50. Future Perfect: anthology-editing pointers

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What a thrill to have co-edited the latest Hong Kong Writers Circle (HKWC) anthology, themed Hong Kong Future Perfect, with Elizabeth Solomon. As a result of our labours, twenty-one surprising and subversive stories about the city can be yours on or soon after the 15 December 2016 launch date.

So what lessons did I learn from the experience? Here are a few pointers to others looking to edit their own fiction anthology.

1. Being on the other side of the process is always an eye-opener
Editors are no more the writer’s enemy than literary agents (whatever rants I may have posted recently). As someone used to being asked to change my semi-precious words by often-unseen editors, I recognise the frustration writers feel at being ‘misunderstood’.

However, editors need to stand firm when they need to: they appreciate the overall vision of the book/magazine/online publication more than the talent, who have already been assured by acceptance that their piece is loved.

2. Consistency is key
Consult your style guide. If you don’t have one, write one before the submissions start to arrive. The HKWC style guide is our bedrock, and has been passed from editor to editor; which doesn’t mean it can’t be tweaked occasionally. Yet the relief of knowing that, for example, ‘realize’ will be ‘realise’, and ‘OK’, ‘okay’, gives you more time to concentrate on the creative side of your work – aka the fun bit.

3. Know your limits
In a self-publishing age, it’s important to realise that you can’t do everything yourself. An editor or editing team is unlikely to have the talent to design a professional-standard cover or typeset the manuscript in its final form. Get help, which means paying for help when necessary.

4. Get a second opinion
HKWC anthologies rarely operate with a single editor. In general, an editing team is established long before the theme is dreamt up and submissions received. There is no ideal number, a lot depends on personality, but a small team of two or three – each with specific roles and responsibilities – is preferable to a committee.

5. Use Word tools
Upon opening a submission click Tools -> Track changes -> Highlight changes and tick all the boxes before you engage with the text. This feature shows the writer exactly how you’ve nuked the nuance from their piece and allows them to ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ your changes when they take a look at your edit.

[Remember to keep a separate draft of every story at each stage of the process so you can cross-reference changes and see which of those rejections you might have to ‘unreject’ for the sake of the story/anthology.]

To give general or specific feedback use Insert -> New comment. Bar typos or grammatical boobs, it’s better to suggest before you change. Use comments to ask questions or offer alternative words or sentence rewrites in parenthesis.

6. Manage expectations
After accepting a story and relaying the good news, tell writers when you will be in touch with your initial edits. On sending them, be clear what you want. Unless you want a complete rewrite (unlikely) stress that only the indicated parts of the text need changing, otherwise you may find yourself with a whole heap of fresh editing to undertake.

Keep the writer in the loop throughout the second edit and beyond. As the initial buzz of acceptance wears off, the inevitable anxiety and self-doubt can take over so make sure you let writers know they are part of something special and are being listened to and kept in the loop.

7. Let it flow
When deciding on the order of stories in your collection try to keep the reader guessing about what’s coming next without confusing them unnecessarily. There is no perfect formula for deciding on story sequence (as I’m sure readers of Hong Kong Future Perfect will soon be telling me) but just as there should be a rhythm and flow to individual pieces, so the collection itself should be marching to the beat of its own drum.

As with so much of editing, consistency is key. Don’t attempt ‘top load’ your collection with the ‘best’ stories – presuming you even know which these are. Instead take the reader on a journey that will be interesting from start to finish.

Fortunately for us, Hong Kong Future Perfect has a reassuringly strong line-up of authors – an array of fresh, fragrant and occasionally fruity writers willing and able to forgive the editors for playing hard and fast with their own guidelines on occasion.

It also engages with the most predictable yet intriguing theme possible at this juncture in the city’s history: the future of Hong Kong.

Just as we hope to see Hong Kong thrive in the years ahead, so we need its literary voices to continue to be heard. If you would like to help guarantee the future survival of the Hong Kong Writers Circle, please volunteer to take a role on the committee in 2017. Email hello@hkwriterscircle.com for more information.

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39. Hong Kong’s FIRST 24-hour Short Story Contest: next weekend

24 hours in...

In what the Hong Kong Writers Circle anticipates becoming an essential annual event, next weekend will see a 24-hour challenge for local storytellers run for the first time.

The registration deadline has now passed but look out for a specially created website designed to accommodate all of the stories received that fit our criteria.

Inspired by the long-running French version of the 24-hour contest, we will be asking all our writers to work to a constraint – e.g. ‘no characters can be named’, ‘all characters must be naked’, ‘story must reference five ‘90s dance anthems’, ‘opening and closing lines should be identical’ etc. – to spice things up.

Announcing the constraint just before our writers begin work at 2pm on Saturday 3 October 2015 should ensure everyone comes up with something fresh and interesting.

As one of the organisers I won’t be submitting my own story but will write one over the same time period and publish it right here. Perhaps you’d like to do the same?

I’m thinking 1,000 words shamelessly manipulated to suit a suitably twisted constraint.

26. Looking for an excuse to stay off the beach…?

The Hong Kong Writers Circle summer writing competition is themed “Junk” and offers a chance of publication in the prestigious Asia Literary Review. Whether you want to recycle an existing idea or produce your own fresh garbage, all we ask is that you keep it below 5,000 words.

JUNK_COMP

Visit the Circle’s website to find out more. You have to be a member to enter, but I’d wager the annual membership is less pricey than entering some of the higher-end story competitions out there. They should be ashamed…

Closing date is 31 August 2014 so get a shift on if you want to see your work in print.

15. Another Hong Kong – for your reading pleasure

Another Hong Kong

There are a multitude of perspectives in Hong Kong; more nationalities, cultures and minorities than you might imagine. In Another Hong Kong, a Hong Kong Writers Circle anthology of prose, poetry and creative non-fiction that I’ve been co-editing over the last few months, we can’t pretend to have covered all theses viewpoints – not while speculating on Hong Kong’s past, future and hidden present as well. However, we’ve done our best to pack as many alternative takes on the city as 250-odd pages will allow.

Another Hong Kong is officially launched on Thursday 13th March, at Culture Club Gallery, 15 Elgin Street, and includes a new short story from me called The Parachutist. This tall tale, full of ghosts, and featuring a mysterious American fugitive, is a tribute to time spent in old Wan Chai (as referenced on this blog occasionally) as well as to the Hong Kong teenagers I write for by day.

The book’s striking cover art is by Hong Kong artist Marc Allante who has about as many likes on his Facebook page as I have indifferent pauses. You can see what he’s doing right here.

***Please place your order now and spend your money on some non-designer Hong Kong shopping!!!***

Buy the softcover book

Buy Another Hong Kong for Kindle

 

13. Investing in your readers

Wolf of Wall Street

How to write about money – specifically the intrigues of a financial world capable of provoking angst and awe amongst us plebs – is a perennial problem for Hong Kong writers, many of whom have a background in banking and see it, justifiably, as a stimulating setting for their work. Like any writer exposing an arena of life with which the general public may be unfamiliar, the central question on their minds is how much of their specialist knowledge to share with the reader and how much to retain; how much to spell out and how much to spin with. We all like to learn something new when reading fiction; thanks to Dickens’ social observations ‘the novel invaded the essay’, as Sebald put it. Equally, we have all rolled our eyes at over-elaborate detail in courtroom melodramas or sci-fi adventures. Worse, we may have dropped the book altogether; perhaps in exchange for some decent non-fiction in which we know the technical stuff is more likely to be pared-down and relevant to the topic at hand.

Fortunately for everyone plotting their own financially rewarding thriller, the Hong Kong Writers Circle can offer both an inspiring success story and some practical advice thanks to former-banker Phillip Y. Kim, whose novel Nothing Gained was published by Penguin last year. In the latest HKWC podcast he tells fellow writer SCC Overton how much of his rich experience he left in and how much he left out in order to create a Hong Kong novel that Time Out described as ‘glittering with tension’.