Adventures of a First-Time Editor: Stage 7 – Selling & the Production Process

This is the eighth installment of a series about the Anthology Workshop run by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, and which is being held in Las Vegas from this point on. It’s a week-long look into the inner workings of traditionally published short fiction. The first post in the series outlines the event and provides links to the entire series, so if you’re not familiar with it I suggest reading that post before proceeding.

That post also notes that my daughter (Brigid) and I are editing Face the Strange, an anthology in the Fiction River series that comes from the workshop. It’s going to be an awesome set of stories. Have I mentioned that before? Yes, I’m sure I must have.

As it turns out, Brigid and I are working on the last steps of this process right now—at least as far as the writers are concerned, so the writing of this segment is done with fresh eyes.

By this time, everyone has packed their bags and traveled home. The workshop is “finished.” Stories have been selected, and the path forward is set.

If you’ve sold work to traditional publications before you’ll know the basic drill. That’s what Fiction River is, after all—a traditional short fiction market. The editors will contact the writers for changes they feel are needed and the writers will respond as they will.

So, yes, from this point forward, everything should be straight forward.

But, again, this is traditional publishing. Until the process is finished anything can happen. Back when I was a new writer, for example, my friends and I would often joke that we would “kill a market,” meaning we’d sell a story someplace and the market would die before the story was published. It happens more often than anyone would like. Fiction River is not dying anytime soon, so that shouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand a story will sometimes enter the pipeline and, for a myriad of reasons, not come out.

For example, I have had a Fiction River editor select one of my stories only to have a change of heart later. Things happen. Rarely, yes, but this is an art form and it’s run by people. Remember that last segment about dealing with rejection? Feel free to insert it here.


The editorial direction you’ll receive can be anything from light line edits to requests for heavy changes. In the later cases, you’ll have heard about the depth of changes the editor wants in person—so those shouldn’t be too surprising. In fact, as the story is being selected, the changes an editor will want are almost always discussed before the selection happens. It’s not unusual to hear an editor tell a writer “I love this story, but I would want you to do X, Y, and Z with it. If you don’t want to do that I’ll respect that decision, but if you’ll agree to do it I’ll take the story.”

Consider this the equivalent to a regular, everyday editor writing a sometimes long, rambling request for a rewrite.

Learning Opportunity: For newer writers, the workshop environment provides you with a direct framework for how this negotiation is supposed to go. Hearing editors tell a writer “it’s your call” gives everyone in the room a reminder that this is your career—your work. At the end of the day, you’re in charge and a decision to change or not change a piece is yours and yours alone.

This goes all the way through the rest of the editorial process, too. Processing the manuscript needs to be a “win-win or no deal” kind of proposition on both sides, meaning that if an editor asks for changes and I (as a writer) don’t like those changes, I have to be free to reject them.

That said, there’s a question of professionalism on both sides that needs to be inherent in the whole thing. If you agree to make changes then later argue about them to the point where you eventually pull a story, the editor is well within their rights to get more than a bit chuffed.

As the project gets put into the WMG production pipeline, which can be months down the line, you’ll also receive a contract.

Fiction River contracts are writer friendly regarding rights and payment rates. The publishers actually encourage pursuing reprints, collections, and other inventive reuse of your properties, and will pay a writer for any additional reuse WMG undertakes.

The contract will come some months prior to publication, and your payment will be on publication.

Learning Opportunity: As a writer, that last bit (payment on publication) is important to understand as a business model. Given the publication schedule Fiction River runs on, the final cash flow to the writer can be quite far down stream. In context of understanding what’s happening with their IP, writers should understand that this is equivalent to giving the publisher a “free option”—meaning that you can’t market the piece while it’s in process, and that WMG isn’t taking financial risk regarding your story by laying out cash up front. If, by whatever nuances of business, WMG were to go bankrupt or close Fiction River, they are under no obligation to pay you for the time your IP is off the market.

I’ll note that Fiction River isn’t doing anything particularly unusual here.

The “pay on publication” process is somewhat standard, though not ubiquitous. So the learning inherent here is about the business—not specifically about Fiction River—except in the sense that selling to Fiction River can give you an organic understanding of what “payment on publication” can mean regarding cash flow.

Regardless, you’ll sign a contract when the anthology gets into the final stages. Insert all the standard business conversation here: Review that contract, understand it, ask questions if you’re not sure.

When the book is published, you’ll get your copy and a very fun check.

Really, there’s nothing better than holding a book with your words in it in your hands. If that ever gets so old that it’s not thrilling, please someone take me out of my misery.

Yes, this whole series is about my adventures as a first-time editor, so let me start this way: editing is fun. Stressful in ways, yes. Very different from writing. But fun.

In our case, Brigid and I left the workshop with our anthology full—so we didn’t have to go out and find more work. Instead, we told our writers not to touch their manuscripts at all, and that we would be in touch with further directions. So when we got home Brigid and I developed our thoughts, then provided them to the writers.

(aside: see how easily my language went to “our writers” … yes, I chuckle at how possessive I’ve become of these stories and these writers—another feather in the cap of the “editors love stories” idea)

In several cases the directions we provided were very light copy edits—one manuscript was maybe three touches, which is proof positive again that, yes, amazing stories and clean manuscripts can be written in very short time spans.

However, we had word count issues to deal with, and we felt that a few of the stories needed alterations. One needed streamlining and general tightening, another needed a new ending, a third needed some additional blocking to both justify a powerful moment in the narrative and to bring out the heart that was at the root of the story. We suggested one title change. Another manuscript required a bit of a scrub for pacing. We spent some time on a few others to suggest wordcount cuts so Allyson (the publisher) wouldn’t kill us. [grin]

From a process perspective, Brigid and I were collaborative throughout. We split the stories into two piles, then each took a first pass before sending the manuscript to the other for a follow-up. Same thing for a couple second passes.

Since this was my first time, I found myself constantly thinking about how I would feel if I were the writer and received such feedback. I can’t speak for Brigid here, but that idea made me a bit anxious when I was suggesting changes—especially in the cases where we needed larger alterations to fit our vision. Yes, the writers had agreed to certain ideas, but there’s an intimacy to getting into a writer’s prose that doesn’t exist in a conference room.

Along the way, we did our best to ensure that every writer felt like they were able to override our suggestions unless there was a real story issue at stake that impacted our vision of the anthology as a whole (see the win-win, no deal bit above).

Of course, the writers get the real say here as far as how our approach made them feel. All I can say is that from my view—with only the very last bit of one story to finish—I loved the process and, having now seen the final collective coming together, I think the anthology that’s going to result from the writers’ work will totally blow you away.

It felt equal parts odd and exciting to be on this side of the table, but it was a lot of fun trying to find ways to keep a writer’s voice and perspective their own while still serving the story.

I can’t wait to do it again.

Learning: Editing is a true skill and a real art form. Sure, there’s craft to it. But the idea of supporting a writer is interesting. Very different from providing critique, really. Critique is about saying how I felt about something, Editing is about trying to get under the writer’s skin and helping them say what they were trying to say—only better. It’s a very fine line.

Those of you who know me know that my sweetie is literally a world-class copy editor who has worked for many of the top houses in the field. And I’ve been in and around this business for thirty or so years. So, yes, I had a pretty high regard for the work of a good editor when I started out, but to be put into the role and have to actually do it just raised my level of appreciation for them.

Of course, there’s more to do on the editor’s side at this point. We’ve got introductions to write and some tweaking to do on the final ordering—not to mention actually finishing the story we’ll be writing.

(aside: oh, did I mention that Brigid and I are going to collaborate on a story for this one?)

So, yeah, there’s a little more to do.

One of the fun things about being in a Fiction River anthology is that the publication of a volume is often accompanied by a rash of its writers taking selfies with their contributor’s copies and posting them in various social media environments. This is a unique element of the workshop in the sense that being in a volume comes with a feeling of community.

Other things can happen, too, of course.

Occasionally WMG will exercise their non-exclusive rights to include your work in other issues, or an audio file, or whatever…and in those cases you’ll get a check that just falls out of the sky. The publisher puts the anthology out for review, so you’ll have the ability to deal with the fallout of that aspect of the business (both the wonderful and maybe the not-so-wonderful). And then there are awards. Very little makes me smile more than hearing one of these stories is up for an award, or wins an award, or perhaps when a story that might or might not have been written by my daughter gets listed on a Recommended Reading list.

I know what’s gone into these stories, after all.

It’s hard not to root for them.

Some writers collect stories from the workshop. One writer I know has released a collection of stories written while at the workshop. I, myself, will probably do two different collections—one being stories published in Fiction River itself, and another being stories that were passed on by FR editors only to be published in other professional outlets. I think that’s a fun idea, really—though maybe that’s just my odd sense of fun talking. The point here is that the “fallout” of the workshop can be just as diverse as any other professional market, and perhaps even more diverse in certain senses.

You’re free to be as creative as you can be.

So, really, that’s the end of the “workshop.” At least the end of the classroom portion of the event. I’ve tried my best to describe the primary elements of the event and how attending one will help you see how the entire process of publishing short fiction in traditional markets works. Though I’ve been as thorough as possible, I’m sure I’ve missed a few things.


Of course, that’s not the end of the series. There’s one more element of the workshop left to discuss and, as I’ve said in past installments, for me personally that element (professional networking) is the most valuable of all—the part that keeps me coming back year after year.

So I’ll use the last segment of my “Adventures of a First-Time Editor” series to talk about what happens in the nooks and cracks of the event and why I think it’s so vitally important.

Until then, though, I’ll just take another scan through these stories. Face the Strange is going to be amazing.

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Posted in Anthology, Face the Strange.

One Comment

  1. About those WMG non-exclusive rights, I was paid three times for a story. First appearance in Universe Between, second payment for audio podcast (back when WMG were doing those on their website), and third in Allyson’s Fiction River Presents anthologies.

    Always nice when a story sale continues to generate additional payment. Pretty cool, actually.

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