Deep Dive: Conjuring Unique Visions: Wisdom From Hugo Award-Winning Editor Liz Gorinsky
“Learning to revise your work yourself, or learning to work with a crit group, or theater readers, or places where you can develop the skills to self-edit is far more valuable than paying someone else to do the work for you, because it will pay dividends over the course of your entire career.”
In the following three clips from the SLF’s podcast Mohanraj and Rosenbaum are Humans, hosts Mary Anne Mohanraj and Benjamin Rosenbaum talk with Hugo Award-winning editor Liz Gorinsky about her experience at the forefront of speculative publishing, including her mutually formative tenure at Tor and the recent founding of her own independent publishing house, Erewhon Books. Here, Gorinsky offers thoughts and advice about the idiosyncratic approaches and individual styles in the world of editing, as well as how to edit with a specific audience in mind. Watch these clips or consult the show notes here to answer the following questions.
- In the first clip, the group discusses their individual preferences and values in the editing process. As we can see, every writer is different, and so is every editor. Which elements of your own writing are the most important to consider during editing? Is there anything idiosyncratic about your style that you feel strongly about defending? Can you think of any alterations you would be willing to make?
- Gorinsky suggests that an editor’s job is not only to simplify, commercialize, or ‘tame’ a writer’s work, but to push a writer (or themselves, in the case of self-editing) to more fully realize elements of their story. Can you think of any pieces of writing in which technical rules or standards of traditional writing have been broken? What do these elements bring to their stories?
- As demonstrated by Gorinsky’s specialty in non-traditional speculative fiction, different editors are better suited for certain genres and audiences. Can you think of any specific storytelling techniques or narrative elements that readers in your genre value? Does your example focus on certain kinds of character development or modes of world-building?
- What do you think are the main differences between self-editing and having work edited? Can you come up with specific ways in which authors can think like readers in order to productively self-edit?
- Gorinsky points out that asking questions is just as important to the editing process as listening to suggestions and/or making changes. Either on your own or with a partner, write a list of questions from a reader’s perspective regarding a piece of fiction in progress. For example, what motivates the actions of the story’s main character? Try to come up with at least five more!
- The role of an editor may often be perceived as authoritative, but Gorinsky describes her style as an undemanding one, in which her advice is offered but very rarely imposed. Her success in the field clearly demonstrates that a good editor doesn’t have to be forceful or argumentative. Considering this, take ten to fifteen minutes to write a half-page statement outlining the characteristics of your ideal editor. What would your ideal editor focus on? What would be their values and ethics when working with authors?
- In the second clip, Mohanraj summarizes the discussion by asking, “What kind of reading experience are you trying to create?” In response to this question, write a one page statement outlining the intended audience, community, market, or niche for your writing. Share with your class or group to make connections! If writing on your own, consider your results as an excellent step in connecting with like-minded editors or publishers.
- To put your previous thoughts and efforts to use with some editing practice, take some time to write at least one page in which you introduce a character in a speculative context (a fantasy realm, the future, a distant planet, etc.). Put your style on display! Then, either with your own work, a partner, or someone else in a group, put your editing considerations to task — make notes from a reader’s perspective, and if possible, dialogue about your thoughts. Do your best to ask questions, uphold your previously stated values, and improve the piece in a (mutually) agreeable way.
— Selections of works edited by Liz Gorinsky —
- Liu Cixin — Excerpt(s) from ‘The Three-Body Problem’
- Mary Robinette Kowal — Excerpt from ‘The Calculating Stars’
- Hao Jingfang — ‘Invisible Planets,’ translated by Ken Liu
- Benjamin Rosenbaum — Excerpt from ‘The Unraveling’
Liz Gorinsky is an award-winning editor of speculative fiction, whose efforts have guided a long list of critically acclaimed works into the public world over the course of her career. Gorinsky began her publishing career at Tor Books, eventually serving as part of the team that founded Tor.com, and acquired and edited short fiction and comics for that site for many years. In June 2018, she founded Erewhon Books, a new independent speculative fiction publishing company where she is the president, publisher, and lead editor. In her free time, she designs and plays analog games (mostly indie RPGs, Nordic larp, and Eurogames), cooks exotic foods, watches a ton of theatre, and rides bikes. Learn more about Gorinsky and keep up with her on her website, Twitter, and the Erewhon Books homepage, and don’t miss the rest of our detailed interview (2:21:09)!
Tags: Editing, Publishing, Community