Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Essay: A Rant on What They Don't Teach You at School

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

It seems to me that outside of the literary communities, a lot of the glamor and romanticism revolves around authors. For example, we might expect people to say "I want to be a writer when I grow up!" but that's not necessarily the case with other professions in the field such as editors, publicists, agents, and designers. Perhaps the closest thing would be entrepreneurs pursuing the role of the publisher, and artists doing the overall art chores, whether it's book covers or interior art. And when you look at the curriculum of schools and universities (well, I'm not so familiar with the policies abroad), they provide a track for writing but not for these other professions. Not that there's an empirical way to teach "how to become an anthology editor", but neither is the craft of writing reduced to a simple formula (which isn't to say you can't teach the fundamentals, or that the methodology of other professions is simple).

Instead, some of the skills in these "other professions" might be found in other subjects and career paths. For example, a management education--and perhaps some accounting--might prove useful to potential agents and publishers. Editing for me is a misnomer because it can mean anything from proofreading (basic English) to pitching books to publishers (communications? advertising?). Then there's book design, and while there are lessons you can learn from other art-related classes, designing for a print book has its own unique constraints.

Which isn't to say you need a formal degree in order to become successful in one of these fields, any more that you need a Creative Writing degree in order to become a professional author. We're all different and some people benefit from a regimented education system, while others are more inclined to a do-it-yourself and explore-the-world approach. At least speaking from the speculative fiction industry, we have editors, publicists, agents, designers, and editorial assistants rising from all sorts of backgrounds. A lot of what they learned came from first-hand experience working on projects and built their skill-set (and reputation) from there.

To be fair to the academia, they do provide venues to hone these skills, although you're not graded for it (which is both a good and a bad thing, depending on your perspective). For example, there's really little difference between running a high school paper and my duties as a quasi-managing editor (my official title shifts from editorial assistant to managing editor) for a magazine. You still need to coax and convince writers, and they won't submit their articles on time; there'll always be errors in the proofs from the printer and the finished product won't be delivered on time. You'd think just because people get paid (on both sides) the experience would be more efficient but that's not really the case.

And here in the Philippines, some of the professions simply don't exist because the industry is too small. There are no agents for example because fiction writers get paid so low (alternatively, this could also be the reason why we're getting paid so low). There might be a division between marketing, advertising, and publicists but that's probably just one department in the case of local publishers.

Still, don't you wish there's a class that told you "hey, if you're ever going to assemble an anthology, always solicit more stories than you need because your writers will back out at the last moment"? Imagine a lecture from a dream team of editors: Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling, Jonathan Strahan, Gardner Dozois,David Hartwell, Kathryn Cramer, Rich Horton, Jeff & Ann VanderMeer, John Joseph Adams, Martin H. Greenberg, etc.

1 comment:

Datlow said...

There is a forthcoming mindmeld on the subject of how to put together an anthology with pieces by a number of editors (including me).