Works of Richard Marsden

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Writing Hints Blog

Editing - Short Stories 3

Posted by rmarsden on August 18, 2010 at 6:52 PM

Today's Topic




When trying to market short-stories a few editing schools of thought need to be discussed.


1. It's my job to write and an editor's job to edit.

2. I need to pay to have my work edited.

3. A submission must be flawless to be accepted.

It's my job to write and an editor's job to edit.


It's my job to write not edit!

There is much debate about what an editor's job is these days. Do they edit work, or do they simply acquire stories?


A general rule of thumb is the larger and more professional the publication, the less interested in editing they are and more interested in acquiring. This means your work needs to be fairly error-free when submitting to professional markets. (Any market paying 3-5 cents a word depending on the genre). Smaller markets are more forgiving and the editors more likely to spend the time editing your work. Still...


You NEED a reading buddy. Someone needs to read your work before you submit it. We often mentally correct our own errors and a fresh pair of eyes will go a long way making your submission acceptable.


Editing isn't just spelling and grammar, but also the process of tightening up stories. This means removing scenes that do not drive the plot.


An example of this is in one of my stories the main character goes to a zoo and kicks up a major fuss in order to see the zoo director and get some information. I spent around two hundred words describing the character causing trouble and being taken to a waiting room to see the zoo director, who had the important plot information.


I then realized this entire bit needed to be edited. I spent too much time on what was not important. The revised scene was similar, however instead of wasting words on describing the 'fuss' my character caused, I got right to the important part.


'Getting to see the director of the zoo required a lot of shouting at the front gate. Eventually he was allowed into a sterile room on the grounds and told to wait.

When the door to the room opened Fadl frowned to see not only an elderly, well-dressed man, but also two police officers. '


From two hundred words leading up to the zoo director, to around fifty. Much better! Also a valuable lesson. Editing isn't just mechanics.


Editing can also be adding material. If a character behaves a certain way and it seems jarring, then you may need to go back and leave 'clues' to the reader. A heroic, noble man can't suddenly kill an innocent in a fit of rage. You need to lay the groundwork about his 'anger' issues prior.


Show don't tell. A mantra we often hear! A few word changes can make a flat sentence a more descriptive one.


'He traveled down the street and paused in front of Harper's Law Offices.'


Can be,


'He traveled down the well-maintained street, passing by glittering steel and glass skyscrapers, pausing before the black doors of the looming, Harper's Law Offices.'

If tight editing is needed a few of the descriptors can be taken out. In this way as an author you want to balance between Hemmingway and Dickens.


While editors, even the busy ones, will correct spelling and grammar errors and odd phrasing, they are unlikely to lift a finger when it comes to your exposition, plot holes, and so on.


I need to pay to have my work edited.

On to the second!

In short: no.


Luckily, in the word of short-stories you are unlikely to be approached by a publisher and sold on editing services. If it does happen, your answer is, 'no'. Publishers pay you, not the other way around.


You can, if you want, hire an independent editor. They are expensive, charging by the hour ($20-$50) and guestimating how much time it takes for them to deal with your work. Independent editors will copy-edit (fix minor issues) or go all the way and ghost-write for you. You don't need the latter service and it's probably not worth your while for the former. The money you 'might' make off a short-story sale is unlikely to cover the costs of a professional independent editor.


A submission must be flawless to be accepted

And third!

In short: no.


The closer to perfection the more your story stands out against others. For a professional market it's a matter of time and money. If there are two great stories and one will need major editing, while the other needs minor editing, the choice is clear.

Remember, a professional publication has heaps of submissons many of them which will go entirely unread in the slush pile, if your story IS picked out, good editing will help the story shine and possibly be chosen!


To recap

Editors DO edit, but their main job is acquiring.

You DO NOT need to pay for editing services.

Your story DOES NOT need to be perfect, but the better it is the more likely a professional publication will look at it.

I hope this helps!


Next Time - Cover Letters

Categories: Short Story Advice

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