Please help us welcome Patricia Bray to the blog today! Patricia began her career writing historical novels set in Regency-era England before making the leap to epic fantasy with the sale of her “Sword of Change” trilogy. In 2003 her novel DEVLIN’S LUCK received the Compton Crook award, presented annually by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society for the best first novel in the field of Science Fiction or Fantasy. She was a guest lecturer at the 2009 Odyssey Fantasy Writers Workshop, and recently tried her hand at editing with the soon-to-be released anthology AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR. Give it up for Patricia Bray!
I’ve been lucky enough to work with great editors and I’ve learned a lot from them. But when it came time for me to step into their shoes, I developed a new appreciation for just how tough their jobs are, and what a writer can do to increase her chances that the editor will want to work with her again.
Last year Joshua Palmatier and I sold our first anthology project. Neither of us had any prior experience as editors, but buoyed by abundant optimism and our own experiences as published authors, we figured “How hard can it be?” We’d invite only pros to submit to the project, on the assumption that anyone who was already published would have mastered the basics. But it soon became clear that what was obvious to us wasn’t always obvious to someone else, and in that spirit I’m offering up lessons learned from both our experiences and from discussions with other editors.
It’s okay to send drafts to your first readers, but the story that you submit to your editor should represent your very best work. No story is ever perfect, but when an editor reads a story that’s full of typos, or mistakes such as the hero’s name randomly changing from Mark to Mike and back again, this gives the impression that you don’t care about your work. The story may be fabulous in every other regard, but the poor impression will linger, as will the memory of how much time was spent cleaning up the mistakes.
Yes, there’s a certain amount of padding built into the schedule. If the stories are due on April 1st, that doesn’t mean that the editor will be able to read and respond to all of them the very next day. But as an author you don’t know how tight that schedule is, or what other commitments the editor has on their plate. Don’t assume that you can be late without consequences. On time is good, early is a lovely bonus.
If you suspect there may be a problem meeting the deadline, communication is key. The sooner you let your editor know that there is a problem, the more flexibility she has to deal with it. Consider the case of Authors A and B. Author A let us know three months before the due date that her circumstances had changed and she wasn’t certain if she could deliver her story on time. We had plenty of time to decide on how to handle, and to line up a pinch hitter. Author B didn’t contact us–we contacted her the day after the stories were due and then received a response saying that she hadn’t written anything and was dropping out of the project. All other things being equal, guess which author we would gladly work with again?
Pick Your Battles
Some things are non-negotiable, for example we can’t have two stories with the same title in a collection. In other cases there may be flexibility–when two stories used the same literary device, we explained the problem to the author of the second story and then left it up to her on how she wanted to address.
When you receive revision requests ask yourself a few key questions. Is this a change that makes the story stronger? If this change doesn’t materially impact the story, is it a change that you can live with? If it’s not a change you can live with, what alternate solutions can you suggest that will address the underlying issue? Recognize that sometimes the changes aren’t about your story, but instead are related to something else the publisher has published or is in the process if publishing. Try to understand what is prompting the request, so that you can satisfy the editor’s needs while still being true to your work.
Remember the editor’s goal is to publish the best story possible, and she expects you to work with her to make this happen. An author who fights her editor at every turn will quickly find that she’s worn out her welcome.
In the end, writing a great story is just the first step. Behaving as a professional–and treating your editor as a fellow professional–will give you a competitive edge in this tight marketplace.
Patricia Bray wishes to note that the examples above are generalizations, and that all of the authors who appear in the AFTER HOURS anthology were fantastic to work with. AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR, edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray, will be released by DAW Books in March 2011. Patricia and Joshua had so much fun with the first project that they signed up to do this again, and are currently editing a new anthology.