Proficiently Enhanced

When John asked me to write here, I was tempted mainly for two reasons. The first was that I had a lot of ideas tumbling around my head about the publishing industry, the software industry, and the ways in which they are both alike and different. When I have something in my head, my natural impulse is to write it down. I was contemplating hanging out my own shingle on the World Wide Web. But while I was planning my own perfect site, John offered a spot at Wetmachine, and it struck me that this was a place that was already well suited for sharing these writings.

We are certainly living in interesting times, when publishers are grappling with tectonic shifts in technology and culture, while creators are exploring new ways of reaching audiences. “They” have been saying that media is dying for longer than I can remember, but to me that sounds like a meaningless statement. I think media is about to get bigger than ever, in almost every way imaginable, and some ways we can’t even conceive of yet. When it comes to the media of tomorrow, I believe there are going to be even more ways to discover words, images, sounds, and ideas than there are today, more ways to soak them in and have them become a part of you.

You can get a taste of this every day just by dipping your cup into the ever-churning sea of the Internet, which is the other reason I wanted to write here. There are people everywhere doing fascinating things that stretch our ideas of what art is, or what a story looks like. There are tons of smart people writing about some of the same topics that I’m preoccupied with. I wanted a place to share these discoveries as well.

Now, my goal here is not to be another conduit for memes flowing from screen to glowing screen, but writing on the Web is inherently about creating links, making connections, and spreading ideas. So sometimes I’ll use this space just to offer you a sip from my cup when I’ve found something brilliant and to say “try this — it’s awesome” but most of the time I hope to build upon what already exists out there and contribute something that is worth folding back into the mix.

I didn’t exactly plan for my first link here to be to one of my own projects. I believe it’s both interesting and germane, but I’ll let you be the judge. It’s a new science fiction magazine that I’m starting with some friends. My role is editorial director, and I wanted to give a little insight into what that means to me.

I used to have a lengthy explanation of what an editor is and does, based on my years in the book business. It had to do with being at the hub of the publishing process, serving as the author’s guide, liaison, and advocate as a manuscript passes through its stages of metamorphosis into a book. All that is true, but now, having stepped out of the environment of the big publishing house, I have a more concise yet more broadly applicable definition that captures the essence of an editor.

It is simply this: an editor is someone who takes something good and makes it better.

There’s no universal formula for making things better; this is both the challenge and the fun of trying. Sometimes you ought to expand your scope; sometimes what you need is focus. Some situations call for sweeping changes, others just a touch of polish. How you can improve something depends not only on the project in question, but also on the complex interactions between everyone involved, and of course on the constraints of time and budget. Given all this, it’s important to know how to direct your efforts, but the most crucial part is to start with something that is already good, so that you can turn it into something awesome.

When Duff came to me with the idea for AE, I knew right away it was good. Our mission is no less than to provide a platform from which to launch the careers of talented writers. We want to reward creative work and deliver it to as wide an audience as we can reach. The time is ripe and AE has all the ingredients for success. And if we do this right, it has the potential to be an engine for continually increasing the amount of awesome in the world. That’s what I want it to help it become.

So, I hope that you’re intrigued enough by our premise and our promise to follow along with our efforts. I hope that whether or not you decide to back us, you’ll cheer us on as the green bar to the right grows toward 100%. And I hope to have lots more awesomeness to share with you soon.

About Helen

Helen spent ten years in the trenches of book publishing, where she wrote things longhand, wrestled with fax machines, and learned the true meaning of "cut and paste." As a writer, editor, and all-around person-who-builds-things-with-words, she now works at a small software company in Cambridge, Mass. with one foot in the future and the other stuck in a peat bog of legacy content, technology, and methodology. Which is not to say anything against peat bogs.

One Comment

  1. I like your definition of editor. The first editor I had–in my very first tech writing job at Data General in 1980, called herself “your addlepated amanuensis”.

    About the shifting sands (or tectonic plates) of publishing — yes, I do think Wetmachine is a good place to contribute to that discussion. That does seem to be a unifying theme around here. Glad to have you here contributing to the mix.

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