Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What Exactly Is Editing Part VII - How Do You Know If You Are A Writer Or Editor?

The previous 6 parts of this series explored the world from the point of view of an Editor.

The Editor archetype has made great POV characters for Romance, blockbuster films, Intrigue, Mystery/Suspense, and even Adventure, so as a writer, editor or reader of fiction you may find these posts illuminating.

Part One of this series was posted on August 3, 2010,

followed by Part II on Aug 10

and Part III on Aug 17,

Part IV on Aug. 24, 2010

Part V on Aug. 31, 2010

Part VI on September 7, 2010

Having described the pressure-cooker corporate politics, bottom-rung-of-the-ladder position of most of the editors with whom the beginning writer might deal, I've also sketched in how the writer can fit into the Editor's world by understanding what the editor is actually faced with. This understanding allows the writer to revise to editorial requirements with speed and efficiency.

And we've looked at what the writer can do to cope with the sudden, often cryptic, mostly unexpected editorial rewrite orders.

Oh, yes, the professional writer expects rewrite orders -- but the particular ones that arrive are always either unexpected or monstrously disappointing.

The Writer-Editor relationship is multifaceted and complex. Few writers, especially beginning writers, feel comfortable with that relationship.

It always seems (regardless of whether it's true or not) that the editor wants to insert their own voice into the Art.

The writer faced with rewrite orders feels trampled upon.

It's usually the parts that the writer treasures, feels best about, felt triumphant writing, or were the actual core of the whole concept, that need changing or even deleting.

That's crushing. It's mind-numbing. And it's always done in haste beyond belief.

Later, fans will complain about this or that glitch -- the writer knows the source was either the haste or perhaps the editor's demand. How do you defend the work without whining and pointing the blaming finger at someone the reader has never met and barely knows exists (especially after the glowing thank-you placed in the Acknowledgments?)

Worse, how do you defend the flaw the reader has found when you know it was actually an improvement? When you know what the editor was trying to achieve, and how you had failed, and you did the best fix you could in the time allotted?

You don't. That's how.

After a novel is published, suddenly the writer's world has changed. The EDITOR is no longer the customer.

Remember, The customer is always right was one of the maxims we focused on in Part II and kept returning to in subsequent parts of this series.

The editor was the writer's customer - but now the reader is the customer.

And the customer is always right.

Listen carefully. Find what's bugging the customer. Don't make that mistake again. Figure out a way to get what the reader wants past the editor. That's the professional commercial fiction writer's job.

So, as a writer you've had your ultimate customer, the reader/viewer, complain about errors, mistakes, that were actually introduced in the editing/producing process.

How do you feel about that?

How do you feel about "being edited?" Did it destroy the work in such a way that the very reason you write at all was erased?

Did getting your novel published dissipate your drive to write more novels?

Was it too horrible? To painful for words?

Maybe you're not a commercial fiction writer. There are other fields of professional writing and other ways to make a living from a writer's skill sets.

How long did it take you to produce that first sale? I mean how long did it take to write that particular novel, not to do your practice for the circular file? The one you sell might be the 5th or 10th you've written - and that's OK. Eventually, you might even sell those prior novels when you have a reputation to exploit.

My point here is, how FAST did you write the words that you put out to license with this publisher?

I hope you kept a record of how many hours you worked on those words before you got the contract and entered the editing process.

Add to that the time spent on the editing process, which should be a minor percentage of the total and keep calculating.

You now know the advance payment. Wait 2 years. See if there are any royalty checks - watch for when the royalties dwindle to a trickle from e-book sales, or the novel is remaindered and taken off the publisher's books.

OK, now you know how many hours it took you to produce those words, and how much money the book made. You also know what you, yourself, spent out of pocket on publicity, convention tours, fan mail, etc.

Calculate the $/hour.

Did you make minimum wage? Did you make what you expected to make? Did you make enough to make the whole effort worth your while (which isn't a number of dollars; very often writers don't work for money). Many times, if you do the figures honestly not the way the IRS demands, you will find you've poured more money into the publication than you got out.

Professional commercial fiction writing can be an expensive hobby.

Here's a valuable blog post to consider on the full time writer's life:


On facebook, I posted the following link:


Which is a professional SF writer who includes a love-story in most novels talking about the HEA - Happily Ever After - ending as "restrictive." I commented on that post and it's given me an idea for what has to come next on this Alien Romances blog.

I posted a link to that HEA ending discussion on facebook, and Jonathan Vos Post (a nuts-n-bolts SF writer with a very real, real-science background) commented thusly:

Jonathan Vos Post
My father, as editor, published some Romance novels when I was a child, which did not much interest me. But I have friends in RWA (Romance Writers of America) which is 10 times the size of SFWA or MWA. Supply exceeds demand, driving down average book advances, but sales are huge, amounting to roughly 1/6 of ALL books sold in the USA. In that ... See Moreflood, there are both the competent but forgettable works, and also enduring works of imagination and sparking language about human beings. So -- happily ever after to WHOM?

And that "TO WHOM" has been a core issue with the discussion on Twitter's #scifichat of "Utopia" -- everyone's idea of Utopia is different.

The HEA is a variety of specifically tailored Utopia-for-two (at least).

Now take those 3 posts together.

a) There's never been a high percentage of writers making a full time living from writing, and those that do live fairly low on the economic scale (or in a cheap place) The percentage is shrinking these days.

b) Genre fields have more would-be writers pushing more product at publishers than there are publishing slots. Publishing slots will not become more numerous until there are more readers demanding that genre. The Romance field has more would-be writers who are competent, even excellent, than SF genre does because SF demands an education very few people have, want, or can absorb and entertains like-minded folks.  Romance is for everyone, BUT can be written well only by those who have a real feel for human nature and spirit.  More people believe they have Romance writing talent (even when they don't) than believe they have SF writing talent.  Romance genre writing looks easier than SF writing.  It's not.  

The $/hour you make as a professional commercial fiction writer is peanuts compared to, say, a grocery store manager (not clerk; manager).  Many professional writers are grocery clerks in their spare time. 

But the education required of a Romance Writer (or SF writer; Mystery, Western, International Intrigue - any genre, including general Literature) is far higher than the education required to manage a retail outlet.

Librarians and Teachers make a lot more than writers, on average, and the education is maybe equivalent -- but over time, a writer needs far more ongoing education than a Librarian or Teacher.

Librarians and Teachers can pay for ongoing education and deduct it from taxes.

Writers can't do that. It's not "educational expense" to go to three movies a week, or more.

Take the resource you have within you, figure its market value, then figure the return on investment you are making as a writer.

Do the figures work out for you?

Robert A. Heinlein and Marion Zimmer Bradley agreed that if you can do anything else but write for a living - do that instead.

Most full time writers do it because they are physically unable to do the job their education qualifies them for, or because they really can't do anything but write.

Now think about the economics of "being a professional writer."

There is one way to increase your income despite the over-supply of your product in the marketplace and your extremely high overhead expenses (continuing education, market research, self-promotion).

Decrease the time it takes to produce saleable word strings.

Yep, there's that corporate buzzword every employee hates -- productivity.

You have to increase productivity to make a living.

Isaac Asimov made a great living (lived in New York; very high overhead). He did it by selling FIRST DRAFT.

The man was a certified genius with an eidetic memory. Research was a breeze for him, and writing was simply typing as fast as he could. He had his own editor at Doubleday (hardcover publishing house) and kept that editor constantly busy, too busy to deal with any other writer (I was a Doubleday writer: I was in Asimov's editor's office).  Asimov produced a constant stream of fiction and non-fiction best sellers that paid an editor's salary, and enough profit to live on nicely. (constant being the operative word)

And in the process, he shaped the SF field from its earliest days.

The man was a WRITER - a professional writer. That was his identity. (Yes, I knew him, sometimes introduced him at Star Trek conventions, too).

Is that the nature of you?

Take Marion Zimmer Bradley as another example. She lived on writing proceeds, but not so well until she hit the big time, which took decades since SF was at that time an all-male field, and Fantasy didn't exist in the modern form.

She wrote mixed-genre. Can you classify the Darkover universe? ESP was an element forbidden in SF (James Blish introduced it after a fashion in Jack of Eagles, but not using the fantasy elements MZB did). Yet Darkover is a lost colony of Earth, with natives and human-Terran hybrids, so it's SF.  Well, no, it's neither.  It's cross-genre where one of the genres didn't exist yet. 

MZB's novels sold steadily - but not in high volume until much later in her career when she finally sold some mainstream novels and one of them was made-for-TV miniseries Mists of Avalon. She edited an Astrology magazine, wrote true confession stories, and anything else her agent could glean for her, even horror and romance under various bylines. She wrote anything and everything she could get paid for, and the training she got from that improved her SF to best-seller and Hugo Nominee status.

She turned out voluminous words-per-day on a steady basis. 20-30 manuscript pages a day that needed only a light rewrite and touch-up was her usual pace (I know because she took me on as a student and demanded the same pace from me - we exchanged chapters on our current WIPs - wrote a chapter a day, mailed it, picked up the arriving chapter of the other's WIP, and sent back a letter of comment on that work, then read the incoming comment on our own WIP and made whatever rewrites suggested - and that was 1 day's work, 6 days a week for me).

That's a professional working writer's day unless you're Isaac Asimov in which case you write it and send it in. (he did articles and short stories too along with novel chapters, and non-fiction chapters; there was nobody else like him!)

A professional writer produces words-per-day. That's the job.

Words aren't worth much. So to make a living you must produce a lot of them, very quickly and to market -- i.e. not needing much rewrite.

Just as a publisher's overhead expenses are increased by accepting manuscripts that need rewrite orders -- (then need arguments with writers who don't want to conform their product to the market's requirements), so too are the professional writer's overhead expenses increased by having to do rewrites, before or after contract.  Fewer rewrites equals increased income.

Maxim mentioned in previous posts in this series; TIME IS MONEY

Here's another glimpse of a professional writer's life.

TV Screenwriters.

When you're working on a weekly series as one of a stable of contracted writers, you write the stories given to you at the story-conference.

The season is planned out by story-arc, and various episode concepts are created and assigned along with deadlines. The 1 hour slot has to be filled by a 40-45 page script - usually shorter than that, or cut-able.

The first draft deadline is inflexible. Miss it, you're fired.  Rewrite deadlines are even more inflexible. 

The script always comes back with rewrites that conform it to stuff done by other writers working on different scripts of the season and stuff rewritten on the fly by the actors and director on the set. The rewrite usually has to be done over the weekend or turnaround in 24-48 hours. During production you can be working 16 hour days 7 days a week - and more. 

Speed and accuracy are of the essence. Do it or you're fired.

You have only days to write that script, hours to do the rewrite - and several of these scripts to juggle through the pipeline every production season.

I had the privelege of having two of the writers for a Canadian TV series ask to meet me at a convention one time. I therefore made it a point to hear their presentation at the convention before meeting them. They collaborated on a production routine like that and had many (many) annecdotes of near-disaster, quick rewrites, mid-night phone consultations, and hair-raising reasons to have good art changed to mediocre or bad art, some reasons expense related, sometimes because an actor was ill, sometimes an effect was in-budget but just not attainable.  Commercial writing in TV or any field is not about art. It's about deadlines, production schedules, and union workers standing around idle burning clock time.

And that wasn't the first time I'd had an inside look at TV production writing, so I know their lives weren't unusual. Their ability to explain the kind of pressure the job puts on the writer though was unusual. I wish the presentaton were posted online as a video.

If you can't turn out the sheer volume of publishable (produce-able) words on deadline - TV isn't the field for you.

I grew up in the News Game - I know journalism from so many sides you wouldn't believe they all exist.

I currently know one working print journalist working full time to support just herself - not even a whole family. I know how many hours of research she does, and how fast she has to bat out the stories to very specific lengths no matter the complexity of the subject. It's good training for novel writing, and it is just like TV production writing. No matter what, you make the deadline, you produce the words to order without much need for editing. Take up too much editing time, you're fired. Journalists make better money than novelists - steadier money - but still it isn't a living anyone could envy, especially today with print media disappearing and the Web based journalism not lucrative enough to compete with print.

So in determining whether you are a writer or an editor, there is a short list of attributes about yourself that you should inventory:

a) monetary income requirements - how poor do you want to live?

b) personal attributes of intelligence, memory (are you Isaac Asimov?)

c) alternative places to apply your inventory of skills and knowledge and what they pay. Are you physically able to do something else?

d) supply and demand - if you're going to be a supplier of words, how much competition do you have?

e) how reliable and uniform is your word-production? Can you improve it in time to prevent starvation?

f) do you have a backup plan? What if the publisher's check bounces? (they do) Are you willing and able to write just about anything that pays?

What's the difference between a writer and an editor (other than the steady paycheck, however paltry?)

Basically, any editor is actually a writer.

Any writer has to learn to be an editor to turn professional.

Both writers and editors have consider the 6 attributes listed above.

Both are in the same economically sensitive business - some more advertising supported parts of the industry have bigger swings, but demand is closely tied to the economy, jobs, leisure time available per person.

There is only one point upon which I've seen writers and editors differ markedly as personality types.

It's e) above -- word production pace and volume.

Writers produce torrents and tides and tsunamies of words, every day all day, and aren't happy doing anything else. A lot of those words are typo'd because of haste to get it all down. A lot are parts of wordy-constructions and need rephrasing, and many just plain don't say anything and need deleting. But the torrent of words just never lets up, good, bad, indifferent, and brilliant they just keep pouring out to be shaped to professional standards on the first rewrite.

Editors produce a few words - maybe half a sentence - and spend a month or a year pondering those few, searching for just the right single word.  Nothing is ever good enough for an editor. 

Editors produce a story idea, and spend five years writing character sketches.

Editors produce a lot of poetry, but slowly and with multiple grinding polishings until all the words just sparkle.

Editors don't produce words at commercial rates.

Editors polish and polish and ponder and choose and re-choose, and grind away wanting everything just so perfect.

I know only one hugely best selling, widely read, greatly admired, critically acclaimed writer who worked like an editor - polishing and polishing for 10 or 15 years to produce a book that was maybe 40,000 words long.

Theodore Sturgeon (a very good friend, keenly missed now that he's gone) worked like that. He was invited by Gene Roddenberry to contribute to Star Trek in the season where they drew upon seasoned professional SF writers (so was Marion Zimmer Bradley but she declined because she didn't like TV as a story-medium and had never seen Star Trek).

Theodore Sturgeon wrote the original script for Amok Time that introduced Pon Farr, the Vulcan mating drive, to Star Trek and by that changed the world.

The final broadcast version was different from the version Sturgeon wrote (I have copies of both scripts), but the concept of the mating drive survived and shaped our notion of Vulcan culture and Spock's place in it.

But unlike Harlan Ellison, a natural screenwriter, prolific SF novelist and editor, wildly best selling shaper of the middle-history of the SF field, Sturgeon didn't go on to work in television. He kept on working, perfecting a novel titled Godbody which was finally published in 1986. A jewel.

I've known many editors and agents (interchangeable roles; they both try to fit an artistic product into a commercial market), and all of them do write, or want to write, but don't produce enough words/day to make a living at writing.

Some editors and agents just give up, acknowledging their tropism toward stories but knowing they can't make it as professional writers for lack of the word-volume production.

As far as I know, that's the only difference. Librarians and Teachers likewise may have a book in them - one. They may write on the side. But they stop to polish and grind and end up condensing everything to near poetry. It's just not enough words to make a living when you get paid by the word.

So, turn your eye inward and judge yourself.

Do you have what it takes to attain and sustain a words/day volume rate that can bring an income large enough to satisfy your lifestyle requirements?

If so, you then have to consider the competition. What if you don't make it? What's your backup plan? What are the odds that you will succeed where thousands of others have not?

Are you willing to take that chance?

And it's the same problem for editors. For every person who has the talent and training, the ability and determination to make it in editing -- there are 10,000 more just as good. But only 1 job that pays steady.

Today the number of paying jobs in publishing is shrinking, and the corporations are again playing the game of firing the senior staff because their salaries are too high, combining the positions so 1 person does the work 3 did before, then hiring kids just out of college to fill the 1 vacancy and paying them entry-level salaries.  They then tell the shareholders and Wall Street they've increased "productivity." 

You can't live in Manhattan on a Manhattan editor's salary. That's economics. Check it out.

Why are you even thinking of getting into this game?

If you're not an editor or a writer, then maybe you're actually born to be an AGENT?

Here's a blog entry by an agent on the role of the agent.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Next Tuesday we'll look at a blog post by a writer who asks, "Do Your Lovers Live The HEA" (the Happily Ever After ending)


  1. Hmm, I tend to urp out stories like a newborn baby on formula with reflux. And the result is just as messy!

    My goal is to turn out a complete ready-for-the-editor novel every six months. I think I would have made it with Sugar Rush, but I had a real baby in the same year, High Risk pregnancy and Newborn Nights, you know. So, it took me a year. I'm learning and the story structuring skills help enormously.

    Yesterday, I urped out a story and on first look I thought it was Suspense. And I was like, "Ahh! I don't know how to write Suspense! I've hardly ever even read it!" I write Young Adult, almost exclusively. Oookay, so what if...the Heroine is, um, 17 and her mother's a cop and...

    But, that was yesterday.

    Thanks for all these posts on editing. They're really helping a lot!

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