Thursday, August 30, 2012

So... Why Pulp: Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Editor!

I don’t get no respect—no respect at all…

Yeah, that’s classic Rodney Dangerfield, but it pretty much sums up the editorial experience too, even down here in the indie New Pulp publishing world. Other than some well-known names that front mainstream publishing houses and popular anthologies penned by various authors, most editors labor away in obscurity. It’s kind of odd when you think about it too, because hardly anyone gets through their writing career without being edited and/or becoming at least a part time editor. There’s something really cachet about being known as an author, because suddenly you’re catapulted into that category of ‘creative genius’, and what we do with words is viewed as nothing short of magical. Writers have fans for that reason. The publisher is the God-Being of the Writing Universe who makes big things happen, and in indie publishing, the set-up person is an acknowledged wizard that puts it all together. Editing however, is a curmudgeon position, and those of us who accept such a role learn quickly that it comes without much in the way of recognition or kudos. Editors putter along behind the scenes, making that wonderful world of the author’s vision even more polished and laudable.

At least that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. To judge by some of the feedback I get, I’ve accomplished that much. As with many others who tackle editing in the New Pulp world right now, mine was a battlefield promotion of necessity. I was initially asked to help out when the office was swamped, and when I showed myself to be relatively capable, I got even more editing jobs. Now I’ve got this ‘assistant editor’ title, which sounds really important, and basically means that I get to work on all sorts of projects, often on short notice, with only a heartfelt thanks as compensation. There are a lot of hats to wear in a small publishing, and never enough royalties to go around. So what I do, I do because I want to be involved, and because the people I work with matter to me; from the author who’s brainchild I am reading over, to the publishers I respect, and to assist the people who have to pull it all together before it goes to press. Primarily though, I edit for the readers, who will be buying these stories and expecting to get a finished, polished piece for their hard earned dollars. So yeah, good editing matters and it’s something I take very seriously.

Because small publishers have a bare bones budget, editing often gets done by one person, or at best a select few. A lot of trust gets put into the editors to find the potential problems that will wind up being an embarrassment for someone down the road, and correct those without altering the story. There are times—for instance, when working with new authors—where I get to take a more hands-on approach and do some content adjusting or tweaking as well as coaching. If there’s one thing I love about working at the indie level, it’s being able to give the kind of one-on-one support and mentoring that I wish I’d had back when I first started. Even with well established writers, it helps to know there is someone in there reading your copy and making sure that it looks as good as humanly possible before it hits the printer. We don’t send printed galleys back to the author in independent publishing, because that costs money we don’t have. So between you, me, and the end stages, we need to look this manuscript you’ve submitted over very well. As I tell every writer I communicate with, I am an extra set of eyes that should be able to pick out the problems before it goes public. And yeah, I write too, so I get edited as well—by someone else of course.

Now what do I do as an editor? Well, it depends on the situation.

First of all, I do what I’m asked to do. If I’m told a manuscript gets strictly copy editing only, that’s all it gets, though I will read it through and give the publisher my thoughts about it. Copy editing, for those of you who don’t know, is looking for typos, misspellings, punctuation and grammar issues, redundancies (repeated words within a short space), formatting, and really awkward phrasing. So I watch for anything that is going to interrupt the flow of your words and leave a reader wondering what the heck you meant. We want your story to look great and read well too, which reflects on all of us involved. So I read your story slowly, line-by-line, and hopefully I won’t miss much, including excess white spaces, which really add up and cost us money at the printing end. I usually will keep an eye on content and if there is something odd going on—say a foreign word or technical term I don’t understand, a fact that doesn’t make sense, or you named a character differently in three places—I flag that for the author. But I don’t change anything unless I’m asked to do a hard edit, which now and then, I am.

In a hard edit, I get to do all the copy editing stuff as well as considering closely the content and continuity. I do most of the hard editing on new authors or folks the company I am working with hasn’t printed before, and always on manuscripts that have been noted as needing some extra TLC. This is editing that requires a lot of input from both author and editor, and there’s bound to be some back and forth correspondence. What I like to do is read it over first, getting all the copy issues out of the way, highlighting problem areas as I go along, and sometimes making notes too. That gives me a sense of how this author sounds and what the story is about. Once we have all the cosmetic stuff ironed out, then we can go to work on teasing a coherent story out of what might only be a jumble of plot lines and characters with too much exposition and fillers, and not enough emphasis on action and adventure—the converse to writing great pulp. Here in the New Pulp world, the genre novels are smaller and much more to-the-point than their mainstream contemporaries, and there is an expectation of breathless pacing. So there isn’t a lot of room for character introspection, long winded speeches, and numerous subplots or side ventures. The story has to move forward and be exciting, and if I see it isn’t doing that, it will get pointed out. The idea is to work with the author on getting the best possible tale told.

So what can you as an author do to help your editor? Well I’m glad you asked!

First of all, be patient and understanding. I am only a human being, not a machine, and nobody is currently paying me for editing. I also have a life outside of writing and editing, just like you do. So I will get to your baby as soon as I can, though at times other projects and unforeseen circumstances will interfere. Be realistic, because your manuscript is likely not the only thing the company has on the agenda, and we’re doing the best we can to get it done and into the printing queue. Unless it’s a very short story, you likely didn’t write it overnight, so don’t expect me to read and edit that fast either.

Secondly, please come to us with a professional attitude and a manuscript that is as polished as you can make it before you turn it in. Don’t trust the spellchecker on your word processor to fix everything because I can assure you it’s not going to catch more than 2/3 of the problems I see every day, and the program limitations will cause as many issues as it resolves. Reread your story at least one time from beginning to end, checking carefully for copy issues and redundancies, and changing the ones you find. Read it out loud to get an idea of how it sounds or turn it over to someone you trust to read it over for you. Fresh eyes find more problems. I usually set any manuscript I’ve written aside for a while or ask someone else to go over it—both if I have the time. A little extra care before you submit will insure that your work will always be welcomed. Every editor has authors whose writing they love to go over because it is generally well done. You want to be one of them.

Look, if you’re asked to rewrite something, that’s frustrating, but don’t take it out on your editor. We’re writers too, and yes, we have the requisite egos. We all want to think what we sent in was the best thing we’ve done so far. I have had my stuff sent back for revision too, and yeah, it smarts a bit. But the publisher makes the call, and editors have to look out for the house’s best interests. Being in print under someone else’s masthead is a privilege. Grumble all you want privately, but be part of the team and fix whatever you’re asked to alter without publicly snarking and sulking about it, because that’s bad advertising for you and your publisher. A workmanlike attitude is what separates the serious writers from the wannabes.

As far as formatting, if you don’t know what setup the publisher you’re targeting prefers and can’t find that in the submissions guidelines, please ask! Then follow through and set it up that way. Part of my job as editor is making sure that when your tale goes to print, the person at the end doesn’t have a migraine trying to get it up and running. The less fiddling I have to do with mundane stuff like that, the faster my job gets done and the less eyestrain I have too.

So don’t turn in a rough first draft and expect it to be perfect, because they never are. If you want to be published often, present yourself like a professional and polish your work up front. If you aren’t sure of something, ask someone. I don’t mind helping a newbie learn the ropes, but nothing sticks in my craw more than getting a messy manuscript from an old hand who should know better but represented it as a finished piece when it was obviously rushed to deadline. I don’t need another big mess that I’ve now got to untangle—meanwhile letting all my other projects sit by the wayside. Yeah, I’m a writer and I have deadlines too. I also have a life outside of my craft, as well as family and friends I’d like to see now and then. And I’m sure they’d like to see more of me than just my back at the computer. Do us all a favor, and send in the best copy you can. Then we’ll all be happier people.

So hug an editor today, we’ve got your back you know!

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