I have a confession to make: I enjoy editing. Not every author will say this, some of my friends hate editing more than any other part of the publication process. I rather love it. I like to print out the manuscript, grab a red pen, and see how much I can make that novel bleed.
Suffer little story! Suffer!
OK. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. I promise this will all be about reading soon.
But first, a prologue (to establish atmosphere):
In case you haven’t guessed already, I’m one of those rare and lucky creatures ~ a full time professional author. I write commercial genre (and proud of it, thank you very much) SF/F and romance, occasionally with a bit of mystery and suspense thrown in. I’ve been mostly traditionally published, but I’m turning hybrid this year. I officially started this lark in 2009 with my debut Soulless, and quit my day job to go full time in 2012. By some standards that makes me a baby author.
But I have edited to production 7 adult novels, 5 YA novels, 3 graphic novels, and 4 short stories during the past 7 years.
I’m also a voracious reader. Not by everyone’s standards; I close in on 100 books a year. Before I went full time novelist it was about twice that.
Here’s the tragedy. That editor who serves me so well, happily wielding the vicious red pen, never turns off. She bleeds all over written words, be they mine or others. Reading isn’t the same anymore.
On a recent panel at Emerald City Comicon this topic came up with fellow authors Lisa Mantchev and David Levine. We were lamenting the fact that when we read for pleasure that inner critic, the one that is so useful when working on our own stuff, never shuts up.
These days when I read I can’t suspend disbelief. I’m constantly being shoved out of the story. It could be for any reason from “Why is there no oxford comma?” to “Very nice turn of phrase.” to “I see what she’s doing there, clever girl!” Be it positive or negative, there’s a part of my brain always paying attention to the writing: from plot, to pace, to characterization.
Books I read and loved before I turned pro are sometimes exempt. I can go back to an old favorite and memory overrides the bloody tide of correction. I can be carried away by a trusted familiar story, and the inner editor goes to sleep. Although not always.
And very occasionally a new book comes along that manages to leave the editor in the mud. A book so good it picks up and carries the reader-me away from the writer-me. Those books get me SO EXCITED. I turn into a raving loon ~ constantly talking about them, recommending them to anyone who will listen. They may not be the most popular of the season. They may not even be comparatively good by critical standards, but some indefinable thing turned my editor brain off and that is a reading state I hunger for more than anything. So I love them unconditionally. (Recently Court of Fives did this to me.)
It’s not a horrible thing. I can still enjoy reading. As Austen would have it ~ there is no enjoyment like it. Occasionally, the editor is a friend. “Oh, look at that little trick there? Isn’t that nifty? You should try something like that.” She helps me to enjoy a book on an intellectual level. The floating transformative side of reading may be absent, but I appreciate a story differently, for its skill and uniqueness.
Just a word of caution: if you are a reader who hopes to become a professional writer, this material change in your reading personality may occur.
You have been warned.
I sometimes wonder if this is what distinguishes editors, agents, and critics from true readers. It could explain why some books sail in from (apparently) nowhere on the tide of popular opinion and grab readers up, taking them floating on a puffy couch of imagination while we – the industry professionals – remain confused and mired far below.
“But,” we cry, “it’s just another hero’s journey. It’s just another boarding school novel. It’s just vampires. Again. We’ve seen it all before. Can’t you see the quality of the writing is poor? Why do you like it?” It’s the plaintive cry of the skeptic; upon whom magic has no effect.
It’s not really us calling out. Not the reader-us. It’s our bleeding editorial eye that has cursed us to sit on the shore, grumbling to ourselves.
Look: if you’re reading a book, and you love it, and it carries you away, then revel in that feeling. If you’re transported by a story, you are one of the lucky ones. The opinion of others shouldn’t impact your enjoyment one iota. Especially not the opinion of professionals. If critics call it crap, the trick is to feel sorry for them. Pity us, please? We spend our reading lives bleeding all over everyone’s pages, even when they are not our own.
I, for one, am going to hunt down a bandage and keep trying for that elusive puffy couch. Keep a spare cushion warm for me, OK? And if you’re tempted to edit, try not to bleed all over the hassock.
Gail Carriger writes steampunk comedies of manners mixed with urban fantasy. Her books include the Parasol Protectorate and Custard Protocol series for adults, and the Finishing School series for young adults. She is published in 18 different languages and has 13 NYT bestsellers via 7 different lists (including #1 in Manga). She was once an archaeologist and is overly fond of shoes, octopuses, and tea.www.gailcarriger.com