The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist by Thomas McCormack

October 1, 2006
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The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist
A Book for Writers, Teachers, Publishers, and Anyone Else Devoted to Fiction
Thomas McCormack

Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books
Trade Paperback/167 pages
ISBN: 1589880307
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". . .good tips for fiction writers."

I missed The Fiction Editor when it was first published in 1988, so I can’t compare the revised edition with the original. What I can do is recommend it heartily to just about anyone who writes, edits, or reads fiction. McCormack, with a long and distinguished career as an editor, points out that most fiction editors don’t do as good a job as they should. The purpose of this book is to try to help fiction editors improve their skills. Even with his occasional idiosyncratic terminology, it’s hard to argue with what he has to say.

The editor’s job, as McCormack simply and accurately defines it, is to respond to a manuscript as the ideal appropriate reader would and then to help the author “produce a book that will have maximal appeal to the writer’s ideal intended audience.” McCormack’s beefs with fiction editors may frighten writers, many of whom are already thoroughly terrified of the difficulties of getting published. As if it weren’t hard enough to get an editor even to look at your manuscript, now he breaks the news that even if your manuscript is accepted for publication, you are unlikely to get a first-class edit.

Although I don’t disagree with his dire assessment of the general state of editing, I think it is useful for authors to look at this particular glass as half full rather than half empty. Most writers need all the advice they can get, and the bottom line is that even a mediocre edit is better than no edit at all. You never know when you are going to run into a terrific editor. As McCormack suggests there isn’t much training for editors, and most good editors learn by doing. You can be unlucky in your editor, but you can also be lucky enough, even at a small house, to run into a wise experienced or novice editor. The important thing for the writer is to take the best advice he or she can get.

McCormack’s real goal is to help editors do a better job, but his book is full of good tips for fiction writers. Along the way he offers a great deal of common sense for readers. I wish could have cited his comment about Faulkner when my book group was struggling with Sanctuary. It made some readers feel they were stupid because they didn’t care for its prose. “It doesn’t take ‘good taste’ to respond to Faulkner,” writes McCormack. “It simply takes a sensibility that responds to Faulkner.”
Reviewer: Beth Hadas


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