Tag Archives: Editors

The Quest for Publication

8 Dec

Two thoughts on the writer’s quest to be published – the one a reminder to persevere, the other a cautionary tale of sorts.

Opinions may vary…

As a writer, rejection can always shake your confidence, but it is important to remember that tastes vary and one venue’s rejection might be another’s acceptance. To illustrate this, allow me to share a recent experience of mine.

I had a story rejected by a publisher that uses readers and the comments of the three readers were included with the rejection email.

The reason why it was rejected was because one reader had given it a score of 1/5. Although they were enthusiastic about my actual writing, they felt the idea had been done before and wasn’t worth publishing.

But, the other two readers had given it 4/5 and 5/5 and the latter actually commented that they didn’t see the ending coming!

Had the first reader been replaced by someone else, it’s likely my story would’ve been accepted, but, more than that, the way in which one reader was jaded by the plot and another surprised, shows how you never can tell who will (or won’t) like your story.

The moral, naturally, is to shake off the rejection and send your story out again and again. Of course, if they make points about flaws that you can see the validity of, consider rewriting your piece, but, if not, don’t assume it’s rubbish – it probably just hasn’t reached the right editor yet.

When editing fails…

Of course, even when you have your story accepted, there can be problems. Magazines can fold before publication, you might withdraw it because you don’t agree to the contract offered, and sometimes the editor will drop it. This latter recently happened to me.

Having spent a lot of time and effort editing a story for an anthology, it was dropped because the chief editor felt my edits weren’t what he wanted.

Now, perhaps I am just too literal minded, or perhaps several months with a lot of stress and little sleep had left my brain unable to tease out the nuance of what was wanted, but while I had responded to all their suggestions, it seemed they had wanted a substantive and wide-ranging rewrite rather than the straightforward edit I had interpreted their request to be.

The problem was that not only were we approaching the edit at cross-purposes, they didn’t tell me I was coming at it wrong. In fact, the editor who responded to both redrafts I sent (a different person to the chief editor who dropped my story) not only said nothing, but actually stated it was ready for layout! (Call me naive, but that certainly sounded as if they were satisified with the piece – maybe they thought it was okay and the chief editor didn’t, or maybe they just automatically sent the email without checking it, but whatever the reason I assumed I’d produced a satisfactory job until the chief editor emailed me a few days late to say he was dropping it.)

Had they clarified what they wanted after my first rewrite, I probably would’ve had to ask for it to withdrawn as I doubt I could’ve produced such a substantive rewrite to such a tight deadline. But, at least that would’ve saved us both some time and effort, as well as avoiding misleading me as to the story’s status.

The moral of the story for writers has to be, if an editor asks for more than a simple proofread of your story and a response to minor tweaks, clarify just how much rewriting they expect so that you can either get it right or, at least, avoid wasting everyone’s time.

But, for any editors who might be reading, there is a stronger moral for you – communicate clearly and in a timely fashion. Make it clear what you want at the beginning and if the writer doesn’t appear to be doing what you expected, let them know before the editing window closes. And, if you have other members on your editorial team, have them run any responses by you – this isn’t the first time I’ve had one editor tell me something only to be overruled (a member of the editorial team at one magazine told me they could pay via PayPal when they couldn’t, leading to a lot of hassle).

But, even though these sorts of mishaps can occur, the answer remains, keep submitting. Remember, if your story was accepted by one editor, it stands a good chance of being accepted somewhere else.


Reality is Unrealistic

23 Sep

TV Tropes has an extensive selection of examples of the ways in which reality is unrealistic. That is, things that are true but which tend to strike readers or viewers as false. The same thing also afflicts editors, as I experienced twice recently.

My first experience was a passing reference, in a steampunk story set during the Prussian siege of Paris, to the loss of water pressure and the character’s need to wash at the sink. This struck the editor as liable to break a reader’s suspension of disbelief as “this is how everyone washed then.” Of course, this was in a story featuring electric artillery, massive land-battleships and a pneumatic postal system (not to mention the undead). Yet, while a reader could be expected to swallow such scientific advances, piped water was a step too far. Piped mail, but not piped water.

In real life, the French army introduced showers in barracks in the 1870s and the water supply of Paris was being overhauled, while gas was being piped into homes. So, the presence of a shower in an apartment in this alternate Paris was hardly a significant departure from the reality of the time, and one far less than the other elements in the story. Yet, it was one thing that stood out as something of a deal-breaker!

The second highlighted an apparent difference between the UK and the USA. The colours yellow and purple were relevant to a story I wrote, so I had an apparent Christmas present wrapped in yellow-and-lavender paper. In itself, it wasn’t a major plot point, but it did allow one character to observe those colours are associated with Easter rather Christmas, which served as a lead-in to a thematic element later in the story. All pretty inconsequential and throw-away, you might think.

Not at all! It seems that, unlike in Britain, where the story is set, the colours are indelibly linked with Easter, with stores being decorated in them (here, you’re likely to see greens and yellows). Thus, the American editor felt as if the story had blundered into some bizarro world, wondering why the fact was presented as if it were a piece of obscure Christian-only knowledge. Ironically, in the UK, I don’t know if you could even find Christians who are aware of the colour association (my limited researches have yet to show where the colour scheme actually derives from). Certainly, nobody I’ve canvassed knew the link. (I do have to wonder how many Americans would necessarily make the association at Christmastime.)

But, despite being entirely accurate to the British milieu in which it was set, the story lost credibility over what was essentially a minor element for the simple fact that the associations were different in the US.

So, if you need some entertainment, visit the TV Tropes pages and chuckle at the examples, but if you’re a writer, remember that, no matter how accurate you are, you will find someone who thinks you’ve made a mistake. And, if you are a reader, maybe double-check before leaping to criticise a writer for an error – they might actually be right, after all…

Discriminating Editors

30 Sep

Editors should be discriminating, but rather than discriminating taste in literature, some seem just to discriminate. Now, while I support the right of editors to run their little fiefs as they wish, I believe, as I’ve stated before, that the only legitimate reason to refuse to publish work should be the quality of the writing (with the exception of the behaviour of the writer as it impinges upon their relationship with the editor – abusive or fraudulent writers deserve to be banned). Of course, I have sympathy with editors who worry that association with someone with extreme views may taint them, but I think most people are sensible enough not confuse the publication of fiction with an endorsement of views held by their author (and, where the writing expresses uncomfortable ideas, the editor is, of course, free to reject it on those grounds).

But, even allowing that an editor may choose to ban a writer for their personal sins, there is absolutely no justification for barring writers from publication for any other reason. Indeed, I’ll admit I’m not comfortable with anthologies and competitions that are only open to certain groups – I’ve declined to submit to such where I was eligible for that reason – but, they are, at least, intended to promote less-represented groups rather than hold back others.

(I must stress that there is a difference between these and anthologies and magazines, such as Black Girl Magic, that focus upon minority characters: while people from the represented group are likely to predominate as writers – after all, who else is better placed to write about a group than members of the group? – anybody can submit to them and they seek to encourage inclusivity rather than ghettoise writers.)

Given my feelings, you can imagine my disgust at discovering an editor openly declaring they had banned Israeli writers from submitting until ‘Israel gives the Palestinians a state.’ I found it almost laughable as the editor is an American and the USA is one of those countries that refuse to recognise the Palestinian state, while its meddling in the region is a major reason why moves towards a solution are stalled. Further, USA has failed to give the native Americans or Hawaiians their own states. By his reasoning, the editor ought to ban American writers. (And, why are no other nations’ writers banned, such as Chinese writers over the occupation of Tibet?)

But, I have to wonder if there’s more to it than Palestine. While Israel is home to Arabs and Druze who identify as Israelis, to most people the country is synonymous with Jews and has become an acceptable means for anti-Semites to express their racism. It would certainly explain the apparent hypocrisy in failing to ban any other nationalities if the editor is actually a racist.

I don’t think anyone should be excluded from publication for their nationality, nor due to racism.

Still, regardless of his reasons, I refuse to patronise a publication that discriminates, even if it’s a paying market, and I hope other decent writers would do likewise.

However, I wouldn’t ban the editor from submitting to an Atlantean publication; everyone is welcome to submit and I won’t be asking for their race, religion, gender, sexuality, nationality, politics or any other details that might exclude them. I will consider their work on its merit alone. Which is how it should be.

A Plea For Sanity (In Editing)

29 Apr

Even with very simple guidelines, there seem to be a set of people who will ignore them and submit unsuitable work in unsuitable formats, so you can’t really blame editors for creating a comprehensive list of guidelines in the hopes of steering people in the right direction. However, a small number go rather over the top.

One recently actually had a lengthy document, promising rejection to anyone who failed to adhere to every last point (I suspect I managed to miss at least one, despite my best intentions and repeated readings of the list). The solemnity of the document was somewhat marred by its statement that it had been laid out as per their guidelines, only for the guidelines to demand paragraphs be indented, while the guidelines themselves weren’t…

Even though they don’t entirely match the format I’m used to, the ‘standard’ layout advocated by William Shunn is a good place for editors to stop and, in my opinion, any variation shouldn’t be too significant.

Editors who insist upon substantially different formats for submissions not only make writers expend unnecessary additional time which for anyone who is short on time is an inconvenience, but actively discriminate against some writers. I have a condition that affects my short-term memory and, when I have to check off a list of changes to the usual format I use, it is very easy for me to lose track of what changes I’m making. I would suspect that writers with dyslexia or any form of learning disability, whilst capable, with the right preparation of producing an acceptable submission, will also have problems following complicated changes to layout.

As an editor, I also find it annoying when editors cite making their lives easier as the reason for their onerous variations from the established norm. For a start, it is easier for someone who has settled upon a layout to change all submissions received to that format through short cuts and templates than it is for others to make a variety changes (potentially to the same submission). But, when any deviation is used as an excuse for a rejection, I find it ridiculous that the editor can neither be bothered to ask for the work to be resubmitted correctly-formatted nor to read it ‘as is’ and, if they want to use it, ask for a reformatted version to be submitted. Seriously, if you would reject the best story you ever read because someone used the wrong font or forgot to indent a paragraph, you probably shouldn’t be an editor. And, if you wouldn’t, you’re a hypocrite using formatting as a figleaf for your laziness.

Yes, ask for submissions to be in a format you can access, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting them to laid out in a readable manner, but if you feel the need to slather on a long list of specific instructions, I would respectfully suggest that there’s something wrong with your approach and that cleaving closer to the norm of ‘standard’ formatting would be more productive for everyone involved.

It’s hard being an editor…

31 Jul

When the fate of your submission is in the the hands of an editor, it’s easy to imagine them atop some lofty ivory tower in a well-cushioned throne quaffing nectar as they sit in judgement upon your work, but being an editor is actually hard work. I had that rammed home to me while deciding what to accept for the booklet due out in August to celebrate the 15th birthday of author HP Lovecraft. Due to the popularity of the theme and a space of just two weeks or so between the deadline for submissions and the planned release date, I found myself having to read and decide upon a lot of very good submissions in a very short period of time. I originally envisoned the booklet as a fairly-slim one, but had to up the page count just to fit those I really wanted to include. In fact, almost all the contents ended up being those that made my initial ‘Yes’ list, with only a couple of those on the ‘Maybe’ list joining them. Unfortunately, there were many more on that ‘Maybe’ list that could easily have gone in, but I was already worried enough about meeting the planned release date without adding even more pages!

Oh, how I found myself agonising over just what to include! The trouble was that most of the submissions been stories (had most been scifaiku, there would have been even more contributors!) and, other than a few that didn’t really fit in with those I definitely wanted to included, there was a lack of clear reasons for rejecting any. When you only have room for, say, one more story and there are a dozen of equal merit, how do you choose? With great difficulty!

So, the next time you’re waiting to hear back about a submission, spare a thought for the poor editor who is struggling to choose which pieces make the grade…

Critiquing the Critiques

22 May

Writers can expect to see their work critiqued by editors, both when rejected and sometimes with an acceptance. Of course, not all editors do supply such feedback – many are busy people who just don’t have the time to respond to every submission, while others perhaps have no concrete advice to offer – but many do. Unfortunately, while some supply very good advice, others… don’t.

Feedback almost uniformly divides into helpful and unhelpful feedback – there’s not really such a thing as indifferent feedback, unless the writer has submitted something that doesn’t fit their guidelines and is told so, and even that is helpful in its way.

Unhelpful feedback can be divided into three types. The first sort is the factually inaccurate. This is where the editor identifies a flaw that doesn’t actually exist and is the most unhelpful sort as a lot of effort may be wasted attempting to locate a non-existent plot hole or trying to work out what they’re actually on about. Of course, given that it probably results from them skimming the submission, it may indicate they found it boring, but the most you may glean from this supposition is what stories not to send them. A subset of this category I’ve encountered recently is the editor saying the exact opposite of the point they apparently intended to make, which, again, tends to waste time as you attempt to decipher their meaning.

The second sort of unhelpful feedback you might encounter is one with no context. As an example, one reader once offered the comment of ‘Boring’ beneath one of my gaming reviews. The problem with this (besides the lack of any further detail) was that it didn’t define what exactly they found boring? Was it the review? Was it the game I was reviewing? Was it gaming in general? Who knows!

The third kind of unhelpful feedback occurs when the editor effectively wants to tell their own story in place of yours. Instead of actual feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the story, they supply an outline for one completely different to it and suggest you write it. Which is all very well if you want to take on the commission, but not much good if you just wanted feedback on your work; and, as the editors that tend to do this don’t pay, you probably don’t want to take on the challenge, anyway…

Although not a specific class of unhelpful feedback, a special mention must go to those editors who insist on giving detailed feedback whilst demanding you never resubmit rejected work to them. Thank you, I now know exactly how to craft the story to your specific needs, but you’ll never see it. Unfortunately, other editors probably don’t share your exact same requirements! So, not terribly helpful.

Balancing the equation, there are three types of useful feedback. The first sort is technical and only really applies where a writer has significant failings with their spelling and/or grammar. All writers will make mistakes and possess idiosyncrasies, and there will always be a question of ‘house style’ and spelling convention (primarily British versus American), but these are minimal concern from a feedback point of view, mainly being covered during the proofing stage. But, if a writer makes a lot of errors, putting the editor off their work before they’ve made much progress reading it, they can expect to be informed in order to improve their writing.

The second sort of useful feedback tells the writer more about the editor than it does about their story. Some editors may believe their opinions reflect an objective reality and some may even be giving advice that applies to a significant portion of publications, but on the whole, editorial opinion is subjective. What one editor believes constitutes a good story is not necessarily an opinion shared by other editors. I’ve had stories rejected by one editor with a savage critique only for the next editor I submit it to accept it and rave over how good it is. Neither editor is wrong; they just have different tastes and different aims for their publications. But, while you may not wish to follow an editor’s advice and rewrite a story that, in your opinion, has achieved what you wanted it to, you can learn what they do or do not want. If an editor tells you your story is slow, you won’t send them another slow-moving masterpiece. If an editor complains that your story is full of sex or swearing, you’ll know not to send that type to them again. And, so on. You could even try rewriting the story to match the style they do want and resubmit it to them, while sending the original one elsewhere in the hope of finding an editor who will appreciate it. Many editors can supply this sort of feedback, but it can be drowned out if they are obsessed with providing details that aren’t terribly helpful. Simply stating that a story is slow or tends towards telling than showing is more useful than an attempt to analyse its flaws at length, in my opinion.

The third type of useful feedback is the sort that makes you think. Not many editors can do this, but there are some who possess the ability to dissect a story and explain exactly what they think in a clear manner. Because they do so in such a concise manner, it is easy to discern where they are offering good advice that is worth taking. In addition, I find that when I disagree with their assessment I’m forced to clarify why I disagree, helping me to better understand my story, which is incredibly useful when deciding whether or not to make changes as, sometimes, you may discover that while you disagree, it’s not a good enough reason to resist a change that might make the story work better for a wider readership. Such feedback is the rarest, but most valuable of all.

Hopefully, this will help you to discern the advice worth paying heed to from that best ignored. Perhaps, too, any editors reading this will consider the feedback they give and just how helpful it really is.

Preserving Your Voice

9 May

In an earlier post, I described how there is no such thing – in an objective sense – as ‘bad writing’. In other words, as long as you make a conscious choice to write a certain way for a specific reason, nobody can say it is wrong (although they may well say they don’t enjoy it!). The reason I wrote that article was the current cult of the ultra-short sentence shorn of adjectives and adverbs, which new writers are being told is the only ‘right’ way to write – despite the fact that such bland, staccato writing is utterly unsuitable to whole swathes of literature. (Such writing is, however, entirely suitable for action scenes.)

Unfortunately, even if you are not blindly following such advice and are confident in your writing style, there is an impediment to preserving your voice (unless you are self-publishing) – the editor. Now, I will hasten to add, this is not an attack on all editors, as there are many highly-skilled editors out there who know exactly what they are doing and will only suggest changes that are likely to improve your writing. (I will also add, based on one editors lament, that they sometimes have to cope with a similar problem when copy editors and proofreaders suddenly take it into their heads that they know best and step beyond the bounds of their position to suggest wholesale rewrites rather than just checking for typos!)

The problem, and it should come as no surprise given that somebody has to be propagating such notions, is that there are plenty of editors who are in thrall to the staccato sentence or have their own quirks.  Suddenly, despite having agonised over your writing as you put it on paper (or screen) and then edited and re-edited it to make sure it is just how it should be, you have someone suggesting that your deliberately laid-out manuscript and carefully chosen words  are flawed, sometimes for the most bizarre of reasons. Suddenly, you are attempting to balance being published with preserving your voice, rather like a politician being told to keep to the party line if he wishes to retain his seat.

Often, an editor’s demands are not too damaging to your manuscript (such as cutting longer sentences in half) or they make so many ‘suggestions’ that you can implement a number of essentially unimportant ones (perhaps even correcting genuine errors or making improvements) to satisfy their need to edit without compromising your writing. It’s when they effectively want to rewrite your piece into something entirely different that you have to decide whether to just walk away or not. (A good editor will give you a heads up before accepting your work that they want to make drastic changes – “I would like to accept it but…” or “I’m going to reject it but…” Bad editors accept your work then start making onerous demands.)

Perhaps the most irritating of bad editors are those who frame their opinion with “All/Most editors would agree…” Would they? Do most editors actually edit anything worthwhile? Do you not have any thoughts and opinions of your own? Perhaps not…

The most important thing to remember is that there is nothing objectively superior about being an editor. Editors make mistakes and have subjective tastes just like everyone else. One editor may look at your work and hate it, the next may love it. All you can do is produce the writing that you want to produce in the way that you wish to produce it and keep sending it out into the world until it finds a home in which it will be appreciated.