Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
April 2014



Writer versus Editor

In the sixteen years that Iíve been writing for publication I have had the opportunity to work with various editors. When I embarked on co-editing the anthology Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia I understood the process of editing a book, but I didnít realise the way it would transform my view of the publishing industry. I would soon find out that there is a reason for the saying ĎWait until you walk in someone elseís shoes.í

In the past I had received a couple of responses from anthology editors that my piece was on the shortlist, but when the editor began producing a collection, my piece didnít make the cut. I still didnít understand why until my co-editor, Demet Divaroren, and I were commissioning pieces for our own anthology. Then I wasnít just thinking about individual pieces, instead I was thinking about the way individual pieces complemented each other. 

As an author I write the book I want to write and take a fatalistic approach to publication and sales, but as an editor I was always thinking about the commercial aspect. I remember a few years ago James Franco was published in The Big Issue Fiction Edition and I saw this as a Ďsell outí. As an editor I now understand the hard fight to have a book promoted and think this was a great move on the part of the editor to gain publicity.

While I had always appreciated my editorsí input, I still had these moments where I got annoyed at having to change something. However, when I was an editor myself I realised the emotional connection that an editor makes with what they are editing. By the time I had completed three edits I knew these pieces better than my own. I had favourite lines and favourite paragraphs that made me sigh with satisfaction each time I read them. My only goal when editing was to try to make the pieces and, therefore the collection, the best it could be. This process has given me a newfound appreciation for the time and effort editors put into my writing.

I always did my best to adhere to writing guidelines when submitting my work, but I never understood the workload involved in being an editor and how important writing guidelines and word counts were. There were 12 contributors and coordinating the project to meet the publisher deadlines was already quite a workload, so when there were word count blowouts or deadline misses, it created extra stress and work.

Everything I do is an attempt to promote my writing and sell my books (even this article), however I always feel slightly uncomfortable. Now that Iím in the position of promoting the anthology and other peopleís writing Iím able to be objective about this process. The publisher has taken a leap of faith when they accept a book for publication and they are looking for an investment in return. So as an author I am not just promoting my book, I am working in partnership to try and make the product (my writing and the publisherís efforts in producing it) a success.

Having the opportunity to be an editor and think deeply about the craft of writing has made me a better writer. It has honed my inner critic and I am able to have a more forensic approach when producing my own work. 

I would encourage all aspiring writers to put themselves in the position of engaging with other peopleís writing. So look for opportunities to join a writing group, be involved in being a reader for writing competitions or volunteer with writing organisations and undertake behind the scenes work to produce publications. 

Amra Pajalic