Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dear Editor: Edit THIS!

As a writer who depends upon editors to buy my work, I realize this post is playing with fire. I'll take my chances.

Often while browsing the 'Net, I'll come across some small press editor or other's blog which I eagerly devour. Invariably, I can depend on finding that obligatory post in which said editor denigrates, belittles, or otherwise condemns the hopeful writers who anxiously submit their work for review only to ultimately be rejected. Hours of clattering away at a keyboard (not to mention even more hours revising draft after draft) before finally clicking SEND on that fateful email, only to wait three months (or more) for a form rejection letter really, well, sucks.

But, hey--that's the industry. I am a professional. I possess the thick skin required to await the inevitable rejection...after rejection...after rejection. I have never replied in anger to an editor who has rejected my work. I accept that not everything I write is perfect (some of it is downright despicable) and I accept that even good stories sometimes get shot down. It just makes each acceptance all the sweeter.

Further, I understand an enormous cross-section of people who think they can write well cannot and a large subset of this group may, by extension, also be classified as unprofessional. I empathize with an editor's frustration when a writer submits piles of pure slush or responds to rejection with bitterness or outright malice. As a one-time editor myself, believe me--I know.

Now let me turn the tables. What follows is an actual reply I received from an editor recently. I am including it here without an iota of retouching. Please note: I'm not picking on editors (especially those of you who currently have a story of mine under consideration. Heh.). Most of my interactions with them have been wonderful learning experiences. Obviously, I am withholding said editor's name. I just couldn't ignore posting this. Read on to see why:

i read some and scanned the rest
you have to tweak it to make it fit more of what i am looking for.
1. stop beginning words with AND. never a good thing
2. make the dialogue more standard format. way to much slang and sloppy writing (i know thats the style but i dont like it)
3. have the character, one or both, take into account what they are doing, they are killing people, its something to think about. this antho isnt about killing people, its about dealing with death. so its needs to be a little deeper.
4. when someone says, somethin. you ned to add an ' on it to replace the G same with em is 'em
if you feel like doing this stuff and sending it again, i dont see whay i cant use it.
(i didnt edit this email much, i dont bother)

Let's dissect this point by point.

1. From now on, I will stop beginning words with AND. Andalusia, Andrew, Android and several others have now been stricken from my vocabulary. Not really. Because what this person meant to say was "Stop beginning sentences with 'And'." Wait, why is it never a good thing? As long as conjunctions are used sparingly to start sentences, they are perfectly acceptable. I promise. Don't make me go all Strunk & White on you.

2. Standard dialogue format is wonderful if that's the way your character speaks. This particular character doesn't speak in standard English. In fact, I don't know many people who do. Maybe a few stauncher politicians and members of the clergy. I understand too much slang can be distracting, but let it go. Feel the character. Get inside the character's mind, man. Trippy, right?

3. Perhaps if this editor had finished reading the story, the "dealing with death" would have become clearer...since a death is the climax of the story (and actually is implied rather than described). The characters aren't "killing people." Of course, those things might be difficult to glean just from scanning. That got me thinking about how many stories are rejected by editors who don't, you know, actually do their job and read the thing top to bottom. And then I felt my blood pressure rising, so I stopped thinking about it.

4. Adding an apostrophe when dropping a letter or letters from a word is the writer's choice. I understand doing so is standard (something this person seems to adamantly uphold), yet it is not required. Just ask a guy named Steve King. Or Cormac McCarthy. Or Bernard Shaw. Me, I prefer a page uncluttered with throwaway punctuation. Still unconvinced? Check out this article, paying close attention to the paragraph labeled "Omission and elision."

5. The penultimate sentence tops everything. Let me get this straight: I am expected to revise my story to make it more standard, but this editor can't be bothered to employ correct spelling, punctuation, grammar, or mechanics? If you don't have the inclination to be professional, then I can see I have wasted time submitting.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, writers. Editors, feel free to weigh in as well. Am I off the mark here? Writers who submit to markets learn quickly they need editors far more than editors need them and that anything perceived as bitterness toward editors comes off as unprofessional. Well, I'm bucking that trend today. Because there are certainly some editors we writers do not need. And (uh-oh, there's that pesky coordinating conjunction starting my sentence again) I'm not bitter in the slightest. Just appalled.


  1. Aaron - as an editor, I can tell you that you are not at all off the mark. The reply you received is perhaps the most unprofessional I've seen (and I've seen a lot!). To think that this person is a colleague is disturbing. Way to tell it like it is! Our kind can be an ornery lot. :)

  2. Thanks, Jim. It's a relief to know I have at least one of you on my side here. :)

  3. That is embarrassing! Ive had a couple like encounters with vicious editors but nothing like that.....where's the profesionalism!?