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Posts Tagged ‘editors’

There’s a new post over at the SFWA blog entitled, “Don’t Tweet Your Rejections.”* My first reaction was: “Somebody did that?” I don’t mean to make anyone feel bad, but that really seems to me to be the apex of our self-driven society, along with people who have to post everything they do to Facebook, or tag themselves at every stop, or take so many pictures of their food that it’s cold before they can eat it. As explained in the SFWA blog post, tweeting your rejections is bad for your brand. Don’t do it.

As you can probably tell from the previous paragraph, I am not a Millennial. Actually, as I have mentioned before, I grew up when submissions were sent to magazines and agents on paper. There were, ironically, far fewer markets, yet sending out submissions was a lot harder and more expensive. And, of course, you couldn’t tweet your rejections, so that danger did not exist. Still, there were many ways in which you could damage your brand, particularly with magazine editors.

The three or four magazines that existed back then (depending on exactly when we’re talking about), each received about 1,000 submissions per month. When you figure that there were maybe six to eight openings per month per market, and you were competing with every professional writer who had written a short story that month, it’s easy to see that the competition was insane. So why, when your odds of success were about a thousand-to-one, would you go out of your way to antagonize an editor?

Yes, even though editors receive reams of submissions every month, they come to recognize some names. I had a market I subbed all of my earliest stories to (because it was the only one for those kinds of stories), and although I never came close to cracking the market, after a few tries the editor remembered my name. The first time I received a personal note referring to this story not being up to the standard of “your other pieces” I pretty much flipped. The editor knew my name! And for a good reason!

Bad reasons? There were plenty. Aside from simply being obviously and completely devoid of talent, I mean. Editors’ greatest bane is writers who can’t follow instructions. Writing your story in crayon, not the way to go. Sending the editor “presents” with your book (regardless of whether they are relevant), not the road to success.** Nor was folding down a page in the middle of your manuscript to make sure the editor actually read it going to win you points. Perfumed paper? Don’t get me started.

And then there are the cover letters and query letters. Entire convention panels have been devoted to the worst of these. Suffice it to say that short and to-the-point is always the wisest course. And for heaven’s sake, don’t argue with an editor after a rejection, unless of course you want to take the quick road to never having that editor reject you again.

These mistakes are easily avoided. Nowadays there are hundreds of resources that will help you avoid them. Because editors have memories. It’s your job to make them good ones.

*You don’t have to be a SFWA member to read the SFWA blog. If you’re a writer, you should.

**I have it on good authority that sending nude selfies will end your career spectacularly quickly. Your writing career, anyway.

#SFWpro

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I got an odd request from an editor the other day. You might recall that I had been given an invitation to write a story for a project, and I wondered whether I should take it if it meant putting aside my novel (third in a trilogy) for a little bit. The response was overwhelmingly that I should, and I did, to good result.

Apparently, the result was better than I thought, although for unexpected reasons. I got some comments back (well-taken, I thought) on the story, and then a curve ball: I was told that character X seemed to be more prominent than I had painted her, and could I write a story about her? Well, you may understand my reaction from the fact that I call her “character X”–because in the story she doesn’t even have a name. She appears in the first couple of paragraphs as a device to introduce the main characters, then she’s done. She’s an extra, a walk-on, with no lines. And now you want to put her front and center?

An intriguing prospect, to say the least. As it happens, it fit in with another concept of mine that I’ve been toying with for some while and never got right. Maybe I won’t get it right this time, either, but I’m going to give it a try.

What I find fascinating is that I originally used the same opening paragraphs from the original story as her opening. Of course, I had to edit them because now I was operating from a new point of view; she was no longer an extra and she needed to be more engaging. Still, it was flat. Not worrisome for a first draft, but not optimal, either.

And that’s when I got the bright idea to change the viewpoint to first-person. All of a sudden, this “extra” has a voice. She has a life, and I’m living it through her eyes. I like the first-person viewpoint, and I use it a lot, but sometimes it isn’t appropriate. Other times, like now, it’s the only way to go.

So the chorus girl has the stage to herself. Exactly what she’s going to do with it, I don’t know, but I do know this: She isn’t going to like the spotlight. It’s going to change her life, and change isn’t always good, or at least it isn’t always easy. But then, if it was easy, it wouldn’t make a good story.

And it’s all about the story. Because everybody has one. Even if you didn’t know you were supposed to write it.

#SFWApro

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Every once in a while, if you’re going to write a blog about writing, you have to write about writing. Right? This is one of those times. If you’re not a writer or planning to be one, you can skip this one. (But you don’t have to…)  If you are a writer–why aren’t you writing? Oh, you’re just taking a break from the next Harry Potter? Then settle in. You need to know this stuff.

Writers are always concerned with how they’re going to get their message across to readers. Unless you’re planning to self-publish, that’s the wrong way to go about it. (And if you are planning to self-publish, there are some other blogs you should be reading.) What you want to do is get your message across to an editor. The editor buys your story from you. He gives it to the publisher. Readers buy their story from the publisher. If you don’t sell the editor, you don’t sell.

How do I sell an editor, you ask? Very good question. And a very big task. To begin with, there are as many ways to sell to an editor as there are editors. (Even so, selling to readers is a lot harder, because  there are a lot more of them than editors.) On the other hand, editors will tell you exactly what they are looking for. These are called “guidelines,” and if you follow them, while you still might not get the sale, you will develop a reputation for dependability, which can be almost as good. (For purposes of our discussion, we will limit ourselves to magazine editors.)

See, even though editors read hundreds of stories a month, they tend to see the same authors over and over, and they remember you. The first time an editor said such-and-such story was not as good as my other stories, I was over the moon. I never sold to him, but he knew my name. He found it worth remembering, and that’s huge.

If an editor is going to remember you, you want it to be for the right reasons. That means read the guidelines and follow them. You’d be surprised how many writers don’t.  On the other hand, sometimes guidelines aren’t as strict as they appear. An anthology’s theme might stretch to cover your story even if it doesn’t fit like a glove. And word limits may be flexible. If the guidelines say, “3000 – 5000 words, firm,” then respect them. But if they don’t, maybe they can be exceeded–but if you’re going to try that, ask first. You can query an editor to determine if exceptions are allowed, and the mere fact that you asked may get you the answer you want.

Well, you may get the answer you want concerning whether you can skirt the guidelines. Getting the answer you want about a sale, that’s going to take some more work. But when you sub that next story, having an editor who remembers you isn’t going to hurt…

#SFWApro

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I’ve talked about rejections in this space, both form and personal, and I’ve talked about acceptances, at least in the sense that when I’ve had one it’s been the subject of a post. But (unless my aging memory betrays me) I haven’t had reason to discuss the other state of matter, between the solid thud of rejection and the airy euphoria of acceptance: the fluid state of rewrite requests.

It sometimes happens that an editor will ask the writer to make certain changes (usually minor) before making a final decision on whether to buy. The editor will typically emphasize that even making the requested change will not result in a sale (but the odds are good that it will, presuming your vision of the alteration matches the editor’s). Unfortunately, the editor’s request is often rather vague, or concerns an issue of theme or overarching plot, so meeting it can be hit-and-miss.

Which means the writer’s response often hinges on (1) how major the change is, (2) how much money and prestige are at stake, and belatedly, (3) whether he agrees with the change. In a perfect world, (3) would be (1), but this isn’t a perfect world and most authors can’t afford to be that principled. (Of course, if you do agree with the changes, there’s no issue and principles are easily satisfied.)

But let’s say (3) is a problem, or at least you’re not really sure at first. Then your first two considerations come into play. If the change is minor, even your authorial objections can be set aside: It’s not a big deal, and besides, authors are not the best judges of their own work. If it’s a major change, then consideration (2) is likely the deciding factor. After all, the pay rate is set, and the potential benefit to your career is reasonably easy to calculate (and usually analogous to the pay rate).

When the market involved is not so prestigious, and the pay not so high, things again get chancy. Number (2) is really the only item on this list that can be easily quantified. Take that out and you’ve got only your own feelings to go on. Things get even more difficult when you’re selling a reprint. How much can you change it, even if you want to? How much work do you put into the revisions for a story that will pay only a fraction of what it’s already paid? (And will take as much time as something original you could sell for a lot more?)

In the end, of course, it’s up to the individual. How far does your belief in your work extend? How much do you trust the editor? And why are you in this business in the first place?

Actually, that last one is something writers ask themselves every day. Especially the days when they get rewrite requests…

#SFWApro

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There’s a thing that writers do that no one else does. Okay, there are a lot of things that writers do that no one else does, but I’m only going to focus on one. Writers try to learn from their failures.

“Wait a second,” you say immediately. “Everybody tries to learn from his mistakes. It’s part of growing up.” And that’s very true, but writers do it a little differently than other people. First of all, they don’t grow up. Second, they don’t make “mistakes,” they have “failures.” Because writers live In that charmed humanities-major world where there is no one right answer, there is only the answer that will persuade an editor to buy your story. (And if no one likes your story, then the editor has made a “mistake,” not you.)

But more often than not for most of us, we don’t persuade the editor. And that’s when we try to learn from our failures. This is called “rejectomancy.” There is more than one way to do this, based on whether we have received positive or negative feedback. It gets really complicated when the negative feedback is “negative” as in the it-doesn’t-exist sense. Let me explain.

The easiest form of rejectomancy (also called rejectonomy, although that implies too much scientific method for most applications) is when you get a personal rejection. The personal rejection will tell you flat out–or in a way the editor believes is clear, in any case–why the editor didn’t choose your story. Maybe it’s the story, maybe it’s an extrinsic factor like your story was too similar to one the editor just bought last week. If the reject cites a flaw in your story, you can take it for what it’s worth and edit or not as you please.

The next easiest is when markets allow you to follow your submission’s progress through the editorial process. Some use submission systems which let you track where you are in the queue of submissions. (See Lightspeed.) If stories near you in the queue are being rejected (which you track through the Submission Grinder or Duotrope), you can expect that your response will come soon. When it doesn’t, then the rejectomancy starts. Am I being held over? Do different slush readers respond at different speeds? At least in this case you don’t worry so much your submission was lost. At this point, the rejectomancer and the rejectonomer are pretty even.

Then things get murky. Say you get a form rejection. A form rejection tells you nothing, right? Well, not to the practiced rejectomancer. (Here’s where the rejectonomer gets lost.) He has followed his story’s progress. If it took longer than the average, he may well presume his story was held over and handed to higher editor; this is particularly true when the story took a lot longer than usual. Some magazines even use coded rejections. Bear in mind the rejectomancer doesn’t know anything. It’s all guesswork–but it’s comforting guesswork. On the other hand, an average or quicker rejection becomes a sad occasion. It’s an occupational hazard.

Finally, there is the “negative-negative” response. Most markets still have no way of tracking submissions from submitter’s side. But you can still gauge how submissions are faring in that market by watching the Grinder or Duotrope. Are subs younger than yours being rejected? If so, it’s nail-biting time. Either you’ve been held over, or your story was lost. (Things used to be worse; before the Internet you had no idea of average wait times, nor any way of knowing if you ms. was lost in the mail, unless you included a postcard with your sub that the magazine could send back when it opened the envelope.)

In the end, of course, you only know how you’ve done when someone buys your story. Then rejectomancy gives way to reviewomancy, which is a highly dangerous art shunned by all serious practitioners. Until we’re alone, and no one can see us. Then we read our reviews. Because we’re never done with rejectomancy. Whether it’s with editors or readers, we just can’t help ourselves; we’re more confused by this writing stuff than you are.

#SFWApro

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There is a lot about writing that is not peaches-and-cream. There, I said it. Writing is not only difficult, because it all comes from inside you, and there are no rules, and nobody can really tell you when you’re doing it right (but boy, can they tell when you’re doing it wrong), but it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to try to write a story when the ideas won’t come, or the words won’t materialize, or you have the ideas and the words but you just don’t have the time. It’s frustrating to wait–wait for that last draft to cool on your windowsill, or for your beta readers to get back to you, or for an editor to answer your submission. (Murphy’s Law of Submissions says the editorial staff will take an extended vacation the day after you submit your story.) And it’s the Most Frustrating of All when you have finally written a story that even you are satisfied with, and your reading group (which includes Real Writers) tells you this is one time you’ve nailed it–and you can’t sell the darn thing at a discount with a bonus goodie bag.

Self-serving example: in 2010, I published a story, “Grinpa,” in Daily Science Fiction. Diabolical Plots listed it as one of the top 10 stories DSF published that year, which, considering DSF publishes about 250 stories a year, is pretty good. So you would think, as I did, that when the time came, I could sell “Grinpa” as a reprint and make a little extra cash.

And you (and I) would be wrong.

And that’s the frustrating part about it. Even if you write the world’s greatest story, it has to persuade an editor (and usually a slush reader before that). And editors have particular tastes. They have specific needs, in terms of tone, length, subject matter. More than once I have had a story rejected because it was just too similar to something the editor had just bought, or run in a recent issue. How many times an editor has liked a story but sent back because it was the wrong length, or too “niche,” is impossible to know. Sometimes they tell you; usually they don’t.

And it can make you crazy, especially if you really like the story. But in the end, there’s nothing to be done. Nothing, of course, but hope the next editor will have the right space available. And will like your story. And didn’t run a similar story by Robert Clarke Asimov the month before.

Yeah, writing is frustrating. But at the same time, new markets open up all the time. These days, you often have to debate whether to sub a story to a market that pays 3 cents a word, or wait a few months to see if a new pro-rate market opens up (which they seem to do regularly). And every new editor is a chance to hit that lottery number, with a story that has the right opening, and the right tone, and maybe even pays decent money. And if he’s not, there’s always another down the line.

One of my favorite stories received 35 rejections over two decades before it sold. But it sold, and for good money. Was the end result worth the frustration of all those rejections? No. But did it feel good to know I had weathered all that frustration and never gave up?

Oh, yeah.

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