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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

When a book is really, really bad

As an editor, I have always tried to accord dignity and respect to the writers I work with. We're collaborators, both committed to the same end goal.

There is an anecdote I heard somewhere early in my career that I frequently share with writers--especially when I'm about to turn over a work bleeding with edit marks. I tell them that they should be encouraged by the presence of the red pen--it shows that the editor was excited about the work and passionate about taking it to the next level. The time when they need to worry is when there are almost no marks at all--that means the editor has written the work off as hopeless and beyond repair.

I'm currently reading a book that falls into the helpless category. It's an initial offering from a new publisher. Normally, I'm a fan of small press work and an advocate of the culture of abundance created by greater access to the means of production and distribution. Such a shift has allowed works of small commercial but great artistic value to be produced. It has increased the availability of niche books.

Unfortunately, it has also allowed some absolute crap to be produced. As I read this book, it becomes transparent that this was a book rejected by many publishers. Most likely, it was rejected with a form letter simply because it is so wretched that there would be little to suggest by way of improvement. It's the proverbial empty page that an editor has given up hope on.

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