Thursday, July 30, 2009

Confessions of an Online Editor: We're Guilty Too

Reading this blog over the last year––yes, it has been about a year––it may seem as though I see editors of print, particularly top-tier print journals as conspirators in a good-old-boy/gal plot to dash the hopes of new and unconnected writers. While editors of exclusively online journals are all things pure, selecting submissions solely on quality, taking perhaps our one guilty pleasure in snickering at e-mails listing a string of previous credits as though it mattered a fig to us.

As someone who, for close to a decade now, has to a greater or lesser degree helped select pieces for publication in three different zines, I need to make a confession.

Writers forgive me for I have sinned,

I have, on occasion, shown prejudice in selecting or advising selection of a piece by someone I know.
Not because I consciously wanted to favor a friend over a stranger, but because I would have to personally contact that person to tell him/her of the rejection. Even when that task didn't fall to me, I have been in situations where the friend would know I was involved in the process. Luckily I'm acquainted with a lot of talented writers, so I don't believe I ever supported a piece that was really bad. However, a connection with the writer did tip the scales once or twice when I was on the fence.

I have been swayed by credentials.
Yes, me, the person who posts all the time about how credentials don't count as much with many online publications. That's true, maybe now more than ever, but there was a point a few years ago, when zines were just on the cusp of being taken seriously, that I wanted the bios, more than the stories, of a couple of submitters to appear in my zine as a way of thumbing my nose at snooty print journals. The fact is, and I'm not making this up to look good, in the two instances I recall, I found the submissions somewhat disappointing. I did give both writers a chance to make changes and resubmit, which I might not have done under different circumstance. One truly appreciated my input and came back with an excellent piece. The other ignored my response and never submitted to us again. Whether that piece made it into a "better" publication, I don't know. It would be interesting to find out.

I have, more often than I'd like to admit, developed a prejudice against writers who submitted too many pieces too soon.
Many zines end rejections by inviting writers to "submit again" or to "continue submitting" or saying "we'd like to see more of your work." These words aren't necessarily meaningless. There were times I deleted that phrase, because I really didn't want to see anything by that writer ever again. However, in their eagerness to find something very positive anywhere they can, many writers misinterpret this as meaning, "we want to see something else right away." They then machine-gun a series of submissions hoping to hit the jackpot. After a few, simply that name on the e-mail was enough for me to decide I was not going to like that piece. Somewhere along the line the writer may have submitted something spectacular, but I wasn't going to see it that way.

It is harder for me like something in opposition to my political or religious beliefs (more like non-beliefs).
I have never rejected an exceptional piece on this basis. I remember one in particular I reviewed for Sotto Voce (where all submissions are blind) where the subject matter was 180 degrees from my political views, but the story and the writing were so spectacular I had to rate it highly. However, I can't deny there are pieces I do not want to like from the beginning. Who knows if I would have approved of that writer if the piece had a different theme.

The point of this post isn't really to clear my conscience. My point is two-fold. One, I hope this will soften your heart toward all editors. We are only human, and if I have fallen prey, while working for small publications, imagine the pressures editors of larger well-known publications must deal with everyday in making difficult decisions. Two, as a submitter you should learn not to take rejection so seriously. There are any number of reasons, aside from quality, that a very good piece of writing will be passed over for publication. Keep improving your craft, but don't let it get to you.


Kathryn Magendie said...

Yes! Great post, Nannette! said...

BTW, that friend wasn't you, in case you were wondering. I never had to stretch to recommend your work.


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