What Is An Editor, Anyway?

by Christopher Conlon

When He Is Legend won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology some months ago, my friends were obviously happy for me—almost as happy as I was myself, and I was pretty darned happy. But I was surprised at how often those same friends of mine said things like, “Hey, congratulations, Chris, that’s great. But what does an anthology editor do, anyway?”

Few people, I’ve found, really understand what goes into the editing and creation of original anthologies. There’s a vague notion that the editor is just the person who chooses the stories and sends them off to a publisher to print as a book. Sounds pretty easy, right?

That’s not quite how it works.

He Is Legend sprang from the simplest of seeds—I’ve loved Richard Matheson’s writing all my life, and it occurred to me one day that I’d like to let him know that. We’d encountered each other briefly, by mail, on a couple of earlier projects, but at no point had I ever tried to express my gratitude to the author of The Incredible Shrinking Man, Somewhere in Time, I Am Legend, and so many more classics.

I didn’t want to write a fan letter. Matheson has received thousands of those. Instead I decided to show my appreciation through a tribute anthology, a form that has become increasingly popular in recent years (see Tor’s own Frederik Pohl tribute, Gateways). I got Mr. Matheson’s permission to do the volume. I approached a small press, Gauntlet, which quickly agreed to publish the book. Then I contacted writers—lots of writers. The biggest and best in the fields of horror, fantasy, science fiction. Almost everyone said yes, and I was on my way!

Of course, luck plays a role in an editor’s life. Naturally Stephen King was first on my list of invitees, but for a long time I had no luck in contacting him—it was only after his son, Joe Hill, came on board that King took an interest, ultimately collaborating with Joe (for the first time ever!) on a gripping tale, “Throttle,” inspired by Matheson’s unforgettable story and film Duel.

More luck: I just happened to invite Mick Garris, creator of the TV series Masters of Horror and Fear Itself, at exactly the time the Hollywood writers’ strike began, an event which left Mick with a little more time on his hands than usual—time he used to craft for me a fine, chilling prequel to I Am Legend called “I Am Legend, Too.”

And who knew when I suggested to Whitley Strieber that he contribute “a little something” to the book that he would become so impassioned that he’d knock out “Cloud Rider,” a superb novella inspired not just by one Matheson story, but by all of them?

Not to mention the fact that once He Is Legend appeared in its limited edition from Gauntlet Press, the fine folks at Tor took one look at it and decided that they wanted to bring the book to a wider audience—a much wider audience….

Yes, luck plays a role in an editor’s life!

So what do anthology editors do? They generate the ideas, negotiate with publishers, deal with contracts, work with writers on revisions (and sometimes more revisions), pay the contributors, organize the final manuscript, proofread it; they do everything, really, but write the stories. And even then, their behind-the-scenes influence on some tales may be strong indeed.

So an original anthology is as much an editor’s work as a novel is the work of a novelist—if in a somewhat different way.  But, like novelists, editors put their hearts and souls into their books. I know I did. I hope that Matheson fans will agree that the results shine through in He Is Legend.

He Is Legend (0-7653-2614-0 tpb) is available from Tor in trade paperback in September.

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