On editing

The SF-SJWs at File 770 are appalled at the fact that Tor Books and Castalia House author John C. Wright is willing to go on the record and state that,
in his opinion, I am a better editor than the late, Hugo Award-winning editor
David Hartwell:

These are the recommendations of my editor,
Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day, the most hated man in Science Fiction, but
certainly the best editor I have had the pleasure to work with.

– John C. Wright

Charming. Take this and go home, David Hartwell, as we would say in Italy.

– Anna Feruglio Dal Dan on February 17, 2016 at 3:51 am

JCW is a writer convinced that his every work is a glittering jewel of
exquisite literary craftsmanship. VD is an editor who doesn’t meddle
with his writers’ texts. (For an example of this, see “Shakedown Cruise”
in Riding the Red Horse, where Campbell nominee Rolf Nelson makes
*ahem* many interesting and innovative aesthetic choices when it comes
to things like verb tenses and punctuation, and VD lets them all stand.)

sort of writer is bound to get on well with that sort of editor. Bit
rough on the readers, of course, but, pffft, what do they know?

– Steve Wright on February 17, 2016

I suspect that what he was good at was being edited by David Hartwell.
– Peter J on February 17, 2016

while styling himself as a coldly-rational intellectual, reveals that
he’s actually a fool whose opinions are driven entirely by ignorance,
arrogance, and emotion. Every thing he’s written over the last year has
made it very apparent just how much his career is owed to the efforts of
the editors at Tor who transformed his usual drivel into something

– Aaron on February 17, 2016

It is hard to decide whether I am more flattered by the estimable Mr. Wright’s high regard or amused by the level of ignorance demonstrated by the usual suspects. The former, I am finally forced to conclude, as I have come to expect the latter from the low-IQ denizens of an otherwise very good site.

You see, I have perspective that they do not. Unlike them, I have seen Mr. Wright’s unedited prose. I know exactly what it looks like. And as it happens, it looks very much like the prose that appears in Mr. Wright’s novels that are published by Tor Books. John is an excellent writer; he is one of the greatest SF/F writers alive. But he writes very, very quickly and he is prone to what one might describe as an exuberant approach to writing. Last year, Castalia House offered him a contract for a 60k-word book. I am now reading the manuscript, which clocks in at nearly 200k words.

Even those authors who don’t like Mr. Wright or his style might well contemplate suicide if they truly understood how speedily and effortlessly the man writes… and writes well. When I say he is a great writer, I do not do so lightly, nor do I do so because I am fortunate enough to publish some of his works. I say it out of pure envy and awe.

Now, I am not privy to the details of the editing process at Tor Books. I have not discussed it with Mr. Wright or anyone else. But it would not have surprised me in the slightest to learn that it frequently consists of sending the manuscript directly to the proofreaders, correcting any infelicities of grammar and typos, then publishing the book without any real editorial activity at all. And I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that David Hartwell had not even read all of the books that he “edited” either.

As Castalia House authors know, I either edit a book or I decline to edit it. If I edit it, I decide whether I will apply a scalpel or a machete to the text. In the case of certain authors, I ask them if they would prefer a scalpel or a machete, and honor their preference even if I think it is mistaken. In one recent case, I removed one-third of the manuscript’s word count. In another case, I had the author cut out more than 20,000 words. I suspect that I have excised more words from a single novella by John C. Wright than Mr. Hartwell did from Mr. Wright’s entire oeuvre. So, not only do I “meddle in my writers’ texts”, I do so much more heavily than the average editor does.

The mistake that these File 770 commenters are making is thinking that one can reasonably judge the quality of an editor’s work by the final product. You cannot. You can only judge it by comparing the submitted draft of the manuscript to the final product. For example, my
book The World in Shadow is a MUCH better book than The War in
. It is better in every way. But the editor at Pocket Books did a brilliant job on The War
in Heaven,
because the first draft was a disaster and she made me
rewrite the entire book twice, with lots of hands-on advice and examples.

But she did nothing on The World in Shadow, she did literally nothing. Her entire
editing process consisted of telling me that the book was good to go as submitted. The published book is nearly word-for-word identical to my submitted manuscript, so much so that we were later able to create the ebook from the unedited submission.

It is true, for example, that Rolf Nelson takes a uniquely creative approach to verb tenses and punctuation, but it is very, very far from the truth to claim that I let them all stand. Why do we publish him, then? Because Rolf is an excellent storyteller, and if you are more interested in grammar than story and characterization, then you are not part of Castalia House’s target market. Literary style is only one of the four major aspects of writing; one of the reasons that Castalia House exists is because the mainstream publishing houses have become overly obsessed with style and ideology at the expense of story, characters, and ideas.

And I will go so far as to say this: I am a much better editor than whoever is supposed to be editing George RR Martin’s books. Had I been the editor, A Dance with Dragons would have been 700 pages shorter and it would have been considerably more enjoyable.

UPDATE: It appears my surmise about the extent to which Mr. Wright’s books were edited at Tor Books was correct, as per L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

Just in case anyone wondered: John has tremendous respect for Mr. Hartwell, whom he admired, appreciated working with, and liked as a person. But Mr. Hartwell almost never made any changes to John’s manuscripts.