Monday, March 16, 2009

The Editorial Range

Some editors like to hack and slash; some offer a general tune-up to a story, others may only make a cursory run, correcting misspellings (maybe); still others don't touch a thing. I've worked with at least one example of each in my time as a writer (at least on short fiction--I hope to have the opportunity to work with one on a novel someday).

I could give these breeds of editor nicknames...The Overmind, The Mechanic, The Water-Skis, and The Open Doorway.

I've only worked with a few Overminds. Not bad experiences really, only I sometimes feel like my voice is lost to the editor's. Is that an editor's job, to rewrite my story? I don't know. I read recently that some of Raymond Carver's original manuscripts (uncovered in the last few years) were so choked by editorial comments and changes, it was almost a co-writing experience.

The Mechanics are almost always helpful, snipping unnecessary adverbs, slicing through issues of subject-verb agreement and verb tense, revving up passive language...

Water-Skis are commonplace. In today's busy world, they do the minimum to make a story work without embarrassing errors or omissions. When a story is tight, a Water-Ski has little work to do anyway. Most editors of small print/hobby press mags are doing the work as volunteers, anyway (whether they admit it or not), and have full-time employment elsewhere.

Open Doorways...well, they just let it drift in, just like the name implies.

Given the choice, I'll take a Mechanic over the rest--especially one that insists onmy approval of each change (easily done with "track changes"). A Water-Ski is appropriate at times, sure. The Overmind? Sometimes. Open Doorways...well, I hope to be finished with them (for the most part). Unless, of course, that Open Doorway leads to a spot in a pro market.

What do you expect from an editor? What do you want? What helps you to become the best writer you can be?

12 comments:

Jamie Eyberg said...

I like a little guidance in my writing so The Mechanic is by far my favorite type of editor. It is the overbearing, 'you need to change this, and this characters name is all wrong, and could you have used a 2nd person narrative in this situation and i might look at it again' type editor I can do without.

Hope you had a good birthday. Now I need to read your story (now that I have it downloaded). I have heard good things of it. :)

Jeremy D Brooks said...

I agree with Jamie...a little constructive guidance is good, but any more than that makes me want to pull my story.

I'd add another category that I ran into last year: Mom. Too much gore, the sex is gratuitous, I'll be the judge whether or not "poop" is a swear word, thankyouverymuch. Grr.

Aaron Polson said...

Mom...yes.

Dear Mom,

I will not submit to your magazine again, thank you.

Catherine J Gardner said...

I think most writers are fond of the 'mechanic'.

Natalie L. Sin said...

Probably somewhere between mechanic and water skier, depending on the story.
In general, I want them to help with technical mistakes, making stories tighter, etc., and leave my voice intact. I've been lucky, in that very few editors wanted to drastically change my stories. They also let me know I could say no, and didn't mind when I politely withdrew the tale.

K.C. Shaw said...

The Mechanic is my favorite too. I've only had to deal with an Overmind once, and that was for an essay that frankly wasn't very good to start with--but the editor's more-or-less rewrite changed my voice entirely. If it had been a story, I'd have cared. :)

Most editors I've dealt with are Water Skiers.

Jeremy Kelly said...

Mechanic for me. I don't do well with Overminds unfortunatley. I'd rather just tell me that its not for them. I take rejection well. Gives me an excuse to open a beer.

Robert said...

I think the word "editor" is thrown around much too often these days without a clear sense of what that means. Someone wants to start a magazine, instantly they're an editor. They don't even have to have any experience. If anything, they should be called compilers.

On a personal note, I don't really mind what kind of editor it is (as long as they're not making major changes, so I guess I am against Overminds), just as long as they check with me first. If they want to change this and that, okay, fine, but please give me a heads up. The last thing I want to do is view the story after it's been published and think, WTF???

Danielle Ferries said...

The mechanic, hands down. I agree that the overmind will possibly change your voice completely and then to me, it ceases to be your story. A dream editor (the mechanic) can offer advice and what is or isn't working without actually re-writing/hacking/slashing your story.

BT said...

As long as I have final approval, I'm happy with any of the editors. I've worked with a couple of Overlords, err, Overminds, and found the comments have helped me, particularly early on in my learning. They also helped toughen the skin.

Mechanics are great and finding someone between the two would be ideal I think.

A 'Mom' is an Overmind with PMS - but to be fair, we probably sent it to the wrong market in the first place...

Bobbie Metevier said...

I very recently had an editor not italicize my underlined words when I used proper manuscript format even though he did it correctly in a few other stories????

Aaron Polson said...

Oh, Bobbie - yikes!