Monday, February 09, 2009

It's not just the books, it's the manuscripts

I'm just putting up this short post today to comment on author Sara Paretsky's post from last week, regarding her editor's comment that, "this is the last time the company will let her send me a marked manuscript. After this, all corrections will be in an electronic file, and I will have to respond to them electronically."

Paretsky is most famous for her series of novels about V I Warshawski, a female detective, though last year she published a memoir in 2007 with lefty publisher Verso called Writing in an Age of Silence that in part heralded that publisher's attempt to get some trade books that were less predictable, and I think it paid off for them. (I spoke to the good folks at Verso about this strategy in an interview for an editor job that, alas, I did not get.)

Anyhow, back to this blog post... I found this interesting because it shows that it's not just books becoming increasingly electronic, but also the book-making process. And this news comes from a prolific and strong selling author who is none too pleased about it: "I need paper to see where I am in a book, either as a reader, or as a writer."And then she states outright the fear many of us have: "I think the blogosphere and 24 hour web news makes us sloppy as readers and as writers, and that going to a strictly electronic book will make books sloppier, less carefully written, less carefully edited."

I don't agree with her entirely, though she has a point. The post elicited some interesting comments worth reading through, as well. As an editor, I always prefer to do one full developmental edit on the page, in pencil, and send back the whole thing to the author (after photocopying it of course, so I have a copy). After this full edit, I can often go to electronic edits. When looking for an excuse for this behavior, I found some in the comments section, including this from Chicagoan Tamale Chica: "The brain simply interacts with the media, and if we read online we interact with that media; when we read a piece of paper, we interact more in our mindspace."

So if online media inherently urges readers to be participants, does it inherently have an element of narcissism to it? Or is it inherently more democratic, thwarting attempts to issue forth statements that cannot be questioned?

For purposes of editing, I just know I prefered to flip pages and break out chapters in binder-clipped chunks to get a sense of the book as a whole, and this was a good early practice that was later complemented by similar electronic exercises - counting words per chapter and looking page lengths, searching for breaks or word repetitions. But what was more taxing on my brain and what forced me to truly conceptualize the book from start to finish was the hardcopy, because I couldn't rely on each searches to find repeated ideas. So if that taxing moment is removed, the process may be easier but it might also create a less thoroughly considered products. That's Paretsky's point and, I fear, it's a good one. But I also hope we can find a balance of electronic and physical that allows us to create just as thoughtful a product as we did with all this paper.

1 comment:

Sara Paretsky said...

Thanks for your nuanced and insightful take on my post