Sympathy for the Devil

I once heard it was a good idea for everyone to have a job as a waiter or waitress at some point in their lives. (I believe the correct word these days would be “server.”) The idea is that we’ll all be restaurant customers and turning the tables on the situation—so to speak—will give us a greater appreciation of the job and perhaps make us kinder diners.

theimmigrant

My walk-in-their-shoes experience came not as a waitress, but as a bus person (you know, bussing tables), salad girl (sorry, there is no gender-neutral term for that), and baker/dessert-maker. My time on the inside opened my eyes to the reality of the restaurant biz.

I’m undergoing the writerly version of such table-turning, or desk-turning. As editor of the 2013 edition of the CWC’s Fault Zone anthology, I’ve spent the last month reading submissions. Now my wonderfully capable assistant editor Dorcas Cheng-Tozun and I are beginning the process of responding to authors with letters. Acceptance letters, provisional acceptance letters and… rejection letters.

Edited MS

My edits to my manuscript for “Bad Luck with Cats.” Sitting on both sides of the desk!

I’ve been an editor before, but I’ve never been in the position of reviewing a big ol’ pile of submissions. Here’s what the writing side of myself has learned so far from sitting behind the anthology editor’s desk—and my advice to anyone who is submitting anything, anywhere.

  1. There’s a reason a publication’s response time can be two, three, or even four or more months. It takes a long time for a small staff to read a lot of submissions, and even longer when it’s a volunteer staff. BE PATIENT.
  2. An editor may be lenient upon encountering one piece with typos, grammatical errors, or wonky formatting. After the 4th or 5th piece with such flaws, the editor becomes irritated and begins tossing submissions directly on the rejection pile. COPY EDIT, PROOFREAD, and DO IT AGAIN before you submit.
  3. Writing thoughtful, empathetic, and constructive letters to authors is really, really hard. Maybe even harder than writing a good piece of fiction. APPRECIATE PERSONAL LETTERS. Even if they tell you things you don’t really want to hear.
  4. De gustibus non est disputandum is Latin for “There’s no arguing with taste” and applies to an individual’s reaction to a poem, story, or essay. In more than a few cases, three members of our editorial reading team had three completely different evaluations of a piece, with two at opposite ends of the like/dislike spectrum. IF YOU’RE REJECTED AND YOU KNOW YOUR WORK IS GOOD, SHRUG AND MOVE ON. Sooner or later, you’ll find the right publication and editor and catch them in the right mood (sad to say, that can have something to do with it, too.)
  5. Somebody will be offended. I’m hoping not to be pilloried by any of the writers whose work was rejected. If I am, I hope a few things will mitigate the vitriol: our rigorous and transparent selection process; the fact that we relied on more than one person’s input to evaluate each piece; and our extensive feedback to authors, which involves writing personal letters even to those whose pieces we are not accepting. TREAT THY REJECTOR AS YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE TREATEDAs hard as it is to believe, YOU are not your writing and the editor is not rejecting YOU. See # 4 for solace.
  6. Taking on a big editing project and working on your own project are mutually exclusive. My novel revision has slid to the bottom of the priority pile. Shame on me, but there are only so many hours in the day. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE AMOUNT OF TIME IT WILL TAKE TO BE AN EDITOR. Do not schedule a vacation around deadline time. Do stock up on pre-made dinners and lots of chocolate. Do not expect to have much else on your mind for a while.

Despite the challenges, I’m having fun editing Fault Zone: SHIFT and am excited to help the contributors through the next steps of the process to create an anthology of sparkling, compelling writing.

And I’ll be a much more sympathetic writer when those rejection slips come back. I’ll know the devil on the other side of the desk is me.

Writers: have you ever gone over to the dark side?

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7 thoughts on “Sympathy for the Devil

  1. (HA! Carrie would make a good wench with her sense of humor, but she’d never have the time now. Whew!)
    Editing absorbs every second of time and leaves you totally exhausted (and there’s still your pieces sitting there needing work). It helps if there is a deadline even if brutal – there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and freedom ( if you only had energy to hold up your head) Maybe that’s where I got into the short story thinking instead of novels
    This post is good solid advice. A personal letter – wow, that’s gold – something to really hang on to – someone took enough time to write something instead of 3 line form letter “sorry”. Point # 3 needs to be in big letters above any author’s desk.
    Nice post!

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    • Thankfully, I do have a deadline, as this anthology happens but once a year (not sure how much I’ll be involved next year). I feel the same way about personal responses!

      Thanks for commenting.

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  2. A main reason why I don’t beta read for others is because I’m worried my own writing would fall to the wayside. It’s enough to keep up with writing, marketing, and reading others books (including bloggers’ books). Unfortunately I don’t have time to beta read, too. I know that’s not the same thing as professionally editing, but I haven’t yet done that. I have, however, been a waitress. And a barmaid. Ick. (Even the term ‘barmaid’ is icky.)

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