Yesterday’s post caused more of a stir than I’d have expected, and brought some comment:
Will Shetterly commented here.
Cat Rambo mentions it here. (I made some comments in the discussion, but they haven’t yet shown up)
James Nicoll mentions it here.
In both that first link and the final, Nick Mamatas shows up to offer some thoughts of his own.
Finally, John Fox, one of the editors in question (and again: a terrific writer, and my former classmate), discusses it here, with Howard Junker, editor of Zyzzyva showing up in the comments.
I’d like to note a few things, the first of which is that I respect and admire both Mamatas and Fox. I mentioned both Mamatas’ Stoker nominations (and win!) and Fox’s status as my classmate to demonstrate such. Their offenses, as such (reprinting query letters), are more dubious than egregious. Mamatas, in Nicoll’s LJ, notes the long history of “Tales from a Slushpile,” including from editors as renowned as Ellen Datlow.
While I’m surprised Wolff still has a job at Fence, I continue to expect great things from both Fox and Mamatas (I’m betting their respective theses are awesome, judging from what work of theirs I’ve seen).
My main point yesterday was one of courtesy and confidentiality. Perhaps my reaction comes from my own time as an editor, which occurred in a somewhat different industry than Fox and Mamatas function in; I edited a clinical psychiatric nursing journal, which was a trade publication, as opposed to a commercial publication. Commercial publishing, which includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and pretty much everything consumers buy, is actually a small percentage of the publishing industry, which includes textbooks, manuals, and the sorts of publications that are published by specialty presses for particular audiences. I worked for SLACK Incorporated, which is one of the largest publishers of medical literature in the world; unless you’re involved, somehow, in the medical industry, however, you’ve probably never seen the journal.
Perhaps that context is important; it’s obviously not an endeavour that lends itself to a side-blog, nor one in which publishing the letters of people with bipolar disorder would really amuse its audience in any way.
Fox makes the interesting note that writers who are good at their jobs won’t show up in such correspondence; the vast majority of slush is merely mediocre, and not horrific enough to “amuse.”
And perhaps again, I’m just not really the audience for this. I’ve said before I think the literary marketplace for short-form writing is basically broken, at this point, especially with blogs and Lulu. I’ve always wondered how many people who aren’t trying to break into print actually read these magazines; Mamatas has disparaged MFA programs as the barely published teaching the barely literate, and the short-form literary marketplace has always struck me as catered specifically to a readership that hopes to get published in it.
One final note: Mamatas has quickly picked up (and on) the fact that I am, in his words, a “lulu.com author.” I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that; while technically accurate, I’d much rather clarify that to just being a guy who made some stories available to anyone who’d like to read them. In Shetterly’s blog, Mamatas seems to indicate he feels that distribution is the clear reason writers need editors; without the latter, the former can’t get onto bookstore shelves, etc, and asks how many lulu.com I’ve seen in a bookstore. As I mentioned yesterday, I haven’t a clue, because that’s just not something I, as a reader, pay attention to–I pay attention to the writing and the stories, not who published them. No, you can’t find my collection in libraries (and I’m not sure you ever will), but you can download it free, and I think that’s kinda cool.
Also, I’d like to point out that my debut is a collection of short writing–poetry, essays, and fiction (most of you regular readers know this. Those who don’t: it’s free! What’re you waiting for?! Give it a try! Nothing to lose besides ten minutes [you’ll know by then whether you’ll like it, and why continue if you don’t?]!). I used Lulu to publish it because I had several stories and essays I’d workshopped in my writing program (and indeed, a couple that got me into it in the first place), but nowhere to go with them, nowhere they seemed to fit. So rather than wait months for possible acceptances and probably meager paychecks, I just put them together.
I’d not do the same thing with my novel. The marketplace for long fiction seems, to me, more diverse, decidedly better, and less marketed to those who just want to get published in it in the first place (well. When it’s marketed at all, but that’s another post entirely). In addition, it seems more a business than the short-form market, which seems a bit more akin, to these eyes, to a network.
Then again, as Shetterly noted in his blog, I’m still very much learning my craft and the marketplace, so obviously all this must be taken with a handful of salt.
May 23, 2008 at 9:23 am
I read those entires and I don’t think Nick was saying the clear reason writes need editors was distribution. He stated it as one of the many reasons.
Writers need editors for the simply reason that it’s important to have someone else look at your work. It doesn’t matter how educated you are, or how much experience you might have as an editor, a writer shouldn’t be occupying both roles. There are things you will miss, things you will not see, and pointing out that you have experience as an editor doesn’t change that.
It’s maybe not as bad as the defendant who represents himself and has a fool for a client, but I can think of no good reason to publish sans editor.
May 23, 2008 at 9:57 am
@Ian: for longform writing, I agree. For shortform? Not entirely sure. I certainly agree writers need someone else to look at their work, but for shortform writing, that could be a small support network of beta-readers (I asked a half-dozen people to read my collection before I did anything with it, all colleagues/classmates in my program/people with experience writing and editing). I agree writers need someone to look, but an editor? Not necessarily.
While I get your analogy to defense/litigation, isn’t the more appropriate music (or the movies)? Jack White produced Icky Thump, and the Coen brothers edit their own movies. So I think it can be done.
There are always things people don’t see, hence Gaiman’s hypothesis that the first page you open to in any publication of your work will always be the one with the typo.
May 23, 2008 at 10:02 am
True enough, Will. I can definitely see your point there, especially regarding those who work in other mediums and edit their own work. It can be done.