“Editorial Severity”

At one of our weekly meetings, Dr. Tupper mentioned to me an email that he had fielded that questioned our “editorial severity” as compared to the large publishers. This naturally made me raise an eyebrow in concern and some measure of offense given the degree of effort we put into our work.

He went on to explain that the person had somehow been under the impression that a small press is incapable or uninterested in the attention to detail that the editors of Penguin or Tor books employ. While, yes, we’re certainly new at this (I will be the first to admit that we’re human and do make mistakes), we are certainly capable of editing as intensive and comprehensive as any larger company.

I guess in response, the best way to handle this is to explain what I go through as I edit and exactly what my process is. This blog might not offer a whole lot of tips to the reader, but hopefully it’ll give you some insight into the editorial process and exactly where I go from there.

The first thing that happens when I get a manuscript, before any editing occurs, is I read it. All of it. Every word. And I take notes, be they mental or physical, and consider things that need to be fixed, over-arcing issues with the writing or the manuscript. Once the manuscript has been thoroughly reviewed (this isn’t including the acceptance process or contracts, purely the editing) and I know what needs to be worked on, I talk to the author.

The first thing is that I cover the large things that need to be looked at – if a segment of the book needs to be rewritten, I cover that and show them what needs to be fixed and explain some methods they can use to fix it.

Once the rewrites (where and if necessary) are done, I go through the work chapter by chapter (one chapter at a time) correcting grammar, word choice and making sure there are no issues with description and pacing. This process is grueling because it requires keeping a balance between what I feel is the best word choice and what would damage the author’s “voice” (and that is sometimes very difficult).

While a short story collection has a one-month editorial lead time, a novel naturally can take far longer, depending on the density, author, and the length of the work.

My point of this is not to complain about my job (I love it!) but to share the fact that, yes, just as any other editing firm or publisher does, we go through the work top to bottom, considering everything carefully and trying to do our best to create the best manuscript possible. Why is this? Well… if we put something out that is poorly-edited and badly written we have a big problem.

While Tor might be able to get away with such a thing on occasion, as a small press we constantly have to put our best foot forward if we are going to compete for book sales. While, yes, it is the author’s name that everyone sees and thinks about when they’re purchasing the latest novel by their favorite writer, the publisher still needs to ensure that the product is up to standard.

With a large or established publisher, they have so many books under so many imprints that a few mistakes in editing likely won’t ruin them, however if a small company does it, it could be potential suicide. And, worse, we could be begun to be associated with the “Publish America” types that will put out such things as Atlanta Nights. That would be the end of anyone taking a small publisher seriously, particularly when we already are approached with skepticism by some that suggest that we might just be a collection of hacks (I assure you, the only hacking I do is with my katana against bamboo) or sharks trying to prey on writers.

I don’t blame people for their skepticism, if I were a writer seeking a publisher I would approach with the same concern and care that any of these authors do. However, I will say definitively that I would not publish Atlanta Nights. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have published Twilight, had it crossed my desk. But that’s another story entirely.


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