Monday, March 31, 2014

An Editor's Job

Altered America is now officially released.  The pre-ordered copies will be mailed today, and readers are already picking up copies from Amazon, in both Print and Kindle formats.  As we see this latest Martinus release hit online shelves, I'd like to make a few comments on the purpose of editors and editing.

First, let's examine the term "editing."  It is a pretty broad term these days, and it can mean anything from "proofreading" to "rewriting," depending on the extent of the process.  Now, an Editor—capital E for emphasis—is the person in charge of a manuscript at a publishing house, and they have traditionally been in charge of the 3 R's: reading, revising, and releasing.  They read slush (submissions), they edit the manuscripts to suit their needs when necessary, and then they publish them.

The extent of an Editor's influence over a story or manuscript can vary greatly, depending on the story involved and the Editor himself (or herself, as the case may be).  Some Editors serve as little more than proofreaders, fixing typos and moving commas.  Some Editors are true revisionists, rewriting entire swaths of text, and sometimes even changing plot elements to suit their needs.  The revisionist Editors were much more common in the old days, but most stories you read today aren't too different from what the writer had in mind to begin with.

Yet, there still comes a time when you run into a good story that just has one or two little nits about it, things that don't work or need to be changed.  This is when the true Editor comes in.  Perhaps a character behaves inconsistently, or takes that blow too easily (gets up and runs around without a care in the world after getting beaten to the brink of death).  Such little changes can take a story that is simply "okay" and make it great.

When it comes to novels, Editors most commonly consult with the writer on changes.  However, that isn't always the case, and it often isn't the case when it comes to short stories in magazines and anthologies.  Minor changes are common, and there are rare instances where more substantial edits are required.  Of course, without these edits, some stories wouldn't be published at all.  It all comes down to whether an editor feels like working on a story or not.

There have been a few stories I have been willing to "fix" because I enjoyed them, even if they had some grammatical or style issues that were a tad off.  This is why there is a clause in each Martinus Publishing story agreement, reserving the right to edit the material.  Still, I can think of maybe a dozen stories that have required more than simple proofreading and a few word adjustments.  Most of those were grammar issues, where some sentences or paragraphs sounded "clunky," but a few needed more.

One example of a story that needed a change was one that had a main character with no name.  It was a 3rd Person tale that only identified the protagonist as "he" or "him," which got confusing at times when other characters were put into the mix.  In this instance, I gave the character a name during the initial round of edits.  Another instance was a story that was all "telling," and in the present tense, which made for a very awkward narration.  I past-tensed it and rewrote some paragraphs to make it smoother.  A third example had a character behaving out of character during a conversation.  It made things a bit confusing, so I reworked the dialog to make things clearer, and make the character more sympathetic and consistent.

These three examples, and the few other changes I've made over the years, were entirely necessary in my opinion.  As Editor, I must make the call about what gets published and how it gets published.  Sometimes, I'll ask the author to make changes, but in many cases I'll take care of it myself.

Of course, some writers take issue with an Editor who wants to actually "edit" their precious words.  I'll call these "Verbatim Writers," the people who have a vision and want everything published their way.  To be fair, every single one of us who writes has a touch of that in us, but some have it more than others.  These Verbatim folks get angry and upset if you ask them to change things, and I had one fellow outright pull his submission because I asked for a very simple scene change.  It's a shame, because the story in question would have been a really great addition to VFW.

Then there are the "Nitpicking Writers," those who will work with you on a story, but argue that "I want this, this, and that left alone," or "Can't we do this and this instead?"  This takes up time and energy, and while some of this can be tolerable, it can get excessive when you're dealing with a bunch of different writers all at once.

Nitpickers and Verbatim Writers are actually the minority, and most writers who submit are quite understanding and helpful.  Most understand that an Editor is "the boss," and it is the Editor's job to filter through and make changes when they deem them necessary.  As an Editor, I sometimes have time to consult a writer on little edits, and other times I don't, or they simply slip my mind.  Really, when you're going over a 21-story collection and decide to rewrite a few paragraphs, there isn't always time to stop for a consultation on each and every one.  I do my best to keep writers "in the loop," but if you happen to read one of your stories and see that Character A says or does something that you didn't originally write word for word, please don't chew me out for making an editorial decision.

Editors generally have respect for writers, and this is why they do their best to "improve" stories when necessary.  If a writer doesn't want anything changed in a story, they should forego the submission process and self-publish.  Some Editors these days may act like glorified proofreaders, leaving submitted content virtually unaltered, but don't count on it.  Sometimes, we actually edit.

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