editing, Writers Co-op Anthology

Thoughts on Editing and Rabbit Hole V?

By Tom ‘DocTom’ Wolosz

How often we recall, with regret, that Napoleon once shot at a…editor and missed him and killed a publisher. But we remember, with charity, that his intentions were good.

-Mark Twain. Letter to Henry Alden, 11 November 1906.

First you have the writer who can write but can’t spell. Then you have the editor who can spell but can’t write.

-anonymous

Well folks, Curtis Bausse is currently putting the finishing touches on Rabbit Hole IV, and we hope to have it published in October.  Since this was the first time I’ve ever edited an anthology, I thought I might offer some thoughts on the experience. Especially since this will all lead to the question: “Will there be a Rabbit Hole V?”

           Let me start by thanking Curtis and Atthys Gage for all their help and hard work on RH IV.  They read through close to a hundred submissions, helping with the accept/reject decisions, and also were kind enough to edit some of the accepted stories.  I definitely learned one thing from them — it is very important to have feedback from multiple sources in making these decisions.

            Why? Well, each reader sees stories in their own unique way.  I can say that among the stories included in RH IV those we all agreed on initially constitute a distinct minority.  But there’s nothing wrong with that! With the publication of an anthology, we seek to engage a diverse readership, and you can’t do that when only one editor makes all the decisions.  I’d say that each of us saw stories we liked go to the reject bin, just as each of us got some of our choices approved (I should also point out that there were no intense disputes — we discussed, agreed, and moved on). The result is like a candy sampler, lots of delicious variety. It’d be a pretty poor sampler if all the candies were the same, eh?

            Another reason for multiple input is we are all apt to look at different aspects of writing. I, for instance, tend to read the story for plot, for ideas.  The result is that I end up ignoring a lot of the mechanicals of writing on a first run through.  In at least a couple of cases I was all in favor of a story based on concept, only to be alerted to the fact that the writing was particularly sloppy, or the overall structure was poor.  After re-reading I came to agree that the amount of line editing required would be enormous, so into the reject bin it went.  On the other hand, there are stories that are quite nicely written, but go nowhere, or are simply stories you’ve read a thousand times before with nothing special about them.  Again, these get weeded out when a few people are contributing to the decisions.

            So having three editors working on the decisions makes a big difference.

            Some other thoughts on editing:

            I am mainly a line editor. If a story has major structural flaws, has pages of extraneous material, etc. I just vote to reject it.  My guiding principle is that it is the author’s story, not mine.  I try, in small ways, to help make it better, to make it as presentable and polished a work as possible, but I don’t try to rewrite it.  I have some small experience with editing extremes, both from reading through stories by friends that appeared in independently published anthologies like ours but where no actual editing appears to have occurred (typos, etc., by the dozen), to dealing with an editor so impressed with their own credentials that their orders to rewrite character, plot, etc. where like bolts tossed from on high by Zeus himself.  Let’s just say I find it best to be in the middle.  Offer helpful advice, but if it’s rejected just remember that my name isn’t under the title of the story. Also, never demand, and never, ever argue with the writer (it’s their story!).

            Let me end this by just stating that the above is my personal philosophy. There were no bad experiences editing RH IV. Working with my co-editors and all the writers involved was a real pleasure.

            Last thought (I can hear your sighs of relief!). If there is an RH V, a theme is okay, but it shouldn’t be too restrictive.  While it might sound cool, a very, very, specific theme is literally asking writers to come up with a story specifically for this anthology — which basically pays nothing.  I think the result is fewer submissions than might otherwise be received, with many of them ignoring the theme totally.  Remember, a broader net catches more fish.

            Okay, so think about it. Should there be a Rabbit Hole V?  If so, I’ll be happy to take on the editing chores again, but I will definitely need two volunteers to read submissions and help make decisions.  Also, they should each expect to be asked to edit three or four of the accepted stories (the anthology generally contains about thirty stories, so I’d be doing twenty-two to twenty-four of them). 

            Thoughts? Comments? Volunteers?

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