This is Ask Me Editing, our publishing advice column with Agony Un-Uncle Elizabeth Flux.


 

Many years ago I worked in an office where I had an unrequited crush on a colleague. Actually, I'll never know if it was unrequited as I never made my feelings known, and when I left the company, we lost contact, as people do. I did, however, use that residual bittersweet longing over the episode to inform a novel I've written, which will be out in a little while. The chances of that person ever reading this novel and recognising themselves in the character in slim, but I wonder if I should contact them and warn them? Or is that the creepier option? It's hard to tell. What should I do?

 

When I was five I spent six months carrying an eraser around in my pocket because I had heard that rubber will save you if you get struck by lightning – so I guess what I’m saying is that my advice will be coming from a PLAN FOR THE WORST CASE SCENARIO ALWAYS perspective.

If you are worried that your former colleague might pick up the book, might recognise themselves, and then feel strange about it (even if the chance is slimmer than being struck by lightning when you’re a bookish child in Australia who rarely ventures outdoors) then I think definitely get in touch with them.

The plan then, if you do decide to get in touch, depends on what kind of relationship you have with them. If you still catch up in person, you could perhaps mention it in passing, so they are informed but have the option to ask more if they would like. If not, maybe send them a text or an email, mentioning that you drew on experiences from your shared workplace as inspiration from your book, and so they might recognise a bit of themselves (and other people from that time) if they do happen to read it.

Frame this information well. The main thing is to not make it seem like a big deal – if you present it like a potentially bad thing, then they will definitely go get the book (which, on the plus side, good, because sales) and read into it intensely. If you are stressed about getting the tone right, draft it out, and perhaps show it to a friend who can help you finesse it.

I just finished up at uni where I was really involved in student media. Now that I’m out in the “real world” I’m finding I miss working on a mag, and so was thinking of starting my own publication but am not sure if a) it’s a good idea, b) it will sponge up all of my money and time, c) how I’ll even get started?

 

Like any big life change, there is potential to make snap decisions in the weeks and months following it. Starting a publication is a big commitment, and can be a hugely worthwhile venture. However, it will take a lot of your time (and, as you point out, potentially money), so here are my thoughts as someone has also fallen down the post-student media abyss.

First take some time for you, and maybe don’t commit to anything big initially. See what is out there – maybe start by getting involved in some existing publications. This can help because you get an insider view on how they work, without having to run things from the get go. Then take a look around at what niches might need to be filled, and how this overlaps with your interests.

You’d be shooting yourself in the foot from the get-go if you start a publication that is competing for the exact same demographic as another. If you decide to add a new magazine to the mix, see what you can bring to the bigger conversation, and what unique spin you could offer. Passion for a topic is great and admirable, but if there is already a publication out there doing what you want to do, putting a facsimile of it out there isn’t going to do you or anyone else any favours – at worst your idea is dead in the water from the very beginning, and at best, you are splitting your demographic and diluting the pool of magazines competing for the same funding, readership and goals. Basically: if it already exists, don’t make another one. Never forget The Amityville Horror remake, or what cloning did to the Empire.

If you do however find a gap in the market that you will fill well, then great. From here, it’s time to work out the everyday realities – money, how to acquire it, and who will get it. Figure out a budget (printing, website costs, how much you’ll pay contributors and staff etc.) which will then inform the design possibilities. You could apply for grants (and look in areas that are specific to the type of publication you’re creating) or potentially go the crowdfunding route.

 

I’ve been asked to write a review of a friend’s book. Am I…allowed to? And even if so…should I?

 

This is tricky because there is potential for catastrophe in all directions. If the review is something you really want to do, then the best thing to do is to contact your editor and let them know your potential conflict of interest, which means that if the review does go ahead, you don’t have to stress that it will “come out” and means that the publication knows the real situation from the outset, and can either set you another assignment or guide you through the minefield inevitably awaits. 

Writing a review like this is tricky. If you have a good relationship with the author, naturally you won’t want to say anything that hurts their feelings. But then, you stress about potential favouritism, and can potentially go too far the other way, ending up being more critical than you would were the same book written by a stranger.

If you go ahead, aim to finish the review at least a week ahead of deadline, and potentially seek feedback from a friend whose opinion on writing you trust, as well as speaking openly and honestly with your editor. Giving yourself some breathing space means that you’ll be able to distance yourself from the first draft a bit, and allow you to fix up any mistakes you may notice in the days following.


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Elizabeth Flux's picture

Elizabeth Flux

Elizabeth Flux is a freelance writer and editor who has been published in Junkee, Kill Your Darlings, The Lifted Brow, Film Ink, Metro, Lip Magazine, Spook, and by herself on the blog she’s been writing from the age of fifteen. She previously edited On Dit, co-coordinated Buzzcuts in 2012, and coordinated Signal Express for The Emerging Writers’ Festival in 2013. In 2016 she attended the Hong Kong International Festival funded by the UNESCO City of Literature Travel Fund. Between all this she drinks vast amounts of tea and tweets terrible puns. Twitter @ElizabethFlux