The relationship between author and editor is rarely straightforward. To paraphrase a chestnut (bear with me here), there are as many different versions of a book as there are writers working on it. I mean there are exceptions, of course. My editor is lovely, for example, and our relationship is a lovely one and all of the alterations that have been suggested have been lovely and have improved my book no end. But things are often more complex than this.
To illustrate the idiosyncracies of the interaction, I thought I’d share with you some extracts from a conversation between an author and his editor. They are taken from a transcript that came into my possession – coincidentally enough – at the very moment I thought I’d write about the subject...
Writer: So how is this going to work then? I haven’t been edited before, you see.
Editor: Well there’s nothing to worry about. It’s a collaborative process. But you will have the final say.
Editor: I think we need to look at X and how it ties in with Y.
Writer: Are you sure? Because I think that dynamic is one of the strengths of the book.
Editor: I think it’s a bit underwritten.
Writer: It’s intentionally underwritten. I’m being playful; I wrote it to leave the reader wanting more.
Editor: I see. That’s an interesting idea. Can you make it a bit more…obvious?
Editor: This bit here. Where C describes D as E. ‘And a little bit F’. Can we do without it?
Writer: Why’s that?
Editor: Because it’s sexist.
Writer: But C is sexist.
Editor: But we don’t want to alienate female readers.
Writer: Not even at the expense of character development?
Editor: Let me put it another way. I think your strength lies in creating more rounded – more nuanced - characters than C.
Writer: More nuanced, you say? Yes, I suppose it does, doesn’t it. I’ll have a think.
Editor: This joke. Can we lose it? I don’t think it’s sharp enough.
Writer: Really? I love that joke. Don’t you get it?
Editor: Oh I get it. I just think it could be sharper.
Writer: Because I love that joke.
Editor: I can tell. Let me put it another way. I don’t think it’s up to your usual high standard.
Writer: Really? It pales in comparison, you mean? Fair enough. I’ll get rid.
Editor: This passage here. Do you think you can look at it again? I think it’s a bit dense. I’ve suggested some alterations.
Writer: What do you mean ‘a bit dense’?
Editor: I think it slows everything down.
Writer: It’s supposed to slow everything down. I’m interrogating the fallacy of narrative drive.
Editor: Let me put it another way. I think what’s absolutely marvellous about this book is its flow.
Writer: Good point. Consider it done.
Writer: You see this stuff here. About X and how it ties in with Y. You want it cut?
Editor: Yes please.
Writer: Why’s that then?
Editor: I just think you’re overstating things. I don’t think you need to spell it out like that.
Writer: You know you said this is a collaborative process.
Writer: And that I have the final say?
Writer: Well, is it? And do I?
Editor: Let me put it another way...
You can read one of Charlie's recent short stories, 'Theme Park Love Story', on the Neon Magazine website.