Update from the Editors #9: The Editor-In-Chief Has a Headache

Last week, Phyl talked about the process of editing an anthology from the viewpoint of the project editor – getting the stories as they are finished and doing What Editors Do on them (a complicated process that pretty much boils down to “I broke it for you, now fix it better.”).

As they come back fixed-better, the stories then come to me for a second pass.

‘But,’ you say, ‘they’ve already been edited!  Phyl already told them what they missed – how many times does the poor writer have to fix their story?  Isn’t it their story?

Well, yes, of course.  And no.

As I read each story, I am making notes on the content, of course.  There are things that worked for Phyl that threw me out of the story, and vice versa, and I make note of that, and pass my thoughts back to Phyl,  the suspenders to her belt, as it were.  But that’s only part of the editor-in-chief gig.

You see, this is not only a theme anthology, but a linked, shared-origin anthology.  That means each story has to work not only within itself, as a complete whole, but it also has to work as part of the larger collection without negating any of the originality or imagination of the individual story.

To manage that, we didn’t give our intrepid authors strict guidelines – or even very much in the way of Thou Shalt Nots.  Instead, we let them go their merry creative ways – and now it’s my job to make sure nobody’s contradicting canon, or stepping on anyone else’s plot-toes.

[pause to consider the joy of herding cats, yes]

So while I’m reading these stories, with their amazing scope of character and place, I’m also thinking Big Picture.  How, when someone reads this anthology, will all the pieces fit into the timeline, the basic laws of steampunk physics, the historical and anti-historical elements established within the origin story?  And if not – does it matter?  Do I have to step in and ask something to be reworked, or is it a question of different interpretations of the same theme, and therefore falling under the “Sez you” school of historical accuracy?

We’ve already had a three-way mashup wherein one event is interpreted three different and contradicting ways – so who wins?  How do we have them rework their stories so that the overall internal logic remains?  [my suggestion, a 3-way cage match, did not go over well.  Phoo.]

Fun, yes.  But headache-inducing, too.

Next up: Figuring the Table of Contents.  Oy.  Someone hand me another aspirin…


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at https://www.patreon.com/LAGilman Learn more at www.lauraannegilman.net, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


Update from the Editors #9: The Editor-In-Chief Has a Headache — 8 Comments

  1. I’m curious. Why didn’t you give the authors writing the stories guidelines? Is it better like that than with guidelines?

  2. FF —

    As per my post, we did give them guidelines, just not _strict_ ones.

    The “bible” for this anthology stated the time and place and date where history diverged, and the major players involved throughout. In addition to that, we gave the authors a timeline to stay within. We didn’t put restrictions on what they could do with that information, though. Characters, historical sidelines, philosophical peregrinations..

    The resulting chaos is, well, chaotic to sort out, but we believe that it also makes for richer, more satisfying stories.

  3. One issue that’s giving the editors fits is Their Own Fault. They gave us a concept and told us to go to merry London town with it. And oh, did we ever.

    Phlogiston! Automata! Steam-powered library catalogues! British spelling!


  4. Well, if it’s “Their Own Fault”, they will just have to live with it. But, I’m sure they will make the authors suffer because that is what editors do best! 😉