OMG Julia, it's a podcast!

In this episode, I discuss: How an editor collaborates with a writer when editing stories, poems, and essays. How writers collaborate with the reader when they first sit down to write with a a reader in mind...

A typewriter with a page inserted that says, "Writing" on it
Photo by Markus Winkler / Unsplash

This is the very first podcast episode for OMG Julia! It was originally posted in June of 2019 as a paid subscribers only episode, but is now free for everyone

Listen to "OMG Julia! The First Ever Episode" on Spreaker.

In this episode, I discuss:

  • How an editor collaborates with a writer when editing stories, poems, and essays.
  • How writers collaborate with the reader when they first sit down to write with a a reader in mind.
  • How editors collaborate with other editors and first readers when deciding what to accept.
  • How I, as a writer, have to remind myself to enter the collaboration with an open mind when an editor gives me notes.
  • How everyone working within this industry is collaborating on making it a community and industry to begin with.

Questions? Comments? Topics you’d like to see me cover in the future? Please let me know! I would love to hear from you!

Full transcript appears below the divider!

The OMG Julia! Creative Lives and Processes podcast logo with blue text on a lined notebook paper background. Doodles of leaves and stars and planets frame the text.
OMG Julia! Creative Lives and Processes

Welcome to the OMG Julia podcast, where we discuss creative lives and processes. I'm your host, Julia Rios, and this is actually a repost of the first podcast that I ever released. I released it for paid subscribers only, but I'm now moving all of my podcast episodes into the public sphere, so I want to go back and release all of those previously subscriber only episodes. They'll be coming a little bit at a time, and this is the very first one, which was released in June of 2019, so two years ago.

It talks about what I hope to do with the podcast as a whole and also my personal experiences with editing, both as an editor and as a writer. I hope you enjoy it! If you'd like to hear more of my podcast, you can always check it out over at juliarios.com.

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Hello and welcome to the OMG Julia podcast. What I'll plan to do with this is talk about some aspect of working in the creative fields, and by that I mean art, I mean music, I mean podcasting, comedy, writing, editing, narration... I have experience with a lot of these different things. I'm very bad at visual art, so probably I will not be talking about my own experience with that, but I may eventually have guests on to help share some of their experiences, and wherever I go with this, it's always going to be examining some aspect of creative processes, and the work that goes into being involved in creative industries.

So, for me, today, I'm going to talk about collaboration. I suspect this is a topic we'll return to multiple times over the course of this podcast, but for today I'm giving you a little bit of an introduction to myself and my experience in the creative field as an editor. I am currently nominated for 3 Hugo Awards, and all of the categories that I nominated in, I'm nominated because of my editorial work.

For me, editing is always a collaboration. It's inherently collaborative as an activity. I started editing in 2012 for Strange Horizons, and since then I've edited multiple anthologies, and for magazines, and various things like that. And every time it's a collaboration. Every time it's a little bit different.

I love this work, and I wanted to break down some of how it's collaborative and why it's collaborative.

So I think a lot of times people think of writing as a very solitary kind of art, and a solitary practice: something that you do sitting alone in a room. I know Neil Gaiman famously has writing cabins out in the woods where there's nothing except a desk, and that's how he gets a lot of his writing done. And so there's often a romanticized idea which often goes back to things like Walden, where people dream of going off and secluding themselves and writing in a very solitary, closed space.

My experience of writing is that sometimes some writing happens that way, but for most writers, even the ones who enjoy solitary writing, there's a point in their creative process where community comes into it. Sometimes that means they have their work critiqued by partners and groups. Sometimes it just means reading it aloud.

Writing is a form of communication. It's a letter to your reader, even if you didn't write it as a letter, per se. But you're writing it with the idea that someone's going to read it, so you're already communicating with someone. And then you get to the editorial stage, and what I always tell writers when I start editing a work is that my goal my primary goal as an editor is to help you tell the story that you most want to tell, in the sharpest and clearest way possible.

If I've accepted something as an editor because I want to publish it, that means I love the story's concept and the heart of it, and I want to honor that heart and that spirit of the story. I don't want to tell an author to make changes that the author is not comfortable with and I'll only accept something with the idea that if the author refused to make any changes to it I'd still be happy publishing it.

Now, in practice, usually authors are happy to make changes and will work with me to make that story into a stronger version of what was already there, but I want them to feel secure that they can say no and that they can reject a suggestion if it doesn't feel like it's true to the story that they're trying to tell.

But what often happens here is that we're both working inside that story's universe and inside that story's bones to make sure it comes across clearly and sharply, and that means that part of what works there is that the author trusts me.

Most authors that I've worked with are usually very excited about what happens at the end if I've made changes with them, and usually I don't make the changes myself. I usually suggest where I think changes could happen. Often I'll use a Microsoft Word document and use the track changes feature, and I'll highlight the document. I won't actually make a change in it, I'll just highlight the section that I think should change and say whether I think it's a word choice issue, or a grammar issue, or perhaps even a structural issue.

I'll say here is a place where I think something could happen, or here's a place where I had a question. I might even offer a suggestion of possible wording, but when I do, I always make sure that the person knows that, whatever possible wording I've suggested, that doesn't have to be the wording that they end up using. I assume that, as a writer, they have a voice, that maybe their voice is different than mine, and maybe they have a better idea of how to to achieve a different effect that I'm asking for while still using their word choices and not mine. I find that this actually is true with essays, poems, prose, stories, all kinds of things that I've edited. There's not one particular thing that stands out as different.

And sometimes as an editor I don't make changes. Sometimes I get a story and it's absolutely perfect. This is very rare that this happens, but it does happen some of the time, and I tell the author, "Your story is so perfect I don't have any suggestions for you. So here's what it's going to look like and you tell me whether or not you approve it." And at that point it also might go on to a copy editing phase where a copy editor might make different suggestions. My job is usually what some people call developmental editing. So that's where I'm actually working with the piece before it goes into that final copy editing or proofreading stage, and making sure that we have the text that we want, and we have the story that we want to tell, or the poem that we think is finished.

Then the copy editor or proofreader might make very slight changes. They might catch typos, or they might say that we've used commas wrong or something like that. It's wonderful to have a copy editor. I really do value those people. I value proofreaders so much.

So all of that is a collaboration between me, the editor, and the author as the writer, and that is one way that collaboration plays into editing. But there are lots of other ways that it does as well. For instance, at Strange Horizons, the editors actually have to come to a consensus. So everyone who's working as a senior fiction editor there has meetings where they discuss the stories and they decide unanimously which stories they would like to accept. But even in places where the editorial consensus isn't explicit, there are collaborative aspects to working within a magazine or a publishing house.

For instance, right now I'm editing the Banned Books Week episodes of Cast of Wonders, which is a fantasy and science fiction podcast that does YA stories, so stories for young adult readers. We're reading stories that focus on the theme of censorship, which is the theme of the Banned Books Week this September, and what I've been doing there is working with a team of first readers who have read all the stories as they've come in, and made comments on them. And then also with the regular editorial staff, since I'm a guest editor, we're all talking to each other, and even though I'm making the final choices here, I'm using a lot of input from the other people.

So one of the things that it's good to remember when you're submitting stories anywhere, or poetry, or anything else: There may be one final editor or there may be a team of final editors, but no matter what, there probably is a staff, and that staff is acting as a team. This is something that I hear people ask a lot: do the opinions of firsr readers matter? Yes, they absolutely do. Not just because sometimes they have the power to just reject the story if they don't like it, but also because if they like a story a lot, I might look at it more than I would have otherwise if it didn't strike me right away. So if you see that someone is a first reader or an assistant or associate editor and you're wondering how much input they have, sometimes it's not deciding power, but that doesn't mean that their opinions aren't taken into consideration, and it also doesn't mean that they're not part of a collaborative team.

Most of the editors I know are definitely trusting their associate editors and their assistant editors with a lot of responsibility.

And one of the things that I think it's really important to remember is that everyone who's doing this is doing it because deep down they love stories. They want to learn more about writing stories, about editing stories. They just want to read stories! Something drew them into this work, and one thing I can guarantee is that it wasn't the promise of filthy lucre, because editing and writing and creative work in general is not known for paying extraordinarily well.

I know that, as a writer, the submission grind can be really hard, and you'll be bound to receive a lot of rejections even when your story is good. That is a hard truth of working as a writer in this industry. Anyone who sticks it out and does that submissions grind has so much courage and so much strength and fortitude. I super respect you.

I also think that it helps to remember that everyone on the editorial side is rooting for stories. They want your story to work, and they're not out there trying to crush your dreams because they don't like you and they want to crush all young writers' dreams, or new writers' dreams, or any writers dreams. Actually, I think most editors hate the rejection part the most. It's always sad to know that you're not going to take something, especially when you know someone has worked very hard on that. Because all the writers put their hearts and souls into these things -- I know I do when I write. So why would I assume that anyone else isn't putting in the same kind of effort and heart? We want those stories to succeed, even when we reject them.

And that plays into another aspect of the collaboration that goes on in the writing and editing side of the publishing industry, which is: we're all part of one community. We're all working because we want to create things. We want to share stories, and we delight in stories. And that means that there is room for a lot of different magazines. There is room for a lot of different anthologies. There's room for a lot of different novels...

You have all kinds of peers around you who are also delighting in stories, and that includes the editors that you might be working with, and oftentimes editors are also writers themselves, like me. I've been through the submission grind a lot. I know how hard it is.

I also have the same kinds of reactions that many other writers have when I work with editors, which is... It's so easy the first time you get a note from someone to just get your hackles up and feel like, "Oh, you want to change my words? But I worked on that, and I chose it for a reason, and my reason is good!"

And I always have to take a moment to step away and remind myself that the editor is working in my best interests, and they have ideas because they're seeing places that I didn't see weren't quite working as well as they could, or that were working well but could be better, and I know that. So if I can just get past my initial gut instinct reaction and think through like, "Okay, what are their notes saying? Can I make these changes? Do I want to make these changes? Do I think that there's a way that I could change it in a better way for me that will answer the questions that they have?"

And every single time, honestly, when I take those editors' suggestions, the stories that I've been writing come out better.

I've written a lot of stories in the format of text messages for an app called Flashread, and the editor there is wonderful. She'll make suggestions for how to make my texts a little bit punchier, and every single time I take her suggestions the stories become that much stronger. So It's important to enter into the spirit of collaboration with an open mind and remember that your first reaction, if it's negative especially, might just be coming out of a sense of protective defensiveness. It's good to step away and remember that that editor, they're not trying to tear you down. They're trying to hold you up, and they're trying to help you climb higher than you managed to climb before.

So that's what I love about editing. That's what I love about collaboration. I love the feeling, when I have edited a story or a poem or an essay, and the finished piece is something that the author and I are both happy with, and that we think is stronger than it was originally. That's a really great feeling. And then there's nothing more exciting than sharing that with the rest of the world.

This is one of the reasons I love editing, and I love collaborating. Even though I'm an introvert and I like to spend a lot of time alone, I also really care about community. and I really love working within a community and having that connection to other people. So That's a little bit of where I'm coming from on this, and those are some reasons that I think editing and writing are collaborative art forms.

If you have questions, or if you have feedback, let me know. If you have questions that you think would be good for me to answer in a future newsletter or podcast, let me know that and maybe I will answer them.

Thank you so much for listening and I'll catch you next time.

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