Friday, July 6, 2012
Some good news this week: I’ve been notified that the summer issue of On Spec Magazine will contain my short story “Village of Good Fortune.” On their current production timeline, that means about August. This will represent the second time my words will see print. Apparently I’m on a “once a year” schedule. If I can keep this up, given average Canadian life-spans, I should have a library of about 40 published stories before I cap off. That’s a couple anthologies!
Of course, that assumes we’ll still be putting words onto paper in 40 years. Some have their doubts. (Personally, I believe we’ll be publishing MORE, rather than less, though I will concede that the day of the Publishing House Giants is probably nearing its end. In forty years, I’ll have a printer in my house that can poop out a book, complete with binding and kick-ass cover art, in less than a minute. We have printers that can make gall bladders, for crying out loud, I’m sure a professionally-bound book isn’t out of the realm of possibility.)
“Village” was the first time I was subjected to the full editorial process. “Costumes” (in Tesseracts) was copy-edited, and that was it. Fix the commas, em-versus-en dashes, that type of thing. But “Village”… oh, that was another matter. When I saw the file with the initial corrections, I completely choked. It was a LOT of red. My editor, however, assured me that it was a relatively clean story (which meant some of the stuff she’s dealt with must have been nightmarish, to judge by the first round of suggestions I got).
My editor was great, professional, patient and helpful. We haggled over a few things (not many) and she never forced me to make an alteration I didn’t agree with. For the most part, her corrections did improve the story. She discovered some continuity things, some stuff that was obvious to me as the writer but opaque to the reader, and always, always, the cuts. Word count is a very important issue when you are using paper as your medium. Extra pages are extra cost, so you have to make sure that every word you’ve put down is necessary. I’ve heard dozens of times “every story can be reduced by 10%.”
My experience is still very limited. But I know math, and it’s clear the above statement is unsupportable. I submit 100 thousand words. I’m told to reduce by 10%. I submit 90 thousand. I’m told the same thing. You see where this leads, right? Eventually you end up with a story of a single word, and even then you try and make sure the word is a SHORT word. Like most expressions, it’s not to be taken literally. But I do get the impression some people in the biz pride themselves on slicing text to ribbons. It doesn’t make them bad people, not at all, they know what they need to do in order to keep the presses running (it IS a business, after all). It does make me wonder how long Lord of the Rings was before editors assaulted it. Or did they? Did Tolkien and his generation not have the same pressure to reduce?
It can’t be just a modern phenomenon. I look at some of the weighty tomes on the shelves and I find it hard to believe these authors have been subjected to the 10% rule. Or do they do what Scotty on Star Trek does? The crafty ol’ Scot inflated his repair estimates to give himself more time and make him seem like a genius when he gets it done in record time. So do these authors submit fat manuscripts, knowing they’ll have to trim the chub and therefore making sure there’s plenty of easy meat to cut?
More likely it’s because GRR Martin sold a bazillion copies of Game of Thrones (see? I really do know math!) and Stephen King sells a bazillion copies of everything he writes so what editor has the clout to say “Hey, George, maybe we could lose the nine-hundredth food description, whaddaya think?”
As I said, I know math, and publishing two short stories does NOT equal a bazillion copies. I’m sure I remember that from school. So maybe I should just shut up and be happy I got out there at all.