Do we have an editor to thank for To Kill a Mockingbird?
In today’s shifting landscape of publishing, there is a lot of talk about what value the traditional systems bring to it.
Certainly, authors succeed nowadays with none of the elements of the tradpubs (traditional publishers).
Oh, without a doubt, the vast majority of them don’t.
Undeniably, though, there are books which sell well which have never had the benefit of a professional proofreader, a marketing department…or an editor.
Some people have even wondered why all authors don’t just self publish…why does a brand name author, like Stephen King or Anne Rice, even need a tradpub?
Well, if the narrative we are being given behind the upcoming release of Harper Lee’s “new” book
is true, we wouldn’t have had
without an editor.
I don’t just mean it wouldn’t have been the same: it probably wouldn’t have existed at all.
Go Set a Watchman can be pre-ordered now for its first publication on July 14th, but there is a reason I put “new” in quotation marks.
It was written a long time ago…before TKaM, in fact.
According to this
and other sources, Lee had first shopped Go Set a Watchman to a publisher.
Her editor reportedly really like the flashbacks about a main character, and recommended that Lee focus on that.
So Lee wrote a book about that character as a child…a child with the nickname of “Scout”.
Now, it’s possible that Go Set a Watchman is the superior book, but I doubt it. People talk about a “Great American Novel”, and I don’t believe there can be just one…but certainly, To Kill a Mockingbird would be in the competition.
No, it seems more likely to me that the editor was right. The editor recognized the strength in the original book, and made a suggestion to the author…which improved things.
That’s what editors should do…and why some bestselling authors love their editors and wouldn’t want to leave them.
Some indies (independently published authors) hire people to be their editors, but honestly, I don’t think that’s the same.
I think an editor who is employed by a publisher has a different outlook.
It’s their job to make books better (and to make them sell better)…and their continued success depends on, well, their continued success.
I know some people are thinking that means they need to steer people away from art and towards commercial writing. I joked about that myself in
However, I think that a book’s artistic merits can be enhanced by having more than just the author involved in its creation.
Some people use beta readers or writing groups to critique their works.
That’s very different from a professional editor…I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but it’s not the same.
I’ll be looking forward to reading the book! I’ll also be thankful to the editor who made the original suggestion to Lee, to Harper Lee for acting on it so beautifully (when the author could have been stubborn and not taken the advice), and to the lawyer who found the manuscript and recognized it for what it was.
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