What sort of editor am I?
(Insert string of adjectives here.)
“Amateur” springs to mind. But also “conscientious.” I really do want to do my best for both the magazine and my contributors.
I’ve received all sorts of advice. “Cut nothing. Change nothing. Just accept or reject.”
That would be the easy way out. I’d hate to see a great idea for a story go to waste because of flaws which lesson the impact of the underlying concept.
Some writers explore their ideas in the process of writing, winding up with passages which are essentially “improved” versions of paragraphs found earlier in the text. Some judicious editing required, methinks. A bit of cutting.
Then there was the writer who sent me what I found to be a very nifty story, only for him to panic when he realized he’d forgotten to send me the last third of the story. On reading it, I decided it didn’t add anything and so chose not to use it. The original two thirds is a good story as a piece. Editorial decision.
Some stories I accept as is. Others, I feel, need to be sharpened, made clearer. This because I belong to the “clear pane of glass” school. I envision the reader looking through flawless window glass (the nuts and bolts of the telling of the story, grammar, choice of words, description, voice, etc.) to the vista beyond (the “reality” of setting, characters, and events). The last thing I want is the reader focusing on flecks of dirt spattered on the glass and being distracted from the beautiful or amazing “outside” imaginary setting the author has struggled to create.
So when I think a story needs a little polishing, I almost literally think in terms of grabbing a clean rag and wiping the window pane till it’s dust free and the view is superb.
On the other hand, I should never make the mistake of thinking “This is how I would have written the story.” That would make it a different story. It would be a terrible disservice to the author.
Instead I concentrate on trying to figure out what the author is actually trying to express and is there anything which can be done to improve the clarity of the author’s purpose and intent? Anything which makes the story easier to read?
Removing roadblocks which knock the reader out of the story is an important editorial function in my opinion. Maybe the most necessary thing an editor can do.
Something else that’s important is the editor responding ASAP. I generally receive a story by email and open it immediately to give it a first reading. Then I respond with my first impressions. The fastest turnaround time was under an hour. On average I respond within 24 hours.
Of course, this will change when the “slush pile” becomes larger as the flow of submissions increases. Even so, I don’t want my (potential) contributors to wait more than a few days, a week at most. Such is my intent.
So far I’ve rejected very few stories. I always explain why it’s rejected. One author who submitted a short-short was rejected but got back a letter of explanation about four times longer than the story itself. I was worried she might be upset, but it turned out she was pleased because this was the first time she had got a written response to anything she had submitted anywhere, and she found my comments and advice useful (or, at least, some of it).
The whole point of the zine is to help beginning writers. I figure explaining why I rejected a given submission is part of that self-imposed mandate.
On the other hand, my editorial “skills” might lead numerous writers to refer to me as “That idiot on the West Coast.”
Who knows? They could be right. But I’m an idiot with a mission and will carry on. Running this magazine is the perfect retirement hobby for me. It is far too much fun to even think of giving it up.
By the way, if you have any comments on this editorial or anything else to do with this web site and its contents, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org