The members of MIR's editorial team set themselves seven questions as a way of describing and evaluating the experience of working on The Mechanics’ Institute Review, Issue 7 (MIR7). Here are their answers.
- What do you think you got out of it?
- What did you enjoy most or least about the editing experience?
- What makes an editorial team great?
- How does MIR7 compare to previous issues?
- How do you think MIR7 compares with other anthologies of its nature?
- What did you like most/least about the outcome?
What do you think you got out of it?
What did I get out of it? I had no idea what was involved in the publishing process when I began work on The Mechanics’ Institute Review, Issue 7 (MIR7), so the elucidation of that process was a very important aspect for me, from inviting contributions to reading all 80 or so submissions; drawing up longlists, then shortlists, and arguing for personal favourites to arrive at a consensus within the editorial team on the final selections; and then taking responsibility for closer editing of stories with “my” authors. I very much enjoyed the editing relationship with my authors and felt quite possessive of them.
There is a lot of mundane administrative work too: maintaining the contacts database, getting quotes, budgeting, drafting letters, replying to emails, stuffing envelopes and so on. There are designers, artists and printers to deal with. Publicity materials. Are we supplying the pdf? Yes we are. Matt or gloss? Matt, please. Courier companies. What’s the postcode? I’ve told them twice, will they deliver to the correct address? Wine merchants and caterers. How much fizz? Should we have pies?
Teamwork is crucial. Different members of the team had different strengths; roles were undertaken to suit individuals and delegated accordingly. A high degree of motivation and energy are needed. As pressure builds there are emotional incidents and tempers can fray.
There is a huge release of breath when the books arrive just in time. Looking great!
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What did you enjoy most or least about the editing experience?
We read through more than 80 short-story submissions for the seventh issue of The Mechanics’ Institute Review. It was a colourful team effort as we sifted, then long- and shortlisted the stories. Based on a collectively defined vision statement (plus seven assorted literary sensibilities), we conversed and deliberated our way towards the final selections. It was a relief to reach that point in the process.
Waving bye-bye to a character, setting or “killer line” in a favoured story, or having to oblige by a piece for which there was less affinity or fondness, was only half the discomfort. The quality of submissions was excellent overall, but if the piece did not match the vision, if it could not sit in sequence, or it was pipped at the post by a slightly stronger story with a similar subject, then it was rejected. Part of the publishing process is letting go of good writing. It is give and take, with the best interests of the publication at heart.
Having won the war, the team divided into groups to begin editing the stories with individual authors, which was a great experience. It was an opportunity to partake in the creative practice of producing short fiction. It had me at paragraph one, enlivened and absorbed.
On meeting with the first of my authors, behind the smiles and hello greetings, there was a hint of pensiveness. I silently wondered how much I would be permitted to contribute to the work. After all, we can all be precious over our creative efforts. And, who knew? My author may have been weighing up how much of a hatchet job was about to take place! Consequently, we were at the South Bank Centre in Central London, a public place with plenty of people around, thus reducing the odds of any unfavourable outburst on either side. Thankfully, the meeting seemed to flow in the right direction.
Prior to publication, the story “belongs” to the author, the seed of an idea that has blossomed in their imagination. Who better to select the best changes and edits to enhance the work?
It was my job as an editor to get the author swiftly to the crux of an issue, which seemed to open the door to a genuine creative partnership. I asked leading questions, and shared my overall and detailed impressions of the narrative. I enjoyed the intelligent creative to-ing and fro-ing on syntax, on diction, on structure, etc. until the point at which editor and author were down to the minutiae, the place of finer tuning, prior to copy-editing. The author developed creative solutions, crafted new sentences, devised clearer plot transitions. The author maintained a sense of ownership, the ideal situation for the work. The author’s commitment remained intact, if not strengthened.
Storytelling is truth in fiction – a contradiction in terms. However, creative partnership between editor and author can allow truth to be told, which can in turn allow for great fiction writing.
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