What happens when an author finds himself an editor? Like every writer out in the world, I have received loads of rejections from the non-response to the one line boiler plate to the occasional thoughtful note. I’ve had my blunders. Sending a query without the submission attached. Reviewing a submission post-query to find one too many typos. And I’ve had my moments of panic. Did I use the correct name of the editor on my last query? Did the editor want the first five pages or was it supposed to be the first three chapters? I’m sure you’ve had your moments too. In fact, I’d love to hear about them in the comments and we can commiserate.
For the last few months I’ve taken on the editor role for the Del Sol Review. The online publication, the brainchild of Micheal Neff who leads the Algonkian Writers Workshops and Pitch Conferences, has been successfully publishing short stories for over fifteen years. I’m on board to edit speculative fiction—scifi, fantasy, and other forms. The experience on the other side of submission process has been edifying. Let me share a bit of what I’ve seen and then offer some, what I hope will be, helpful insight.
First, what I’ve seen:
Wrong genre. This seems like a no brainer to me. If a literary publication is looking for science fiction, then a highlander romance will not fit the bill. At first I would read several pages in the naive believe that surely the story would shift to speculative fiction. After a few disappointments, if I don’t see the genre in the first page, I move on.
Typos, typos, typos. In today’s world of spell check there is no excuse for a story to have misspelled words other than those pesky words which sound the same but have different meanings and spellings like here/hear or there/their. If a writer can’t bother to spell check their work, which these days is automatic, why would an editor take them seriously? (I know, I’m sounding like an editor…)
Not following the submission guidelines. Editors always put limits around what they want to read, and for short stories those include word count and format. And yet, I receive stories over the word count and not in standard format, i.e., odd fonts, odd line spacing, odd indentations or lack thereof, images, etc. Standard format for most of the publishing world is one inch margins, double spaced, 12 point Times New Roman or Courier, with 0.5” paragraph indentations. At this point, formatting doesn’t kill the deal for me, but I am beginning to understand why many publishers simply pass on anything not matching their requirements.
More than one submission. Most publications only want one story at a time and some have time restrictions between submissions. In the case of Del Sol, the guidelines ask for one submission. Not two or three. Or in one case, a daily submission for a week.
There are a few things writers do which fall into the category of learning the art. So yes, some overuse passive verbs, some tell more than show, some overuse adverbs—especially of the -ly variety, some fall into clichès, and more. Too much of any of those will lead to a rejection, but I find myself wanting to be encouraging and sometimes go so far as making some specific suggestions.
Yes, I already sound a bit jaded, don’t I? But here’s the good news.
On a personal level, there’s nothing more educational than reading each other’s writing. Learning from each other is one of the things making critique groups so helpful. And selecting stories for a publication puts the learning process on steroids. With each story I become a better proof reader, editor, and I hope, writer myself. And there’s nothing quite like finding a great story and working with a good writer. I can see why the editor thing can be addictive.
In terms of lessons learned for all writers:
Guidelines are easy to follow, so make the editor’s life better, and set your work apart from the less professional submissions being tossed directly into a waste bin.
Think before you submit. Have I checked my work for typos, passive voice, and overused adverbs? Is the point of view and verb tense consistent? Have I followed all the guidelines? Am I submitting a story in the requested genre?
If you’re getting repeatedly rejected, you could be writing brilliant work which just doesn’t have a market at the moment (this is a business after all) or you may have some issues to work out before a publisher will pick up your story. And for most of us, I think it’s a combination of both to some extent. In either case, find someone who is not a friend and who knows the business to give you some honest feedback. I understand, from personal experience, that this is a difficult task. Most editors have too much going on to provide that kind of feedback to writers regarding their submissions. A writer’s group can be helpful, but if everyone loves your writing, then they are either being overly supportive or simply don’t see the issues. And if you pay a professional editor, you have to do your homework to be sure the person will be giving you accurate information.
Like door-to-door sales persons, we need to collect rejections. The more rejections we get the closer we get to a ‘yes’. So don’t be discouraged. Keep knocking on the doors. And do your best to remove any obstacles for an editor or publisher to read your work. In other words, follow their guidelines to the letter.
I’m still enjoying editing for Del Sol Review. And even though I may occasionally lose patience with writers ignoring the guidelines for submission, every time I find a great story, the irritating stuff falls away and I enjoy the creativity of a fellow writer. Our art is arduous work, but when it comes together, what a thing of beauty.