But What Do They Do?
Editors
by Michael G. Ryan

Most people are fairly certain that an editor is the person who "cleans up bad writing." While there's some accuracy in that description (as well as an unintentional insult to any writer whose work has been edited), it doesn't encompass the range of services an editor provides. And when it comes to trading card game editors in particular, those services are even more precise and unique…and hard to come by. In fact, most editors begin their careers headed in a completely different direction.

"I wanted to be a wildlife biologist," recalls Jessica Beaven, lead editor for licensed trading card games at Wizards of the Coast. "Then, around the time of the Challenger explosion, I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. As that path narrowed down to dedicating seven years of my life to the Air Force without ever making pilot because of my slight myopia, I decided I'd be better off following a path that allows a little more freedom."

Like many editors, Jessica initially wanted to write (and still does; her short story, "Liar's Game," will appear in the Realms of Shadow anthology due from Wizards in April 2002), and she'd kept a journal for many years. "Creative writing always seemed a little magical," she says, "with the way writers can conjure worlds, people, and truths that can directly affect other people they may never have met -- all at the whims of Fate." Because of her passion for words and language, she majored in English in college as a means of "choosing not to choose," as working with words tends not to have a field of its own ("it's more of a vehicle from which to explore anything and everything a person could want to explore").

With a degree in English, Jessica ended up first editing for a small music textbook publisher in Redmond, Washington, called Pst, Inc. (as in "Psst, did you hear . . . ?"), a job she acquired simply by sending her résumé to addresses of publishers she found in the Yellow Pages. "Nobody there seemed to understand how much I could offer in the way of actually working on text," she says. "By the time my supervisor offered me more work along those lines, I'd found a full-time software technical writing job, so it was too little, too late. Besides, the main guy at Pst was condescending and had horrible breath. I learned a lot about singing, though."

Shortly after Wizards of the Coast acquired the Five Rings Publishing Group and the popular trading card game Legend of the Five Rings, Jessica moved from her writing position at the software company Syntax to work full-time on the TCG. "I just couldn't get excited about PC-to-UNIX connectivity," she admits of her former job. "My immediate supervisor was a delightfully tempestuous Burmese woman, and the pay was good. But when I saw the job offered at Wizards, I had to have it, even if it did mean a pay cut."

After a trial-by-fire editing test ("The interviewers, namely Ed Bolme, decided to ignore the results of the first test I took and gave me a page to crash-proof in front of the panel of four or five with whom I was interviewing"), Jessica began work on Legend of the Five Rings, which was a job that sparked her interest in Asian cultures, especially Japanese language, martial arts, and history. "I also grew by leaps and bounds both personally and professionally during my work on the game," she says. "I learned to interact with more types of people in better ways, learned lots of tricks and habits for gaining respect and doing good work, and got to experience teaching adults in the form of demoing at Gen Con. Plus, I just poured a lot of time and energy into templating and customer satisfaction."

Templating is a skill that trading card name editors need to acquire early on in their careers, as it governs most of their work on the cards. Editing and R&D work closely together to choose exactly how to word cards and rules, with a focus on clarity and consistency. R&D carries the bulk of the responsibility for the game mechanics side of this, as the editor generally doesn't know a given game as well as its R&D leads and probably won't be able to think of as many cards or rules for comparison. The editor carries the bulk of the responsibility for the language side of templating, however; the editor has to determine whether a template uses good English and language understandable to the average player, for instance. Some games -- Pokómon or Harry Potter, to name a few -- require the language to be simpler, as its target audience is younger players. Other games, like Magic: The Gathering or MLB Showdown, have larger vocabularies and more complex templates.

The templates themselves -- the precise words used to detail what a card does or how a rule applies -- also have to be consistent with one another, and the editor is responsible for making sure that rules that do the same thing are always said the same way. For instance, say an already-printed card read "At the beginning of your turn, draw a card." The editor needs to be certain that other cards don't read "At the beginning of your turn, draw 1 card" or "Draw a card at the beginning of your turn" or "At the beginning of each of your turns, draw a card." All of these cards do the same thing, so they should read the same way. This may seem simple, but it can become very important with more complicated templates, as players often have the tendency to think that if two instructions are worded differently, they must mean different things. The editor and R&D share about equal responsibility for templating consistency, although the editor keeps the templates of all cards that have been printed for the game. When a new card comes in, ready to be templated, the editor then presents any past templates that might apply to that card to the templating team, which makes the final decision.

Templating takes up an enormous amount of an editor's time when he or she is working on a game, but at Wizards, if it has text on it, an editor sees it. Editors correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar, make suggestions for rewrites, additions, and deletions, and sometimes even do a bit of writing themselves. And because most editors work on a particular product line, if something's to be printed under that line's banner, the editor usually looks at it. This can include promotional website text, league booklets, letters, player surveys, periodical articles, press releases, storylines, FAQs, solicitations, ads, contest descriptions, posters, postcards, sell sheets, gift boxes, strategy guides, consumer response cards, signs, brochures, demo scripts, media alters, book covers, stickers, tokens, letterheads, binders, marketing copy, playmats, and of course, cards, packaging, and rules. These last three, Jessica says, tend to be the most complicated "because they're the most likely to have late changes from licensors and other teams at Wizards," though she notes that cards are easily the most fun to work on "because they're the meat of a game; the stakes are high, but so are the challenges and the pride of accomplishment."

Editors, therefore, work closely with different parts of the company at different stages -- R&D when the game is under design and development; typesetting, production, and art as it moves into its graphic stages, where an editor will review, or "proof," text to be sure it reads correctly before going to print; sales and marketing when the game is being sold to businesses; the leagues when the game is on the streets and being promoted for play; and the periodicals team when writers begin to publish reviews or strategy tips for the game. Anytime there's text, an editor will look at it… even if it seems a little odd, limited, or possibly beyond the editor's scope.

"I was asked to edit a Japanese promo card once," Jessica recalls. "The project manager brought it by because the approval form had a space for editor sign-off. I just checked the legal text and declared the rest of it 'good by me!'"

And as with any position, editors have their ultimate "dream jobs" as well. In Jessica's case, in addition to editing anything in the field of theoretical physics (one of her myriad interests), it would be to work with a famous author "who doesn't know much about editing but who respects what editors can do. Sometimes, when I finish an intriguing book, I contemplate sending the author an offer of my services pro bono, just as a way to say thanks for the experience. Most of them probably have editors assigned by their publishers, but I may still give it a shot the next time I have the time to take on new projects."

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