A lot of authors talk about the stigma attached to being a genre writer. No matter how successful a fantasy writer may be, it’s likely they have at least once been scorned by people comparing their work to that of “literary” authors. Readers too may have aspersions cast upon them if their reading choice is of the paranormal persuasion rather than something considered “high-brow”.*
Thankfully, fellow authors and readers within these genres are very supportive of each other, but it’s not unusual to hear authors admit that they don’t always tell strangers what genre they write in, or for readers to confess to hiding their book jackets when reading on the bus.
It can be a similarly lonely path for the editor who specialises in fantasy/science fiction.
When I put together an ad for my freelance editing services, some people even recommended I avoid mentioning that I had specialist knowledge or interest in this area as it was likely I would scare off potential clients and publishers who might otherwise have hired me.
Several years down the track and while I enjoy editing many different forms, fields and genres, a significant proportion of my work falls into the speculative fiction category, and I am proud and excited to work with some incredible FSF authors, editors and publishers.
I am not sure whether things have changed over time, or whether the rise of social media simply means that fellow geeks, speculative fiction readers, writers, editors and publishers have all found a safe place to congregate, but I don’t feel as though I need to hide my “niche” interests.
Most of the time.
While I have, of course, found fellow editors who share my passion, generally speaking I know that if I am in a room full of editors outside certain circles, finding one who also edits fantasy is likely to be tough. Often during these gatherings, fellow freelancers tell me that they “always refuse to edit that stuff”, because they “can’t stand it”.** One person even turned her back and walked away upon discovering I edited this subject matter, such was her dislike of and disinterest in the genre – though we’d been talking happily enough about editing in general up to that point.
Most of the time, if I don’t know the person I am talking to, I know it is easier say only that I edit books; fiction, if pressed. Or mention other subjects I work on. It seems to be considered much more acceptable (or should that be respectable?) to edit literary fiction, non-fiction, or government material than anything as low-brow (or “escapist”) as speculative fiction, romance or crime.
But why is this? The basic editing skills are the same; you still have to consider style, structure, continuity, spelling, grammar, punctuation and all those other things.
In addition, with fantasy you might have to stay on top of a made-up world, which means you have to “learn” the culture/s and language that are part of the worldbuilding without any resources to check for research. You have to ensure the rules that govern the language and the world itself make sense and “work”. It makes for some very lengthy style sheets and very odd author queries.
I can understand that as an editor, if you don’t enjoy reading fantasy, you may not want to take on the task of editing it. But what I don’t understand is how an editor can look askance at the genre when it is clear how much work an author has to put in to develop and write such detailed books.
This week I was lucky enough to attend a recording of a TV special on fantasy books. It was no surprise to see a good proportion of the program devoted to the stigma attached to the writing and reading of fantasy, and the authors had some great points to make – not least about the complexities involved in writing such works and the fact that fantasy is the biggest-selling genre in fiction.
Several pointed out that fantasy is actually sneaking onto the general fiction shelves without people noticing. And there are great literary works out there that are best-beloved in spec fic circles, though scholars and critics would never categorise them that way.
Perhaps things are looking up. The last time I went to a general editors’ meeting, the wary revelation of my speculative fiction tendencies was greeted with only mild surprise and resulted in a discussion about editing fiction. Could it be the stigma is fading?
*Of course this impression is not restricted to FSF. Romance writers and readers (and presumably therefore their editors) get the same treatment. I remember a colleague once telling the office that she and a friend had decided to try and write a Mills and Boon, believing it would be very simple. They’d given up, having (unsurprisingly) found it was harder than it looked…
**I could argue that a lot of people don’t really understand what fantasy is – it’s not all dragons and wizards! But not liking FSF is fair enough. Not everyone likes crime novels either. Or romance. Or <gasp> literary fiction. (Whatever “literary fiction” means. Feel free to insert your own rant or vodcast of your interpretive dance on THAT topic in the comments…)