Dan Krell (Malawi 1966-68) Writes: Who's Your Editor?

Dan Krell (Malawi 1966-68) was stationed in Nsanje in a tuberculosis control program. As he wrote me recently, ” I’ve not kept up with things in Malawi as well as I would have liked, but I recently retired; life is not getting in the way as much as it had been over the last 1/2-century, so I’m looking forward to doing better.”

He began by reading a recently self-publishing novel about Malawi written by an RPCV and while he had some good things to say about the book, he raised a concern we all have about books by RPCVs. I thought we all could learn from his words. So, further authors pays attention to what he has to say and have your book well edited before publication.

Here’s what Dan wrote me.

I just finished reading a self-published, fictional book, describing Peace Corps involvement in Malawi, shortly after independence. Granting poetic license, I did learn things about that history that I had not been aware of, previously, and enjoyed this.

Unfortunately, the book suffered from shortcomings common to many self-published books.  The lack of editorial oversight leads to many grammatical and structural errors, uneven, pallid writing, and unrealistic dialogue, among other problems. I did not realize that it was self-published until I read for a short while and was sufficiently disappointed by the writing quality to check for that issue. The writing was quite distracting and frustrating, and it significantly compromised my enjoyment of the book.

In your work with Peace Corps Worldwide (in The Arts: On Writing and Publishing) and Peace Corps authors, please communicate the value of having their work edited, preferably by somebody outside of the self-publishing company they are using, if their company has any editing services (a rare bird).  Having read several self-published books by bright, creative, disciplined individuals, I have been consistently impressed by disparities between the experience and credentials of the authors and the quality of their published writings. Knowing one author, personally, I was reduced to head shaking by the qualitative differences between his professional writings and fiction writing.

Please do self-publishing Peace Corps authors and their readers a great service by prominently encouraging the use of editors.

Thanks, Dan, for taking the time to write us. Good words of advice for all writers.


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  • I would add that Facebook can be a great self-editing tool. I belong to a book group Gimme a book where I post stories, which I then archive on my homepage. The feedback from literate people, many of them RPCVs, is valuable, but also I find that rereading my easily accessible posts on my homepage facilitates self-editing.

  • Amen to that–he’s absolutely right, based on my own experience in reviewing Peace Corps memoirs. It’s hard for me to stop imagining how I would rewrite many of them. Once in a while, you get a gem and appreciate it all the more. Barbara E. Joe (Honduras 2000-2003)

  • The appropriate degree of editing depends on the target audience. If one is writing to preserve the writer’s thoughts, impressions, etc., and perhaps share them with friends and family, that would need different editing from a piece being written for sale, whether fiction or non-fiction. Your friends and family know the context in which you are writing, and share many of the same filters through which they experience their universes. If writing for sale (unless for a niche audience), professional editing is best, whether done by a professional editor you know, or someone you hire. The hired editor will not be a person with whom you have had an established relationship and who wants to keep that relationship warm and fuzzy, but an experienced technician who will help you express yourself more effectively.

    Self-editing can be good for the former example, as long as you recognize the fact that you are looking at the material through personal filters about which you may not even be aware.

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