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Writing Excuses 8.46: Editing with Aeryn Rudel

Writing Excuses 8.46: Editing with Aeryn Rudel


Key points: If you want to write game fiction in a specific setting like the Iron Kingdoms, get to know those worlds intimately. Make sure the tone matches the reader's expectations -- a reader looking for adventure fiction doesn't care how beautiful the prose styling is, they want something to explode! "When you're working in someone else's setting, be willing to change." Readers know something's wrong, they tell you symptoms. Editors know what's wrong, they can diagnose it. Then the writer just has to fix it. How do you cultivate nurturing without a heavy hand? Reading and empathy.

[Mary] Season eight, episode 46.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, editing with Aeryn Rudel.
[Howard] 15 minutes long, because you're in a hurry.
[Mary] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Howard] I'm...
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] I'm stepping on Mary's lines.
[Brandon] Oh, when Dan's not here, we all fall apart. We are again at GenCon, and we would like to welcome Aeryn Rudel, who is the publications manager... What I would call the editor... But of...
[Aeryn] Privateer Press.
[Brandon] Privateer Press. I knew that. I almost said Paizo again. So, sorry. Privateer Press. Sorry. Tell us what your actual job... Like what does publication manager actually mean?
[Aeryn] It's probably... Most people would probably consider it an editor-in-chief. That's probably the closest thing. But my job... I run Skull Island eXpeditions, which is our digital fiction imprint. I go out and acquire authors, do initial manuscript reviews, basically walk a book from cradle to grave.

[Brandon] I hear that one of your authors is very bald and very on our podcast all the time.
[Aeryn] That is very true.
[Howard] Yes. It's true. In fact, I am a hard-core Privateer Press fan boy. When I got the opportunity to write for Privateer Press, I was very, very excited. When Aeryn... There was some editorial handoff there. At one point, Aeryn asked me, "So what is your experience with our stuff?" I listed the number of books that I had of theirs, the Warmachine books that are in my library. Then mentioned that I have about 500 of the models, but only a couple of hundred of them are painted. What was your reaction?
[Aeryn] Well, stunned silence at first, but yeah it was... Yeah, I'd assumed you had a little experience, so... But that was actually... It was great to hear. Because I would expect less errors, less continuity errors from you.
[Howard] You would have expected less errors, yes.
[Mary] I was going to say, you would expect...
[Howard] That is, in fact, not what happened.
[Brandon] Well, you know what...
[Mary] And we're not that smart.

[Brandon] You would think having read the Wheel of Time 11 times, I would be able to not have continuity errors in what I did. Guess what! So we're going to talk editing with you, but first I want to ask you the question I ask most editors, which is advice for new writers, what draws you to a writer's piece, these sorts of things that our listeners want to hear. I'm not sure... It's a hard question, I understand. What you're looking for is awesome stuff. But can you give any pointers, and talk about what draws you to a piece?
[Aeryn] I can give you the specific pointers to our market, which is specifically game fiction and setting... Our own setting. So for people who want to write for Privateer Press or Wizards of the Coast or Paizo, it's really important to know those worlds. A lot of times, we get submissions, it will be someone who has... Is not familiar with the Iron Kingdoms, which is our world. So I would say if you want to write that kind of fiction, get to know those worlds, and get to know them intimately. Because it makes an editor's job, like myself, a lot easier if you know the world.

[Brandon] Now, you're doing digital originals right now. Are you doing these as anthologies or as standalones?
[Aeryn] Both. We do have some books that will be series, like Howard's Extraordinary Zoology.
[Howard] Yes. Extraordinary Zoology is the title I did, which will be available as a standalone.
[Aeryn] Tales from the Monsternomicon is the series.
[Brandon] Okay. How long are these pieces?
[Aeryn] We do novellas and novels. So novellas are usually 30, 40,000... Words! And our novels are between 75 and 90.
[Mary] You said that you had some that were standalone and some that were...
[Aeryn] Yeah, we have... We actually have a couple of series. The Warcaster Chronicles and the Warlock Sagas which are novellas, primarily about our established characters. Those are basically standalone pieces.
[Mary] What makes you decide that you need a standalone piece about one of the established characters?
[Aeryn] Well, it depends. I mean, the popularity of the character on the tabletop with our audience. We typically like to do our series with the new characters.

[Brandon] So what's the submission process like with you? Do you have open submissions? Is it invitation-only?
[Aeryn] We are a startup at the moment, so it is invitation-only. We are looking at opening it to submissions sometime.
[Brandon] Okay. Sometime in the future, you will be opening to submissions.
[Aeryn] At some point, yeah.
[Brandon] That information will be available online, I'm sure.
[Aeryn] Correct.
[Brandon] Right now, it's invitation-only. I've heard... Just to talk about this concept with other gaming tie-in pieces... A lot of times the people who end up writing for Wizards and whatnot, there is an invitation to an anthology that happens. I don't know if you guys will end up doing this, but for the listeners... You watch for these anthology invitations, you write a story, send it to the anthology. When you get picked up in the anthology, that means they like your writing. At that point, they might come to you and say, "Okay, we need a novella or a novel about this character. Would you be interested?" And go that far. So I know for Wizards of the Coast, that's a great way to break-in, is to watch for the short story anthologies.

[Brandon] So all right, let's talk editing. Right. We get lots of requests from listeners about how to edit books. Usually, when we have editors on, we talk about breaking into the business. This time, I want to talk about the actual editing. I want to talk about what you do to help a writer be better. Hopefully that can help them kind of help use their internal editor in the right way. So my first question to you is, how do you distinguish as an editor between something that is just the writer's style, that should be left alone, and something that's actually broken?
[Aeryn] That's a good question. Again, because our setting is so specific, we're looking for very, very... Sometimes a very specific tone. So a lot of times, I'll look at a manuscript and it'll be perfectly fine if it was going to be an original novel, but it doesn't quite fit our setting. So it's difficult to kind of quantify that.
[Brandon] How about the rest of you guys? Like when you read someone's work... I read a lot of my students' work, and one of the difficulties for me is saying, "Okay, this is what they're trying to do, and they're doing it well. I just don't like it."
[Howard] I had the opportunity to pre-read, before Aeryn ever saw them, Dan Wells' Privateer Press title, which is called Butcher, and Larry Correia's first Privateer Press title, which was... What was the Makeda book called?
[Aeryn] Instruments of War.
[Howard] Instruments of War. Okay, as a hard-core Privateer Press fan boy, I read these and was immediately thrilled that these characters are being fleshed out, but there were things that jumped out at me as being Dan's or Larry's invention, where the Warmachine books, the existing canon, didn't tell us how, for instance, jack marshaling worked, or how the Skorne did certain things. Now I'm a fan of both Larry's and Dan's writing and they're really solid writers. But I could tell, even from the outside, I could tell that there were things that were going to have to be fixed. I remember Dan emailing me and saying, "Ah, darn it, I really wanted them to keep this bit, but it had to go." I don't remember what the bit was, but...
[Aeryn] No, that's certainly something we run into, with... If something doesn't fit our continuity. I've run into something that I just love, I mean, a character or the presentation of a character and it just doesn't fit our setting.
[Brandon] Or it doesn't fit the tone [garbled]
[Aeryn] Or it doesn't fit the tone. Right.
[Brandon] I would think that some sort of very introspective literary piece is just not what your readers are going to. They want adventure fiction and no matter how beautiful the prose styling is, it's not perhaps something that you could release in your line.
[Aeryn] Yeah. Exactly right.

[Mary] Yeah. I think a lot of it gets back to the thing we often talk about on the podcast, which is the promise that is made to the reader. When a reader is coming to something like Privateer Press, there's an expectation of this is the experience I'm going to have. If it doesn't meet that experience, if it doesn't fit in with that loose area, then they're going to be disappointed in it no matter how well written it is.
[Howard] I had that exact experience with Scott Taylor who was the first editor I worked with with Skull Island eXpeditions, which is the imprint. Scott said, "Hey, you know, this first act is great, but this is adventure fiction. We need something to explode right about here." I looked at it and I thought, "But the plot that I've got doesn't require anything to explode." He said, "Well, you know, it can be accidental and it can serve more than one purpose." So what we ended up with was a scene in which a protagonist is faced with an accident and we get to see him being weak and being clumsy and being outstripped by this person who he's... He doesn't realize he's hiring, but he's accidentally hiring. It serves double duty. As I bounced that scene off of Scott a couple of times, I realized, "Oh. You helped me write a better story, you editor you."
[Howard] It was a lot of fun. Understand, coming from the web comics world, this was my first experience with an outside editor who had any sort of control over my content. I was willing going into it... And this is the thing that I would recommend to all of you, to any of you who want to write this... Humility, humility, humility. When you're working in someone else's setting, be willing to change. Don't be married to any of the things that you've put in that book, unless you have moral objections, and then it's just time to write for somebody else.

[Brandon] Let's go ahead and do our book of the week. Mary, you have our book of the week.
[Mary] Yes. This is The Blade Itself: The First Law: Book One by Joe Abercrombie. I'm listening to this. It's narrated brilliantly by Steven Pacey. This is stunning epic adventure and it's gritty and just beautifully... Let me just say this again, beautifully, beautifully narrated... Beautifully narrated. Highly recommend this book. Really, I'm going to be going out and picking up more things by both Joe and things that are narrated by Steven Pacey.
[Brandon] Is Joe the one that online has adopted the moniker Lord Grimdark? That Joe Abercrombie?
[Mary] I don't know. Joe is...
[Howard] Scott Lynch says yes.
[Brandon] Yes.
[Mary] Joe was in the same Campbell class as me. I don't know... I'm reading this book and I'm like, "What? Why did he not get the tiara?"
[Mary] I have no complaints.
[Howard] What was the title again? Mary, I know that it's beautifully, beautifully narrated.
[Mary] The Blade Itself.
[Howard] The Blade Itself. So, head out to, pick up a copy of The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, and start a 30-day free trial. If I can put in a plug on behalf of Aeryn, our guest, it is entirely possible that you'll find some Privateer Press titles out there on Audible before too much longer. So surf around for those as well.
[Brandon] Yeah. We don't know when, which is why we can't promo them now, but they might be there eventually. Mary, should we put a slight content warning on The Blade Itself?
[Mary] Yeah. You know, there's some death. And some other things that are not as pleasant...
[Brandon] That pause was awesome.
[Howard] Some things that are not as pleasant as death. Well played. Well played.

[Brandon] All right. So Aeryn. Let's talk about the writers that send you their work and you like it but it's time to edit it. It's time for them to make it better. Let's not talk about continuity things right now. What do you notice in writers? Have you noticed any sort of trends where they need the most help on? Is it endings, is it characters, weaving threads of different viewpoints or is it just all over the place? Is there ever a trend?
[Aeryn] I really haven't noticed any trend. It seems to be very, very individual. Endings, if I had to... Gun to the head, pick a trend.
[Brandon] Howard [garbled]
[Aeryn] I have trouble with endings... His book ended.
[Mary] It was more pleasant than death.
[Brandon] Are there... Is there anything specific you do to kind of encourage the writer without just fixing it for them?
[Aeryn] Sure. Like I said, I do the initial reviews. We have an editorial manager, Darla Kennerud, who is fantastic. A lot of times, I'll review a story and I'll get to that point and I'm like, "Ah, I can't quite get there. I know there's something wrong." I can go to her, because she's much smarter than I am, and she'll typically help me out, we'll work through it. But we definitely like to let the authors, give them advice and let them revise and fix it. We don't take a really heavy hand.
[Brandon] The best editors I've had, and I've gotten really lucky with editors, that's kind of what they do. The editor's job is actually to say, "This is broken." You would think that that's an easy job, but it's not. Because most of the time, when readers read your work, they're like, "Something's broken." Then they'll say, "I think it's this," and it's never that.
[Mary] Yes.
[Brandon] it's never the thing that they think... That they're like, "I think it's this, it might be that." It's not that one either. The editor's I've had can say, "It's this. Now fix it." They don't necessarily tell me how. They might kind of give some nudging and things like this. This is a really important skill that I've noticed in editors.

[Mary] Yeah. The analogy that I use sometimes is that it's... I think I may have used this on the podcast before. It's like when you're talking to a doctor... The manuscript, you've got this perfect story in your head, and the manuscript is the tool that you're using to try to create this emotional response in your reader's head. It's like telepathy on paper. So you are the trial doctor going to your test subjects. The editor is someone helping you participate in the trials. So you go to the reader and they can give you the symptoms. "This is the thing I'm experiencing." But when they try to diagnose, they're totally wrong. An editor can diagnose. Then sometimes you'll also have an editor who can give you a prescription as well. This is what is wrong with it, these are the symptoms, and because of that, you could try this to fix it.

[Brandon] Aeryn, any suggestions on kind of cultivating that editorial sense in someone? A writer who wants to work on their own, or someone who wants to help another writer be better? How do you cultivate that sense of nurturing without the heavy hand?
[Aeryn] It's... For me, it was reading a lot. I mean, looking at... Reading the genre that I'm editing. That gave me... I think that helped me get a very good sense of spotting the issues in various manuscripts. But I think as an editor, I think you... A lot of editors are writers, and I think you have to be somewhat empathetic. Whenever I'm reading a manuscript, I'm giving notes, and I always try to make... How would I feel if I were this writer? What would help me? So I think you have to be... I think you have to empathize with the writer.

[Brandon] All right. I'm going to go ahead and give a writing prompt this time. The writing prompt is "Hell's copyeditor." Think about that, take it however you want. We want to thank Aeryn so much for being on the podcast with us. Thank you, audience at GenCon.
[Yeah! Whoo!]
[Brandon] Thank you, Pat Rothfuss, next door for having a party. All the screaming you hear distantly is from his party, which is apparently very much fun. Thank you guys for listening. You're out of excuses. Now go write. All right.

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