Editors can be full of it

Even though several folks have asked me to write more on writing, I remain convinced that I don’t really have that much new to say that writers haven’t already heard before. Oh, I think I’m a decent encourager, which is necessary for editorial type work…but that’s more of a one-on-one basis. I never planned to be an editor, it just happened.

How?

Well, I’m glad you asked. When I started selling stories back in the late 80s, I began attending local shows as a “comic writer guest.” Yeah, people wanted to talk to me about my books and get my autograph. Yeah, it was pretty cool. But I soon realized that there were many other talented folks spread around the boonies of the South and—like me—didn’t have access to the offices of Marvel and DC in New York.

SO, seeing the opportunity, I started trying to “hook” some of the talent up. Next thing I know, Silverline was packaging for the same publishers I’d been writing for. “Packaging,” is essentially just freelance editing. I’d cut a deal with the publisher, then deliver them a finished, ready-to-print book. It was a win-win situation for both of us. A few years later, Malibu Comics was preparing to cut down on freelance writers, but needing an editor. Since I’d already had a track record with them, it was a natural fit. The rest, of course, is history.

But I continued to attend conferences, conventions, shows as editor for Malibu. It was different then; writers and artists wanted to know what they needed to do so that I would hire them. Problem was, I had very limited opportunities; fewer opportunities than talented folks.

Fast forward to last year. You’ll recall I talked about attending the ACFW Conference in September. Like many of the other writers there hoping to find that special ingredient that makes editors take note, I sat in on a big panel of editors who were taking questions from the attendees.

One question has continued to haunt me and I have come to realize that we were given an avoidance answer. When asked what kind of material they’re looking for (which, I’ll readily admit is difficult to answer), several of them mentioned reading the “classics.”

Ha.

I’ve just come off a year reading many of the classics for the Campfire line of graphic novels. I daresay if the books weren’t “classics,” most of the editors wouldn’t touch them as many of them do the things today’s editors tell us not to do!

A couple of examples: many of them are incredibly passive and have a heavy use of “was.” Many of them also take time to build up to the story whereas today’s editors want the action to start immediately.

Now I’m not suggesting this is wrong…but what I am suggesting is that editors shouldn’t be pointing writers to works that do not reflect their own editorial likes, even if they are classics. After all, none of them would publish Shakespeare today but we still consider Shakespeare’s work classic.

I think the thing that I’ve really noticed is that many of the books that actually get published break many of the “rules” writers are constantly hammered with over and over. Bottom line, I guess, is…the right writer has to find the right editor…not an easy thing to do.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Editors can be full of it

  1. chrish106

    Thanks for confirming what I have told many in our writers’ group – there are no ‘rules’.
    Every time we have been told NEVER, that same year, three books will hit the market that completely break the rule. (For example, editors have said ‘ you can’t have your main character die” – and how many books have been published in the past few years that are first person narration, of a dead person?). Bottom line, you just have to find someone who likews your work. Period. Thanks for defining this so eloquently.

  2. ant'ny

    When I was a writing instructor, I always told my students that, when it came to grades, they had to prove to me that they knew the rules before they could break the rules. A deliberate breaking of the rules was an indication of artistic choice; an unintentional breaking was lazy writing.

    Editors have to be in a similar situation and, not knowing if a rule-breaker is a ‘good’ writer defying convention or someone who doesn’t know how to write ‘correctly,’ would most likely [I’m guessing, here] err on the conservative side and not take a chance with the company’s money.

    Of course, these things get thrown out the window, I’m sure, when the tale is just so good, no one notices the rule breaking.

    Typically, I cannot stand tales written in the second person. I just absolutely detest them. But I have read second-person works that have absolutely astounded me. I think more times that not, an editorial appeal for convention hides other feedback that is being masked for whatever reason.

    Fame lets you break rules, and not necessarily for the right reasons, it seems. And chris h, I’d bet, is right–knowing the right people certainly doesn’t hurt. But there are far more talented writers than there are contracts, so rarely does (non-self-) publication come down solely to ‘connections’. At the end of the day, publishing is a business and companies will publish what they think will sell.

    “Read the classics” is good advice, I’d say. Sure, stylistic preferences change over time, but character development, plot structure and even pacing aren’t skills that develop overnight. I grew up reading horror and comics from a very young age. When I started reading “the classics,” I started understanding why certain elements in horror and comics worked and why others didn’t. Could I have read contemporary [rather than “classic”] examples and learned the same lessons? I’m sure I could have, but why start with WEST SIDE STORY when ROMEO AND JULIET is available [please note that I said “start with”–WSS is worthy reading/viewing in its own right]?

    Keep ’em coming, Roland! As one who’s “walked the talk,” you bring real-world insight, free of misperceptions and sour grapes.

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