Tuesday, February 19, 2013

An Editor's Job

This weekend, I finished the final proofing of "The Temporal Element" anthology.  This puts me ahead of schedule in many ways, and some pre-orders will ship out in a few weeks, putting them almost a month before of the scheduled release date.  Contributors will also have the opportunity to see their work in-print early, before their words hit the marketplace.

Going over the collection of stories, I have to say that these contributors really know their stuff.  About half of the stories were so clean I didn't have to change a word, and most of the others only needed minor typos fixed.  There were a couple that needed a few sentences reworked for clarity, and one required a bit of cosmetic surgery, though all in all they were an impressive batch from the get-go.

Talking to the minor edits that were necessary, I'd like to take a moment to discuss my thoughts on the job of an "editor."  Back in the old days, that's what an editor did.  They "edited" work.  In some rare cases, that meant rewriting whole sections of text, performing creative changes that made the stories "marketable."  I can see where the drastic reworking of a story wouldn't sit well with a writer, and these days most editors have more of a hands-off approach, some even becoming little more than glorified proofreaders.  That isn't such a bad thing when you have a good story from a skilled writer, but I feel there are a lot of interesting stories out there that get rejected these days because an editor decides it's too much of a hassle to fix a few minor things.

That's not to say a writer shouldn't be on top of their game.  Of course it is the writer's job to learn how to perfect their manuscripts for an editor's eyes, but in some cases an editor should be able to meet them partway.  When you run into a story that shows real promise, it is sometimes necessary to lend a helping hand.  It's a fine line an editor must tread, knowing which stories are right for their market, and knowing which ones they must let go.  Obviously, with so much talent out there, it's impossible to accept everything that could be a good story.

In the case of The Temporal Element, I had different reasons for rejecting the stories I did.  Some just weren't a good fit, with themes or ideas that didn't mesh with the anthology I was seeking to create.  Another reason was a matter of weak writing, though it could have been a matter of style.  I read a number of stories that were confusing and very ambiguous, which may have been the author's intent, though sometimes it was impossible to tell.  A few submissions just rubbed me the wrong way, which dovetails with the first reason; they weren't a good fit.  There were some other reasons, as well, but those were the three that applied to multiple rejections.

There are many reasons an editor has for not working on imperfect manuscripts, and many of those reasons are good.  To be fair, a writer needs to know their craft, and if they are incapable of performing real edits on their own work, then they are not ready for publication.  Another issue is creative license.  Some writers can get really upset if an editor "tweaks" their work, changes their sacred words, and dares to print anything that isn't verbatim.  This leaves some editors sympathetic (they wouldn't want their words changed, after all), and it leaves other wary of the histrionics that might arise.

I've learned from working with different editors on my own stories that you often have to accept their perspective.  Sometimes, you have to rework a few sentences to make things clearer, and sometimes you have to drop that odd joke or perfect phrase that you think is so clever.  You're not always going to like the changes, but in many cases they are for your own good.

As I shift into the double-life of a writer/editor, I'm finding the job a rewarding one.  It is really what I'm meant to do, and with any luck others will appreciate that, especially the writers I work with.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting take on it all.

    I have to say, most editors I have worked with have been really good, with a few (two in particular) not afraid to come forward and say that they would like various passages changed. These two have sent me the revised versions, and we have done the whole back-and-forth thing to make it a better piece. No arbitrary changes, a working relation ship between writer and editor.

    But there have also been 2 who have put out books with so many typos and grammar errors that I think the editor just plonked the stories as the authors presented them into his computer and put it out like that.

    Editing is a tough job, one I have done once and would not be keen to do again, and it is refreshing to read an editor's take on the job at hand.