A WRITER IN TRANSITION. BLOG # 10.

FROM A MANUSCRIPT TO A NOVEL :

AN INVISIBLE EDITOR.

In my previous blog, I had discussed the idea of artistic purity and its importance in the days of market driven publishing. In continuation with my decision to blog about “ non literary “ aspects of writing a novel, I would discuss in this blog, the role of an editor in presenting a novel as a finished product.

Since I am not an editor, either by training or by temperament, I would try to present a writer’s perspective of the importance of editing. Writing, particularly fiction writing, is not a straightforward process. Though, I insist on writing few hours every day while I am writing a novel, my experience has been that novel does not move forward in a fixed pattern. There are sessions in my writing, when the novel moves at a frenetic pace and then, there are sessions, when I barely manage to move the plot forward. During the writing of my two novels, I have tried analysing my own mind during both these types of sessions. Though, I refrain from rewriting or editing my manuscript, I can see shades of different thoughts that run through my mind during those two types of sessions. However, I feel that these different thoughts are integral to my creativity. Therefore, I tend to retain my original versions of different sessions just as they were originally written.

In order to avoid sense of patchwork and maintain continuity (of style and substance ) , what I normally do is to read outputs of previous few sessions before going ahead. My objective during the entire writing of a novel is to bring about smooth transitions in the narration of the plot, development of characters and the background ambience of the story. This process continues right from the beginning to the end.

The trouble begins, in my case, when I read that manuscript before submitting it to the publisher. On rereading the entire novel, I notice lots of shortcomings. Firstly, there are typos. Then, there are problems of styles. Finally there are problems of continuity. I usually try to correct these shortcomings during this stage. While doing this, I realized that there were lots of implicit meanings which did not surface in the final manuscript in a manner that I wanted to express. In addition, I found on both the occasions, that there is lopsided emphasis is some of the episodes. Of course, this is a natural phenomenon because, at least in my case, the story does exist beforehand. The story is shaped as it moves forward. Therefore, the manuscripts that I have submitted were actually rather complex narratives with some amorphous structures.

I also realized that no matter how often I tried to improve upon the manuscripts, they would still remain incomplete and unpolished. This was because I was looking at them from inside. The implicit motives of the characters and implicit meaning of the plot itself were known to me but they didn’t surface properly in the manuscript.

That was when I realised the importance of editing a novel. The task of an editor is far more delicate than that of a novelist. A novelist has liberty to shape the novel as she/he wants. An editor is bound by his professional ethics. An editor is required to read a novel from inside as well as from outside. An editor has to get into a novelist’s shoes and experience the novel from inside, from the novelist’s point of view. Having done that, an editor is required to read the novel from outside, from a readers perspective. In addition, an editor is required to remain faithful to the linguistic nuances that is different for each novel.

I have begun to appreciate the role of an editor after the publication of my first novel. Incidentally, my second novel is in the early stages of publication. The kind of corrections suggested and the kind of explanations sought by my editor during the publication of my first novel, have convinced me about the important contribution that an editor can make in a success of a good novel. The most poignant part of publishing industry is that these editors remain, by and large, anonymous. While novelists are recognised and celebrated for their creativity, the tribe of editors remains in the background, unknown and even unacknowledged.

This blog is not a paean to these unsung heroes, but a heartfelt acknowledgement from a neophyte. In my next blog, I would discuss a role played by the household environment in a novelist’s writing.

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A WRITER IN TRANSITION BLOG #9.

                  DO GOOD NOVELS SELL  ?

          In my previous blog, I had suggested that I would discuss non literary aspects of writing a novel. In that blog, I had discussed a novelist’s problem of finding an audience for her /his novels. I had suggested that the task of marketing a novel is not necessarily to commercialize a novel, but to locate a right audience. Of course, once such an audience is found, selling that novel leads to financial gains. In this blog, I would discuss the popular belief that commercial bestselling novels are not really literary masterpieces.

        The most common misconception about good fiction is that it is appreciated by only the select few. Therefore, any bestselling novel is, by default, considered to be inferior by literary standards. It is rare that any novel would be a good literature and a bestselling one too. This belief that good literature and commercial success are mutually exclusive is so deep rooted that it is held not only by lay readers, but also by literary fraternity as well. The classic illustration of this misconception lies in the fact that Somerset Maugham was never awarded a Nobel prize for literature. There was never a doubt about his literary genius, but the fact that he was popular and a bestselling author seemed to have influenced the jury. Graham Greene is another instance of this misconception, though he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature belatedly.

        To be honest, this distinction between the literary merits and the commercial viability of a novel is highly simplistic. It has its roots in our popular cultural stereotyping. One always imagines a novelist  (or any artist, for that matter ) to be an eccentric, impoverished and an ignored  individual. The publishers, by contrast, are perceived to be money minded, greedy and inconsiderate entities. This kind of unjust typecasting is reinforced by several instances wherein what turned out to be masterpieces have had to wait for long periods of time to find a publisher.

      The reality is somewhat different. Earlier, the publishing was dominated by a few organizations. Moreover, since publishing was a capital intensive and uncertain enterprise, it remained captive of few big corporations. In fact, even today, there are only a handful of big corporations who monopolise the publishing industry. In addition to this publishing  oligarchy,  the problem of fiction lies in the fact that there are no set parameters of deciding a good literature. Literary standards are vague and even subjective. Therefore, it devolved upon the acquisition editors to decide what to publish. As a result, there was an implicit bias that was built into the publishing of fiction. It is this combination of anxiety to recover the high cost of publishing and the subjective selection process that has reinforced our above mentioned stereotyping of literature. It must be admitted that there are some good and enlightened editors and even ethical organisations who have worked against all odds to give us good fiction.

         However, the advent of online publishing has changed the paradigm of publishing fiction. It has democratised the whole process. By reducing the cost of publishing, it has enabled a few enlightened individuals to create a platform for publishing novels which would have had to otherwise  wait for long periods to see the light of the day. Since the cost of publishing has considerably reduced, one doesn’t need big corporations. A new set of entrepreneurs have emerged which would eventually replace the existing oligarchy. The sheer number of these entrepreneurs would ensure that there are no monopolistic or restrictive forces to prevent novelists from publishing their works.

      While this is certainly a desirable situation, the original question whether a good novel sells remains to be answered. The answer is strangely enough , both, yes and no. The process of democratisation of publishing industry would allow a larger talent pool of potential novelists to get their novels published. Moreover, with a good marketing strategy which focuses on finding the right audience would increase the commercial viability for the publishers and the novelists. Since the whole process is broad-based and unbiased, there is a level playing field. In that sense, a good novel has a better chance of selling itself.

     However, this process, by itself, does not define what is a good novel. Therefore, it depends on the collective perception of the readers of what is a good novel. In that sense, the answer to the question is the title of this blog is no. However, the definition of a good novel can not be decided by the size of its readership. I admit that sounds snobbish, but the fact is that a popularity  of a novel, by itself, can not determine its literary merits. There must be something definitive in defining a good novel. It is generally conceded that  there are two aspects of a novel that could help one to distinguish between a good novel and a bad novel. These are the content and form of a novel. The literary criticism is a highly evolved discipline with diverse views on both these aspects of fiction. However, there is no unanimity about how to evaluate these two aspects of any given novel. Therefore, one is forced to fall back on individual opinions of the experts to decide whether a given novel is good or not

      In my next blog, I would discuss an aspect of novel that decides the form of a novel. This is the role of editing in shaping a novel.