Dasu Krishnamoorty responds to debate on editors

I believe editing is a subjective art that shuns definition. But essentially it is gate keeping. Before a story gains admission it has to get past two gates: the editor and the publisher. When a publisher chooses an editor he sets the guidelines. The editor/publisher is only exercising his right to free expression when he accepts/rejects a story. Both of them in the end go by a gut feeling of what the reader accepts or rejects. The goal of selection is salability. The selection process is subjective as is evident from the different criteria employed by different publishing houses. Just as a newspaper reporter concedes the right of the copy editor to spike or change his copy, the writer has to respect the right of the editor/publisher because they absorb the losses from poor sales.

Editors at publishing houses have guidelines laid down by the publisher. The publisher sets them on the basis of feedback he gets from the reader. Both in newspapers and book industry it is ultimately the reader who is the king. The preferences of the reader change from time to time and from region to region. It is enough if the editor is aware of these changes and knows what the readers want. Readability is the main criterion and determining it is a subjective process. For example, even if the editor finds Lajja of Taslima Nasreen a great work, he may not recommend it for fear of hostile reaction. The editor failed to us it for reasons other than merit. I think the debate has its roots in writers’ conceit.

I will cite our experience as editors/translators of an anthology we had recently published to bolster my views.

We run a web magazine that publishes two/three short stories every month. We have a number of Telugu anthologies with us from which we, as readers, choose some stories. Over a period we published around 75 stories in the magazine. It occurred to us that publishing an anthology would be a good idea to celebrate the hundredth birthday of the Telugu short story. From the 75 stories we chose 22 and sent them to three publishers. Two of them agreed to publish. Since Rupa and Co. was the first to approve our collection we sent the manuscripts to Rupa, prepared to abide by the verdict of their editors. They approved all the stories submitted and made no changes that deserved to be called a change.
Before submitting the stories we edited them besides translating them. We deleted repetitive passages, deleted excessive schmaltz, slashed padding and removed clichéd phrases like nadaka laanti parugu. Coming to additions, we added descriptive details and setting where we thought it was necessary. In one story there was childbirth. We employed medical jargon and also described the room and the things found in such a room at delivery time. A client visits a lawyer. We described the lawyer’s office, the glass-fronted shelves containing All India Law Reporter volumes, a framed picture of Venkateswara Swami or Satya Saibaba. In many stories we found that participants in a dialogue did nothing but talk. First, they are talking on a road, or a railway station or in a house. The place has to be described and the interruptions in the dialogue. We did these things and sent the edited stories to the writers for approval.
I somehow think that the debate on criteria for editors originated in rejections. No writer has a right to insist that his story be accepted or when accepted should not be changed. One of the two short story icons of the later half of twentieth century Raymond Carver had his stories nearly rewritten by Gordon Lish at Knopf. Editors at leading publishing houses reject hundreds of works and suggest drastic changes on acceptance. Rupa has accepted our work. Now it is for the readers to accept it. We will not complain if the readers reject it. About our selection Katha Naveen had reservations. We admit he has a right to do that. Since I do not know what set off the debate on editing, I presume it is a grapes are sour story.

Dasu Krishnamoorty


కొత్త పాళీ said...

కృష్ణమూర్తిగారు, మీరు చెప్పిన విషయాల్లన్నీ చాలా బాగున్నై గానీ, ప్రపంచం సంగతంతా వేరు, తెలుగు కథల దారి వేరూ అని మీకు తెలియదా?

కొత్త పాళీ said...

BTW, please post the URL of your web magazine.
Also, did you finally publish your translation anthology? What is the title?

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