Advice for Literary Editors

Friday, 14 September 2018

Hello again, and sorry we have been quiet for a while.

We are knee-deep in edits at the moment, going through each letter line-by-line, annotating with facts and context, asking a few people for permission to use their letters to Miles as they help explain an entertaining response from him, and also trying to persuade Unbound to let us include more letters than we had originally budgeted for.

But rest assured, work continues and the book inches closer.

In the meantime, we thought you might like this excerpt from a letter Miles wrote to Claire Tomalin in 1979. Claire was giving up her regular book review slot in Punch as she had been appointed literary editor at the newly-revived Sunday Times and Miles was sharing his seven golden rules for being a good lit ed.

1) Always quibble over one point in a review, no matter how good it is.

2) Occasionally review a book before publication date, otherwise Quentin Oates* won’t notice you.

3) Allow for 50% of incoming books to vanish in the post room. Send them notes from time to time, asking why their reviews of the books they kept are late.

4) Never get depressed by the thought of all the books you can’t review. Think, instead, of how many of them should never have been published in the first place.

5) Don’t meditate on whether book reviews have any effect on book sales. (The answer, if you’re interested, is yes, they do. They diminish them. Most book reviews are read as a substitute for reading the book.)

6) Always remember that the chief task of a Lit Ed is to arrange free lunches for him/herself and his/her reviewers. I have failed dreadfully in this respect. Up to you, now, I guess.

7) Never listen to other Lit Eds.

*Quentin Oates was the pseudonym used for a regular column in The Bookseller which rounded up and commented upon the previous week's literary reviews.

Thanks again for your patience and support.

 

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