Sunday, July 4, 2010

Don't Talk Back

Sounds like something your Mom would say, but in this case I'm speaking as an editor. It may seem obvious, but even experienced writers sometimes get the urge to take a nasty jab, even if it's in the guise of a "thank you." As in, thank you for taking the time to edit my story/article so carefully. While I would not have placed that comma exactly where you did––and, in fact, had a definite purpose in mind for not doing so, I'm sure you felt it added to the story.

Many don't even try to disguise it, like the submitter to the first online publication I worked for, who wrote to let me know that the article our [pitiful] zine had so brutally edited, to the point that he chose to withdraw it, had been accepted without changes, by The Writer. I sent him my congratulations.

In the early days of online publishing, on occasion I would receive a similarly derisive reply from a writer who wanted to point out that, while we did not feel her submission met our current editorial needs, her previous work had appeared in such esteemed publications  as High-Fallutin' Review and The Boring Stories About Divorce Literary Journal . To which I would reply with an explanation of what readers will read in print as opposed to what they will read online.

These exceptions not withstanding, by far most of the backtalk comes from newer writers, particularly those who have not yet perfected their craft but think they have, or who believe their work to be "experimental" and far over the head of an old fogey publication. To these I either have not replied or simply repeated my regrets that the writer's work was not a good match.

One thing writers need to know about editors, though, is that, like elephants, we never forget. I may not have a particular ornery writer's name branded into my brain, but if I see that name again, if it doesn't ring a bell (which it often does), it is liable to conjure some unpleasant feelings and, eventually, trigger my memory. If the name doesn't remind me, the style or voice often will.

I'd like to say I take the high road and maintain my objectivity when that happens. In one or two cases, I did end up accepting/recommending for acceptance, a subsequent submission by an experienced writer who had gone off on me. But, truth be told, on some level I am reading those submissions for a reason to reject, not to accept. I am human after all.

The funny thing is that some of these backtalkers have, unknowingly at first, run into me at several publications. The fellow who claimed an acceptance by The Writer (which, by the way, I never saw, though I continued to subscribe for two years after that)  ended up having his work reviewed by me for three different publications. Given that he had carped about my edits and left us with a gap in our zine shortly before publication, I was not about to take a chance on him again. Each time I delighted in imagining the expression on his face when he saw my name at the bottom of that rejection letter. Which should serve as a warning to all of us.

Wearing my writer hat even I have the urge to strike back now and then. But that moment's pleasure can lead to years of regret. If you absolutely must talk back, type it up and get it out of your system––then press "delete." Sometimes that works with Mom, too.

I've really fallen behind on my blog posts lately. When I started my copyediting for Demand Studios, my plan was to work only three days a week and take the other days to do my own writing/blogging. Seems like every week something comes up that has me processing a few articles one day and a few the next, with never a day off. My apologies.

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