EWF Emerging Editors

The 2014 Emerging Writers' Festival was the first in its decade-long history to feature the work of editors. The decision to schedule a full day on 30 May 'for editing word-nerds and writers' to hear top-quality editors was clearly welcomed by the many who attended. The venue was the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas in Melbourne - the natural home of editors.

Six one-hour sessions ran from 10am to 5pm like clockwork with an hour for lunch. Details of the program can be viewed here.

Sessions 2 and 6 were the most relevant to freelance editors. Here's a brief overview of topics and my take-away tips.

Session 1. Submissions vs Commissions
Panelists: Robert Watkins (Hachette), Zora Sanders (Meanjin), and Alice Grundy (Giramondo)

  • The difference is whose idea it is. (This topic was for writers from commissioning editors.)
  • Literary agents leap tall slushpiles in a single bound.

Session 2. Indigenous Editing: black&write!
Panellists: Linda McBride-Yuke, Ellen van Neerven, Carissa Lee Godwin and Sue Abbey (black&write!)

  • Much research is required to edit Indigenous writing. Knowledge of regional accents and traditions is essential to retain the authentic voices, unique grammar and speech patterns, especially in the unlikely event that a non-Indigenous publisher is interested.
  • Many Indigenous editors are needed to make personal, diplomatic contact with elders. Trust and respect for territory is crucial.
  • There is a spectrum of possessive opinion on who should write on Indigenous subjects. It's even difficult for urbanised Indigenous editors, and non-Indigenous writers and editors especially need guidance.

Session 3. Digital Directions
Panellists: Sian Campbell (Scum Mag), Robert Coleman (The Thousands) and Emily Laidlaw (Kill Your Darlings).

Q: Does the digital era demand more from editors than it offers?
A: We got the most visits ever for our story about the illegal eBay drug site. (Laidlaw)
A: We didn't even know about SEO when our world's oldest wombat story went internationally viral. Now we put 'erectile dysfunction' as a default tag but we've never written about it. (Coleman)
A: There's a cachet in knowing your way about the digital world. (Harmon)

Session 4. Going Solo with Start-Up Publications
Panellists: Robert Skinner (The Canary Press), Amy Middleton (Archer Magazine), Mitchell Oakley-Smith (Manuscript) and Mary Masters (Small Press Network)

This means wearing many hats: caterer, marketer, packer, distributor by bicycle and 'Kate' (sshh! - she's the fictional fierce female accountant who fires off bills to booksellers). 'Well, you can't have the money person going into bookshops being all excited.' (Skinner) 'Especially not in a bright yellow jumpsuit.' (Middleton)

Session 5. Shaping the Debate
Panellists: Erik Jensen (The Saturday Paper), Lian Low (Peril), André Dao (Right Now) and Jacinda Woodhead (Overland).

Q: How do editors promote diversity and shape cultural and political debate through publication and editorial direction?
A: By editing magazines promoting diversity and shaping cultural and political debate through publication and editorial direction.
A: Peril chooses writers with Asian-Australian, non-white and diverse sexuality and gender backgrounds. Overland demands timeless political debate and prefers to publish writers who subscribe to the journal and have an Australian bank account. The Saturday Paper declares no interest in agendas, but has a diversity quota of half women and a third queer.

Note to convenor: Next EWF, I suggest you invite the editors of Drumstick (a newsletter for chook farmers), members of the Liberal Party and First Dog on the Moon (Andrew Marlton, Walkley Award-winning cartoonist) to add some variety to the debate.

Session 6. Going the Distance: Book Editing and Building a Career
Panellists: Cate Blake (Penguin), Aviva Tuffield (Affirm Press), Chris Feik (Black Inc) and Carody Culver.

Q: What inspired these established editors to pick up the red pen?
A: None had intended to be an editor. They gave up study and wrote reviews, volunteered, tutored at uni, sold books, unpacked boxes at Readings, got jobs on reception, and worked as editorial assistants. 'Get a foot in the door. . . nothing beats learning on the job.' (Tuffield)

Typical tasks: changing a manuscript title, researching a character, thinking about the cover, rescheduling the timeframe of a first chapter, painstaking writing up, resolving legal issues, finding an executor to get photo permissions, walking a new writer through his memoir, trying to get the whole story, deciding how much to put in the book, setting up in-house typesetting.

None wanted to be acknowledged in books they edited. 'It would break the spell. Editors were always silent slaves.' (Feik)

Good editors read new releases, were self-effacing, highly pedantic and perfectionist, good at getting the message across, tactful, analytical, a sounding board but a critic when required, like a boa constrictor for the story, to make it the best version of itself. 'Like the Hippocratic oath: don't make it worse.'

Writers were urged to persevere with their submissions, but emerging editors were disappointed to learn that in-house trade publishing editors who have to mould a manuscript into a profitable shape see little point in a pre-submission professional edit or even IPEd accreditation. It sounds like speculative fiction to suggest that their astute collaboration with writers and freelancers could return the missing gold to their lacklustre slushpiles. Despite that, our own newsletter editor Lorna Hendry found this session the most directly relevant to her, because, she asks, 'Deep down, don't we all hanker to work somewhere with great authors who are writing great books?' I do agree and I commend EWF for this valiant venture.

In closing I echo Editors Victoria member Amanda Martin's view that 'the day was an encouraging reminder that our industry is thriving and I hope this event becomes a permanent fixture for the EWF.'

Christina Crossley Ratcliffe