Editor claims many of Japan’s light novel authors can’t write, aren’t the ones creating their books

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

Over the last few years, there’s been a huge boom in Japan’s light novel industry. The pulpy paperbacks are loaded with fantasy, science fiction, and romance storytelling conventions, which not only makes them an easy sell to Japan’s sizable otaku population, but also means that the light novel industry as a whole has become a major seedbed of possible anime adaptations with resulting multi-media franchises.

It’s also easier than ever for would-be authors to get their foot in the door, since many light novels start off as writer-uploaded works to content sharing websites like Shosetsuka ni Narou (which translates to “Let’s Become Novelists”). Publishing companies regular scan these sites in their search for new talent, reaching out to the writers of the sites’ most popular stories and offering them a deal to publish it in print or monetized online form. However, a light novel editor, who prefers to remain anonymous, recently spoke with web magazine Nikkan Cyzo about what he sees as a major problem with this method.

As first, the system seems like it should be an easy road map to success, since the publishers are starting with stories that have already built up a fanbase. However, the editor said that hardly any of the web novels that earn the authors publishing deals are polished enough to be published as-is for an audience that’s actually going to pay to read them. “So before publishing, editors request revisions from the authors, but we’re seeing an increasing number of authors who can’t get their books to a publishable level, no matter how many rewrites they attempt.”

The editor laments that he’s sent manuscripts back to the author with numerous requested revisions, only to be kept waiting an entire month for only a handful of changes to eventually be made in the new draft. “The version they put out on the internet was the result of them using every last bit of their skills, and there’s no way they can do any better.”

However, publishers are only willing to wait so long before they have a product they can start selling, and the editor says “the author can’t write” isn’t an excuse that will buy a lot of time. “So the editor ends up doing the rewrite himself,” he says, claiming that the market is in the middle of a rapid increase in the number of light novels that are written almost completely by their editors, instead of the authors listed on their covers. In regards to one of the books he himself worked on, the editor recalls “The author just gave up, so I wrote about 200 pages of it.”

On the one hand, being a novel’s editor is all about looking for ways to improve a less-than-perfect manuscript from the credited author. However, there’s a point where an editor is doing so much writing that he’s at the very least a co-author, and this unexpected crossover of duties is becoming increasingly frustrating to the editor quoted here. “There are some light novels which are written by editors, but the royalty payments go to the authors. It’s upsetting,” he says. Toss in the fact that the light novel industry is heavily sequel-driven, with some popular series continuing for dozens of books published over the course of years, and getting stuck with a writer who can’t actually handle writing sounds like a serious nightmare for an editor.

Source: Livedoor News/Nikkan Cyzo

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The editor laments that he’s sent manuscripts back to the author with numerous requested revisions, only to be kept waiting an entire month for only a handful of changes to eventually be made in the new draft. “The version they put out on the internet was the result of them using every last bit of their skills, and there’s no way they can do any better.”

I've heard of authors taking years between first drafts and published editions to polish and make their books perfect. The notion that any book can have any meaningful revisions written in a month is absurd, and undermines the entire premise of this story.

Either this editor expects all the people they publish to be full-time writers with no other jobs (in which case, why trawl hobby writing sites for new talent) or they are attacking mistakes that are so minor and superficial that there is no point in criticizing the literacy of the author that makes them.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Damn right katsu78. There is a garbage "literature" in Japan as there is a place like the U.S. If you need a heave, check out any supermarket's bestselling titles. Absolute garbage, but authors make their money by it as surely as Billy Graham made millions pushing Christ-crud.

One thing you must know. In the U.S. writers work with agents, who negotiate with publishers. Writers in Japan work directly with publishers. Publishers give writers quotas and deadlines. When Mishima said writers are the most boring people in the world, he was likely thinking of his life of exile in a hotel working feverishly trying to meet a deadline and giving up anything resembling human contact.

The "authors" pulled off the internet are generally zeros talents who can be milked for a few ideas that can be edited, maybe by computer, to produce enough for the average commuter zombie who wants only a momentary stave to boredom before the end station.

Crummy writers cannot write. That's news? It is like saying porno actor cannot act, or Trump supports cannot think.

Writing good literature requires solitude and time. All that varies. But pulling some amateur off the internet and excepting that person to have the discipline it takes to be a real writer is nonsense.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

(a) There's editing and then there's editing ;) Copy editing of entertainment fiction can routinely be done on time scales like that --- structural editing, if it necessitates major rewrites, may take longer to implement.

(b) There's a big difference between literary fiction and entertainment fiction. Yes, major masterworks of literary fiction may be in production for many years. But professional entertainment fiction authors (until they hit the big leagues) often have to turn out one book every 3 months just to make a living. And typically, the ones who survived long enough in the business turn in manuscripts that at most require one copy-editing and one proofreading pass, and generally no structural editing at all.

I like great literary works as much as any old school European. But I'll take a competently written thriller or sci-fi novel with compelling plot and world building over another whiny, self-indulgent "literary" turkey anytime.

(c) In the old days of portrait photography, B/W pictures were generally retouched with a pencil. Overdoing this led to a picture that was "retouched to death", where the face had no more blemishes but the picture lacked all character and human dimension. Several professional writers and editors have told me about debut novels that had been edited to death over a period of several years, with one editor undoing the work of another.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Crafting a novel to a publishable quality takes time, I really don't understand how they can expect one within a month...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I don't know where katsu has his information from but most of the really prolific writers publish at least every 2 years while working on outlines for future books. If you Base your assesment of of people like george martin than you clearly don't understand that it is not normal to have such long waits between books. Also, light novles don't really have the same standart as a western novle and are usually shorter.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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