This will probably be a bit of a ramble. I haven’t fully thought this out, though I’ve been thinking in this area of thought for some time, now. I may write a more coherent post/essay on this or a similar subject in the future. This is … well, this is me writing my thoughts out on my online journal. It’s part of how I work through thoughts & feelings, sometimes, and you either already know that or you’re new here.
There exists a great disparity between the creation of literature/books (and perceptions thereof) and the creation of other forms of art. One key aspect of this difference is in the concept of independence, and it is brought into clearer focus in the idea of the editor. In writing, there is a commonly held belief that all writing needs to be edited – and not just edited, but that it needs to be edited by someone who is not the author, and preferably by someone whose whole job is to be a professional editor. This belief extends outward to create the impression in many minds that all writing which has not been filtered and perfected by professional editors is bad writing. ie: only books published by a major publisher are worth reading. That is the extreme view (though also the widest-held view in the profession), and there are a lot of hangers-on; that professional copy-editors, typesetters, cover designers, web designers, publicists, et cetera all need to have a hand in forming a worthy book. The author cannot, independently, create something worth reading; this reads to me as a loss of authorship. (See also: authority)
Other forms of art do not (exclusively) hold such strange beliefs. If a musician creates a work of art independently, it is not pre-judged and cast aside without being listened to. If a Mozart or a Beethoven, a Trent Reznor or a Moby sits alone by themselves and carefully crafts the exact piece of music they -as the artist/author/creator- want to craft, that’s acceptable. The independent, unsigned musician playing all their own songs a live, local gig is a much-loved creator who gets respect from music-lovers. (And if/when they get signed and get an editor/producer to help them “polish” their sound, it’s common for their existing fans to complain! To say that editing the music took away the best of it.) When a painter or a sculptor is the sole creator of a work of visual art, that’s the expected and normal course of action. If an independent filmmaker is the writer/director/producer/editor/star, it’s impressive and may actually help sell the film. All these arts are judged on the artwork itself – we listen to the music, we look at the art, we watch the film.
Yet with writing, the independent author’s creation is judged without being read, more often than not. The author is told “…a book really needs an editor’s collaboration, no matter how good the writer is.” (That’s just the quote/link I have today – I see comments like these go by every day on Twitter.) That no one should ever Self-Publish, that independent publishing is a joke, that all self-published books are crap. There is a rash of book reviews going around the internet right now, wherein self-published books are “reviewed” negatively without even being read. The reviewers aren’t even stating something like “this book was so bad I only read the first 30 pages, and here’s what I think of them,” they’re writing the reviews as though the whole book had been read. In one case last week there was one where the “reviewer” didn’t even have a copy of the book! They were reviewing it based on the marketing blurb & publisher info! Even self-publishing advocates start from the basis of “every book needs professional editing” and will gladly point you in the direction of editors-for-hire. Most of the people I’ve heard from who proudly stand behind independent publishing say the same things. It’s endemic.
Why does such an inequality exist? Why are independent music, independent visual artists et cetera seen so differently from independent authors? Why isn’t there a balance? Professionally edited/produced/polished/marketed music is able to live alongside a flourishing independent music scene. Graphic designers and professional illustrators are able to co-exist in the world with independent visual artists. Why do publishers, writers, and even a lot of readers maintain that they cannot suffer independent authorship to exist? Why, in fact, isn’t it cherished and encouraged by the most discerning readers?
In music: the masses like the pop music and the heavily-produced music, and the audiophiles and people who care about music the most prefer independent, local, and live music. In visual art: the masses are swayed by a well-designed ad and a slick website, and art critics and collectors pay attention to independent artists whose work pushes the limits of understanding. In film: the big audiences turn out to see the dozen big, dumb blockbuster action flicks and a dozen cookie-cutter horror flicks a year, and the discerning cinephiles support a landscape of hundreds of independent films every year. In writing: only the slick, heavily-edited books with mass-market appeal are worth reading, and the most avid readers and book buyers seem to agree with that sentiment. Huh? What?
Me? I’m an independent creator. I create visual art. I create books. I create websites. I create podcasts. I create music. I create short films. I create sculptural furniture. I do it all myself. I am the author of my art. It isn’t for everyone, it isn’t meant to be – I’m not creating lowest-common-denominator/homogeneous work for mass consumption, I’m creating independent/original work for the discerning mind.
I just don’t understand why that’s okay with 9/10ths of what I create, but not with my writing.
3 thoughts on “independence in words is not seen as equal”
There is also the matter of credit: On music albums and on films, everyone who worked to create the art is credited. I can see who the editor was, the sound mixer, the writer, et cetera (whether or not they were different people). For books –where it is assumed all professional books have a team of people working on it, including at least one editor– the only person credited is the author. Sometimes the author will mention their editor/agent/et al in the Acknowledgements, but aside from the name of the publishing imprint, there's no real, consistent information about who else worked on a book.
So the status quo is to believe that an author is incapable of creating a worthwhile book on their own while at the same time giving them sole credit for the finished work.
Does that make sense?
As both a writer and an editor, I will say that I would never allow any of my longer work to greet the public until it had at least been reviewed by people whose knowledge of the writing craft (and of grammar and punctuation) I respected enough to consider their opinions. In other words, I don't require a professional editor, but I do believe my work needs to BE edited.
I would also not be surprised to learn that those aural artists you mention have people whose knowledge and opinions they respect vet their work–and listen to what's said. That's not to indicate they'll blindly make changes based on input, but they acknowledge, as do I, that after a time the creator becomes too familiar with the creation to be able to obtain sufficient distance to see flaws. We see what should be there instead of what IS there.
However, your point regarding the unrelenting bias against non-traditionally published books is well-taken, nor does it apply only to the self-published. On several occasions, I've asked reviewers to please scratch comments about their having found “a few typos” in one of our books, unless it's their custom to make that same observation about traditionally published books. Usually, they've understood my problem with it and obliged.
We make every effort to ensure our books are as error-free as they can be. If some major flaw is discovered, we will go to the time and expense to correct it. However, human beings aren't perfect, and even the most skilled proofreader is likely to miss something. By calling attention to it, even if the error in no way impedes one's enjoyment of the book, simply feeds the naysayers who insist nontraditional=amateur.
Ironically, reviewers who never read the books they discuss aren't new. They've been around pretty much forever–I've heard traditionally published authors telling how a newspaper review was nothing more than the publisher's press release reprinted under someone's byline. So, the ongoing attacks on new-model publishing has precedent, which doesn't make it any less obnoxious.
Thanks for your comment. I definitely see the value in having extra eyes available for copyediting. Making sure my words are spelled correctly & my sentences obey grammar rules (except when I intentionally bend them) and finding typos are great help; almost all texts have simple errors. It's editing for content, message, & marketability that I'm (mostly) referring to.