“Where Is Clarion For Editors?” discussion from Readercon

So we had the “Where is Clarion for Editors?” thing last night at Readercon. The official description from the con program:

9:00 PM CO Where Is Clarion for Editors?
Leah Bobet, Ellen Datlow, Liz Gorinsky, Bart Leib, Julia Rios, Cecilia Tan (leader)
The speculative fiction field has many workshops for writers, such as the various Clarions, Odyssey, and Viable Paradise, not to mention MFA programs like Stonecoast where one can do genre work. But where’s the “Clarion for Editors”? Some of the most vital work being done in our field is coming from web magazines, small publishers, digital publishers, and others who are largely forced to learn to edit “on the job.” This discussion, led by Cecilia Tan, will examine the need for a structured workshop for aspiring and established editors, and propose ways that such a workshop might be made to happen.

I had proposed it because I feel that there is a huge amount of knowledge on editing and being and editor trapped in the heads of the talent pool of current editors in sf/fantasy that I would like newer editors to have a chance to tap. The “old” way of book publishing was very much a mentor industry. Not only in editorial positions but also in marketing, publicity, and other areas, you came in as an entry-level assistant. You were working with your boss on what your boss did, eventually you took over bits of what your boss did, until you were fully fledged and ready to either fly the nest or if you were at a big enough company to move into a higher role at a middle management level.

But stability, turnover, and mergers in the big houses continues to shake up that old system, and in the age of digital publishing and Kickstarter so much vital work in our genre is being done outside the “traditional” publishing structures.

There are a ton of places where one can go if one is an aspiring science fiction writer (various Clarions, Viable Paradise, Odyssey, genre-friendly MFA programs) There are even opportunities for established writers to work on craft, like Walter Jon Williams’ Taos Toolbox. But where’s the venue for editors to learn, connect, grow, teach, and mentor?

What I would like to see happen in the nearish future is for some kind of workshop (?) or colloquium (?) or conference (?) to appear that would be a venue for that. The Readercon event was to hopefully get the ball rolling on that discussion.

I had hoped to spend two-thirds the time on discussing what issues the editors in the room thought would be most vital, and a third of the time on logistics of how it could happen, what format a workshop might take, etc… I had also proposed the event as a roundtable discussion. Readercon, though, assigned panelists to it–or at least the people assigned thought that they were panelists, as a few of them told me, since the con didn’t really make clear that there was any distinction–and the room was set up for a panel, with a head table with audience. If I’d had more time between the previous panel and that one I would have tried to rearrange the room to be chairs in a circle. But the setup of the room and the expectations of both the panelists and the audience turned things into much more of a traditional “panel” where it was clear what people wanted to do most was pick the brains of the editors present.

Which I think speaks to the original premise: there is a lot of know-how in the heads of editors and I want there to be a structured way to pass on at least some portion of it.

Anyway. I left it with us spending 46 minutes on brain-picking and only 4 minutes on asking people for their ideas on how such a workshop could happen, which meant effectively all I did was ask people for their e-mail addresses if they wanted to be more involved in whatever process or structure grows from this in the future. (If YOU are such a person, please drop me a line at ctan.circletpress @ gmail.com or comment here.)

Now the good stuff, the brain-picking. The panelists included quite a strong selection of folks including:
Ellen Datlow, do I need to give you a bio on Ellen Datlow? Google her: her accomplishments as an editor far surpass what I can encompass in one sentence.
Leah Bobet: the current maven of Ideomancer
Liz Gorinsky: Tor Books and Tor.com
Julia Rios: Strange Horizons and various anthologies
Bart Lieb: the panel’s token male! From Crossed Genres magazine/publisher

Also present in the room:
Joy Crelin, editor of Betwixt magazine
Marco Palmieri, editor with Tor Books
Paul Stevens, editor with Tor Books
Bernie Mojzes, editor of Unlikely Story (The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, etc)
LJ Cohen, self-publisher and sometime anthologist
Diane Weinstein, current art editor of Space and Time, longtime Weird Tales
Lee Weinstein, former editor with Asimov’s and Wildside

There was also a woman whose name I cannot read in my terrible handwriting, something Kildis? Postscripts of Darkness? Please someone correct me here if you know her name!

I clearly should have appointed a recording secretary before we began.

I opened by asking everyone to introduce themselves and say how you got into editing or what the first editing experience you had was. (Many many many editors of their high school literary magazines and newspapers, though not all…)

And I asked, what was the one thing you with someone had told you before you got into editing?


Julie: how much of it is formatting details, getting the spacing right, all that.

Leah: how much is being a volunteer coordinator. In the small press so much of it is managing the helpers you need. It’s a human resources job.

Ellen: The administration of contracts and payments. You have to stay on top of that no matter what kind of company you’re in, large or small.

Liz: Don’t take a job as an editor unless it’s the only thing that you can do. It can be soul-crushing. Whoever thinks that editing at a trade house is glamorous has some learning to do.

Bart: That there is no “one right way” to edit or to be an editor. I ended up taking little bits from everywhere and making it work for me.

Cecilia: I wish someone had made clear to me that there’s a big difference between working with MANUSCRIPTS and working with AUTHORS. I had thought at first it was always all about the manuscript but more and more I feel it’s about the relationship and the “extra-curricular” elements.

Paul: Trust your gut. When you think something’s wrong, say something, even if you can’t say how to fix it. Every time there’s been something in a book I’m editing that bothers me and I let it slide, that’s the one thing the reviewers zero in on.

Marco: The subtleties of literary agents. (followed by knowing “Ahhhh” from the audience.”)

Leah: It took time to develop the sense of when to send something back for rewrite and when to realize you’re just torturing someone.

Julia: Sometimes the rewrites are so worth it though. At Strange Horizons we had a story that we felt really had SOMETHING worthwhile, but it went back for multiple rewrites. Really wondered whether it was worth it but… In the end it won the Sturgeon Award! (applause)

Ellen: Sometimes it gets worse and worse, though. Sometimes authors over-rewrite. Sometimes they change EVERYTHING except for what I asked for.

Cecilia: Don’t you feel like sometimes that’s the author resisting change?

Ellen: Not always consciously. I think sometimes they don’t even realize that’s what they did.

Leah: Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.

Much discussion took place about workshop culture and the difference between what you do in a critique group and what an editor does.

Liz Gorinsky had a strong analogy: “It’s almost like we need editor charm school. We need all the mini-lessons on comportment, like all the tools and tricks of how to open your fan. How do we teach all the tactile, experiential lessons of being in the world of editing?” Yes exactly! “We have this sense that we can all learn from each other but how do we make this accessible to others?” (who may not be as privileged) Yes! Good question!


The book Thoughtcrime Experiments edited by Sumana Hariharswara and Leonard Richardson — they had never edited a book before, and they included an appendix breaking down and explaining everything they did.

The Online Writing Workshop (formerly Del Rey Online Writing Workshop) — once a month she pulls a story and goes through a critique of it

Okay, so those were all the notes I managed to take while also leading the discussion and trying not to let it derail entirely into a talk about “what’s wrong with writers workshops.”

One concrete suggestion we had was what about offering a two-hour workshop session during next year’s Readercon?

Writer, editor, baseball fan, bisexual, eastern healing therapist, etc...

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