Editing with Sian Vate

If becoming a writer is all about putting pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard), how then do you approach becoming an editor?

In the lead up to Industry Insiders; Emerging Editors, we chat with editor Sian Vate about her beginnings, her career as deputy editor of Overland Magazine, and what it’s like working on the other side of the page.

What was the first piece someone allowed you to edit? And what was the outcome?

The first article I edited for Overland was about the grammar of hashtags and the impact the internet is having on language, and ironically, this was a really grammatically technical piece to edit. And as is the case with most Overland articles, it taught me something about its subject, that I retain.

How did you build your credibility as an editor?

Through volunteering. I edited newsletters for activist organisations, I edited reviews for Arena magazine and I coedited a magazine of art and writing with some friends in 2010, Chalk. I cut my teeth on magazines that I cared about whilst I was studying and working in other roles.

What are the most important things to look out for when you’re reading someone’s work?

Firstly to try to read as your audience reads, to look for an easy relationship between a piece and its readers. I like eccentric pieces about odd topics, but you know, that’s not quite the Overland project (though we do go there sometimes). But I look for clarity: sentences and paragraphs that don’t run for too long and that conclude the ideas or questions that they have set up; a strong hook, and a clear angle and purpose, to the article; and after that, grammar, grammar, grammar.

What are your favourite types of submissions to read?

It’s hard to say – I nearly answered articles that don’t need an editor, but that’s not true. I have worked on really interesting pieces that have gone through a couple of redrafting stages with their writers, and when they have come together in the end, it’s been very cool. My favourite submissions have good politics, they cover interesting areas and are backed by researched knowledge, and they veer away from highly academic or convoluted writing styles (which are different things). Pieces that assume a high intelligence and a low knowledge of their readers are great. And if they’re funny, well, they’re my favourite.

Who’s your favourite-ever editor (can be personal connection or celebrity editor).

I’m fortunate because I know a number of editors – colleagues and friends – who are really clever and who do strong work, and it’s good to discuss the work with them. Working with Jacinda at Overland is great experience, because she can look at a submission and take its number from a couple of different angles, straight off the bat. I’m planning to gain her speed through exposure – ha.

Hear from Sian and other editing professionals at Industry Insiders: Emerging Editors, Monday June 19 at the Wheeler Centre.

Sian is also a writer and poet, catch her at Tell Me Like You Mean It, a night of readings from the best emerging voices in Australian Poetry.