THE FICTION EDITOR by Thomas McCormack


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Incompetence roles the fiction editors' roost, argues McCormack (Chairman and Editorial Director, St. Martin's Press) in this slim and potent work--and that, he adds, is why so many bad novels sneak into print. One solution? A textbook to give editors the training they should but don't get on the job; here, McCormack offers not that textbook, but a witty and impassioned prolegomenon to it. McCormack divides the editor's editing role (as distinguished from the roles of acquisition, publishing, or succoring) into three parts: ""reading, analyzing, and prompting revision if it's needed."" At each stage, he contends, most editors stumble. Of reading, he insists that ""the only valid measure of an editor's sensibility is the degree to which his responses replicate those of the appropriate readership""--i.e., don't edit horror unless you're a fan. Of analyzing, he says that most editors can smell flaws without being able to identify them; i.e., they have instinct, but lack craft. Of revision, he finds that most editors wield their blue pencils like broadswords rather than rapiers. To begin to brighten this bleak state, McCormack offers some remedial pointers on the craft of fiction (especially in his brief on analysis, where--despite claiming otherwise --he mostly recasts hoary dicta about proper character motivation and plot structure), and, later on, scattershot asides on various facets of the editor's art. There, as elsewhere, he unwisely makes his points by way of an idiosyncratic vocabulary that obscures rather than illuminates (despite the glossary at book's end, which you can--and will--turn to repeatedly when chewing on such nuts as ""character-circuitry,"" ""gad-receptor,"" and ""salivant sensibility""). Still, there's wisdom in his dissections of theme, accident, and axiom in fiction, and in his surprisingly kind remarks on the editor's traditional nemesis, the book-reviewer. McCormack's diagnosis of editorial disease is more vigorous than his remedy, which lacks clarity and which in any case can be gleaned with greater substance from classic works ranging from Strunk & White to John Braine's Writing a Novel. Still, his slant is unique and, given that, his book should be required reading for all editors and is worthy fare for all those who care about good fiction--and its lack.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1988
Publisher: St. Martin's