A couple of weeks ago I signed on to Aurora Wolf as an editor. For some months now I’ve been toying with the idea of running my own publication. What stops me? Two things. One – there are already so many out there. Two – I want to be able to pay my authors, and I can’t afford to do that. When I can, then a publication will become a serious possibility.
In the meantime, I like the work Michael Pennington and Linda Manning are doing with Aurora Wolf. I was particularly impressed with the production values on the New Fairy Tales. I could see a need for a little more copyediting, and I offered to be the one to do it. They agreed to take me on.
Does this mean that I know what an editor wants? Well – yes and no. I know what this editor wants, and I know what my fellow editors want. I’m still guessing about the editors of other publications. But I’ll tell you the big one for me.
If you want to be published, learn the tools of the craft. Learn how to use punctuation and how to construct a grammatical sentence. Be absolutely certain of the meaning and spelling of any unusual words you decide to use. (I’m assuming a writer is already certain of the meaning and spelling of the familiar ones, but that, alas, isn’t always the case.) If you have the shadow of a doubt, look it up.
Unfortunately, these basics are no longer taught in school, as they were when I was a child (when the mountains were cooling and megafauna roamed the earth). I’ve been in a classroom and heard a student saying “I seen”, and the teacher not correcting her. I’ve heard things like this more than a few times. Every week I read some published work where the writer, and clearly the editor, too, didn’t know where to use “lay” and where “lie”.
The other thing I’d say is “Learn to write clearly”. I’ve read sentences where the writer was obviously saying, “Look, I know big words!” In some of these sentences,I could tell the writer didn’t really know what the big word meant. Just as an example, when I first joined my real-life writers’ group, four of us played the word-from-each game. Each of us provided a word, and we all wrote a short piece using all the words. One of the words was “supercilious”, and from the writing it was clear that my three fellow writers thought it meant “extra, unnecessary” – in other words, superfluous. In an exercise, who cares? But if you’re going for publication, I’ll tell you who cares – I do.
I’d also say this – don’t tell the editor how good your work is. If your work is good, it’ll speak for itself. If your work isn’t good, saying it is won’t make it good. In fact, it’ll make you look like someone who doesn’t really know when the work is good. If you tell the editor that it’s been vetted, and it’s full of technical errors, that says something, too. It says you don’t know who to get to vet your work. (You need a grammar-punctuation-and-diction dominatrix.)
After you’ve dealt with these technical things, there is, of course, one last hurdle.
Write a story that’ll knock the editor’s socks off.