Saturday, 18 May 2013

Credit where an edit's due

That's quite enough stick for anyone.

Are you sitting uncomfortably?

I was. And perhaps you will be too, by the end of this post.

It all began, recently, when I was involved in the revamp of a paperback anthology, swapping hats from Derek the writer to Eddie the editor. I was one of the original editorial team, so I knew the material well, but this time the brief was much simpler, though no less difficult: whittle down 100 anthology entries to a smaller collection of 50. Or, to put it another way: dent the dreams of 50% of those writers who'd expect a reprint to feature their work.

I'd add, in mitigation, that we decided to cut down the size of the reprint because the paperback anthology just hadn't sold in numbers big enough to justify a straightforward reprint. The smaller version would be cheaper to produce and have a lower unit price, making it an altogether more attractive proposition. Just so you know.

Anyway, I oped for three piles - Yes, No and Maybe. 

I'd like to be able to tell you that I was scientific, clinical and systematic in my approach. But with real life, and editing, it isn;t always like that.

Some pieces (re)made the cut for obvious reasons - originality, emotional authenticity, or simply beautifully written. Those that definitely missed the boat didn't tick enough boxes, which is not to say they were not without merit. And that awkward mid list of possibilities, awaiting their fate in literary purgatory, fell somewhere between those two poles.*

It was a scarily subjective process, where something can be rejected because:
- It doesn't quite fit the original brief, on further consideration.
- It reads like a shoe-in with a few details added (sparingly) in order to fit the anthology criteria.
- I just don't feel the story.
- There are familiar themes, where something else, covering similar ground, had already won our attention. 
- We need a balance in the anthology, so sacrifices had to be made.

And I can't help thinking that some editor or agent, at various times, has encountered my work and made the same sort of judgements. Along the lines of: not without its merits, but for not me at this time. Whereas, on another day, and up against a different set of competing submissions, things might have been very different.

Editors, I take my hat off to you. Now, about this new novel of mine - I think you're gonna love it...


* At the time of writing, all the pieces are going through a second round of filtering, so it's entirely possible that the final list will change. That's show-business.

2 comments:

KathM said...

There's so much involved other than just writing a good something or other isn't there? I never envy judges!

Derek said...

Hiya Kath. Yes, it feels a little like being the deliverer of bad news!