Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Guest Post: Karl Johanson on Suggested Revisions

Karl Johanson is editor of Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine. His editorial in Issue #8 contains a wonderfully ironic list of things that can go wrong in one's writing. I asked to reprint it here.

I’ve know in my time some coaches who were extremely inspirational. They could cheer you on and you were inspired. They could yell at you and you were inspired. They could stand in silent contemplation on the sidelines and you were inspired. I wish I had that talent, as the only aspect of editing I don’t enjoy is having to say 'no' to many of the submitted works. I appreciate the creative process, often as much as the finished products of creativity. I wish I had something truly inspiring to say to the writers I wind up saying ‘no’ to, as they truly inspire me.

In general, I’m not the type to make fun of those working at being creative. However, if I were, I might say something such as:

Dear sir or madam:

Thank you for allowing us to consider your science fiction story. We like this story and would like to publish it in an upcoming issue of our magazine, but we feel it requires a few very minor alterations to make it publishable.

I liked the premises (premi?) of your story. The concept of having a story which considers the complex and subtle sociological and personal implications of changes in technology is a good one. However, we feel the story would have a broader appeal if it instead focused on violent conflicts which make use of this new technology.

With regards to your, sentence structure remember that, commas are supposed to be cues for where a person should breath if, they’re reading the story out, loud.

The characters in the story should all have nicknames, alternate between their real names and their nick names throughout the story to help the readers remember who is who. The nick-names we suggest for the characters are, in order of their appearance in the story, Spanky, Spiffy, Wheezer, Bif the Crusher, Sarge, Amazon Tracy, Tycho, Zoltron Man and ‘Six-gun Pete’. (Write in a couple stun gun fights between Sarge and Zoltron Man.) In addition, we would like you to add another character to the story. A lovable furry orange alien named Chester, which leaves a trail of slime where ever it goes, which the other characters slip on throughout the story for comic relief.

Developing the characters while furthering the plot and action was a bold choice, but it can often be dull. Better to stop the action all together and give a long drawn out listing of unrelated events from the various characters’ pasts to develop them. Also, tell us about the personalities of the various characters, without confusing the readers by relating these personality traits to anything that actually happens in the story.

The story needs a good kicker for the ending as well. Simply using the plot, dialogue and action to resolve the main story points and conflicts, while juxtaposing them with the parallel personal conflicts of some of the characters, leaves the reader wondering where the really big explosions are. Perhaps it can turn out that they’re all living on a miniaturized duplicate of the Earth. And all of the characters somehow get changed into mice or aardvarks, except Spiffy. For the epilogue, Spiffy should recite the following soliloquy: “Mankind, after millennia of crawling up from the cosmic slime, one invention and innovation after another, slowly moved its way into space, which was not only its destiny, but its birthright! (Aren’t exclamation marks great?) And Man didn’t worry if the universe took issue with this incursion into its dark and airless regions. Man pushed, pulled and slid sideways into this destiny, with a belly full of raw oats and bravery, and a particle cannon full of positrons ready to do Man’s bidding in a cold, dank, star studded, impersonal universe.” We know that your story doesn’t actually take place in space, or have anything to do with space travel (and yes, the universe isn’t actually ‘dank’), but we think the readers will let this slide.

If these changes are acceptable to you, then you likely don’t have much artistic integrity, in which case we don’t want your story after all.

Karl Johanson

Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine can be found at http:www.neo-opsis.ca

For a brief sample video of Karl giving actual advice to writers click here

For more Karl advice to writers, check out this page of videos of Karl's presentations at various conferences.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

New Editorial Standards


Editors Canada, the professional association of Canadian Editors, has released updated definitions of types of editing: Editing Skills. It's important that anyone seeking an editor understands that "editing" can mean a number of different things and therefore to make sure that the "editor" they hire understands which type of editing the client is looking for.

As an acquisition editor, I frequently had to tell authors that their manuscripts were not quite to publishable standards and suggest that they work with an editor before trying the next publisher, only to be told they had already paid thousands for editing. Of course, what they paid for was copyediting or proofreading, when really what they needed was structural editing (sometimes called substantive editing) or stylistic editing (also called line editing), or etc. Their manuscripts would be spelled correctly and not have a comma out of place, but that none of that matters if the surprise ending of one's mystery novel is that the butler did it. If one takes a manuscript that has plot or character flaws to a copyeditor, they won't necessarily comment on these structural flaws. They will assume that you're happy with the manuscript as is, and just want copyediting. Copyeditors are given all sorts of rubbish to edit by clients who are not looking for the editor's opinion, just that they do their job and fix the grammar. It therefore behooves the client to know what they are asking for.

And what they actually need. Clients often present us with copyediting, when really, copyediting would be premature. One should always start with a structural edit as there is no point copyediting a scene that may be revised or deleted. Some authors think their first or second draft is good enough to go ahead, but "good enough" really isn't in today's competitive market. EssentialEdits.ca always starts with a sample edit so we can tell the writer whether (1) the manuscript is ready for professional editing, or if it needs a few more preliminary drafts (that is, go back to free writers' circles, beta readers, etc.), or (2) the client needs structural or stylistic editing. Some clients who come for copyediting do not appreciate being told their content still needs work, or worse, think we're just trying to upsell them to an extra iteration or more expensive kind of editing. We're open to just copyediting if that's what the client wants--there are occasions when that even makes sense--but we always start with an appraisal of a writing sample & synopsis/outline so we can tell the author what's needed and they see a sample of our editing before committing to an expensive contract.

If you are interested in a more detailed breakdown of editing standards for each type of editing, Editors Canada's Professional Editing Standards 2016 outline what you may expect in each category.