Challenge,  On Writing

Editing and Reading Observations… Part 7…

Buying Stories Can Really Slow An Editor Down…

Here is what happens when I find a story I want to buy. First off, the writer makes me read all the way to the end and I like the story and it fits Pulphouse. Great! Always fun and exciting for me.

But then I can’t just go back to reading. Why? Because I would be comparing the new story to the great last one I just read, and that would not be fair to the next writer in line. I really, really work to give every writer who sends in a story the exact same chance.

Just the same as I would not read Kris’s new novel, put it down and then read stories. Nope, not fair to less experienced writers.

So I usually have to take a break from reading after I buy a story. And since I read late at night, that means I am basically done reading for the night. I wanted to get ten stories read, but some writer went and screwed up the plans by writing a great story I must buy and I only got three stories read for the night.

Yes, strange things about editing.

Let me tell you another strange thing about my editing…


Old cliches don’t do it. Something so milk-toast that I can’t remember the story from the title does not do it either.

Think of it like a batter at the plate in baseball. Each writer has three strikes in my mind as I start to read. I have been talking about major things that stop me cold from going on. But boring or plain or uninteresting title is strike one. A writer can recover, but not easily.

Use one of my major short stories that has made me far in excess of 20 grand over its life. It is a vampire story. I could have called it “Vampire Lover.”  Fits the story, but really, gag me with a spoon.

I called it “In the Shade of the Slowboat Man.” Also fits the story. Made me a ton of money.

I used to not look at titles when I read, but over the last twenty years that has flipped completely and now it is the first thing I look at. Boring and dull or standard title just does not get me off to a great start with your story.


  • James Palmer

    Great tip regarding titles, Dean. I read a quote from Harlan Ellison somewhere about titles being the power source for your story. That’s probably why so many of his most memorable stories have such bonkers titles: I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie, ‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, he and I talked about that once. And it is a main reason why almost all my stories and novels start with the title before I write one word.They are my triggers, or as Harlan put it, “power source.”

  • Kristi N.

    When I first started out, I used words from Indo-European and Latin, fancying myself as an author in the best literary tradition. (Sigh.) Now I use phrases from obscure texts or thematic poems/lyrics that fit the story. One series uses phrases from the code of chivalry, another uses nautical terms, and another uses variations of “The Last —“. I have no idea what I will do when I run out of those sources.