King’s Bloat

One of the blogs I’m watching as a candidate for a WriterBlog link is Bow. James Bow. A day or two ago, he reported this comment from a friend:

Erin on the news that the upcoming Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 255,000 words long:

“Good God. Let’s hope that doesn’t mean that nobody had the courage to edit the damn thing.”

Sounds like James’ friend is onto something that I discovered at least a decade ago, something that more and more people who read are catching on to: the more popular an author becomes, the less likely an editor is to edit his/er work.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Editors are no longer from the Maxwell Perkins* school of editing, where they took time to guide and shape writers. Now they’re too busy crunching numbers and going to sales conferences to do much more than a cursory edit. That lot falls more and more to agents now, who try and get a book into the best shape possible before sending it along to a busy editor – the idea being that the editor has to do as little work as possible on the book when preparing it for publication.

But there’s another issue afoot. I think that some writers amass such impressive sales figures that a kind of fear sets in at the publishing house, a fear of killing the golden goose, or of making the 500 pound gorilla angry so it goes and sits somewhere else. The result is that suggestions which could be made to improve the book are not just unheeded… they go unsaid altogether.

I first noticed this in Stephen King back in the eighties, as his manuscripts got larger and more unwieldy. I now refer to the phenomenon as “King’s Bloat” for that reason. The last victim I identified was Tom Clancy, whose work I like much more than King’s, but whose plotting has become rather flaccid, along with the swelling of the word count. Executive Orders is one of my Clancy favorites, but could have used some judicious trimming; Rainbow Six was to me superfluous as a novel, a swollen outtake of the previous novel. The Clancy catalog should have been spared its presence. To date I haven’t been able to get through The Bear and the Dragon. If ever a book cried out for blue pencil eradication of a third of its mass, this one is it (keep in mind I have long since given up on King).

Now I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books, but I have to wonder if J.K. Rowling’s increasingly swollen word counts are a sign that she has contracted King’s Bloat. What makes this prognosis particularly grim is that Rowling is not a five hundred pound gorilla. She is the half-ton gorilla of the industry, the woman forecasted to become the world’s first billionaire author. A shame if she succumbs to this sad disorder now. If this happens, she will hit her financial apex with her best work already behind her.

Writers, inoculate yourselves now! Unfortunately, how to do that requires more meditation on my part. For now, I’ve told my wife to take a skillet and realign my neurons if I ever develop The Bloat or start coasting.

*Who is Maxwell Perkins? Hie thee to eBay or to find a copy of Max Perkins, Editor of Genius. It’s a wonderful biography about the man who guided many a stellar literary career, one that will make you weep for the days of publishing that are now long gone. I know because I did.

NP – Stan Ridgway, Anatomy

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 534 other followers

%d bloggers like this: