Far too early one morning at Norwescon, I met with Gordon Van Gelder, editor and publisher of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’m glad he did most of the talking, as he was far more lucid than I was. We spoke of editing, publishing and the relationship of online and printed fiction.
Jason Henninger: We hear a lot about the positives and negatives of the writing life, but very little about editors. What is it about being an editor that brings you joy?
Gordon Van Gelder: Yesterday at the Philip K. Dick Awards, one of the two winners was an author named David Walton whose novel came out through Meadowhawk Press. David was sitting at the banquet with a woman I didn’t recognize who turned out to be his editor at Meadowhawk. She was beaming more than David was. This was the first book they’ve published. She said to me, “You know, when that book came in, I can’t tell you I knew this book was going to win the Philip K. Dick Award, but I knew it would win awards. You have no idea how wonderful it feels to have David win this honor.” The radiant joy of her was just contagious. That’s one of the high points for any editor, when you see something in a work and you take a risk on it and publish it, and other people see what you saw. You just can’t beat that. It’s often better for the editor than for the writers themselves. Writers generally love awards, but sometimes they’ll think they should have gotten an award for a different work, or they’ll be cynical about it or see this or that flaw in the work. But the editor doesn’t usually share the writer’s neuroses over the book. For me personally there have been dozens of novels and stories that I can point at and think of how gratifying it was to find it in the submission pile and make it happen. It doesn’t matter if it wins an award, but it reaches out to people and gets through to them in a meaningful way. Just recently, I Googled an author I’d published back in 2000. I hadn’t heard more from her and I wanted to know how she was doing. I found a post on a blog that mentioned the story and how it helped her decide to get a tattoo. It’s just the nicest thing in the world to come across this and know that the story never appeared anywhere but F&SF but this total stranger was obviously affected by the story. To me, that’s what it’s all about. Getting readers and writers to connect. That’s the function of the editor and it’s extremely gratifying. Or when you find a new writer and you work with them and develop them and see their careers flourish. That’s really nice.