Conjectural Emendations (Editing)


So anyway, this is that part of my blog which deals with editing. As such it covers the following areas of interest:

Advice to writers and editors;
Calls for submissions to stuff I edit;
Events where I may be involved as an editor;
Experiences that I am willing to share.

The reputation of a writer often rests upon the shoulder of his editors (not always, but very often). Editing is often treated as a dirty word, but it’s extend can vary so much that in some cases the editor should, perhaps, be credited as the creative force behind a story while in other cases their touch is so light as to be dismissed entirely. There are a few off-the-cuff examples that I can think of to illustrate my point.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was barely and inconsistently edited. His stories became successful in spite of this and the glorious catalogue of errors and contradictions that littered his Holmes canon spawned the great Sherlockian game, in which readers and scholars attempt to explain and reconcile the discrepancies in a fashion which has helped to keep his works popular even a century after their publication.

H P Lovecraft was, as well as being an author, an amateur editor best described as a collaborator and mentor, whose copious letters reveal the great extent of his interventions in the works of others, leading to posthumous stories appearing under his name where once they had been attributed elsewhere.

In the wake of these two writers, August Derleth became one of the great author/editor/publishers of the twentieth century, and protégés like Lin Carter and L Sprague de Camp found the courage to tackle posthumous collaborations with the likes of Robert E Howard (who failed to complete as much as he wrote).

William Shakespeare, meanwhile, has been amended and emended so many times that scholars struggle to separate the writer from those who worked on his plays in preparation for the stage to such a degree that even his authorial identity has been called into question on numerous occasions.

For Victorian authors, the constraints of the serial, in which their stories were written and published even before their completion, the role of the editor became increasingly apparent, and the lack of edits to such greats as Dickens, Doyle, Kipling and Wells were a source of much consternation over the years.

Such consternation continues today, and the differences in editorial style often shape the attitudes if authors. Some adore their editorial partnership while others detest the interference that an editor might throw their way, lamenting its affront to their creative integrity.

There are two camps, I suppose: that which promotes the authorial voice and authorial integrity, and that which focuses on making a story the very best that it can be. Often they are in opposition.

The light touch editor is very much about voice. About letting the writer redress their tale in their own words, taking suggested changes and considering them. Sometimes, however, that light touch goes too far. If the editor believes that the story should be something other than it is, then they should be giving feedback, entering into a dialogue, deciding if the story suits the purpose to which it is being put.

The heavy editor, who focuses on making the story the best that it can be, may examine not just the grammar, but usage and context and sometimes even concepts, and can be a great mentor, but also a great frustrater to the novice writer who may never have experienced such scrutiny except – perhaps – at school.

Of course there are many types of editor that sit between, and it is important that the editor and the writer are suited to each other. If you are a writer submitting your story you should perhaps consider this.

What is more important to you? Getting the story published or getting your voice published?

There is no shame in being rejected. There is also no shame in withdrawing a story if you feel the editor requires changes you cannot agree to. Compromise can be a dirty word.

And never, ever, send your bottom drawer story in without doing three things:

1. Read and understand the guidelines. If it does not fit, do not submit, don’t even was your time rewriting it.
2. Do not EVER admit you had the story lying around waiting for a home.
3. Do not submit until near to the deadline for submissions.

Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be a blog post so much as a place marker. An introduction to my future musings on the topic.

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