Aphelion Issue 234, Volume 22
November 2018
 
Editorial    
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Well, that was exciting, wasn't it? I can't recall ever having been this involved in a US election before. I mean, I cared about the outcomes of previous elections, of course. But this year seems to have been particularly polarizing. Not in a good way, either. People are still buzzing about in the various social media being sore losers or sore winners. Once all that has had a bit more time to cool off perhaps people will begin to see that we can still build a better US by working together. We're all in the same boat. We'll all go down if somebody wrecks it. But let's talk about writing instead of politics...

Now one thing I believe is going to happen in the writing communities is that there will be an increase in the number of dystopian and anti-utopian stories written. Stress like this tends to bring out a lot of not-so-happy themes in writing. I know that happy endings aren't everyone's cup of tea. There might even be an uptick in the market for these sorts of stories. Let's face it, any reason for an increase in the market should be good news for writers.

We've got all these stories in our heads that we're going to write down. Some of us will be sending them out to see if someone will pay us for writing them. Some of us will be successful and some of us won't. The whys and wherefores are many. In general, the more you polish a manuscript, the better your chances of selling it. A poorly edited story is going to have a very difficult time finding a buyer. The last thing anyone wants is to spend all that time writing a story only to have a submissions editor somewhere turn it away without reading most of it. Spelling and grammar mistakes have caused the rejection of countless stories that were otherwise good. A writer can't count on keeping the interest of a reader if they aren't doing all the fine tuning that happens after “The End” is added to the manuscript.

That's the half of the writing job that bogs most people down. Everyone needs an editor. We all need to go beyond mere spell checks. We need someone to point out where we switch tenses, or drop into passive voice, or just don't explain what we're getting at. A great idea is easily ruined by technical flaws. Sure, editing is the hardest part of writing. It can also be the most frustrating. A writer can become very good at self-editing their work, yet still miss flaws that need correcting. Someone else can spot the flaws far more easily than the writer themselves. Why? Because the writer gets too close to the work. Our brains already know what we are trying to say, so these uncorrected flaws become invisible to us. We mentally project what we were trying to say over the places where we make these mistakes. Someone else won't have a clue what is in your head, so these flaws are more readily visible to them. Several pro writers I know call these people First Readers. They are a writer's second line of defense against having a manuscript rejected.

The writers themselves are the first line of defense, and the self-editing they can do before asking for the First Reader's critique. The First Reader's job is to be brutally honest with the writer, to point out every flaw and inconsistency that they can find, and to suggest possible changes to fix those flaws. This is exactly like working with an editor on a story, except the First Reader has no stake in the sale of the manuscript at all. It helps a lot if your FR is actually an editor or some sort, but it isn't totally necessary. Having an editor as a FR cuts out several further steps that will be needed if your FR is a non-editor friend willing to read and critique the manuscript.

The next step is to read the FR's critique. The step after that is to refrain from getting upset. The step after that is to correct the obvious typos and grammatical errors the FR found and decide how to address the remaining flaws. This step is rewriting places where you lost your reader. After that, you ask them to read it again. This bit repeats itself until you've fixed everything you can possibly fix. Then you format the manuscript the way whomever you're submitting it to prefers, submit it, and wait. With luck, it gets accepted. If not, you submit it elsewhere. And wait again. The waiting is the worst.

Dan