Can Anybody Edit?

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast week a friend sent me a link to this article. The TL:DR version is that Amazon has launched an online platform where books in progress are given editing suggestions by the reader. I am sort of torn by this, to be honest. On the one hand, I applaud the embrace of the community storytelling model. On the other, editing by populist soapbox is a risky business. In my more cynical moments I imagine that any editing 50 Shades of Grey received was obtained this way. Editing, as anyone who’s tackled a second draft will tell you, is a skill acquired by experience. Acquiring a pool of reliable beta readers involves narrowing it down to the people who gave you genuinely constructive criticism, rather than ‘I didn’t like this bit’ or ‘I think the man should kiss her here’.

Interestingly, I learned something about the history of editing recently and it largely comes down to technological development. Before the invention of the computer, editing was a proper pain because it involved rewriting (or, after the advent of the typewriter, typing) an entire new page for every minor change. As Sol Stein said:

Type a story on an IBM Scelectric, especially the later model that enables you to backspace over a letter and erase it! Wow! When it became easier to fix errors, suddenly I became much less tolerant of my first-draft errors… At least as important is the fact that the computer preserves writing, which hasn’t kept some adults from writing the same novel over and over again.

Anyway, back to the point. Should editing be opened up to general opinion, and the assembly of a story become a truly community effort, or do too many cooks spoil both the broth and their appetites? Is this just an attempt by Amazon to get more involved in the self-publishing space, and what chances of success to you give it?

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2 responses »

  1. Love this post. I think the problem with a model like this is that the best feedback comes from your “ideal reader” demographic – and you have no way of controlling for that factor here. So you could end up with a lot of comments that might not be very useful.

  2. I do think it’s a good idea to get a broad spectrum of feedback, even from people who aren’t your ideal readers, but the ‘crowdsourced’ part of the editing process can’t be the only one — and it definitely can’t be the final one. Also, flinging it to the crowd might be an action more for a seasoned writer than for a newbie — maybe someone trying a new genre but confident in their ability to take criticism and capable of sifting the useful from the yammering.

    There are some decent crowd-editing sites out there already, like Scribophile and Wattpad. But I really think they have to be a midpoint of the editing. Maybe a step taken right after the rough draft, to suss out the more general problems rather than the details.

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