How To...Collate & Edit a Book of Quotations

28th September 2021
4 min read
29th September 2021
Maya Angelou quote

An anthology is like all the plums and orange peel picked out of a cake.’
Walter Alexander Raleigh (1861-1922)

One of the great joys of collating and editing a book of quotations is the gathering and sifting process: deciding which pithy words of wisdom get to survive through to the editor’s final cut.

As a quick dip into Goodreads will confirm, there are an infinite number of short sayings and bon mots to choose from. The web is awash with quotations from books and about the art and craft of writing, typically presented as inspirational quotes.

In reality, the ‘you can do it’ platitudinous sayings are far less punchy, witty or memorable than quips that are arch, satirical or barbed. Writers on Writers: A Book of Quotations, published on 30 September, includes hundreds of quotations that fall more naturally into the latter type.

This collection does not set out to be comprehensive (how could it be?) or to even to be particularly balanced in terms of the range of quotations it includes, but I hope it amuses and provides some surprises. It gathers quotations from across genres and genders, time and themes, and types of writers. We include quotations that editors in the Writers & Artists team have unearthed and which they deem worthy of repetition. It is unashamedly a partial selection.

But it is a selection and not a random one at that. It is informed by a set of ground rules or criteria which constitute editorial decision making.

Here are our rules for collating and editing a book of quotations. You may spot some quotations that have slipped in under the wire because they were just too good to keep out.

Rule #1: Inclusion
Quotations about writing and the writing process from writers of all hues: diarists, biographers, critics, poets, playwrights, novelists, journalists. But quotations about writing from the mouths of characters within novels, though often pertinent and which may well reflect the views of their author, are excluded.

Rule #2: Structure
Quotations are arranged by theme, which themselves are in alphabetical order. There are over 170 topics that range from the predictable to the less ordinary and which together give a sweep across the processes, fortunes, mishaps, and ups and downs of the writing life. Some subjects have six or more examples, such as ‘Intellect’; others, such as ‘Isolation’, just include two.

Rule #3: Tone
We have sourced quotations that are witty and crisp, and which – taken as a whole – provide a wry look at the writerly life. This is a lighthearted book that complements the hefty Writers’ & Artists’ publications, such as our bestselling Yearbooks. The style and layout of the text also matters hugely. We wanted to create, with our design and production colleagues, a neat little book with a gift appeal.

Rule #4: Attribution
Where we have been able, we have provided the original published source and date for each quotation, or the secondary text where it has itself been quoted. These, along with the content of the quotes themselves, have been checked by a team of researchers over numerous hours. Some quotations in our initial trawl were not included because we were unable to verify their origins. Some did sneak in because we couldn’t resist them.

Rule #5: Range
We have not had a quota system when deciding which quotations to include. We selected lines from writers who have something interesting to say, and thus there is naturally a wide and varied cast of those quoted: women and men from across numerous countries (all quotations do though appear in English, so in some cases these are translations) and from across the centuries.

Rule #6: Extent
For a print collection we are limited of course by space: but that can be a good discipline. Each quotation had to justify its inclusion.

Rule #7
Break the rules: we did where we chose to, whilst keeping to the spirit of what I outline above.

I hope you enjoy browsing through this collection. It was fun to create, so I hope you find some gems inside.

Get your copy of Writers on Writing now

Alysoun Owen is the Editor of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook. She has over 25 years publishing experience in Academic, Professional and Trade publishing.

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