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.