It became obvious how much editing runs in Betsy Dornbusch’s blood when I collaborated on a publicity campaign with her. Working that closely with an editor of her caliber taught me that editing is not just catching mistakes; it’s an art unto itself. And Betsy excels at it.
And why shouldn’t she? Betsy has a degree in Education from the University of Kansas with a minor in English, fiction publication credentials, and a teaching background with Front Range Community College in Westminster, Colorado. Oh, and she’s also an editor for only one of the most up-and-coming online fiction magazines, Electric Spec, which helped launched the career of Stuart Neville.
Besides writing and editing speculative fiction, she enjoys snowboarding, exploring life through her blog Sex Scenes at a Starbucks http://www.betsydornbusch.com/ , and pretending to be a soccer mom. (Nobody’s buying the soccer mom bit, though.) When reading for Electric Spec, she’s always on the lookout for dark twists of fate, character, and emotion.
CIR: My standard warped question must come first this time because I think readers will want to know. Where the hell did you get the title for your blog?
BD: Years ago, I was actually trying to write a sex scene at a Starbucks, and I was failing miserably. It struck me how pathetically cliché I was in that moment, the unpublished writer tapping away on my laptop at Starbucks. SS@S also has a few tongue in cheek meanings that you’d have to be a regular reader to get. ;)
CIR: Even though I go through my manuscripts several times, then a second party checks it, then a third, either I at a later date or a fourth party will find just a couple of missing words or tiny mistakes. I almost believe it’s impossible to get a novel word-perfect. An editor wouldn’t reject a submission on something so tiny would they?
BD: Not this one. But I will sometimes judge a submission on how much work it takes to fix. I wouldn’t call me lazy, but I’m busy like anyone. So the more errors I find, the better, exponentially, the story has to be. But generally a few errors aren’t a problem because writers either have a solid toolbox or not. Once I had a writer tell me it was MY job to fix all his errors and grammar, and there were a lot. And I have one word for that writer: Slushpile. More stories come in every day.
CIR: Any tips for catching these beasts that seem to spring up later?
BD: I think it’s important for writers to know what their crutches and common errors are, and critique helps with that. My first drafts are riddled with people looking at each other, at things, they even say “look” in their dialogue! But I know my issues so I know to look for it. (See what I did there?)
CIR: Would a premise alone be a strong persuader for you to accept a submission?
BD: Maybe in my early days, but not any more. We require the full meal deal: a great story that’s well told with firm craft.
CIR: I heard tell once that an agency contacted your publication looking for recommendations of writers. Can you elaborate?
BD: Yeah, it was an interesting way for them to reach out. I interviewed the agent, Ethan Ellenberg, who represents John Scalzi, among others. It’s in the February issue from last year.
CIR: When you begin editing, what’s on your mind?
BD: As far as editing, it’s all about making a story the best it can be. Usually it’s about unearthing gems of prose, letting them shine. But often it’s about streamlining a good story that’s too long. Readers are generally less patient with online reading and Electric Spec accepts up to 7K words so we tend to get longer subs. We find few stories of that length that don’t need some cutting. The very best stories require a great deal of concentration to polish. If I’m thinking more about editing than story while I’m reading your story in slush, it’s probably going to be a rejection.
As far as reading slush, the very best stories carry me along without my noticing. If I have to say good stories have one characteristic in common, it’s that the prose doesn’t get in the way of the story. Great prose tends to match the story in voice and tone—there’s just an innate appropriateness among all the parts that equals to a greater whole.
Interviewed by Gusto Dave