I am an editor having difficulties dealing with the representative of an author's literary estate about an unpublished manuscript by a deceased author. We have a polite (and friendly) disagreement about how much editing should take place on a manuscript where the author is not around to speak his mind. I am not talking about incomplete manuscripts; presumably the author was able to revise it and finalize it, but hadn't shown it to an editor for feedback.
The author was distinguished and nationally recognized for his works of fiction. He wrote about 2 dozen books.
That led me to wonder about the historical role of book editors in American publishing.
- Can you point to examples of famous books where an editor's input has been acknowledged to make a significant and positive difference in the final product? (Conversely, are there examples where an editor's contribution has been thought to make a negative difference?) The only example I can think of is Gordon Lish's editing of Raymond Carver, but that is an extreme example. It seems more likely that a critic or reviewer might complain that a novel needs more editing -- rather than less.
- Also, can you mention some notable examples where reps of a literary estate have had disagreements with an editor's judgment about how something should be edited -- and how they were resolved (if at all)?
As I said, I am facing that issue right now, and we can't agree about how much deference to give to what is on the deceased author's page -- even when what is there can seem convoluted or awkward. I'm not saying that the estate rep is offbase, but this person seems reluctant to murder ANY darlings. This representative is simply trying to preserve the integrity of the text. I have edited the author's manuscripts when he was alive, so I already have some insight into his approach (basically, he would approve about 1/3 of my edits verbatim, he would reject another 1/3 of them, and would rewrite the remaining third to something different).
The representative of the literary estate has required that I consult this person whenever I am changing the text and get approval. That is not unreasonable, but it can be onerous -- especially when this representative doesn't come from a writing or editing background. I don't consider her opinions wrong or inconsequential -- just a little too deferential to what is already there. My indie publishing company will be dealing with multiple unpublished manuscripts from this author, so this issue is likely to persist for the next few years. That is why I am searching for ways to handle it. Thanks.
Update: I wish to report that I have satisfactorily resolved some of the difficult passages with the family representative. But I remain curious about whether editors will be forever unsung or there are cases of editors significantly improving a book generally considered to be great literary works?