Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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My Author Is a Twit

August 05, 2005

. . . tra la!

"My author": this is how editors on my copyediting e-list generally refer to the writer of whatever they're editing. It preserves anonymity both for the writer and for your employer or client. My author, my current author, my last author; I once had an author . . . (If the first lines of "Norwegian Wood" have taken up residence in your head, it's not my fault. )

For a while in my D.C. days I commuted regularly from my job near Eastern Market to my group house in Mount Pleasant. The subway leg of the trip ran under Capitol Hill, and during the p.m. rush you could count on a horde of congressional aides piling on at Capitol South. Naturally I eavesdropped on any strap-hanger conversations in my vicinity, and at first I was perplexed by all the references to "the member" and "my member." I thought they were talking about pricks.

After a day or two it dawned on me: member of Congress. They were talking about the congressman [sic] they worked for. (After another day or two, I thought maybe I was right the first time.)

Anyway, about my author. A superior writer can spin ordinary events and ordinary people into one helluva story. It takes a mediocre writer to turn dramatic events into a self-centered whine. That would be My Author. How do M.A.'s participles dangle? Let me count the ways. (If this makes you think of the member discussion above -- me too.) Terminology is garbled, "alright" appears with alarming frequency (The Who can get away with it; no one else), and the dialogue sounds like strung-together snippets of cell phone conversations overheard on Main Street or outside the post office.

This author is atypical -- my last author was great and the next looks to be likewise -- so why waste time ranting?

Because My Author is also a book editor. In my more paranoid moments, I imagine that all the manuscripts and proposals streaming into Big Publishers in New York are being screened by editors and junior agents who watch too much TV, gobble most of their information and ideas from Internet chat rooms, obsess about their looks, and are overimpressed by rumpled bad boys with good hair. In my rational moments, which are many, I can persuade myself that I'm paranoid. This is about to get harder, because My Author fits most of my stereotypes, and some I hadn't come up with yet.

Self-publishing is looking better and better.


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