Industry Interview – Ken Carcas

We’re back again with another Industry Interview! These articles are proving quite popular so I’m going to make them a weekly feature. Monday will be Deconstructing Dungeons (until I run out), Wednesday will be a general article or review, and Friday will be an Industry Interview! This week we have a chat with one of the Guild’s best-known editors; Ken Carcas!

Ken Carcas is one of the DMsGuild’s best-known editors and has worked on dozens of products on the guild including adventures, player supplements, and encounter books. Everything I put out on the Guild goes through Ken before it hits the shelves, and I know first-hand how great his ability to find plot holes and fix grammatical errors is. If you’re interested in getting Ken to help you out, you can find him on Facebook.

What first drew you to the DMsGuild, and what made you think publishing was the role for you?

Being an avid supporter of the 3.5ed OGL and how 3rd party writers could write for their beloved game, the absence of an OGL for 4th edition was crashing. The eventual release of the DMsGuild was seen by many and still is, as a godsend to the hobby. Being able to once again write for D&D was a great advance for 5th edition as a whole.

Wishing to expand on what was being seen as a poor release schedule of official material, I jumped at the guild with enthusiasm. Even in the early days, the release of so much material on the guild was great, even if most of it was full of spelling and grammar errors, not to mention continuity issues and the ‘very basic’ layout. But hey, material was material. Just being able to gain access to a plethora of new stuff was, I’d have to say my main reason for getting on board.

I can’t really say I’m ‘a publisher’, even though I have had some success dabbling in the odd short adventure and encounter for various publications. I prefer to think of myself, first and foremost as an editor for writers within the guild, with writing as a secondary pastime that helps fill that creative niche.

What’s the hardest part of editing a new product on the DMsGuild? Are some kinds of products harder to work through than others?

I’d have to say the hardest part would be not knowing what the writers individual writing style is like, and what they hope to achieve from their release. Over time and continued working with some writers, I’ve built up an understanding of who the writer is and what they like and dislike, but getting that first glimmer of understanding can be a little daunting.

As for material, again, it comes down to the writer themselves. I know the way, I believe, something should be presented on the guild. I know the way a saving throw and skill check should be worded based on what I know the reader will be looking for but convincing the writer to word something to WotC standards, and not their own individual style, that can be hard.

I find resource documents the hardest to work on as you’re purely going on what is literally coming from the creative juices of the writer themselves. A resource document is literally writing the rules of the game and who’s to say what is right or wrong from the writers perspective. I usually need to sit back, read and look at what I know and understand of the official rules to know if the writer is going beyond what the rules would, or should allow. Adventures are easy. The rules are the rules and anything within an adventure can be directed back to what the rules say. But a resource document can be a rewarding challenge and a huge pleasure to work on when those positive reviews start coming in.

What are some of the most common mistakes that authors make?

Oh, this is an easy question to answer as you’re all the same. Instead of listing them all, how about I just give you two.

Every writer, at one point or another, has written the word ‘player’ instead of ‘character’. I don’t think there are many adventures written that I’ve edited where the writer has not used ‘player’ at least once that needed correction. I say this to all writers, new or old; ‘players’ don’t do things within an adventure, the ‘character’ does. As an example, I always have a giggle when I see a writer warning the reader to plan out the encounter carefully so that ‘players’ don’t get killed by an over-powerful opponent. Yes, there is a difference and all writers need to learn when to use ‘player’ and when to use ‘characters’ correctly within a text.

Another thing which I suppose is more important than the word ‘players’ is that writers do not read what they have written. I mean, really sit down and READ what they put to paper. The human mind is a complex organ and is very capable of filling in what it wants the eyes to see. You may wish to write, ‘The mage waved his magic wand’, and that’s what you’ll see when you look at what was written. The fact that, on paper, it’s written ‘The mage waved magic wand’ will still be seen as ‘The mage waved his magic wand’.

Writers sometimes ask why it takes so long to edit something. Missing words within sentences and misspelled words (there and their are also common mistakes) means the editor has to be able to take the time and actually READ what is on the page.

Not wanting this to sound like a writing lesson but when you write something, leave it a couple of days before going back to it. Reread what you’ve written and I can almost guarantee that you’ll pick something up. Get into the habit of reading aloud as that helps you see what’s on the page. I find it helpful when I edit to actually print the adventure or resource out to paper, then do an initial edit from that. Not only do I actually see what it will look like on paper but missing words, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors have a habit of jumping out at me. My pages look like I’ve bled all over them at times.

Do you have a favourite product that you edited? What made it stand out?

Ouch… you’re going to get me shot here! I’ve edited for over 25 authors and well over 100 individual pieces. Having to pick just one is a hard call.

Can I start by giving a noticeable mention to both Jeff C. Stevens and M.T. Black who, if it wasn’t for them not telling me to ‘get lost’ for suggesting mistakes in their earlier works, I wouldn’t be editing today.

I’m going to out-on-a-limb here and giving a very close 2nd to Monsters of the Guild. That wasn’t a one-man show, with Glen Cooper, Phil Beckwith and yourself as the Lead Designers. With over 40 writers contributing, I literally came in as the Lead Editor at the last moment. I had a very small window to get that beauty edited as it had a recognised publication date soon after Monsters Without Borders, for which I was also Lead Editor. Those were my first books. It was the greatest honour to date and I still love seeing Monsters of the Guild proudly displayed on my bookcase.

Sorry everyone, but my all-time favourite would have to go to The Haunt by Phil Beckwith over at P.B. Publishing. That was a literary masterpiece of writing that, to this day, still sends shivers down my spine at how good it turned out. I think the one thing that made it stand out is that it very nearly didn’t look like it was going to see a Part 2 come from it, which is close to being published as this goes to print. The main antagonist in the adventure, the famous ‘Evil Doll’ was originally written to ‘… fight to the death …’. As most writers know when they receive feedback on their edits, I absolutely hate with a passion when the main villain is written to fight to the death during the final boss fight. Final bosses should be played intelligently, or else how did they get to that position as a boss in the first place.

Whilst editing The Haunt, when I read that the Evil Doll was supposed to die in the end, I immediately messaged Phil and told him he was missing a huge opportunity here, and after a few suggestions on her character makeup and the way she should function within the adventure, that doll ended up being a lot more memorable. The adventure went Platinum quite quickly, as adventures go, which I believe is a testament to how well The Haunt was written and how memorable The Evil Doll is to those that go up against her.

As well as editing, you’ve done some writing work too, such as in our Halloween encounter book, Grimm Encounters. What inspires your work when you do sit down to write?

What inspires me? I’d like to say 42 years playing this fabulous game or my love for the gaming hobby as a whole, and although these go a long way to influencing my writing, when I get to write, I’d have to say the passion for a project when first approached by the organiser.

If you take a look at everything I’ve written, including ‘Red Ridings Hood’ and ‘Snow Wight (and the Deadly Dwarves)’ that both appear in Grimm Encounters, I start by asking the lead on the project what THEY are looking for from the publication and what THEY would like to see from me. It’s usually from that conversation that I get inspired as to what will eventually go down on paper.

For Grimm Encounters, I believe  you wanted more of the original adult version and not the washed out cartoon version we are all used too. Something with blood, guts, and gore. I like to think that’s what you got.

I was first approached to write by Jeff C. Stevens for his now famous, Encounters in the Savage Frontier. Although I eventually wrote 2 pieces, both ‘An Unbearable Situation’ and ‘Tomb of Lost Hope and Joy’, [‘An Unbearable Situation’] is my all-time favourite in the encounters series. Inspired by Jeff asking for something short but personal, the encounter featured is one I’ve used for my personal groups over the many years of DMing and has never failed to get a near different result most times. [‘Tomb of Lost Hope and Joy’] came from Jeff wanting something to do with trolls but with a twist that players couldn’t see coming. The final result, including a new creature adaptation (The Trollhound), gave Jeff an adventure he actually advised me to remove and publish myself. It stayed as I wrote it for him, and the rest was history.

So as you can see, I don’t have a muse, so to speak, but the organiser themselves inspire on what eventually hits the page.

What skills are necessary to become an editor on DMsGuild?

It’s varied and truly depends on the person doing the editing. Anyone can claim to be able to edit and even the best education and training to be an editor won’t always make you an editor.

I find for me, it’s the ability to listen to what the writer wants, the focus to READ what’s on the page, and the foresight to see a mistake when there appears to be none. Let me explain that last one.

Continuity issues is a big one with me. Some writers have a problem making an adventure flow where everything that is supposed to be there, is there, and where it’s supposed to be. I like to think of the Princess and the Dragon story. No good telling the reader that the characters are supposed to rescue the Princess from the Dragon if, when then they get there, there is no Princess because you forgot to add her in, or the Dragon is, in fact, an Ogre and you don’t have a plausible reason for the change. Being able to see a mistake in the story helps in the production of a better product.

One last thing is to not be afraid to suggest when a writer has missed something or if you believe value could be added to areas within the adventure or resource. Be able to offer suggestions without bias. The writer is relying on you to see what they haven’t and be able to make what they have given you better when it goes to publication.

I believe every editor that CAN edit brings something valuable to any writer and their beloved creation. For the writers, look around for an editor that will work WITH you and your work in progress. Not all writer/editor relationships work so look around for what suits you best.

Have you got any advice for those who are thinking of getting into editing for the Guild?

I’m glad you asked this one! I’m going to be blunt, but this isn’t a finger pointing response. I’ve had a number of messages from people enquiring about getting into editing, thinking they’ll quickly get rich and famous from doing so. Everyone is different and operates differently but to those wanting an in on editing, I offer the following:

Don’t enter into editing for the guild if all you’re after is an inflated ego from seeing your name in print. The final product, though it contains your work, belongs to the writer and that is where the total glory should go.

If you do wish to throw your cap into the ring, do so because you have the best interests of the writer and their work in mind. Be willing to go above and beyond what another would expect from you, even if it’s going that extra mile to ensure they get their product over the line and published on time.

Don’t do so if you want to make a small fortune from editing as I can assure you, writers on the guild cannot afford to pay the costs of a professional. Be willing to compromise when it comes to the financial side. If you are in this for the money, walk away now because you’re going to be very disappointed. What I get doesn’t amount to the hours I spend reading, editing, rereading, proofreading and answering questions. It covers the costs of my hobby… nothing more.

I like to think that all editors within the guild work together for the betterment of the guild as a whole. We bring a set of skills often underused and underappreciated. Not all writers understand what we have to offer. Be willing to work with those newbie writers wanting a break but try to help them understand that a favour given should be a favour returned.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to walk away if the writer is being difficult, or if the writing isn’t up to scratch and [they’re] looking to you to rewrite their mess. You’re there to edit and you’re being paid to edit. If the writer is expecting you to rewrite their ‘masterpiece’ so that they claim the credit, they either up your fee and credit you for the work, or they find someone else to do it. Don’t be a [gibbering mouther] about it and try to compromise. Remember, you’re there to help and they did first approach you, but at the end of the day, you’re their editor, not their ghostwriter.

If you want to help support Ken and his work, you can buy the adventures he’s helped edit (including most of my own), but especially Grimm Encounters and Monsters of the Guild.

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