by Leonard Bishop
Writers do not get their novels published by writing for people. Long before the public reads what is written, it must be passed through the stratified structure of book-publishing editors. Writers should not struggle to understand the hearts and minds of the people. They should learn the values and appreciations of the editors, if they want to have their novels published.
What are these book-publisher editors like, as people?
It is essential that they be superficial, in sensitivity, and glib in knowledge. Because editors are not hired to withstand the pressure of deep and sustained thought, their focus of choice is always on story and plot. Just keep something happening. Thinking, beyond the obvious, is irksome, and apprised as overwritten. Editors are like politicians, or bottles of Heinz ketchup.
If Heinz is going to sell millions of bottles of ketchup, it had better be common. A politician cannot be successful unless he is as ordinary as the people who vote for him. Extraordinary tasting ketchup is for the gourmand. Only a limited supply is sold in the special foods area. Politicians who are non-compromising and function from integrity have no future.
Book publishing editors must be in tune with what appeals to everyone. To be an excellent editor, the highest quality in your characters should be mediocrity.
There are two prevailing reasons why people become editors: they were former writers who could not sustain the trivial talent they have, or they are people who enjoy the questionable esteem that the title editor carries. Editors are literate but not well read. Their only serious reading was done at the University. Many have taken speed reading courses and have become skimmers, scanners, and summarizers.
Editors do not shape public reading tastes. They develop assumptions as to what the public will pay to read, and pander to this imaginary preference. If most editors knew the genuine public taste and really understood what books to publish, they would be operating on a profit basis. They would not be publishing houses that are used for tax write-offs by the megaplex corporations that own so many of them.
Almost all editors are working people who are constantly aware of one frightening fact: they are quickly replaceable. Too many unprofitable choices (duds, bombs, clinkers) can ruin their careers. They are in terror of an unknown writer who might submit a splendid novel. The first priority that shapes an editors decision is the marketability of a novel. An excellent novel is a marginal book. Quality is eccentric: trash is reliable.
When developing his novel, a writer should realize he must trance-out and excite the editor. A writer should be quick, electric, and immediate in his opening. Editors have facile minds that hop from idea to idea like a goosed kangaroo–but they are on the welfare line of the mind waiting for a creative intelligence handout.
My interest is in guiding writers on how to get their novels published, not to slander editors. Thus far, in my writing career, I have known well over 200 editors and they are all charming, bright, interesting, and well-dressed people. They are incomparable time-passer conversationalists. Every writer should have three or four locked in his garage, to take to publishers parties. They are into jogging, funky French movies, erotic photography, and all have a sexual fetish for Humphrey Bogart.
The latest innovation in book publishing is the proposal negotiation. Editors are no longer interested in dealing with complete novels. The merit of the novel is judged on the proposal the writer submits.
Proposal: an informative description of what the novel contains; an account of what you believe is your market.
Editors are highly skilled in reading proposals. They are not inordinately competent when it comes to reading completed novels.
In the proposal (which assures the editor that the novel is not yet written) you’ll need a chapter summary. They must be written as though you are summarizing what is already written. (Editors call this a Catch 22 paradox. Writers believe it is an inane contradiction).
If your proposal earns you a contract, the editor becomes an integral part of your novel. She (the majority of editors are women) is always there–guiding, leading, suggesting, changing, discarding, shaping. As of today, the editor is content to believe she is a silent collaborator. Perhaps tomorrow, editors will want their names on the book as is co-writers.
©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop
(first published April 26, 1987 the Manhattan Mercury)