Thursday, August 18, 2005

notes on editing the spec fic antho 2

Some have asked about my process, so, sure, I'll share how I made my choices.

First Pass

After all the sorting and preliminary reading, I put myself in a critical mode, much the same as my reading mode when I'm judging for literary competitions. I went through all the submitted stories again, and created three new piles (mostly I read the digital files but certain stories I print out).

Pile A: Reject. These stories did make the cut for various reasons. Some suffered terrible grammar, while others, though well-written, did not fit into the framework of what I intend the antho to be. So just because your story is rejected does not mean you wrote poorly, only that it was not the type of story that I was looking for.

Pile B: Must-Have. There are some stories that hook my eyes and sensibilities from the first sentence and never let go. These stories immediately demand attention and rise above the others.

Pile C: Consider. Some stories I am initially ambivalent about. Certain stories require a second or tertiary reading to appreciate. Some have some small flaw that keeps me from putting them in Pile B.

Short list

My next step is to create a short list. This is a list of the stories that are going into the antho, along with details on their page count, authors, and my initial commentary. I do this on a Excel spreadsheet.

My commentary functions as reminder text for my review. I rationalize to myself why I am selecting this story. It is never "I like it"; more of "good slipstream sensibility, good imagery and surreal tone", or "crap, I wish I wrote this- good narrative flow".

The word count is important because I have a maximum of 60,000 words for the entire book. Why the cap? Because that is all I can afford. I am publishing the book, not Anvil or UP Press (at least not yet, bwahaha) and I've allocated around P70k for production. Going beyond my word count is an expense I cannot afford.

So I created my short list, the first of many. Over the course of hours, the roster changed, as certain stories from Pile C migrated to Pile B, dislodging them, changing places, stunningly consigning a favored story from Pile B to Pile A. And this goes on even when I'm not in front of my laptop. My PDA takes care of that.

I agonize and sleep over it. Then I begin to inform the authors of the works I've selected.


Why do I inform people in batches? Because there are, after all the jostling, a set of stories that survived unmolested - those stories are definitely in. So their authors should know (I myself hate waiting). Some stories make it to Pile B after a bitter struggle.

Why not inform everyone at the same time? Because certain stories are still fighting over the last two slots in the courtroom of my mind and it looks like we'll all need the weekend to resolve their conflict.

66 stories were under consideration, and, with the exception of a handful, I knew if they were in or out. So I wrote letters of acceptance and rejection, trying my best to give some kind of positive criticism to those stories which fell short. But it is difficult to offer indepth critique over email, especially when there are so many. I do try to be helpful, but given the constraints, I partially retreated into formality. I am approachable - people do ask me for critiques and I answer when I have time - but in this case, I am defeated by the volume.

Writing a rejection letter is always painful. I know people spent time and effort writing and it is not pleasant to be told "no". It is also painful when I know the authors personally. I've had to reject friends and colleagues, people I've had a history with, because I'm not putting out an antho for friends. Each story has to fight to be there - even my small contribution. I just hope that the authors whose work did not make the cut keep in mind that a writer's life is visited by rejection slips (I have my own collection) - and that just because a single editor declined doesn't mean you're worthless.

On the other hand, I've had the pleasure of informing first-time authors that their work is accepted. Part of my agenda is encouraging new writers, new voices - the last thing I want is some sort of domination by an elite of the Filipino spec fic. So I'm happy to say that half of the anthology is composed of stories by new authors. Their stories stand shoulder-to-shoulder in terms of imagination and quality of writing with the Palanca and National Book awardees that comprise the rest of the book. And in case you're wondering, an award or 8 do not guarantee inclusion. You are only as good as the story I'm reading right now. It's incidental that the story I liked was penned by an awardee of some sort.

So in the end, I have a collection I'm happy with. I'm making no claims for it being "The Year's Best Philippine Fantasy and Science Fiction", but in my eyes, these stories certainly deserve to be read by a wide audience.


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