Editors love a good story.

6 02 2008

There’s a commonly-held belief amongst amateur writers, and it goes like this:

Editors are all bastards who hate writers and will do everything in their power to prevent you from getting published.

Obviously this is complete bobbins, because an editor gets paid to edit, and one who rejects everything has no editing to do. But it seems easier to believe that there’s some vast editorial conspiracy out there that is preventing the amateur writer from being published, than it is to accept some very simple facts:

  1. Editors are human, and their judgements are formed of opinion as well as subjective assessment of a writer’s work. Sometimes they read something that may be fantastic, but which they just didn’t fall in love with. For the writer, it’s actually a good thing to get this kind of rejection, because the last thing you want is to work with an editor who doesn’t love your story.
  2. Ideas are rarely unique. There’s such a thing as commonality of source at play. Suppose you got your idea from a widely-published news story? Chances are that a thousand other writers read the same story, and it’s possible that a handful of them came up with the same idea. And an editor can spot a meme a mile away without having to know the source. When they receive five stories within a month, all about a powerful leader who’s been caught in a sexual act with a member of staff, it’s very likely the same thing happened recently in the real world. Doesn’t matter if you make it President Targ of the Planet Thrug, or Squadron Leader Smythe-Walters of the Land of Hyemarliea. So there’s always the chance that your story was rejected because it resembles another they’re already set to publish.
  3. Editors often have to persuade other people that your story is marketable before they’re allowed to take it on board. No matter how much they love it, if they can’t sell it internally, you’ll get a rejection slip.
  4. Distressingly, a lot of stories which get rejected aren’t actually bad. They’re just average. They’re okay. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re not awesome stories that completely blow the reader away, either. And in the cutthroat world of publishing, editors are under pressure to select the very best work submitted to them. Would you tolerate mundanity from any other profession? (And, yes, there are a lot of writers whom I consider mundane and wouldn’t have selected for publication, but that’s where point 1 comes in to play).
  5. Some writing is just fucking awful.

There’s no point fostering this ridiculously antagonistic attitude toward editors, publishers, or anyone else in the industry who isn’t an author. While the word “rejection” feels personal, it isn’t. An editor is not rejecting you as a person, they are simply declining to accept the story you submitted for publication.

Of course, you might choose to get online, name names, hurl abuse, and generally make an arse of yourself. Then you could make it personal and ensure that no publisher or agent in their right mind will touch you with a shitty stick. That seems like a solid career move, doesn’t it?

No. I didn’t think so. So if you’ve received a rejection letter, do the following:

  1. Refuse to be deterred.
  2. Realise that it’s nothing personal.
  3. Accept that there’s just something about your story that didn’t work for the publisher or agent that you submitted it to.
  4. See if you can get a fresh pair of eyes to check over your story (an honest writing group, for example, not a bunch of niceys on LiveJournal who couldn’t say “Actually, this bit’s rather plain” for fear of hurting someone’s feelings).
  5. If you’re sure your story passes muster, send it somewhere else.

Giving up is for wusses. You’re not a wuss, are you?





7 responses

6 02 2008

Great article and sound advice.
This writing biz is subjective, fickle,
partially luck and a whole lotta frustrating.
So why do we do it?
Because we couldn’t imagine not writing.

6 02 2008

Developing a thick skin in the right places is so important! (I say the right places, because there are some writers and artists still need to be sensitive in, but it seems the well-used parts should develop calluses). There is one writer who dislikes my style and particular sub-part of our shared genre and yet gives the most amazingly useful, and very tough, criticism. I’ve come to value that feedback a lot, and have been surprised how much I can learn (and how much less energy I waste) when I’m not constantly on the defensive.

7 02 2008

Can’t believe you used the word ‘bobbins’. I used to have a boss who would say that in meetings and whatnot. He wore a bow tie. I always thought it was a pretend word he made up.

Good post BTW.

I (and perhaps others) would be interested in your thoughts on why the publishing industry is so fucked up operationally, despite editors being nice people. Hugely long lead times, 6 month waits. Almost every deadline, ever, missed. Massive inefficiencies. Etc….
I have my own opinions, but would be interested to be part of a ‘heated debate’ on the subject.

Yours, as ever,
(Who is still staring at a blank word doc and waiting for inspiration)

7 02 2008
Trudi Topham

Tell you what, I’ll do a post today on that very subject 🙂

7 02 2008
The internal organs of the publishing industry. « Hello Spacegirl

[…] There are a lot of reasons why Publishing is a slow beast. Sparked by Nobby’s comment to this post, here’s some insight as to why. I don’t promise that anything you read here will make […]

7 02 2008

This is a great post! I think to make it as a writer, a person must first overcome his or her fear of editors and rejection. Let’s face it…writing is a career with a very high rejection rate, and anyone who can’t handle rejection isn’t going to last long.

7 02 2008
Ian Alexander Martin

Editors are all bastards who hate writers and will do everything in their power to prevent you from getting published.

Absolutely true. I am a bastard as often as possible. Gene Hunt is my mentor. I will read your gob-shite if you bribe me, but it had better be a bottle of decent quality whisky or a damned fine blow-job.

I’m so glad to see people are finally taking the right attitude to us Editorial types.

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