Wednesday, May 07, 2014

What makes a great editor? -- Part two

If you do a google search on Jim Bryans, or James J. Bryans, editor, you don't get any hits at all. [note: this is no longer strictly true. Now you get my original Examiner article.] And this is not right, because Jim Bryans, though not in the prestige class of a Maxwell Perkins or a Michael Korda, was a great editor. Jim worked in the trenches. He was an editor at Magazine Management, a pulp publishing house that served as the early proving ground for writers like Mario (The Godfather) Puzo and Bruce Jay (The Heartbreak Kid) Friedman. He worked for a number of book publishing houses, and helped a lot of writers. When I met him, he was a book packager.

A book packager is a guy that big publishers outsource to. His job his to bring them a finished product. He comes up with the idea, finds the writers, edits the manuscript, gathers the art, gets the permissions, chooses the cover art, writes the cover blurbs, and sometimes even handles the production. Jim had created a hugely successful series, The Making of America, and was in the process of creating a few more. The Making of America novels were written by Lee Davis Willoughby, but Jim had a stable of writers, all of who were Lee Davis Willoughby.

Jim died...maybe ten years ago? I lose track. His memorial service was a source for sadness, but also for laughter. Everyone had a great Jim Bryans story.

Mine had to do with the first book Jim signed me up for. He was doing a series of novels on the submarine service in World War II. Mine would be about the 6th book in the series, and would be called Depths of Danger. The pseudonym for the series was a fine naval name -- J. Farragut Jones. (By the time Depths of Danger came out, the pseudonym had been changed to Halsey Clark, which was a mild disappointment for me -- I had looked forward to being J. Farragut Jones.)

Jim gave his writers a bible of about one page, which included the main characters, the historical time frame, and the story to date. The main character of this series was Jack McCrary, the handsome JFK-like captain of a sub. Unfortunately, as my book was to start, McCrary was dead -- killed in a naval action in the South Pacific. My job...bring him back to life. I was to carry the action from October of 1944 to the end of the war. I could kill off one major character, but I had to let Jim know which one, so that he could put that into the bible he gave the author of the next book in the series.

"Can you write a 150,000 word novel in ten weeks?" Jim asked me.

I had never written a novel in less than a year and a half.

"Oh, sure, Jim. No problem at all with that."

And I was launched into the strange and wonderful circus act, part high wire, part head in the lion's mouth, part being shot out of a cannon, and part baggy pants clown, that was the world of the Jim Bryans author.

To be continued...

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