Just Who Is Editing My Story?

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Title: Just Who Is Editing My Story?
Creator: E. Michael Whitmore
Date(s): September 1993
Medium: print
Fandom: multifandom
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Just Who Is Editing My Story? is a 1993 essay by E. Michael Whitmore.

It was published in A Writers' Exchange #7.

The topic is zines, and the differences among Editors, Ghost Editors, and Publishers.

From the Essay

When I produced my first fanzine, I wanted to do it right. I wanted it to VV be as professional as possible, so I searched for every comparable publication that was out in fandom and analyzed everything. I wanted to benefit from all the experts. What I found wasn't spectacular, nor was it a revelation from the divine. Mostly, it was common sense. (You mean I spent all that money for nothing? Guess who's wiser now!

You see, in my research I discovered that people who produce fanzines tend to fall into one of three categories. They are either Editors, Ghost Writers, or Publishers. Many authors are unaware of the differences between the three, so let me clarify each.

Almost everyone who produces a fanzine calls themself an Editor, whether or not they are worthy of the title. This deception has been created so the Ghost Writers and the Publishers can prey on the unwary author, and that makes the true Editors madder-than-hell.

A true Editor does as the name suggests: s/he edits. S/he has one goal in mind, which is to produce the most professional fanzine s/he can possibly create with well-crafted stories that the readers will enjoy. It is a hard job to do well, that's why there are few people who can actually claim the title.

When you submit your story to an Editor, s/he will take the time to read it. If it fits into the game plan of the fanzine they want to create, it becomes accepted. Otherwise it will be rejected. Some Editors will even take the time to make suggestions to the rejected author. They don't have to, but it is a nice gesture on their part.


There are not many real Editors. They have the grammatical skills, command of the English language, the experience and the knowledge to separate good contributions from the fluff. The quality of an Editor's publication is evident of the time and care they have put into them.

The second group are the Ghost Writers. They, like the Editors, can usually tell the difference between a good submission and a bad one, but the Ghost Writer lives by one rule: "I can get this done faster myself."

This person will edit, rewrite, and publish a story without even consulting the author about the changes. The Ghost Writer feels that there just isn't enough time to send every submission back to the contributor for rewrites, so they take it upon themselves to get the job done. The Ghost Writer has the best of intentions, they just go about it the wrong way.

Unlike the Editors and the Publishers, the Ghost Writers fall into two different levels. The first level are those that can edit and rewrite, and your story will be better, but it won't necessarily be yours anymore. Of course, the second level are those that couldn't edit or rewrite themselves out of a paper sack, but they think that they could do your story better. However, what happens is a travesty. After they are done with it, your story probably would have been better if they had left it alone. There have been many authors who have seen their reputations damaged by a bad Ghost Writer.

What the Ghost Writer needs to learn is that they don't need the extra burden of having to rewrite someone's story. They have enough to worry about with editing and publishing, but they insist on taking on another job. The final result: their publication is good, but there is room for improvement. It suffers because of their extra workload.

The third and final group are the dreaded Publishers, the lowest of the low. They go by one creed only: "Where there are fans, there is money." These people don't care about anything, except getting the dough.

A Publisher will accept ANY submission, especially if a certain fandom is hot, and they don't care whether the story is good, bad or otherwise (remember, the only thing they see is dollar signs). A Publisher MAY attempt to edit a story, but this is usually unlikely. These people tend not to have any editing ability whatsoever and they'd rather have somebody else do it for them. This is one detail they'd rather not bother with.

The Publisher will get another person to look at a submission. Nine times out often, that other person IS an Editor. Now this other person will do the edit and make suggestions for rewrites, or they will recommend that the story not be printed at all because it is pretty bad. This person will hand it back to the Publisher, who will look at all the notes made-and will proceed to ignore all suggestions for rewrite or correction. The Publisher will just print the story-mistakes and all. Suddenly the author's work looks incredibly bad, but so what! The Publisher doesn't care.

Publishers know how to take advantage of the fans. They will produce the snazziest looking zine you have ever seen-color covers, offset or laser printing with professional type styles-and the fans will buy it because it looks good. However, the story quality is just not there. Publishers also know how to get things done as cheaply as possible, but will mark up their prices just to make a profit. It's not hard to figure out that an 50-page zine so not cost $15 to produce, but Publishers are sure you'll pay that much if their items are part of a hot fandom.
So, you are a writer and you want to submit your story somewhere. How can you make sure that your hard work gets into the hands of an Editor and not a Publisher? Well, the best way is to do what I did; research the zines and the "editors" out there. There are many people in fandom who will tell you which "editor" is reputable and which produce junk. Another way is to actually buy the zines and read them. True; you'll spend money, but the proof of one's editing ability will be right there, and you'll be all the wiser.

Fan Comments

Who are we? What are we doing? And how far can we go?

After reading E. Michael Whitmore's article "Just Who Is Editing My Story?" we're not sure. We don't fit any of the categories exactly, but if you had to label us, Ghost WriterlEditor is the closest you'd come. We want our zines to be professional, or at least as professional as we can get and still have jobs, graduate school and something that passes for a social life.

We are Ghost Writers, according to E. Michael's classification. And, quite frankly, we can get it done faster ourselves. Speed isn't the only rule we work by, but it is an important one. We have a set of standard writing problems that we clean up in any story we receive (these include corrections for spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax, passive voice, redundant attributives, and unclear pronoun referents). We don't feel that it's necessary to send stories back to the author if these are the only changes made. For us there simply isn't enough time to do markups for every submission we receive. So, we take it upon ourselves to get the job done, at least with a particular set of revisions. (This fact is clearly stated in our guidelines, along with notification that the author will not be given a chance to review these edits before publication unless they specifically request it.)

We do not see a problem with this approach, but a recent incident caused us to re-evaluate it. (We decided not to change our strategy, but it has heightened our interest about where editorial boundaries lie.) [1]

I really enjoyed E. Michael Whitmore's article on zine editors, because I recognized there Professional Editors I Have Known. In other words, human nature doesn't change just because you're getting paid. As a scholarly writer, I get the Publisher type of editor only for articles I've been commissioned to write; since they're editing compilations of articles by dozens of scholars, they pretty much print what you write.

But it was a hoot to find a name for a particular type of editor I experienced two years ago: the Ghost Writer. Having been hired to write a book on Beverly Cleary for Twayne Publishers, I was appalled to get back my beautiful manuscript scribbled over and - basically - rewritten by the copy editor, in the margins and between the lines. A lot of it was gracelessly done and arbitrary; and some of it not only made no sense, but was ungrammatical. But, by that point, it was too late; you don't submit another manuscript in place of the one the publisher has accepted and edited. And me tinkering extensively with their tinkering would really make things difficult for the printer. But, I'll sure never work for them again.

The Editor type has been less frustrating (a little) and more invigorating; as a writer, I feel I'm being taken seriously. And, it's wonderful to have the work taken seriously, too. [2]
E. Michael Whitmore raises some valid points in "Just Who is Editing My Story?" While there are a lot of "editors" who are actually ghostwriters, and "editors" who are actually publishers, I haven't run into too many of either type. At least, the "editors" who don't really edit stories that I've run into (all two of them) let you know up front that they don't edit. And, since I want feedback, if I ever encounter these two types of non-editing editors I shall run the other way-fast! [3]

To E. Michael Whitmore: I like being an editor. I like others who are editors, and will always buy their zines. Fans get to know who they are. If, as a writer, I ever was rewritten by a ghost writer, I think I would commit homicide. Certainly, there would be a few in the U.S. who would not know what had been done to my story. I agree with you that there are a lot of publishers out there, whether they call themselves that or not. But I do not believe that it is greed that drives them all (though there are some like that).

I think there is another category. These are the publishers who do it because they love their fandom, they love being involved, and they simply don't know that they are not capable of doing the job. They do not know that what they are publishing is not as good as someone else's. They might turn down a really bad story, but they accept a mediocre story because they don't know any better. They publish their own stuff and self-edit (not everyone who publishes their own stuff falls into this category). They have good intentions. Their friends tell them they are wonderful. And sometimes their friends even nominate them for awards. They are encouraged and they keep on publishing. [4]


  1. ^ from Walking the Line: An Editor's Nightmare
  2. ^ from A Writers' Exchange #8
  3. ^ from A Writers' Exchange #8
  4. ^ from A Writers' Exchange #8