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Editors Who Publish Their Own Fiction.

So, considering this question was posed of the editors on the board, it'd be good to get a writer's viewpoint on it: what do you think an editor's job is (and on the flip-side, isn't)?

...

Okay, so. What's not an editor's job?

Well, an editor is not meant to rewrite you, obviously. Likewise, it's not the editor's job to make an unreadable story readable. But for all that, the one thing, the one personal thing I dislike seeing, is editors who publish their own fiction.

I asked Russell Farr (punkrocker1991) the same question, because I was curious to see his response, and he said, very sanely, that he figured if a story of his was good enough to be published, then it was good enough to be published elsewhere. And I like that, for it is a sane and rational thing to say. He also pointed out that there are exceptions, such as with Dozois and as with everything in this world, there's an exception to everything said. Which is fine. So if you're reading this and you're an editor and you publish your own work, perhaps you're an exception.

Wouldn't count on it though.

In the independent scene here in Australia, or across the world, when an editor includes their own story into a collection, it's pretty much vanity publishing. Especially when some many of the independent editors are actually the publisher. It has the unfortunate result of making the author (such as me) think that I've had my fiction bought in a publisher's vanity project that exists, in a way, to fill the need to be published when they could not legitimately do so elsewhere.

Is that a harsh statement? Sure. Untrue? Sometimes. But it is also true that the weakest stories in a collection will belong to the editor or editors, more times than not. It's not a terribly surprising thing, really, when you think about it, because how can an editor have the objectivity that is required when approaching work if they are also the author? an author, by and large, is not very objective about their work. They must love it or admire it or think it publishable to some degree, otherwise why bother sending it out, again and again, after rejection and rejection?

So an editor's job is not to be an author, in any kind of fashion.

The Ben Peek Show.

There is, of course, a bit about my experience with good editors, who make me look good. But I'm linking this bit cause it substitutes me actually writing real content in this blog today. Back to helping move, or some kind of thing like that. Anyhow, this forum thing still has like a week and a half to go and I got no idea how it's going to last that long. Shouldn't people be asking me how to my training as a cosmonaut went?

Comments

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mme_publisher
Apr. 10th, 2006 01:04 am (UTC)
Re: editor who publish themselves. I agree. I would never publish my own work (or Jay's) in Polyphony. That would be tacky. I'm guessing we aren't in the majority here, though.

benpeek
Apr. 10th, 2006 01:07 am (UTC)
actually, i think you probably are in the majority. but it happens more than is acceptable--i remember a scottish sf antho late last year, i think, where both editors had fiction in it. i was kinda up for buying the book until i realised that...
mme_publisher
Apr. 10th, 2006 01:47 am (UTC)
The antho that won the World Fantasy Award and the IHG Award for best antho in Madison had a story by one of the editors in it. That made me wonder if the times they were a-changin' as far as public perceptions go. I hope I was wrong to think that.
oldcharliebrown
Apr. 10th, 2006 04:57 am (UTC)
Acquainted with the Night, ed. by Christopher and Barbara Roden? Yes. It did bother me a bit at the time, as it did many others. I don't think it's the times at all.
ex_chrisbil
Apr. 10th, 2006 01:35 pm (UTC)
What do you think about the route Scalzi's gone with it? It looks, to me at least, like he's tried to avoid it yet found it too tempting? I mean, that's probably quite harsh, but I doubt he'd care - he's got thick skin and says what he thinks, so I guess it works both ways...

I totally agree that it does look like a vanity project when it happens. Hey, anyone want to appear in a magazine by me? I'm tentatively titling it "Works [smallfont]edited by and[/smallfont] beautifully writen in elaborate prose by Chris Billett"... answers on a postcard to the usual address!
benpeek
Apr. 10th, 2006 01:41 pm (UTC)
well, without knowing any of the details behind scalzi's thing, i would imagine that it was something the publisher suggested for him. it might have even been part of the original deal. but i've no real problem with that, partly because i see it as just the publisher cashing in on his name and creating a small chapbook that'll get his fans subscribing and so forth to get it...
ex_chrisbil
Apr. 10th, 2006 02:19 pm (UTC)
You're probably right.

Can I put that reply in my soon to be [self] published collection "Pointlessly Talkative LJ Threads By Chris Billett (featuring Ben Peek)"?

(le joke, just in case my humour is missed...)
coppervale
Apr. 10th, 2006 01:52 am (UTC)
It does make for extra scrutiny, I think. The ones I've discussed with people are usually McSweeney's editions (or spinoffs)that include pieces by Eggers. In his sphere of things, it's probably more a matter of adding appropriate celebrity than adhering to literary scruples. But as a general rule, I think you're right, Ben (and Deborah - hi, Deborah!)

Sure - I've published my own graphic novels and comics (which profession views that sort of thing differently anyway), and published others' work. But I don't know that I'd mix the two.

James
benpeek
Apr. 10th, 2006 05:06 am (UTC)
yeah, the comic industry has a very different view on a lot of things, and i tend to think their view on vanity/independent publishing is a lot more healthy. (that it's an admirable thing from a putting your money where your month is stance--though there is a lot og crap that is produced for that money, but that's with all things.)

like i said, there's always going to be exceptions, but it's a good general rule, i find.
strangedave
Apr. 10th, 2006 02:41 am (UTC)
FWIW, Borderlands occasionally publishes contributions by members of its editorial board, but those members do not contribute to the editorial process on that story. Does that bother you? I agree that an editor should not contribute stories to their own collection, but it becomes less clear with more complex projects with a variety of people filling different roles.
oldcharliebrown
Apr. 10th, 2006 04:56 am (UTC)
I tend to frown on that, myself. Any editors or assistant editors joining any of my magazines are generally expected to stop submitting to those venues. That's just being professional. Anything else leads to public perception issues, which can be very much avoided easily simply by not letting it happen.
benpeek
Apr. 10th, 2006 05:10 am (UTC)
i agree that it becomes less clear, but at the same time, i tend to not think too highly of it. it's not the same thing as an editor putting in his or her own story, but i guess like sean wallace here, i frown, y'know? i'm not against against it, but i frown, if it makes sense. i mean, if the stories are good enough to be published (and they should be after passing the editorial board) then why not publish them elsewhere and remove all the hint of that not quite rightness?
ex_benpayne119
Apr. 10th, 2006 07:44 am (UTC)
I agree with you and Russell. I'd never publish my own fiction. Unless I thought doing so would be funny. But in general, yeah, I agree.

As an author I'd rather sell it elsewhere (not much ego-gratification in cutting yourself a cheque), and if I can't, then maybe it's not as good as I think it is.

I doubt many editors who *do* publish their own work do so because it's been rejected everywhere else, though. I'm not sure what their motivation is...

I don't have a problem with ASIM or Borderlands or whoever publishing members of the magazine... *but* if the story stinks, then it can make people more easily assume that it was published because of nepotism (as opposed to bad taste:)) That said, you can never entirely get rid of that sort of thing... If people think your story in the next Aurealis stinks, they could easily say "Payne just published it because Peek's his lj-buddy", little realising how much we detest one another in reality.

So you can never totally escape it, and the more successful you get the more people will assume you just get published because you're a "name" anyway.

But I do think that publishing my own stories is asking for ridicule...

Unless you're Garndner Dozois I suppose.

benpeek
Apr. 10th, 2006 11:33 am (UTC)
yeah, there is a certain level of percieved 'in-ness' that you get after a while, and which people assume makes your fiction easier to sell. but for them, all i have to say is, 'i have chat files of me and payne arguing about everything.'

cause i want to set the record straight about our love and that one night.
punkrocker1991
Apr. 10th, 2006 10:40 am (UTC)
Aw shucks, I feel all warm and fuzzy. Hmmm.

You also state that you feel that an editor's job is to make you look good. I thoroughly agree that this is the job, and would add the flipside: an editor's job is to make you avoid looking like a twat.

By this I mean it's also an editor's job to tell you that the story just ain't worth the paper, if that's the case. There are some stories written by some writers, and well, the only way to make the writer look good is to reject the story and tell you straight that you've produced shite.

Hey, I never said the job was easy.
benpeek
Apr. 10th, 2006 11:39 am (UTC)
i am all about giving people warm fuzzy feelings, apparently ;)
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Apr. 10th, 2006 01:43 pm (UTC)
and tackiness needs to be avoided, i say.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 10th, 2006 06:35 pm (UTC)
Agreed
I think it's tacky when an editor publishes their own work in a magazine or anthology they edit or co-edit. I've only done it once--for the disease guide, where I was already having to write a lot of connective tissue so it just didn't seem to matter. I was already having text in the book anyway, and it couldn't be avoided. (I did submit it to my co-editor under a pseudonym, however.) But that's the first and hopefully last time. I have been asked in the past to put in work by myself in anthologies I co-edited and I've said no.

I think it's also tacky if you use a co-editor as your excuse--oh, the co-editor bought it.

JeffV
benpeek
Apr. 11th, 2006 01:15 am (UTC)
Re: Agreed
the disease guide would be one of those things where you can't avoid the editors having work in there, i think. there's so many contributors, so much information, than someone is going to have to link it together somehow.
coppervale
Apr. 10th, 2006 06:44 pm (UTC)
Hm. The DISEASE GUIDE is a hell of a platypus, Jeff. I wouldn't have thought of it so much as your Editorial project, as your Collaborative project... So your writing being included doesn't seem like a vanity thing.

And yeah, blaming inclusion on a co-editor is, well, a complete cop-out. Either there's NO communication going on, or the piece REALLY couldn't go elsewhere...
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