I Don't Need No Stinkin' Editor
...and other famous last words
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©2001 Adirondack WYSIWYG -- all rights reserved
You know how there are always those professions that people really don't like? For example, lawyer, dentist, insurance agent and car salesman always seem low on any scale of likeability. I suspect editor is also in the running here. After all, many of you out there in electronic never-never-land must have had someone edit your work. Now be honest -- how many of you liked it?
I suspect I could be pushing it to expect even one "yes". Heck, I don't even like the thought of someone, stranger or friend, messing with my work. I'll bet the majority, possibly the vast majority of you feel the same. It takes a significant amount of inner strength to let someone else tell you that you need to make corrections to your work and a special type of "Zen" to accept the comments as potentially beneficial. For most of us, the basic assumption seems to be "editors stink".
Hmm. It looks like I've just written myself into a corner. Maybe a good editor could help me here? Let's try this again, but this time, instead of jumping right to the "editors stink" stage, let me go through this a bit more slowly.
How many of you wonder why it takes so long to finish each issue? Two months seems an awfully long time when all that needs to happen is to put a file in HTML format and upload it. After all, there are tons of different programs out there that do each of these tasks just about automatically. Even allowing for a few minutes for a quick spelling check shouldn't take two months. Right?
The answer is like the line in the movie The Graduate where a friend of the parents of the title character tells Dustin Hoffman what is important in life, but in this case, instead of "plastics", the answer is "editing". Sure, we spend some time doing other things like the occasional site redesign, but mostly it's "editing".
I know, the obvious question, is how can it possibly take that long to edit a couple of stories? To answer that, I need to describe what actually happens when we edit a story.
Did you know that most stories published in TSAT are edited at least three times, often four, before they are even returned to the author the first time? It's true. Each edit is for a different reason and while the order in which they occur may change sometimes, the four edits are as follows.
Spelling and Grammar
This is the easy part. Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect are two examples of word processors with built in spelling and grammar checkers and at least initially, we usually use one of them to get rid of the basic errors like "tjat" instead of "that". For the record, I think TSAT has only had one document submitted since its creation that did not have at least one spelling and/or grammar error.
The purpose of the spelling and grammar check is to make it easier to read. Duh, right? Well, if you've ever been reading a good book, totally enmeshed in the fantastic situations being painted by an outstanding wordsmith, only to be torn from your suspension of disbelief by a glaringly obvious misteak, you're lucky. For me, it means I'm once again an outsider, peering cautiously into someone else's world -- and as an outsider I have time to wonder about why the hero did this or is this really the reasonable and logical thing to expect this character to do under the circumstances. On a couple of occasions, I've actually found myself putting down the book and not finishing it, because once I was no longer under the spell of the words, I realized that the situation was ludicrous. Clearly, good spelling and grammar will not make a bad story good, but it prevents a good story from appearing bad.
By the way, please don't assume the spelling and/or grammar checker is always right. They abso-bloomin-lootly are not. Sometimes an author will intentionally use a spelling or grammatical styling different from the norm. Sometimes, it's just trying to ask you to make sure you've used the highlighted word or phrase the way you want it or picked the right homonym (e.g., bare vs bear).
The second edit is for continuity. Does the main character's name change from paragraph to paragraph. Check out "No-Nac," one of my characters in Thaumaturjekyll. Andy and I had a heck of a time trying to insure continuity in that story, yet, despite all our efforts, I'm willing to bet there is at least once where it written as "Nac-No" instead. Much like its simpler cousin the name change, sometimes a story starts in a one location (e.g., a bar) and ends in another (e.g., a manger) without telling the reader how it happened or the dreaded switch from first person (i.e., "I did it.") to third person (i.e., "He did it.") and back. In addition, at this time, we are checking to make sure there are no loose ends hanging about. To offer a minor, but still potentially annoying example of continuity and how the lack of it can interfere with the reader's enjoyment, how many of you noticed that Continuity is not underlined, like each of the other topic headings? Minor, but it does take away from the professionalism of presentation.
The third, and usually final, edit comes when the story is read for content. We are finally asking if the story makes sense. One of the biggest problems for most authors is knowing what to include and what to not include in a story. Jack Chalker put together enough material for five books when he was creating the Soul Rider trilogy. Again, using my story, Thaumaturjekyll, as an example: Even after twelve chapters (you folks have only seen eleven) and more than 30,000 words, I've barely begun the story and have done remarkably little to flesh out the characters any where near as much as they should be fleshed out.
However, knowing what to put into a story is a small part of content. We once had to tell the author of a story that what he intended as a serious dramatic work, should be presented as high comedy. Sadly, you, our readers, have never seen that story as the author withdrew it after considering our comments. For the record, both Andy and I agonized over suggesting such a significant change, but felt it was more important to be honest with the author and so lost what could have been a truly fantastic story.
The Fourth Edit
After all of the above, a story is sent back to the author. By the way, sometimes, we make changes and other times, we recommend changes.
We will not accept bad grammar or sloppy writing, and in those cases, we often just make the changes. Sadly, we sometimes miss things despite our attempts at vigilance.
We will suggest ways to make the story better. Sometimes, it's a change in the ending; other times, it's to reconsider a character's motivation. These are only suggestions. Hopefully, you will agree with us (we like to be right once in a while too) and make changes as we've suggested, but I can assure you that we will not be upset if you don't accept them, which brings us to that fourth edit.
Once the author sends us a revised manuscript, it goes through the above process -- the entire process -- again. Like the old wine commercial with Orson Wells doing the voiceover, "We will publish no story before it's time."