Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Editing: the DOs and DON'Ts

Posted on behalf of Lynne Jamneck. The ROR team would like to take the chance to congratulate Lynne. Gwyneth Jones's story 'The Voyage out' which appeared in Lynne's anthology, Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures, has been selected to appear in Gardner Dozois' 26th Year's Best SF.

Lynne talks about anthology editing.

The next thing that you're going to want to remember is that you're going to read a lot. Though I had specific authors who were contributing, I also sent out an open call, because there's nothing quite like the potential for discovering a gem of a story from someone unpublished. But the opposite is also true. The likelihood of reading a lot of bad stuff is, well, very likely. And for heaven sakes, when it comes to emailing writers to tell them that they're stories have unfortunately not made the final cut, be gentle. Don't be snotty and don't be mean. Be encouraging where you can. But be honest, too.

Once you have your stories, the editing process starts; working with your final contributors to make their stories the best they can be. There is a fine line here, and I think I'm lucky in the sense that I'm a writer myself. I thought "how would I like an editor to approach me, to ask me about potentially changing an aspect of my story?" And really, the only reason you would ask any author to do that is because a) something does not make logical sense, or b) a small change can potentially illuminate something deeper relating to character, motive or the general impact of the story.

Because my background is mostly in the creative side of things, I chose to leave the mailing out of contracts and payments to contributors to the publisher, who was happy to do so after I had supplied them with up to date details of contributors' contact details.

Rowena, here. What experiences have you had working with editors? I discovered one of my short children's books had been extended by one extra page without being consulted. What was disappointing was that the added text completely missed the point of the original text. It was just plain bad and it had my name on it.

Horror stories, anyone? Or have you been inspired by a great editor?


TansyRR said...

I've had good and bad experiences with editors (and also as an editor!)

I think that it's important for writers to listen to what their editors have to say and suggest, and take feedback constructively on board. I've seen writers act like complete divas, refusing to change a line of their precious prose, and that's just embarrassing as well as counter-productive.

A relationship with an editor can be a marvellous collaboration, creative or otherwise. There's nothing better than knowing your work is much improved from the efforts of a quality editor, whether that be a short story or a novel.

The most discomforting thing an editor can do, as far as I'm concerned, is bring too much of their personal voice/taste to the party. Their role is to show the author's voice off to the best of their ability, not to push their own preferences. The more established you become as a writer, the more aware you are of your own voice. I've had editors effectively trying to make me write the book/story *they* want rather than to improve what's actually on the page, and I'm a lot more militant now about defending my own characters and style choices than I would have been as a newbie writer. There's a big difference between a flaw in the story and something that is just change for change's sake!

I don't think I've ever had an editor add/delete something without running it past me though, Rowena, that's dreadful!

As writers we always have to tread that thin line of Don't Be a Diva/Don't Be a Doormat. Both can come back to bite you quite severely.

Oh and the best thing an editor can do is communicate effectively! Even if it's a rejection. I know editors who have delayed and delayed rejection letters of stories/books they know they don't really want, when the best thing they can do is rip the bandaid off FAST.

Richard noted in his writing tips that one of the cruellest things (however inadvertent) an editor can do is make light of the editing work required when they send notes to a writer - I have come around to agreeing with that entirely. There's nothing worse than being told 'oh it's just copy edits, you'll knock them off easily' when it's actually a month's worth of major rewrites. *cries* not that this has ever happened to me... *sobs*

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Tansy, I'm sure you'd be an insightful editor.

The times we go away for ROR and critique each other's books are really good training for taking editorial direction, and learning how to give it.

TansyRR said...

Rowena - I try to be! I haven't been editing much for a while but I am guesting over at Shiny this year so keeping my hand in.

Yes, I was first trained in the art of the constructive critique by Dirk, who was of course trained by you and Marianne over at VISION... no wonder we all get along so well!

There's a danger with ROR because we're all writers that you can end up giving advice on how YOU would write the book or fix the problem. I think that's partly why it's so useful to have a gang of us rather than just one first reader.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Following on from your comment about readers who are also writers, I had my son (23) read my KRK trilogy before I sent it out because he's a keen fantasy fan and very critical of writers who make logic flaws in books.

He's my Market Reader, where as ROR are my Peer Readers.

Lynne Jamneck said...

Tansy - I agree with your post about editors completely. As a writer, I think having a good editor is essential. At the end of the day, they look with a different eye than the writer, and I think that's critical. But you're right, and editor's own voice should never compromise that of the writer's own.

Rowena - my partner is the epitome of a logically-minded brain. Having her read what I write is both extremely helpful - and sometimes deathly frustrating :P We've agreed to disagree.

As for favourite Horror writers - I have to admit that I devoured Stephen King as a teenager. (Rose Madder is probably my favourite book, though it seems to have been one of his less successful efforts). Clive Barker's early work is phenomenal; I cannot wait for the last book of The Art series. When it comes to short fiction there's no question: H.P. Lovecraft.