Interview: David G. Hartwell

David G. Hartwell is an American editor of science fiction and fantasy. He has worked for Signet (1971-1973), Berkley Putnam (1973-1978), Pocket (where he founded the Timescape imprint, 1978-1983, and created the Pocket Books Star Trek publishing line), and Tor (where he spearheaded Tor’s Canadian publishing initiative, and was also influential in bringing many Australian writers to the US market, 1984-present), and has published numerous anthologies.

Each year he edits The Year’s Best Science Fiction (started in 1996 and co-edited with Kathryn Cramer since 2002) and The Year’s Best Fantasy (co-edited with Cramer since its first publication in 2001). Both anthologies have consistently placed in the top 10 of the Locus annual reader poll in the category of Best Anthology. In 1988, he won the World Fantasy Award in the category Best Anthology for The Dark Descent. He has been nominated for the Hugo Award in the category of Best Professional Editor and Best Editor Long Form on numerous occasions, and won in 2006, 2008 and 2009. He has also won the Eaton Award and the World Fantasy Award.

He edited the best-novel Nebula Award-winners Timescape by Gregory Benford (1980), The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe (1981), and No Enemy But Time by Michael Bishop (1982), and the best-novel Hugo Award-winnerHominids by Robert J. Sawyer (2002).

Since 1995, his title at Tor/Forge Books has been “Senior Editor.” He chairs the board of directors of the World Fantasy Convention, is on the board of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, and, with Gordon Van Gelder, is the administrator of the Philip K. Dick Award. He holds a Ph.D. in comparative medieval literature.

He lives in Pleasantville and Westport, New York with his wife Kathryn Cramer and their two children.

Tell us a little about your editing career. How did you start out and why do you continue to edit science fiction and fantasy?

When I was twelve, I wanted to grow up to be a science fiction editor. I worked hard through high school reading and preparing, and then gave it up as impractical. There were too many other knowledgeable fans who wanted the same thing. So I went to college and graduate school and got a doctorate in comparative medieval literature. While finishing that, I had the good luck to be offered a consulting job editing SF, in 1970. I have done it ever since.

What are some of the common mistakes you see from the writers you edit?

Inadequate setting; poor choice of point of view; poor choice of person and tense; inattention to style.

Does a story or novel need to be nearly perfect for you to acquire it for publication? Do you work with authors over multiple drafts? How much editorial input do you provide, on average?

No. I usually do between two and five drafts, with whatever editorial input is sufficient.

Receiving honest feedback may be the hardest thing for a beginning writer. Why is feedback so vital? What are your thoughts on critique groups and workshops?

Most aspiring writers set their sights too low, and most of them rely on the advice of their peers, providing a mediocre feedback loop.

Every year you edit the The Year’s Best Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Fantasy, what kind of stories or themes do you find refreshing and new? Which ones have been overdone? How about any that have not been explored yet?

I don’t find this an interesting question. New ideas are comparatively rare, and usually both small scale and not well-executed. Kathryn and I are willing to take the best written and thought-through version. No idea is too old to be re-thought from the ground up.

Do you feel there are any misconceptions about the editor position? How important is an editor to a writer?

There is a growing misconception that editors are not supposed to edit, but merely to acquire and market. This is encouraged by the fact that some editors do not edit, and are still employed by their companies. They are to be avoided unless your aspiration is merely money and marketing. But you know, for enough money, you might want to put aside your artistic aspirations. Sometimes.

As a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?

Whatever is sufficient to further their development. Hard work and persistence usually pay off.

What’s next on the editing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?

Too many to list. I do less than a hundred a year now, but still a lot.

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