In my travels around the world… of reading, I have encountered the world of short, testimonial anthologies.
Most of you are familiar at least with the premise of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books: people submit their personal stories and writers help them put it into certain form and they are published along with others of like topic.
The best of these is the “Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul”, with stories from the lives of famous writers. (The story by Garry Marshall alone made me buy a copy for myself because it personally resonated with me.) Not only is this edition of interest to me because of the writers and their lives, but it an ‘easier read’ than the other Chicken Soup books. It didn’t take me long to figure out why; they let the writers’ stories stand as they were.
Early on I realized that, with as inspirational as the stories contained within the Chicken Soup books may be, they become tedious. Why? Because, as I mentioned, they have their writers ‘help’ with the contributor’s stories, but in doing so, they make them all have the same formula, the same ‘tenor’.
There are also the ‘play them where they lay’ books, compilations of peoples’ experiences, unvarnished and un-rewritten. Some of these are outstanding and are served well by their editors’ work. Others simply let their contributors put their feelings down, but as heartfelt as they may be, there is a reason why some people are paid well to write; it isn’t as easy as it seems. Some of the stories are almost embarrassing to read, not for the feelings or intimacy, but for the poor way in which they are written.
I applaud the editors and compilers of these stories, (some have been guests; a recent guest does an outstanding job with hers), but I have to wonder about the others.
Have you encountered this type of book? I am truly of two minds, or maybe three, about them. Too much rewriting and editing takes the heart out of the reader, (if not the story), but those with bad grammar, repetitiveness and poor communication skills takes the heart from me, too.
I often used to listen to The Library of Congress’ “Story Corps” which collects people’s stories. This was meant to record and preserve stories by older folks because family stories are no longer being passed down. However that, and “The Moth”, (both on NPR), have changed their focus to basically one particular portion of society, and it is a real shame. The stories told in persons’ own words and with their personal feeling were very touching and meaningful.
We can all be enriched by other peoples’ experiences.
But to edit lightly without changing the relator’s feelings or personality seems reasonable to me, rather than to let them overplay or underplay a good message.
What are your feelings about these, or about the Chicken Soup books?
Tonette, to find an editor who works to understand and learn your style of writing, who will not change that style but allow you to break the rules when it has purpose to do so, is a rare gem. I have one. She finds all the things that need changing in my writing, things I’ve overlooked through my own editing process. And even then, she marks them for me to approve. That’s a good editor, in my book. An editor should enhance the writers writing, not change it for the sake of being grammatically correct.
A good editor will also let you know if there are confusing parts to the story that need clarification so the readers doesn’t stop reading to say, “HUH?” Sometimes that’s a light edit, but other times it’s not. Mine offers suggestions, but she does not automatically assume I will take them, and isn’t upset with me if I don’t. She knows that I’m the author; she’s the editor.
Sharon, you have a gem. However, with 99.999% of the anthologies not written by professional writers, or people who have written before at all, the editors don’t have a style or voice to work with. Also, many truly want the raw emotions and feelings to come out, but after two or three tales with double-negatives, a few “Yes, he did!s”, and stating the same ‘She loved riding her horses” for the fourth time, it’s hard for me to stay invested in the stories.
I’ve read a few samples of these personal vignettes, though I don’t believe I’ve ever read a complete collection from cover to cover.
Readers Digest sometimes reprints pieces that they’ve gleaned from such collections, including from the Chicken Soup umbrella.
I would very much like to read the one you mentioned that focuses on writers / authors.
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It’s actually ‘Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul”, Jeff. I picked it up to read at my local library and then bought a used copy online. Since you are in KY, I know that you can get your hands on at least the copy from the Nelson Co. library in an interlibrary loan. Garry Marshall’s story on how the childhood neighborhood he dreaded going back became a revelation when he realized that what he went through made him who he was changed my attitude as well.
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Interesting post, Tonette! I enjoyed reading it, as I have experience on ‘both sides of the desk.’
In publishing four anthologies, I’ve only done light editing on the pieces I accepted for the books. Probably the largest factor in that is that I am NOT an editor. As most writers, I learn as I keep writing. What I write today is vastly improved from what I was writing five years ago. But yet, I’m still far, far from an expert. Most of what I accepted was from talented writers that needed very little polishing to start with. I would run the work through Grammerly, or if there was something that caught me as I read it – such a word repeated so often it became jarring, or a paragraph that was so long I felt it worked better broken into two or three shorter ones – then I changed it. I also didn’t want to do too much editing to the piece. I didn’t want to lose the flavor of each author’s voice as he/she told the tale they shared.
I’ve also been the author being edited. I’ll be the first to admit that after editing the piece is usually better and stronger than what I sent in. I’m thankful for that.
Twice I remember reading a children’s story and an essay that I’d submitted. In each, as I read one line I stopped and thought – I didn’t write that! Just because the way it was worded, and in one instance a word was used that I don’t use, so it was obvious to me.
In another instance, I submitted a piece to national magazine. When I got the print copy, I was excited to read it and proud of what was there. About two years later, another author asked me about working with this particular publication. One of the questions she asked me was about any editing that they’d done. I didn’t think they’d hardly done any. But before I replied, I went back and compared what I submitted to the printed version. Oh my goodness! I had NO IDEA it has been so dramatically edited. I’m sure they spent more time editing my piece, because they even inserted pieces from one of my blogs. The final product was drastically different from what I sent in. But, to their credit, they did the edits, combined my piece with snippets from blog posts, and as I read it myself, I didn’t even know they’d done so. It still felt and sounded like me. And I think that’s the work of a top-notch editor.
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Thank you for all the input, Trisha. I was mostly concerned with ‘First-person testimonials’, and not professional writing. I suppose many fewer people than I would have thought have read the latter. If any of our readers would, I think that they would understand the vast differences in the styles, writing ability and the editing styles, applied and the ones that are NOT applied. I am grateful for your work in your published collections. Other compilations I simply cannot recommend, no matter how heart-felt the stories.They are just horrible to try to read.
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I apologize for not stopping in yesterday! I’ve had four stories published in Chicken Soup books. Apparently my stories all followed the correct formula because no one coached me, and very little was changed in them. I don’t usually read them all the way through at once – just when I need a little inspiration. I’m sorry they aren’t to your liking, but I suppose one can’t please everyone.
I don’t know why my comments don’t always post, Patty; I had answered you.I’m sorry. Well, you ARE a writer, so I suppose they didn’t feel that yours needed ‘help’. I never said that I didn’t like them. I have several, in fact, I bought another one about two weeks ago. I just wish that they just didn’t always make those that do sound basically the same.
I would love to read your stories in them.