I’ve just finished putting together the contents of the first issue of Lakeside Circus. I am immensely proud of this publication, which represents a lifelong goal of mine. I am thrilled by the names we’ve lined up, and even more thrilled at the stories and poems they submitted. There’s still work to be done – and a lot of it, over the next two weeks – but for a moment I can sit back, admire the Table of Contents, and be content.
But editing is not about me.
Ultimately, when this issue is published, the people who’ll be (rightfully) getting the accolades will be the authors. That’s how it should be. Being “the editor” means being the person who puts together the anthology, selects the work, does the editing, arranges for a cover (whether by hiring the artist and working on the design, or being part of the team that approves the final version). When you’re a small press editor, you’re also sometimes the publisher, and that can mean doing the accounting, advertising, publicity, getting the project made into an ebook or designing the print version, overseeing contracts, doing the mailing… For me, that’s always been true. I do it all.
Editing is much less about being the star of the show and much more like being the stage manager. It’s office work and costuming and setting the lighting cues so that when your performers walk out into the public eye, they look and sound their best. You arrange the performances in the right order so that one plays into the next, and none take away from what came before or comes after. You read the anxious emails from authors who didn’t get something they should have, and you make sure they get it, or who aren’t sure this is their best work (so you assure them you love it, because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have bought it). You make sure the theater is booked for the right day, the tickets are printed, you have enough volunteers to seat the patrons, and your curtain will rise on time.
And at the end, when the actors take their bow, you sometimes get a nod, a wave. You might even get moment to step out into the bright lights and blushingly accept some of the praise. Maybe.
Your authors will thank you for the chance to be in your production, and that’s right. You did give them an opportunity to shine. But they’re the ones who wrote the stories, who will get the best or harshest reviews, who’ll be lauded if they succeeded or singled out if they failed. The pressure on them isn’t like what you face as an editor. If a piece in your anthology falls flat, it’s the author who’ll be criticized, even though it was your job to keep that from happening.
A few weeks ago, Ellen Datlow posted about how terribly unprofessional it is to include your own work in something you’ve edited. Most people agreed. A few stood up and said, “Why would I edit an anthology if I wasn’t going to use it as a vehicle for my own writing?”
That sound you might have heard was me banging my head against my desk.
I edit because I want to see a certain kind of publication in the world. Editing gives me the power to create the book or magazine that’s missing from the library shelf. I write when I want the focus to be on me. They’re two different things. If you aren’t confident enough of your skill as a writer that you can’t see yourself selling that story to someone else, putting it in anthology you’re editing won’t make your writing any better or do that much to help your career. Most of us will see you used the work of others to promote your own. You bring down the value of their work by casting aspersions on the whole production. Like a director who also stars in the show… we’ll always wonder if it could have been better had you stayed behind the scenes instead of insisting on the spotlight.
I love getting to work as an editor. I am a writer. Those two things are different, too. Knowing that, I can pour all of my free time into editing (and I do) but still feel the ache and need to write. I can write and not miss editing, until I go looking for a book that doesn’t exist. Then it’s time to put out a casting call, arrange for a theater, hire a crew, and start all over again.
Be aware of the hard work and time it takes to edit an anthology, or oversee a magazine. I’ll appreciate that you noticed, in the same way that I’d expect to be recognized for finishing a big project at my dayjob. (In fact, it’s exactly the same as that.) But be impressed by the authors who made that time and effort worthwhile. I know that I am.
And when I share the next piece of my own writing that’s been published, you can shine the spotlight on me then. That’ll be my time to shine.