Sunday, February 15, 2009

Behind the scenes at the publishing house

I HAVE NOT DONE THIS for quite some time. Perhaps this is as good a time to do it. Here are a couple of exchanges I was engaged in recently:

Writer: Why’ve you rejected my manuscript?
Editor: I’m afraid it’s just not good enough.
Writer: But I thought you said you support local writers and will help us get published.
Editor: So sorry, by “support local writers” we meant to say that we will only publish good local writing, not any local writing. If you believe in your work, you should rewrite it.
Writer: Wah, so much work-lah!

Mother: My 15-year-old daughter has written a fantastic novel. It’s much better that Harry Potter. She could be the next J.K. Rowling.
Editor: Another mother told me the same thing about her 15-year-old daughter the other day. What a coincidence!
Mother: She’s really good. In fact, she has written a couple of novels. I am behind her all the way. Would you like to publish her novels?
Editor: If they’re good, of course.
Mother: I’m rich, you know. I will do anything for my daughter to get published.
Editor: Then why don’t you buy a publishing house and get her published!
Mother: So you are not interested.
Editor: Why don’t you just show me her work? Don’t just talk about it! (And, seriously, we don’t need to know about your bank account!)

Before submitting your work to a publisher, edit and fact-check your manuscript thoroughly. I have received manuscripts that are full of grammatical, spelling and factual errors. Also make sure you have the right number of word count. Believe it or not, I have received a manuscript for a biography (or a novel) with a total word count of 30! Yes, 30 words!

We have an overabundance of so-called writers who are just too lazy to edit (and rewrite) their own work, but they always want to know when they can launch it (and whether we could ‘package’ the manuscript in time for the launch). Could I book the hotel or restaurant now for the launch? is a constant refrain I hear. Could we, like, serve curry-puffs and onde-ondes? I just love curry-puffs and onde-ondes! Don’t you?

Is this some kind of Malaysian thing or what? (It is, believe me.)

Let’s not forget that a society is judged by the literature it produces. Publishing is a business; there’s no doubt about that. But it is also a legacy for the future.

“It must be some kind of karmic thing.” An ancient sage once told me that I must have done some really, really bad things in my past lives. And that’s why the sins of my past lives are here to haunt me in my present incarnation. Because there’s just no explaining why I’m going through what I’m going through. Of all the people on this planet, I have been forced to ‘do’—yes, do, not edit, mind you—a horrible book by a bloody lazy clump of turd! One of the most horrible books on this planet of ours! I must be so lucky!

You know, it’s so easy to get published in this country. What you don’t need is writing skills. You don’t even need basic grammar. Throw a tantrum, call up some bigshot, among other foolish antics, and you get published. Just like that. Let the editors clean up my work. And it’s never about the work; it’s always about egos, personalities, launches, seating arrangements (who sits with who), what people think, and other such stuff that matter. Never about the work.

It’s times like these that make you wonder whether publishing has really progressed in this country. It’s times like these you die again. Hell, I’ve died a thousand deaths editing bad books. Has it all been a waste of life and time? I ask myself, time and again. Most of the time I wonder whether people actually gain wisdom as they grow older. I seriously don’t think so. And education does not make one a better person.

Editors are not magicians or alchemists; there’s no sleight of hand involved in the editing process. They are not reading or correcting machines. Nobody sees them working. They labour long hours. (Your eyes are watering and you have another two hundred pages of horrid prose to clean up.) It ain’t a nine-to-five thingy. They are not practitioners of the art of public relations. And they get insulted all the time—sometimes from people you don’t expect that from. Perhaps passion can only get one so far. I do wish things would improve, but I know it won’t. Most of the typescripts I receive are not only badly written but lack content or substance; there’s not much in the way of depth or breadth or width in the writing. It’s rare that I receive one that I can sink my teeth into. I always jump with joy when a good manuscript lands on my table, something I can work with. But that’s rare.

Perhaps the better books that come along once in a blue moon make it all worthwhile, I console myself. But I seriously doubt it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant, Eric! You tell them and keep telling them.

Sunday, February 15, 2009 3:52:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

But it is always, only, and exclusively about the writing.

Any writer should consider himself or herself lucky to find an editor who calls a spade a spade. A writer simply learns so much more that way.

Sunday, February 15, 2009 10:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went through all your blogs about editing and publishing and learned a lot of things. Will only approach you when I have a polished manuscript. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 4:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, as an aspiring author I find your blog very infomative. Hopefully one day you'll happen to come across my book.

Thursday, February 19, 2009 3:08:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Writers must ensure that their manuscripts are as perfect as possible before sending them out to publishers. Remember, it is always about the work, first and foremost - not the writer. The writer is secondary.

Thursday, February 19, 2009 1:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I’ve died a thousand deaths editing bad books."

I've felt the same way about editing articles lol. Am always glad to find a fellow sufferer. ;)

Friday, February 20, 2009 9:29:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Yes, it is good to finally meet a fellow sufferer!

Saturday, February 21, 2009 12:20:00 AM  
Blogger Hsian said...

Ha ha I love the curry puffs and onde-onde comment, Eric. Personally I think if you can get the govt and other related (e.g. book launches and such) "kuih supply" contract, you could get rich (not so much through publishing) :D

Saturday, February 21, 2009 4:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should do this more often, Eric *grins*

But I do feel for you.

Friday, February 27, 2009 4:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Writers ought to respect readers and give them something they would be glad to read!

Friday, February 27, 2009 4:01:00 PM  

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