The majority of my editing assignments are academic works, generally masters theses or doctoral dissertations by students with minimal writing skills and/or have English as their second language. Though these works keep me adequately employed, they are not exactly enjoyable, particularly the ones about science or technology. Let's just say I drink a lot of coffee for those.
But every now and again I will be blessed with editing someone's "book" they want published. These are generally poorly written works of non-fiction that can be described as screeds, that is, long diatribes on what they see as wrong with the world. If only people would listen to the author, the world would be all better. Some of the screed topics I have had the pleasure of editing are:
- Miscegenation and interracial marriages are entirely to blame for poverty, AIDS, political corruption, and child abuse. The planet should be strictly segregated by race.
- Male homosexuality is a direct result of Satanic influence and gays should report for exorcism at their nearest Catholic parrish. Female homosexuality is not real, just natural female timidity and nervousness about male sexuality.
- And my favorite: The Anti-Christ described in the Bible is actually not a person, but an organization: The Mormon church. They are here to take over the world and steal our souls.
Of course we don't have to look far to find their inspiration. Politicians and political pundits have been publishing books like this for years, and they've increased in frequency. They don't seek to raise awareness of an important issue (Drift by Rachel Maddow), nor do they long to set the record straight (In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam by Robert McNamara). They are simply lengthy diatribes about what is wrong with them and what is right with us (see anything by Glen Beck or Ann Coulter).
My beef with works like this (even on the rare occasion I agree with the author) is that they are an insult to those writers who actually take the work seriously. Whether writing a graphic novel, a children's book, a literary novel about geese in communist Russia, or a memoir of their father, real writers everywhere agonize over the work every day, wanting it to be better, wanting to draw the reader into the story. The strength of the overall story is what is important. The people who pump out these thoughtless screeds are not concerned about the work, or even their reader. They are concerned only about validating themselves and making sure everyone knows how awesome and smart they are. This is the literary version of the aspiring reality show star, and they are part of the problem when it comes to the reputation of the self-published author.
Sadly there is not much we can do about this, any more than we can stem the tide of teenagers (and sadly, adults) doing silly things for a shot at being on MTV. All I or any of us can do is salute those writers of non fiction who do it for the right reasons and do it well.