way, it sells copies. A friend published a book recently – it could have been great, my friend is quite brilliant and funny, but it was a debut and the editor just chucked a cover on it and sent it out.

    It was shite. It was a great non-fiction premise and wonderful material, wasted on a nothing, pointless book.

    A good agent, a good editor, is like a good film producer or a personal trainer. They help talented writers keep their talent under control and in top form.

  3. I truly don’t care if great editing sells any extra copies or not.
    There is more and more HORRIBLE self published crud invading our world, and I am sick of it.
    The point is, great editing makes something that has beauty into something even more beautiful, and then it really lives and breathes in the way it was meant to.
    Fuck the number of copies sold. Great editing is a service to humanity.

  4. When I was 8 or 9 I sewed a button onto my father’s shirt cuff (he was wearing the shirt at the time). He and my mother were on their way out to a dinner. They said how beautifully I’d sewn it, and I said, “No one will look at this tonight and think it’s beautiful.” And they said, “That’s the point — if you hadn’t done it, or had done it badly, people would have found it ugly.”

    Same deal with a skilled editing job. Damn, we miss it when it isn’t there.

  5. Nippers and turkeys, maybe. But you don’t edit for the money. You edit to make a better thing. The money will follow. Sometimes. And if it doesn’t, then what?

  6. Editing is becoming a lost art. A poorly edited book quickly becomes annoying. I’ve passed up intriguing material for this reason.

  7. Sales or not, make it sing.

  8. Everything I say, someone has already said. There are only 26 letters.
    What’s the point in having someone else say it? Then it’s not mine.

    Maybe they can say it just fine in their way, but I’m the one telling this story. Like I am goofing up a joke and my husband stops to correct me? I am mad at him then. Aren’t you?

    Do you laugh when you are telling a joke?

  9. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

  10. If I had a nickel for every sentence I’ve eviscerated in service to some internal catechism… but there is no monetizing when it comes to comma-wonking. We do it for the love of the word. The sound of a sentence. Nothing more.

    Happy Fat Tuesday.

    • How often do you find yourself reading a book and thinking, ouch, where was their editor? I hate feeling like I’m limping through someone’s prose for lack of editing.

      To use a lame sports analogy, talent only gets you so far, to be the best requires dedication, time, and hard-ass work. And in our case, someone else’s trained eye.

      • I am a total snot when it comes to badly edited books, or printing mistakes. I once trotted a copy of THE CORRECTIONS up to Franzen, back when he still signed books, and asked him to autograph the page in the book that had been printed upside down. He acted as though I’d just unearthed a dead rat for him to kiss. In hindsight that was an awfully bitchy thing for me to do. Karma’s gonna bite me in the ass for it, too.

  11. If editing is what you find yourself doing, you must want or need to do it. Not hard to imagine possible reasons. Maybe it’s like teaching a child or raising one, to see it go out into the world carrying a part of you with it. Maybe it reminds you of working on your own writing. Maybe it’s because you can’t be involved only in selling–you want to be involved in making. Maybe you just like to see something made better, a small part of the world improved. Maybe it’s because manuscripts are monuments challenging time, and you’re helping build one.

    When I say ‘you,” I mean me, and us.

  12. I have no idea if it increases sales. But I appreciate the perfect word and the impeccable timing and have been known to have been moved damn near to tears by that one perfect sentence.

    I think it’s worth it.

  13. Will it sell an extra copy? Wrong question. Is it fun, engaging, communicative, a puzzle, artistic, and empathic? Yup.

  14. It doesn’t sell a single book, and only once in a great while will anyone notice. But that’s enough for me.

  15. I only get $30 per column I write. This morning, the one I turned in yesterday is up on my local paper’s site. I read it numerous times before turning it in, scrapping words and re-assembling lines each time. And yet, now that it’s up, I see I missed something.

    I would pay $90 to be able to delete that one word.

    • I am loath to reread anything I’ve written once it’s out there for that very reason, Amy. But check this out–my grandfather, who fancied himself a man of letters, is buried beneath a headstone bearing an epitaph with that includes a typo, his boo-boo carved in stone.

  16. Oh, Editing, you have waited patiently on the big stone by the brook while I have wondered aimlessly in the forest (Or is it the trees?). Had I known thee, what great fun we would have had. We could have danced over the stones in the stream, skinny-dipped in Strunk’s blue hole, made love in White’s meadow. Alas, I never knew thee and I remain lost in the trees (Or is it the forest?).

  17. Everybody loves my chowda’. If I leave out the clams it’s nothing more than milk soup.

  18. Editing always helps. I’m using one at present to make my dragon novel better. I’m getting my narrative balanced with my dialog. although I’m reading a book that is written 80% narrative. In addition, I apply the advice to works I am reading. (I “work” during the day and read at night; I seldom watch TV.) I hope it works.

    And so it goes. . .

    Webb

  19. I’m smack in the middle of having my forthcoming young adult thriller, The Voice in Maggie Feigenbaum’s Head, edited by Melanie Kroupa for Marshall Cavendish. How did I get so lucky? Melanie’s known for editing award-winning titles (including National Book Award winners). She also edited my last book–The Private Thoughts of Amelia E. Rye, which received stars and a spot on the YALSA best books for young adults list. I truly believe the attention that book got was because of Melanie’s expertise. She edits with a light hand and makes the author feel important. With every revision (I think there were four for Amelia) the book becomes more alive and more polished. As I’m writing this, I’m picturing the commercials that show cars on an assembly line, just gray steel frames. Then after a whole lot of work, those drab frames come out of the factory painted, shiny, and ready for the showroom. floor. You know how a sunny day makes you feel like smiling? Melanie’s like that.

  20. Nippers and Turkey …. Never heard the. Wonder what it means?

  21. Being guilty of spending more time on one word than I spend in the shower, – and I bathe regularly and leisurely – I’d have to say editing is worth it.

  22. I am ALWAYS editing. Always. I think it’s a psychological condition. Also, when I can’t find something, like in life, my brain thinks ‘Control F, Control F,’ as if everything else can fall away so that my keys can be illuminated.

  23. I hope you’re kidding about kidding ourselves because we can all just pack up and go home in that case. I know, you’re just creating a prompt for us but still, your old boss seems like he’s in the wrong line of work. A good editor would spot that comment as out of character and make some fixes.

  24. As with any art, the details matter. They matter in an of themselves to the artist (here, the editor), and they matter in an intangible way to the recipients of that art. There’s no dollar value on it.

  25. That guy was in the wrong business! If a nip here or a tuck there doesn’t make a difference then I’m turning in my ruby slippers.

  26. I’m writing memoir(ish) narrative non-fiction. I lived the experiences I’m writing about. I was there, baby!

    But precisely because of being there, of experiencing these things first-hand, I can sometimes leave out little details of the whys and wherefores preceding these happenings.

    My amateur readers have said, “Well…why would the police do ?” and “Seriously? You hid behind a smelly inner-city dumpster in the freezing cold for an hour?” or “Why did that bring you to your knees?” And I will say, “Oh, that’s explained two chapters later,” and then realize that maybe I need to move it to earlier in the first act, or detail the back story better. Just because I know this stuff, doesn’t mean a new reader will. I’ve got to set it up properly for a brand newbie. But I forget sometimes.

    What I’ve learned from those first untrained readers has made me thirst for a real live experienced astute intuitive professional editor. I can’t wait! I’ve already assigned this mythical beast of an editor with archetypal superpowers. I’ve given her curly hair. No, straight. Made him a man in a tweed jacket with elbow patches and heavy bags under his eyes hiding his genius and drinking problem. No, a strict and, frankly, rather mean matron in brogues with steely eyes and a lit pipe that holds god-knows-what.

    What will she say? Will I agree? Will I have to couple the back story with the resulting actions in the same chapter? Or before? Will the entire world’s supply of red ink be used for this manuscript? Should I invest now? Did she read it, roll up her sleeves and sigh to herself, “Oh holy miasma!”

    I can’t wait. I’m not scared at all.

  27. Editing is like pregnancy. You either edit or you don’t.

    If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it right, and you’re going to finish it. And you do it for the sake of the edit, and your own pride, if nothing else. Maybe it’s not like pregnancy, after all, maybe it’s like sex.

  28. I don’t understand Nippers and Turkey either.

    But I’ve just spent five months on and off working with an editor with my first book. During this time I’ve realised how terribly imperfect my manuscript was. I’ve learnt to think in a larger way, and to really press myself for the right tone and word. It hasn’t always been enjoyable. Nothing like the thrill of of a short story swilling away, or tucked neatly into bed. Lots of long hours, sore eyes and brief moments of illumination.

    I really needed it.

  29. I think the rewriting/editing part is the part that’s brilliant. Journals who’ve published me have had editors who’s suggestions where life changing for the pieces they picked and pretty dazzling to me–things I didn’t imagine for my words. So is editing worth it? Yes, yes, yes! It’s evidence of another person’s passion for the story a writer has written. And since stories are what connect us (I have to believe this) what else is there?

    A friend of mine who was working as a freelance editor asked once “Do I really want to spend my life making shitty books mediocre?” We laughed and answered even that question yes. However cynical, love the quote!

  30. It seems if it’s been done well the reader will not appreciate it. The writer however should thank the editor with every comma, and carefully thought out “stet” she inserts or omits.
    Then she should send the word/thought/grammar demon whiskey so she can forget the whole damn mess and be willing to trudge the words again another day.
    And maybe some cupcakes. When in doubt, send sugar.

  31. It’s horses for courses – writers write, editors edit – but make sure you get a good one, particularly if you’re paying. The one I hired was crap!

  32. Maybe not sell another copy, but is that why we do it? A sentence left untangled keeps me awake at night.

  33. Betsy, forget about editing (at least for the moment), your “Nippers and Turkey” made me laugh — full disclosure, my dog is named Ginger Nut, and the one before her, Bartleby of course…

  34. After reading several manuscripts, ARCs then reading the finished books, I now understand the truly magical role editing plays in this process. Unfortunately, the hype of self-publishing minimizes this role to promote quantity over quality. So long as getting a book published eclipses writing a good book, the struggle will continue.

    • Exactly. Imagine a world where Amazon is the only mass market publisher, and they demand a book a year from the writers they OWN, but one book a year gives the writer, say 5% of profits, but if we supply two, three or four books a year our share increases to some other piddly percentage, and they place our books where the public might see them.
      It sounds silly now, but hey everyone, keep buying from Amazon because they’re cheaper for the moment, and keep self publishing books that really shouldn’t be published, and when this “silly” scenario becomes real, remember, if you contributed to it, whose fault it partly was.
      Sounds like a world with fuck all editing to me, and that sounds like a world of shit books people won’t be much bothered to read.

      • There will be a clearing opening in the woods, a niche available in the market. There will be those who will make it their business to see to it that well-written, well-edited work gets to market, and there will be those readers who will settle for nothing less. These categories of persons already exist and no dot-com, however humongous, will eradicate them.

        I can see the selling points now: “Be sure to read Such-and-Such, the newest Quality Book from So-and-So. It has been edited and it has been proofread!”

      • Thank you Tetman.
        Of course, you’re right again. I’ll stop hyperventilating now, and go do some writing.

  35. I want to create the best possible piece of writing I can. Then I want to hand it off to an editor to make it better even if that means changing this to that. After I’ve dicked around with it for so long, I wouldn’t catch the most glaring of mistakes.

    It’s pride of work, not money.That’s what it is.

    P.S. I have to remind myself not to get my feelings hurt when the editor actually edits.

  36. When, as a reader, I am brought to my knees by a perfect sentence, I bless the editor and the author who made it happen!

  37. Editing rocks. It seems to me to be a very special talent to refine and improve someone else’s work. I would love to take a few of my favourite books and compare the original to the edited.

  38. Will it sell another copy? Will it garner the writer an additional star? No, probably not.

    Sometimes changes are just changes, not improvements.

    The key is to leave in some things for people to HATE, because only then will there be something for the right people to love.

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