I recently asked some questions to Ivor Hartmann, the editor of AfroSF (which will be released in December 2013 on Amazon) about his editing process and his tips for writers.
What do you believe is the chief role of a good editor?
To give the writer an impartial perspective on their work, and back that up with solid editing experience.
You are a writer and an editor. Do you find these two things interchangeable (perhaps even necessary) or do you wear different hats for different projects?
You’d need to add reader to writer and editor, and these three roles are mutually dependant (at least for me) and so, not really interchangeable as much as they are a conglomerate with a change of emphasis as required.
You must have seen some interesting stories in your time. What are some of the common mistakes or problems in stories that have been submitted to you?
I certainly have Cristy I’m happy to say. One has to keep in mind each writer is an individual, with individual strengths and weaknesses, but there are few I’ve seen repeated, especially by new writers:
– Short stories written like bad novels: overly long, labouring, and lacking any conciseness.
– Overuse of dialogue tags apart from ‘said, says, etc.’— which are non-words readers barely notice, but serve their function—to convey emotions or expressions that are already implied in the dialogue and context of the story at that point.
– Lack of deep characters, development, and interesting character arcs.
– Clichéd stories, characters, plots, tired themes that have been done so much they are very hard to bring a new perspective to in a significant way.
– Arrogance rather than thoughtful assertion when working with the editor (which reminds me, a while back, I wrote a satirical piece called ‘How to Successfully Irritate an Editor’ that might make for good reading in this context). The simple truth is every career/serious writer needs an editor for every work they publish, there is no exception to this rule. Accept that, do the work, and they are going to be in your corner, rooting for you, and your story, and you’ll be on your way.
Many writers assume that if their story is interesting enough, it doesn’t need to be well edited before its submitted – that will be the job for the editor. To what degree is editing the responsibility of the writer before submission? What are you expectations for a story when it is submitted to you?
Really? I’ve never come across that, heh heh. No, seriously, it depends on whom you are submitting a work to. Most publications/publishers demand a high level of perfect prose, and no matter how good the story is, without that, it will be declined automatically. Just the way it goes, that’s their standard—and that’s just the beginning of their vetting process—so, you either meet and exceed those standards, or move on until you can. So knowing who you are submitting work to, and what is expected, is essential.
Until you submit a work it is your responsibility as the writer to make it as perfect as you are able, and then more so. To write, and re-write, have it read by first readers, and re-write, and polish, and proof, as many times as you think it needs, and then some more, till it is the best possible work you can make it.
I have no expectations when I first read a work. I read it as a reader would and experience the story. If at the end I feel I have experienced something that for various reasons has enriched my life, and has maintained the guidelines to a sufficient degree, it will be selected for first round edits.
Do you have any tips for writers who are editing their own work?
If you mean writers who are editing their own work and then self-publishing it, I say stop what you’re doing and at the very least find an editor and proof-reader for your work, in the context of literary works not personal blogs, etc. If you mean the self-editing that naturally takes place as part of the writing process, then, be your own worst critic, accept nothing less than your very best writing, go for the gold by digging through the crap.
Take us through your editing process: from finding a story with potential to the finished ready-to-publish work.
I covered finding one earlier, after that it goes into first round edits. These, as has been my experience, are usually the longest and hardest edits for both editor and writer, as, where required, I pull no punches and try to leave no stone unturned. What the writer returns in their first edit will decide if it goes into the second, or is declined. So it continues… with as many edits required to polish the story into a quality, publishable state, or until time runs out with a hard (takes no prisoners) publishing deadline—as opposed to a soft editing deadline that I usually set at two weeks for each edit return.
How important is collaboration during the editing process (for both writer and editor)? Do you share your thoughts with other editors? And should writers be getting feedback during their own early revisions?
Collaboration between the writer and editor is extremely important, essential in fact, though not necessarily through lengthy email comms and such but through the edit itself.
Sure, when I’m co-editing (and only then) it becomes a three-way collaboration, three people whose main aims and concerns are united in making it the best story they can, together—without of course overriding the writer’s voice, style, and intentions. Early on when I started editing, I quickly realised there was a firm line between helping a writer better their story and helping too much so that you end up writing it for them. The latter being a big no no, there’s just not enough time for it, you’re doing the writer a disservice in their craft learning, and that’s what ghost writers are for if that’s what they want.
When I’ve written a story, let it sit, gone back to it and done my best, I then send it to my first readers. Never underestimate the importance of a great first reader, and the great impact they can have to better your stories—first readers being friendly but impartial judges of your work, preferably with long-term avid reading habits, keen minds, and no fear. Setting up this kind of feedback process serves to make your works stronger and you a better writer.
Do you have any good books on craft – specifically editing – to recommend for writers?
The only book I’ve read on the writing craft was King’s On Writing, everything else I’ve learnt comes from a near lifetime of reading and much hard work in writing, co-editing, and editing.
Being an editor, do you find it difficult to read for pleasure? What are you reading right now?
Not at all, I have been an avid daily reader since I was six and that hasn’t changed since I started editing. I mean sure, I pick up on errors more now and such, but overall it has only deepened my reading experience and enjoyment. I’m currently reading Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.