Do we have an editor to thank for To Kill a Mockingbird?

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

Go Set a Watchman (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

is true, we wouldn’t have had

To Kill a Mockingbird (at AmazonSmile)

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

The Guardian story by Alison Flood

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

Lose the lion

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.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


13 Responses to “Do we have an editor to thank for To Kill a Mockingbird?”

  1. Deborah Schmalz Says:

    Thanks ever so much Bufo! I’d already searched as best I could on Amazon and Amazon. Smile in hopes that I could pre-order the “1st” Harper Lee book. Now, thanks to you, I’ve done so. By the way your writings were already on my Flipboard. 😄

  2. Harold Delk Says:

    Harper Lee needs a good editor; I find her writing lacks punch, coherence, and I frankly cannot read her work without falling asleep. To each his or her own. It is, at least, less expensive than Valium.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Harold!

      As you say, nothing appeals to everyone. I walked out of Guardians of the Galaxy thinking it was one of the worst movies I’d seen…I just completely did not buy Chris Pratt’s performance. Zoe Saldana was good…but that’s sort of a given. 🙂

      However, I do recognize it’s appeal to other people, and it’s quite possible I’m missing something they are seeing…

      • Harold Delk Says:

        Now I’m laughing; until your reply I’d never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy… yep, we all dance to different drummers. I seldom watch movies and never go to public theaters… last one out of my home was over 30 years ago.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Harold!

        I’m a multi-format content consumer…I watch movies, too. 🙂 GotG was the second biggest domestic grossing movie of 2014 (so far…American Sniper is still climbing), and, at time of writing, the second most profitable (based on domestic gross versus production budget)…although it will pass Mockingjay this weekend. By percentage (best return), nobody came close to God’s Not Dead, with a domestic gross more than thirty times its production budget. That’s all based on how I measure them:

  3. Lady Galaxy Says:

    My biggest concern is that this is being done without sanction from Harper Lee. She has made it pretty clear throughout her life that she was not interested in publishing another novel. The publisher has not had direct contact with her. This has all been done by her “handlers.”

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I understand and appreciate the concern for an author’s decision not to publish. After all, I wrote a post entitled

      The Right to Not Copy

      more than four years ago on that very topic.

      However, I think people also have to be careful here not to treat Harper Lee significantly differently because of the author’s age and possible disabilities.

      We have a reported statement from Lee endorsing this, and telling the story (lucidly, I would say) of how the book came to be in the first place.

      If Lee was thirty and didn’t have hearing and vision issues, would many be as quick to dismiss that and accuse Lee’s representatives of fraudulently producing it?

      Similarly, there is this idea that Lee had an opinion which might suggest not wanting another novel published (although it may have been more about not wanting to write another book for publication…not quite the same thing), and hey, no one at eighty+ changes their ideas.

      I have close relatives in their eighties, and at least my intellectual equals. They are both eagerly still learning, and could change an opinion with as much legitimacy as someone half their age.

      I would say the most “suspicious” thing is the timing vis a vis the recent death of Alice Lee, Harper’s sister, who was in some degree handling the author’s affairs.

      Was Alice a “shield” that protected the novel from publication? Or, perhaps, does the death of a sibling change someone in a way that they might more recognize their own mortality, and therefore want to do more in the world while one is still able to see the effect?

      Maybe it’s just a coincidence.

      I don’t know what the answers are. I do feel like the situation is being judged differently because of Harper Lee’s personal characteristics…and I think we always need to be very careful when we do that.

  4. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I’m sorry that GSAW is being published. It can only be a disappointment vis a vis TKAMB. I suspect that it is more the desire of those tradpub editors who (as you say) are motivated to make money for their publisher than anything else. And it will make money — the editors and the publishers will do well.

    Harper Lee’s reputation can only suffer.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Why sorry? I’m not clear on that.

      Let’s assume the Watchman is not as good as TKaM…although we don’t know that, yet. I know you are specifically referring to Harper Lee’s reputation (not Mockingbird’s), but would that affect your opinion of Mockingbird?

      If the book is being published legitimately (and that’s a matter of speculative debate), why would it be worse to have something even if it wasn’t the absolute best?

      If it is…mediocre, I’d be fascinated by the literary evolution of a writer from that to TKaM.

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        This article appears in the Saturday edition of the WSJ, and gives some background. It’s not clear to me from this article how much Harper Lee was involved in the decision to publish GSAW.

        My being sorry has to do with manuscripts discovered posthumously (Hemingway, Heinlein, to name just two) and published that were disappointing. If an authors put a manuscript sits in a drawer for decades — perhaps there is a good reason for that — maybe the author knows what’s best?

        I don’t have a lot of sympathy for your point about seeing the evolution of an author — that is perhaps of interest to literary critics, but then again I find 99% of literary criticisms to be not worth the paper they are written on.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Edward!

        I’d meant to paste a link to this article in my reply to Lady Galaxy: not sure I did:

        Looks like it has a pretty good analysis.

        From what I’ve been hearing, it may be that Lee didn’t think the manuscript existed any more, rather than knowing where it was and choosing consciously not to publish it.

        The article to which you linked is behind a paywall…tried a couple of searches didn’t find the whole article, might try it again.

        I do enjoy some literary analysis, and do tend to do that myself as I read books. Perfectly understandable not to enjoy that, though. 🙂

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        Try this link — might get by the paywall

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks, that worked!

        The article actually makes me feel more comfortable that Harper Lee understands and approves of the publication of the book.

        There is testimony in it that she is competent, and statements from her about the book and hearsay about how she thought the manuscript was lost.

        “On Tuesday, Mr. Nurnberg said in an interview that Ms. Lee “was genuinely surprised by the discovery of the manuscript. She didn’t think it was around anymore and had put it out of her mind.” ”

        So, it has to be either that it’s a deliberate fraud that she approves, or that she approves. I think it would be hard to hide that fraud: she is not without contact with the “outside world”, and would, I would guess, be likely to hear about a publication of a book of hers and if she didn’t want it, let the world know.

        Hard to know, but it doesn’t seem much less likely to me that she approves of this than that J.K. Rowling approved of The Casual Vacancy being published. 😉

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