17 March 2011

On Editing Stories . . .

Recently, one of our blog readers noted that E-spec's submission guidelines begin with the following statement:

A note on our editorial policy: before publication we may edit the story for length or readability. However, we always remain true to the spirit of the story.

Why do we say that? First, we want to make it clear that, unlike many other online 'zines, we edit stories. Everyone one of them. Sometimes this means cleaning up a few typos, but many times it means a heavier edit (e.g. cutting unnecessary parts, clean up awkward sentences, resolving minor inconsistencies, etc). We do this because we want to make stories the best that they can be, and very few authors write a perfect story start to finish.

Do we review these changes with the authors before the stories go to print? Absolutely. The authors are usually pleased with the edits and recognize that they make the story stronger. If an author disagrees with an edit or two we're usually willing to change it back or make further modifications to address the issue. The important part for us is that the author is professional about the editorial process. But we do take the position that we have the final say on what we publish. If the author is really unhappy with how the edited story looks, he or she is free to withdraw it at that point, but that has never happened.

I will share one example of what I view as an unprofessional approach. In a recent slush submission, one author stated in the cover letter that he would "let" us publish his story "on the condition" that we published it "as is." I sent it back unread stating that we'd never publish a story on that condition. (Okay, maybe if you're George RR Martin). In my opinion, the world needs authors AND editors to create the best possible product and make the reading public happy.


Tara Lindsay Hall said...

Definitely the right move there. I would say that writer probably isn't ready to be published if he can't take a few edits. There is NO venue worth being published in that doesn't at least edit grammar and typos. And, let's face it, that story isn't as perfect as you think it is. Even published books could be better. And why not at least see what edits you all suggested before refusing them outright? Jeez.

If you had agreed to that, this writer probably would've been nothing but trouble. ;)

People are just crazy. Writers even more so.


Martin Willoughby said...

Having been through that process a couple of times I agree with you. Two heads are better than one, as the saying goes.

In my case there were some duplicate words that needed changing/removing and a bit of description that needed tightening up. The editor saw things that neither I, or my writers group noticed.

The story hadn't changed, but it was much better.

lesleylsmith said...

Actually, Editor Dave, that uncooperative author did us a favor by announcing he was so uncooperative--we didn't have to deal with him/her!

As for editing, it's amazing how a fresh pair of eyes can see new things...
The real trick is to look at your own work with fresh eyes and see new things. I wish I could do that reliably!

Ed Robertson said...

I like being edited. One time I sent a story to a place I'd already sold a couple pieces to and she said, with evident diplomacy, she liked it but thought it was too long and repeated itself in places. I cut it down from 6700 words to 5400 and sent it back.

This time, she accepted it. And when she sent her edits back, she'd slashed it down to 4600. I only asked to restore one paragraph.

It was a much better story.