Monday, April 19, 2010

Rimsky-Korsakov helps Mussorgsky, oder?

Book Editor discovers a first book with tantalizing possibilities, but clearly, it’s a mess. The novel it will become exists as much in Book Editor’s imagination as it exists on the page. She buys it for a nominal sum. She works many hours (mostly nights and weekends), over several drafts to coax out of Writer the best book it can be. She closely line edits the final draft. Then she goes into marketing mode, making sure the book is titled, positioned, packaged and presented properly. She makes an obsessive pest of herself, both in and out of house, in the service of the book. But in the end her and Writer’s long labors are rewarded! The novel becomes a major bestseller, launching a long career for Writer, bringing the company years of pure profit.

Three years later Book Editor is fired, with three month’s severance pay.

A book editor should participate in such a bonanza along with the publisher, agent and writer. When a book editor’s work is extensive (re-structuring, re-plotting, re-writing) and substantially contributes to the final book, a one or two or three percent royalty is not too much to ask. If a book editor is on staff at a company, such a royalty should begin only after the advance has earned out, or after some number of copies which insure the company’s target profitability have sold.

Ann Patty proposes.

Once upon a time, Best Beloved, Mussorgsky couldn't get his work put on. Rimsky-Korsakov thought he was a genius. Reorchestrated Boris Godunov so it could be appreciated by the audiences of the day - the result was, to modern ears, a good piece of work which fits nicely into the conventions of 19th-century opera. Modern audiences tend to prefer the Boris Godunov of Mussorgsky. Without Rimsky-Korsakov, of course, the work could never have been performed back in the day, and perhaps might never have survived to be known when the original could be admired.

Writers might well be willing to accept the help of a Rimsky in the short term, if this got them some money, some recognition, time to produce new work - if the work adapted to the public did not permanently displace the original version. (A book that is 'clearly a mess' at Time A may be something readers at Time B see as brilliant. Could a mass audience in the 1940s have coped with Pulp Fiction?) A slight problem is, Mussorgsky could assess the talent of Rimsky-Korsakov, because R-K was a gifted composer in his own right; writers don't normally have a chance to assess the ability of editors. If Ms Patty is the equal of Rimsky-Korsakov and doesn't get a royalty, she is certainly being short-changed.

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