Sunday, August 28, 2011

Wearing Many Hats

As writers, we wear a variety of hats (that is to say, perform a variety of jobs in the course of creating and selling a story). I usually simplify these down to three: artist, editor, and marketer. Some might also find "artist" better divided into writer + musician + painter + costume designer, or prose-writer + poet.

As we form communities with other writers, we learn how to perform critical/editorial jobs for one another. If this works well, the experience helps sharpen our skills with regard to our own work. Much of the time, someone else's "fresh eyes" offer insights we have not found on our own, yet this arena is still very much an exchange of time and energy and skill among peers. We're learning together, and helping one another improve.

For some of us, the door eventually opens to one of these other functions becoming a separate source of income. That is, we become professional editors and sometimes publishers. This happened to me (well, I'm not a publisher in the strictest sense, but more about that later). My first professional sales were short stories to anthologies edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley ("Imperatrix" to Sword & Sorceress, "Fireweb" to Sword & Sorceress II, and "Midwife" to Free Amazons of Darkover.) Over the years, I wondered what it would be like to sit at Marion's desk, to have the responsibility of choosing stories, the awful task of rejecting them, the mission of bringing those stories together in a balanced, coherent whole. Like many other writers as we progress through our careers, I helped to read slush (unsolicited manuscripts), and came to an even greater appreciation of that sorting-through-the-haystack for the golden needle, and also the care Marion took in her rejection letters. (There were, of course, exceptions, but by and large she did an awesome job in explaining why each story didn't work for her.) She sometimes talked about stories that had some aspect she loved but which were not of publishable quality, and I could hear how much she wanted those writers to improve and bring those stories to success.

It came to pass, as such things on occasion do, that I was asked to edit an anthology for a small press. (This whole story definitely merits a blog post or three of its own, so be patient with my current brevity.) I did a bunch of things right, I made even more mistakes, I got to work with some amazingly talented writers (of whom I am still in awe), and I got to stick "editor" on my business card. I'm now working, along with Irene Radford, on editing an anthology for Book View Cafe (and you will hear more about that as it comes together). I expect I will do more. I learned that editing on a professional level is like and is utterly unlike critiquing. Working with writers who are more skillful than I am is a wonderful and humbling experience. I have yet to edit a novel (although I've critiqued many) and I expect that will be yet another different experience.

Now to the publishing part, which is what sparked this topic. I'm the Person-In-Charge of the newsletter for the Quaker meeting I attend and in which my husband is a member. Most of what I do is formatting and layout. I do a little light copy editing and proofreading, but mostly I get out of the way and let people's words speak for themselves. I'm more a facilitator than an editor. When I'm done, I print it out, get copies made for those people who receive paper copies, and send out a PDF file to those who subscribe electronically. I'm all the in-between steps between someone sending in an event for the calendar or minutes from a meeting and the final product reaching the hands/screens of the community. Unlike editing, this process requires me to keep myself out of it. I'm a facilitator, a midwife, not a partner. Editing is partnering. This isn't, but it too requires vision. Like editing, however, it gives me the chance to bring someone else's work to fruition. I always come away from each issue with a renewed appreciation for collaborative work, and for all the times I as writer have had the privilege of working with talented editors and publishers.

The painting is Hutladen by August Macke, 1887-1914, and is in the public domain.

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