Behind the Curtain: Editing a Wraeththu Mythos Anthology

I was recently invited to begin posting to the Immanion Press blog, and while there are many topics I would love to launch into, at the moment, top of mind for me is work on the upcoming Wraeththu Mythos anthology, Para Kindred: Enigmas of Wraeththu.

Presently Storm Constantine and I, co-editors, are at the end of the process of creating the book, but what I’d like to do now is part the curtain, so to speak, on the process up to this point, especially the editing. For this I am referring both to the latest anthology and to the two previous, Paragenesis: Stories from the Dawn of Wraeththu and Para Imminence: Stories of the Future of Wraeththu. Hopefully I don’t stray to far into spoiling the mystery, or ruin the taste of the sausage by revealing how it’s made.

First Read

Once Storm and I have decided which stories are mine to edit, I receive each manuscript as a Word or RTF file. I then print it out and for my first read, read it on paper, often making marks on it indicating punctuation and other mechanical issues, plus scribbling in questions, suggestions, etc. I do so much digitally but for first read, unless I’m away from a printer, I like to have a new story in my hands physically. While going through the story the first time, I also put a lot of check marks down next to lines and paragraphs I especially like, so later on I can give the author feedback on my favorite parts. (See note further down.)

First Edits

Next up, I take the original file and save it as a “B” version. I turn on Word’s “Reviewing” tools, so I can track changes. After addressing the basic issues I identified on the paper copy, I start going through the story from start to finish, beginning with a general spell-check, then reading it carefully, often out loud. Reading out loud really helps to make sure the punctuation, especially things like commas and em-dashes, are correct. I also add in comments and questions, attaching to specific words or sentences. Often these are questions asking for clarifications or wondering if I’ve understood something correctly or perhaps saying there’s some inconsistency. Something else I do while editing is keep a text editor or notepad open so I can write down extended comments, questions, compliments, observations, etc. And I also go back to my paper copy to make sure I’ve addressed everything I marked the first time I read it.

Sharing with the Author

Once I have the finished “B” document and my text file of comments, I email it off to the author, along with a note, which varies in length from short to quite lengthy.

I’ll start out with my overall impressions, then share some of the things I most enjoyed about the story.  I believe it’s very important that you start off with the positive, especially when working with an author you’ve never worked with or someone you’ve never met, who might be more likely to take words in an email the wrong way.

Next in my email I will list out some of the specific areas that could use some improvement, whether it’s something more technical like the tense or something like a whole element of the story that has to be brought out more — or something just doesn’t make sense to me. I also include comments on pacing, whether or not the story feels “done,” or whether it instead feels like there’s something missing. It’s this type of nuanced comment that is often most helpful to the writer, as often they might have a sense that something is off, but they can’t be sure because it’s their own work. If someone else expresses a similar concern, they are then free to make edits based on their instincts.

Back and Forth

After days, or weeks, I get back an email with a “C” version of the story from the author. Usually all my technical corrections have been accepted and often authors will go along with most of the comments or suggestions. If they don’t, they leave counter-comments explaining why not. They also explain in the email. It’s probably due to luck that I’ve never wound up in a test of wills with an author. Normally, once they make their case, and especially if they make some changes to resolve a problem, I am fine with the story and let them have their say as they are, yes, the author.

At this point I go through the “C” version of story again, using the “Reviewing” tools to accept all the changes remaining and get rid of all the comments (after I’ve read them). I also make additional corrections, which unless they’re major, I accept. Sometimes I end up reading parts of the story out loud again, to be sure of pacing, commas, and that I’ve not missed anything. And at the end of all this, voila, there’s a clean copy which I can save as version “D.” Usually this is what I send to Storm for typesetting. (Later she creates a PDF version, which both she and I proof, and authors receive PDFs of their own stories, which they proof to be sure everything appears as they wish it.)

Editors and Authors

This is the third Wraeththu Mythos anthology I’ve worked on, and so I’ve worked with eight or nine authors so far, and I’ve used this method for all of them, with really no problems. This is mostly a testament to the professionalism of these mostly “amateur” authors who understand how to deal with editing and don’t freak out if they get back a file with a lot of corrections. As I’d tell any thin-skinned author, offering criticism and edits doesn’t mean I “hate” your story, but that I’m trying to help you make the story the best it can be. These writers understand that.

As with the prior two anthologies, for Para Kindred I have edited Storm’s submissions (just as she has edited mine). However, because they’re coming from Storm, there’s really no need for the whole process outlined above. Her work is already polished when it arrives. With her stories, I generally just do one edit and send it over, along with comments. For first story I received from her this go-round, “Painted Skin,” she did do a rewrite to one part of it, because I had a more major concern (although small in size), so she sent me the file back and I read through it again. But that was all. The second story, “Without Weakness” was, in my opinion, without weakness, aside from a few very minor issues, which Storm quickly tweaked. And I don’t mention this just to make Storm look good, but to demonstrate that often, the more experienced the writer, the more times they have been edited, the more polished their first drafts are. (Another anthology contributor, E.S. Wynn, has also submitted stories to me for editing which were almost perfect from the start, and again, he is a professional author with many stories and books to his name.)

Editing Work

Besides editing stories for this anthology, I edited the revised Wraeththu Chronicles and also was a pre-editor on the Wraeththu Histories. I also was the editor on Fiona McGavin’s A Dream and a Lie, originally published as a trilogy. Hopefully I will get to edit another novel again soon, as working with an author on a larger work like that is quite a fulfilling project.

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