A rant about stupid and thankless writers

Yesterday, I took half of the day and did something that I as Editor-in-Chief don’t normally do. I responded to several rejected submissions.

But I even went above and beyond writing a rejection letter. I phoned the authors personally and explained why I was turning down their manuscript. Why would I do such a thing you might ask? Well, I didn’t do it for every manuscript. In fact, I only called four writers that had turned in their requested full manuscripts to give them the bad news, allotting 45 minutes to an hour for each call.

These four manuscripts had made their way up to me for final approval before signing them on, and after reading each one in full I stopped the upward trend of readers and turned them down because of various reasons. But—and there’s a big but here—I made those personal phone calls because I saw a lot of potential in those four manuscripts, they just weren’t quite up to par yet, and I wanted to relay my high opinion to each of them while discussing some points on what doesn’t work in the story and suggest several ways in which to fix them so that they could possibly resubmit.

So why am I pissed?

Okay, as I’ve said before, editors are not gods. We (or at least I) don’t expect potential writers to bow down before us and grovel at our feet, or to hang onto every word we say as if they were manna from heaven. But, editors for the most part don’t have the time—or give a shit enough—to dedicate close to an hour of their already hectic and over-scheduled day to discuss with an author why they are not accepting their book instead of signing a simple letter and having one of their lackeys lick and stamp the envelope.

So, to put it plain and simple, when an editor from any house—be it a magazine, or a small or large publisher—calls to offer advice despite the rejection in order to better yourself and your manuscript, don’t make yourself look like an asshole and just listen.

Two of the writers I talked to were very appreciative, and the constructive discussion was rewarding on both ends; I was able to relay my thoughts on their manuscripts and describe exactly how their manuscript was failing and what it was I was looking for, and the writers were able to ask me questions to clarify my points or get tips on how to accomplish those rewrites. The third writer was stuck on my third sentence of “liked it and saw potential, but it’s not ready as it is so I’m going to have to say no,” and the conversation went in circles and after ten minutes I pretty much gave a “have a good afternoon” and hung up.

The fourth potential novelist brought my carefully concealed claws out to full length. Now, normally I consider myself a very level-headed and poised character, and am able to keep my cool in most situations. But sometimes—and this is another grain of evidence that editors are in deed, human—there are some people that just get…under…your…skin. Not only did the wannabe author cut me off at every sentence, he actually vehemently argued with me that he had hired a freelance editor to work on his book, and that it wasn’t his fault his book was lacking in all of the areas I was trying to fix with him.

… Now, if you were to hire a painter to paint your house, but you give him a god-awful shade of pink bucket of paint and tell him to be creative, can you really blame the painter for your house looking like shit?

No, because it’s your house, and it’s your damn book. So take a little pride and responsibility in the writing (and editing) of it and don’t try to shove someone else under the bus to make yourself look better. It doesn’t help; because it makes you look like an ass.

The writer then went on to argue with me that I apparently didn’t know what I was talking about, because this was not his first book written and, since he’s been published by another small press he knew what was publishable or not, and I was being “petty and overly-picky” in my critique. At that point I lost my cool a bit, because with those words I realized I’d just wasted 35 minutes of my time on a bratty, self-indulged author whom I wouldn’t want to work with anyway, and said a few things that elucidated my status as an editor and his as a half-witted reject. Admittedly, it was unprofessional, and now I feel just a smidgen of regret—not at how the writer might feel, but the fact that I had allowed him to rub me so.

The conversation abruptly ended when he asked me once again whether “I was sure I hadn’t made a mistake, and was positive that this was not a joke and I was not taking his book.” I’d sat on the phone silent for a few seconds thinking are you shitting me? Before simply saying “no.”

“Well, then,” I was answered in a lofty tone. “It seems you just wasted nearly an hour of my time when I could have spent two minutes reading a letter.”

Then the fucker hung up on me.

If I hadn’t been so pissed the situation would almost be laughable—the writer solidifying the bitchy, spoiled writer archetype that editors so hate. But I was pissed, and I still haven’t laughed, because I stewed all evening on how I lost two hours on two ignorant writers who I had sincerely tried to help when I have a slew of other potential authors out there who would jump at the opportunity to speak directly with the editor of a house instead of getting another depressing form letter.

So, while writing is not exactly a team sport, to all you egomaniacal writers out there, quit being assholes by ruing good things for others just because someone stuck a push-pin into your over-inflated pride.


7 Responses

  1. I hear your frustration and understand where you’re coming from. I’ve witnessed similar behavior at writers conferences.

    Authors (aspiring or one early in their career) ask/are getting advice based on the first 10 or 20 pages of their manuscript, or are pitching ideas to editors from large and sometimes smaller publishing houses, or agents who represent successful, if not bestselling authors.

    The professional (editor or agent) gives an honest assessment or opinion based on their experience, and the first thing out of the author’s mouth is, “Yeah, but…”

    It only goes downhill from there, usually with the editor or agent doing his (or her) best to politely excuse himself or end the pitch session. One would-be author tried to argue some point in a very haughty yet confrontational manner. Yep, that accomplished a lot.

    However, the poor (unprofessional) behavior I described wasn’t the norm. Sadly, the exceptions to the norm give merit to form rejection letter option.

  2. It concerns me when I hear that writers are not receptive to feedback from editors. As a writer, I understand that it is never easy to find out that a story you’ve invested much of your time and energy into needs revision — sometimes extensive revision. I’ve received my share of rejection letters, but I’ve learned a little something (sometimes a lot) from each and every one of them.

    I wrote my first short story in high school and mailed it off to Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Thankfully, the editor rejected it. I say “thankfully” because the story was not ready for publication. I can see that now, but I just remember being angry then. The editor used a check off comment sheet. The comment: “lacks originality.” That’s it. And guess what. More determined than ever, I sent them another story the next month with much the same result. With most magazines receiving hundreds of manuscripts a week, I now consider myself fortunate to have received even this much of a response.

    What I view as a turning point for me, came when my first short story was accepted a few years later by the editor of “Tales of the Unanticipated.” I was astounded when the editor actually took the time out of his busy schedule to phone me to say that he planned to publish the story, but that one section needed some work to clarify the main character’s motivations. The phone conversation probably lasted about 10 minutes, but it was one of the most important conversations that I ever had as a writer with an editor.

    A phone call from an editor usually means one thing to me. That editor took the time to share his or her thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses of my story because it moved him or her in some way. Sure, it’s just one person’s opinion, but it’s also more than that because it’s the opinion of a professional in the publishing business–someone who reads lots of manuscripts from both established and aspiring authors.

    I, for one, hope that we can keep the conversations going between editors and writers about what’s most important–a well-told story. Our readers deserve that much.

  3. Hi, I just wanted to add my input into this. Haha just so everyone knows who I am, I was published in last years Abaculus and will also be in the 2008 edition.

    I don’t usually add my comments to what is said in this blog, and haven’t since last year I think, but I always come by and read what’s being posted, and this time I thought I’d add some words.

    I wanted to say I’m sorry Mr. Kaheaku, that two writers treated you like that. It’s sad but true that a lot of us writers are stuck up brats who think that our work is the best thing out here, much better than any of the big authors like King or Rice, of course. It’s these writers that I simply think are the worst, and ruin a lot of great potential for writers who are actually respectable in the business.

    That’s fantastic what you did for these four writers, and I hope this hasn’t discouraged you from ever doing it again. It’s almost unheard of for an editor to take the time out of their schedule like that and try to help an author whom they’ve never met, and though two of them gave you undeservable shit, you probably gave the other two the best conversation they ever had.

    When the press called me to notify me of being published in this years Abaculus, I was thrilled. Not just because I had been published, but because I had actually been on the phone with an editor who said he liked my story! The feeling was amazing. So if an editor called me to say that my novel had made it to his desk and was so close to being ready for publication, but needed just a little work, I would listen to every damn word he had to say. Really? That close to being published? Well, tell me everything so I can change what I need to to get it out there!

    That’s all. Just wanted to say thanks for what you did, even if I wasn’t one of those writers, and sorry for all of the assholes out there that call themselves writers. Guess what guys? It’s about the story, and it’s about the readers enjoying that story. If someone doesn’t like it, you better shut up and listen to why. Otherwise, you cannot call yourself a writer.

  4. Hello. Like Matt above me I also have a story in the upcoming Abaculus 2008. I’ve only had minimal interaction with editors, usually through e-mail contact. If I had an editor call me on the phone to tell me they accepted of rejected my story; that would make me feel wonderful. I feel great when I receive a personalized e-mail or letter, a phone call would be the next level, it would encourage me.

  5. Well thanks, guys, for the support. Don’t misunderstand me though, I wasn’t upset at my being “treated like that.” Really, I was upset because I’d wasted my time. That’s all.

    Oh, and *psst!* Matt, this is the Mrs. doing the posting. The hubby’s too lazy to get upset at stupid people and blog about them. He just shrugs and goes back to munching popcorn and reading.

  6. Recently I submitted a short story to a contest, and I being a poor writer, have an older version of word that was not compatible with the version publisher was using. Editor informed me of the problem. I reformated on a friends computer an resubmitted. I thanked the editor for pointing out the error and giving me the oppertuinty to resubmit. Come on writers, humble yourselves a bit. I love to write and each of us think we have written the great american novel-Not! Lets not forget the editors help us grow, by critique and criticism! I have learned much from my rejections wether from an editor or friend!

  7. Hi there,
    It is interesting and helpful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: