About

I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

Read more ...

Blog Search


(Supports AND)

Google Ads

Feed

Subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog.

See this post for info on full versus truncated feeds.

Quote

There's no such thing as fun for the whole family.

— Jerry Seinfeld



Navigation





<December 2018>
SMTWTFS
2526272829301
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
303112345

Categories

  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  
  RSS  

Contact

Email me

Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 12/14/2018

Totals
Posts - 2538
Comments - 2589
Hits - 2,103,042

Averages
Entries/day - 0.45
Comments/entry - 1.02
Hits/day - 372

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 10:38 PM Pacific


  12:41 AM

One of the books I read over the weekend was Stet: An Editor's Life by Diana Athill. Ms. Athill was a literary editor in London from the 40s through the 80s and wrote a book that's both about the thrills and chills of starting and running a publishing house and about working with various authors -- Mordecai Richler, Jean Rhys, V. S. Naipaul, and others.

She has many witty and amusing things to say. Here are just a few that I picked out, mostly about editing.
All I have ever been able to do with money is to spend it; I loathe responsibility and telling people what to do; and above all I am incapable of selling anything to anyone. Not being a fool, I was well aware of the importance of all aspects of my trade which I couldn't and didn't want to master, and even came to know a fair amount about them. But although I felt guilty about my own incapacities, the only part of the business that I could ever bring myself to truly mind about was the choosing and editing of books. This is certainly a very important part of the publishing process, but without all the rest of it, it would amount to nothing.

So I was not a publisher. I was an editor.

[...]

The book was by a man who could not write. He had clumsily and laboriously put a great many words on paper because he happened to be obsessed by his subject. No one but a hungry young publisher building his list would have waded through his typescript, but having done so I realized that he knew everything it was possible to know about a significant and extraordinary event, and that this book would be a thoroughly respectable addition to our list if only it could be made readable.

I doubt if there was a sentence -- certainly there was not a paragraph -- that I did not alter and often have to retype, sending it chapter by chapter to the author for his approval which -- although he was naturally grouchy -- he always gave. I enjoyed the work. It was like removing layers of crumpled brown paper from an awkwardly shaped parcel, and revealing the attractive present which it contained (a good deal more satisfying than the minor tinkering involved when editing a competent writer). Soon after the book's publication it was reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement: an excellent book, said the reviewer, scholarly and full of fascinating detail, and beautifully written in the bargain. The author promptly sent me a clipping of the review, pinned to a short note. 'How nice of him,' I thought, 'he's going to say thank you!' What he in fact said was: 'You will observe the comment about the writing which confirms what I thought all along, that none of that fuss was necessary.' When I had stopped laughing I accepted the message: an editor must never expect thanks (sometimes they come, but they must always be seen as a bonus). We must always remember that we are always midwives -- if we want praise for progeny we must give birth to our own.

[...]

All publishing was run by many badly-paid women and a few much better-paid men: an imbalance that women were, of course, aware of, but which they seemed to take for granted.

[...]

The things which had to be done for all books were simple but time-consuming and sometimes boring (what kept one going through the boring bits was liking -- usually -- the book for which one was doing them.) You had to see that the use of capital letters, hyphens, italics and quotation marks conformed to the house style and was consistent throughout; you had to check that no spelling mistakes had crept in, and make sure that if punctuation was eccentric it was because the author wanted it that way; you had to watch out for carelessness (perhaps an author had decided halfway through to change a character's name from Joe to Bob: when he went back over the script to make the alteration, had he missed any 'Joes'?). You had to pick up errors of fact, querying ones you were doubtful about at the risk of being silly. If your author quoted from other writers' work, or from a song, you had to check that he had applied for permission to do so -- almost certainly he would not have done, so you would have to do it for him. If a list of acknowledgements and/or a bibliography and/or an index were called for you had to see that they were done. If the book was to be illustrated you might have to find the illustrations, and would certainly have to decide on their order and captioning, and see that they were paid for. And if anything in the book was obscene or potentially libellous you must submit it to a lawyer, and then persuade your writer to act on his advice.

[...]

The stalest cliché about publishing -- 'You meet such interesting people' -- is true enough, but I think the greatest advantage if offers as a job is variety. Yes, I did find working on cookery books fairly boring, but how different it was from working on a novel or a book of poems. One was always moving from one kind of world into another, and that I loved.

[...]

The love that most disturbed the office -- this was both surprising and gratifying -- was that which afflicted men, not women. Among people of my grandparents' generation and, to a slightly lesser extent, my parents' it was taken for granted that men were to be preferred to women in responsible jobs because they were in better control of their emotional lives. A woman might be as intelligent as a man, but her intelligence could not be relied on because if, for instance, she was crossed in love she would go to pieces. Menstrual moodiness was not actually mentioned, but the idea of it lurked: women, poor things, were so designed that they couldn't be expected to overcome their bodies' vagaries. I was therefore delighted to find that while I and my woman colleagues at work sometimes endured gruelling emotional experiences on our private lives, we none of us ever allowed them to impinge on our work in anything like the shameless way that Nick and André did.

Nick, usually a pattern of gentlemanly reticence with an upper lip so stiff that it almost creaked, fell violently in love with a young woman who was working for us, and by the time he had left his wife, forced her into divorcing him, been dumped by his mistress, and returned to his wife, the amount of hysteria that had been unleashed left the onlookers prostrate with exhaustion.

[categories]   ,

[1] |