Norwescon Editing Panel(s) Notes

I was on two different editing panels at Norwescon this weekend.

I’ve taken the liberty of combining my notes from both panels, but my notes from the first panel are much better and actually contain a page of quotes from participants, while on the second panel, which was my 4th of the day, I was much less energetic and just wrote down the questions and two notes, and am reconstructing some things from my memory, so I cannot vouch for total accuracy. In each panel, we did something that I picked up from Mary Robinette Kowal, taking questions from the audience before starting the panel, and using those to drive the conversation. It’s a great technique for wide-ranging, discussion-driven panels.

Want to Be An Editor?
Where can or do you begin? It’s hard to get an editing position when you don’t have work under your belt. Listen to editors share the details of how they got started and learn some of the pitfalls to avoid.
Chimedum Ohaegbu, Gordon Van Gelder, Cat Rambo, Jasmine Silvera

Need An Editor?
Need an editor? What can you expect? How do you find one that fits within your budget, has a good reputation, and is knowlegeable of your genre?
Cat Rambo, Cory Skerry, Rhiannon Held, Jasmine Silvera

How do you deal with the challenge of editing large numbers of submissions?

GVG: You have to start by determining what the final project will be like – then you use the question of what’s best for it to winnow down submissions. Knowing the size and scope of the project helps enormously.

CO: A cohesive vision is important. In working with an undergrad lit magazine, she sometimes redirects manuscripts, “This isn’t right for us, but you might try Place X.”

RS: Works with very long pieces, so she finds that “It’s easy to tell if a story is worth the word count.”

GVG: One consideration is that you need big name authors to sell an anthology, but it’s a balancing act. He told a story of turning down a story from Ray Bradbury and getting a much better one a week later.

CR: The dirty secret of editing is that most editors read the first page or so and use that to determine whether or not they want to keep reading.

What are the different forms of editing?

  • An acquisitions editor for a publishing house reads and selects manuscripts that they want to work with.
  • A development edit applies to an early draft, covers big picture stuff. For example, Cat’s usual developmental edits are the manuscript with comments and changes track on, a 3-5k document that is an overview plus chapter by chapter notes, and a follow up in a video call to talk about the notes.
  • Copy or line edit looks at line by line stuff, like typos, grammatical errors. It may include fact-checking, or that may be a separate pass.

How much does a day job in something like editing technical documentation translate into fiction editing?

It will help more with copyediting than with developmental editing. To develop your eye for the second, you really need to read in the field, which will help you develop an eye for tropes and story structure.

How does being an editor affect your writing?

A small groan escaped most of the panelists at this particular question, and the writers felt that editing can have both good and bad effects on your writing. It can sharpen your skills and make you articulate what you find wrong about a story or sentence — but it also takes energy and creativity from the same wellsprings that produce writerly words.

How does one move from being a hobbyist editor to a professional one?

Make it known that you’re accepting clients: mail friends & family as well as people you’ve edited for, promote on your website and in social media. Let friends who are editors know that you’re doing it; sometimes they may pass off clients they don’t have the schedule for.

Are there standardized editing formats and marks that an editor should know?

Most editors give the writer a Word document with track changes showing what they changed as well as comments and suggestions. The writer then goes through the manuscript accepting (or rejecting) the changes that have been made. There are industry proofreading marks, but they are applicable to hard-copy documents rather than electronic ones.

How do you get started editing?

RS: Fell into it because Ann Leckie asked her to edit Giganotasaurus and said, “Just read some stories and pick some things.”

GVG: Came up through the traditional publishing process, starting as an intern, and working in publishing. Important to emphasize that everybody’s journey is different.

CR: Was asked because of a combo of having submitted to the magazine multiple times plus the recommendation of someone she’d collaborated with.

Most magazines need slush readers and try to recruit them periodically. Follow them on social media to find out when they’re looking for them.

How is critiquing a manuscript for a critique group different than editing?

Usually stories being critiqued in a critique group are not as far along as a finished story that’s been submitted. A critique group usually provides developmental feedback rather than line edits or proofreading.

How far along in the writing process should you hire an editor?

Early on, as in first or second draft, is when you would want developmental editing. Later on, when you think the draft is as perfect as you can make it, is the time for copyediting.

How do you evaluate an editor?

CS: Most editors will do a sample edit of a few pages for you for free if you request it. Also look on the Absolute Write forums, which are full of discussion.

CR: Talk to a few of their former clients. Check Writer Beware to make sure their name doesn’t pop up and talk to a few of their other clients.

How do you build trust on either side of the editorial process?

GVG: You remember that the editor and author are working together to make the story the best it can be.

Communicate expectations and timeline; avoid surprising each other.

RH: It’s okay to push back on an editorial change, but you have to say why.

How do you listen to editorial feedback without it scarring your soul?

Reading through an edit can be daunting at first, particularly when it’s got a LOT of notes in it. But the editor’s there to be your ally and make the writing better.

You should come away from an edit — if possible — feeling like you learned something from it. A good edit can be both instructional and inspirational.

At what points does an indie writer need an editor?

Mileage varies. Some people may want a developmental edit; others may rely on beta readers or their crit group.

If you’re an indie writer, you really do need to hire a copyeditor for the finished version, because even if you are the best proofreader in the world, you will miss things about your own stuff

What’s a reasonable length of time for an edit to take?

This really depends on the edit as well as your editor’s schedule. CS knows an editor who deducts a percentage if she’s late, but at the same time charges the writer a percentage if they’re late getting it to her.

Communicate expectations and timeline clearly.

What’s a reasonable amount for an editor to charge?

It depends on both the type of edit and the manuscript itself. A light edit is less work and usually an editor will charge less for that than a manuscript where they have to wrestle with every sentence.

Here are the Editorial Freelance Association list of standard fees. If someone’s charging an hourly rate, find out how many pages on average an hour represents.

If you’re on a tight deadline, speeding up the turnaround to meet it will probably cost you more.

How do you go about finding sensitivity readers?

Ask people for recommendations and watch social media. Be aware that a sensitivity reader is not there to provide the official seal of approval from whatever group(s) they represent. They’re there to help you write accurately and avoid hurting people.

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About Cat Rambo

I am a science fiction and fantasy writer and editor. My three collections of short stories are THE SURGEON'S TALE AND OTHER STORIES (with Jeff VanderMeer), EYES LIKE SKY AND COAL AND MOONLIGHT, and NEAR + FAR (forthcoming this September).
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