Friday, April 12, 2013

Guest Post from Sarah Hans: Sidekicks! Mixtapes, Remixes and Editorial Process

Today, I turn my blog over to Sarah Hans, so here we go--

Hello everybody! For my last guest blog post, I talked a lot about how I selected the stories for my editorial debut, an anthology called Sidekicks! In keeping with the theme, I thought maybe this time I’d discuss a little more about the editorial process.

Author and editor Nayad Monroe recently compared editing an anthology to creating a mixtape (or playlist for you youngins). In many ways, this is apt comparison. The editor chooses which authors will submit to her anthology and then the stories that best fit her vision for the book. Like a mixtape creator, she arranges the selected stories in an order she likes and that she thinks readers will enjoy.

An anthology is, however, a bit more interactive than a mixtape. The editor not only chooses the stories, but can request that changes be made to the stories. So it’s more like the editor gets to remix the playlist songs in addition to choosing and arranging them. Which is pretty neat!

Sometimes the edits to a story are relatively minor. I don’t think I found a single edit in Alex Bledsoe’s story, “Hunter and Bagger.” Other stories needed more work. In one or two cases, I had to ask for major rewrites or heavily edit the text. That makes it sound like I’m some kind of dictator though, when nothing could be further from the truth. I try to make it clear to my authors that if I’ve committed to buy their story, I already like it. I don’t dictate that they must make my exact changes “or else.” For me, editing is more like collaborative storytelling, more like teamwork than a top-down structure. Rather than being like a coach demanding her players run 20 laps, or she won’t put them in the game, I prefer to be more like the team captain, leading everyone in a team effort to create a great book. We’re all here to publish the best collection of stories we can!

Sometimes the editor can’t see all of what an author intended. I point out something I don’t like and make suggestions, but the author is always welcome to discuss it with me, and frequently once I see their perspective I change my mind. A great example of this was a hyphenated word in Donald J. Bingle’s story, “Second Banana Republic.” I marked the word because it was in a sentence with a lot of hyphenated words, which to me just looks a bit funny, and because the word doesn’t need to be hyphenated. Don explained that he hyphenated the word because it was very long and the hyphen would break it up on ereader text, which would prevent the paragraphs from looking crazy. I agreed that this was a great point, and we left it hyphenated.

Another great example is M.E. Garber’s story “Worthy.” The story originally came to me with a different title, one that was too much like the title of another story. So the author and I emailed back and forth and brainstormed titles until we came up with one we both liked. I could have said “You must change the title to ‘Fantasy Story X’ or I won’t publish it.” Then the author would have been faced with a choice--slap a truly terrible title on her work, or pull it from the anthology. Because we worked together, with mutual respect, we came up with a great title that made us both happy. Win-win!

If you’re a writer and your story is accepted by an editor, but they want you to do a lot of work on it, don’t despair! They love the concept of the story. They just want to publish the best possible story for the book! Work with them. And recognize that even if your editor comes across as bossy or overbearing, they probably don’t intend to be. Talk to them! Communication is key to any successful relationship.

That said, I’m a bit more writer-centric than some editors. Many editors reserve the right (in the contract) to make minor corrections to stories related to typos and grammar without notifying the writer. I do not make any changes to my writers’ stories without obtaining their approval. This means that I use the tracking feature in MS Word to record my changes, and ship the edited version back to the author. They approve or reject the changes, leave me notes, and we go back and forth until we have a clean copy we both like that I can insert into the anthology. Is this time-consuming? Yes. It can take several weeks. Is it laborious, especially for the people whose stories need a fair bit of work? It sure can be. Is it completely worth it? Also yes.

It’s worth it because I never have to worry about publishing someone’s story with words they didn’t write or approve. This has happened to me on the other end, as a writer. It’s a pretty terrible feeling. There has to be a bond of trust and respect (however temporary and professional) between an editor and a writer in order to create the best possible work. If I were to change someone’s story and they were upset by it, they might never tell me they’re upset. They would simply never work with me again. And my work--my anthologies--might suffer as a result.

There are, of course, editors out there who would say “It’s just a story. I make whatever changes I deem appropriate, without the author’s approval, because I’m the editor. It’s my name that’s going on the cover.” That’s one way of doing business. But it’s also a great way to have some really stellar writers unwilling to work with you, because they can’t trust you with their words. If you’re comfortable rearranging sentences or deleting punctuation without their approval, what about bigger changes? Accidental changes? If we hadn’t checked and double-checked Sidekicks!, Neal Litherland’s story “Mask of the Red Planet” would have a repeated sentence because, in moving it from one paragraph to another, I accidentally copied and pasted instead of cut and pasted. Mistakes happen! No editor is immune to them, especially when she’s spent the last three days editing twenty stories and her eyes are starting to cross.

At the bare minimum, it’s industry standard for authors to review “proofs” of the book or magazine before it goes to the printer. This is the last-chance attempt to catch any errors before the book goes to press and those errors are inked eternally. If you’re an author selling a story, there should be a mention of proofs in the contract. If there isn’t, or you don’t get a contract, let the editor know about your misgivings. An unprofessional editor will become angry and aggressive when you mention your concerns, or may give you the brush-off. A reputable editor will want everything in writing for her protection and yours! And an excellent editor will care about the quality of the anthology, the integrity of the stories, and her relationship with her authors. It will show in her interactions with you and in the final product. 

I hope that after reading this you’ll give Sidekicks! a try--it’s on sale at right now for less than $10!. If you’d like to hear Sidekicks! authors read their work live, we have events coming up in Madison, Wisconsin at A Room of One’s Own (6:30 - 8:00 pm on Wednesday, April 24) and in Columbus, Ohio at the Whetstone Public Library (time TBA on Saturday, June 8). If you’d like to discuss the contents of this guest blog post, you can find me on my blog, twitter, or facebook! Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. This is my first time i visit here. I found so much entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the good work