The PC Challenges of Being an Editor

So even as I neglect my own blog for the next week or so as I write furiously on my novel, I find myself finding a new way to procrastinate by making time to blog for Jeff.   Here’s the opening bit:

Not too long ago there was a bit of a dust up regarding the anti-racist, anti-fascist anthology Never Again, put together by a couple of U.K. editors.  [Technically, I do have dual citizenship (which only is a problem come World Cup time when England plays the U.S.).  And “editor” is one of the hats I wear (along with “writer” and “person of color”), so let’s see what kind of trouble I can get into.]  As with most internet dustups, I simply made some popcorn, watch the ever-so-polite drama unfold and then went about my business.  However, in discussing why there were no people of color, one of the editors made this remark:   “Would you have preferred us to target and include writers on the basis of their skin colour, not their writing?”

Make with the clicky-clicky to read the whole thing.

Tales from the Slush Pile

I’ve always imagined what life would be like for an editor. I imagined that editors reading a slush pile probably do sound a lot like Simon Cowell from American Idol. Faced with mountains of slush, sifting for gold among the lumps of rocks; each writer, myself included, convinced of their own story’s greatness, sometimes presuming to tell the editor so (uh, I don’t do that).

I know I left the guidelines for my Dark Faith anthology purposefully vague to allow writers room to interpret as they need to, but I’ve been a little bothered by those who, I don’t know, didn’t read them at all. The most egregious offenders have:

-pitched me a novel
-submitted a comic book
-passed off thinly disguised fanfic
-sent stories that are on the front page of the sender’s website (yes, we do look you people up)
-submitted the “white woman gets raped by a black guy then goes on a killing spree” stories

And though I have appreciated the go-getter spirit of some of the artists (the cover and interior artists have already been lined up, thanks).

Some cover letters have made me laugh and caused their stories to jump to the top of the TBR stack. Others have intrigued me enough with their personal story to do the same. This is not an encouragement to do likewise. Others have put me off just as much.

For the most part, folks have been extremely professional. If I do say so myself, the competition is VERY stiff (though I’m sure that won’t stop the eternal writer’s grouse: “my story was better than that one” when the anthology comes out).

Wait, this just in which certainly qualifies at unprofessional behavior: if you’re going to simultaneously submit to us (which I’m on record as saying that I don’t mind), be sure to let us know if you sell the story elsewhere. At least before we read said story in the magazine of, I don’t know, the same company publishing the anthology. That’s not a way to make friends across the board.

If nothing else, this is another take home lesson: editors talk to each other.

[BIB] – Professional Correspondence: The Right to Hide One’s Ignorance

Cross-posted to Blogging in Black

I’ve refrained from commenting on this firestorm in a teapot 1) because I needed something to write about for this month’s blog for Blogging in Black and 2) because I know that EVERYONE follows the day to day online drama of genre writing.

Or maybe not, so let’s play catch up.

The overarching issue, in general, is whether we have the right to post personal/professional correspondence. On point, the issue is if you get a rejection letter from an editor and it contains racial epithets, should you post it on your blog?

Needless to say, some of the genre writers of color had a few words to say about this. Though the original site of the posted letter is undergoing some retroactive sanitation, the internet is forever and K. Tempest Bradford handled her business, not only preserving some of the note’s salient points but pretty much covering most of what I would have said on the topic.

Tobias Buckell dissected the various stages of racist thought (and then documented said offending editor’s further digging himself into a hole). Some people may consider these two writers part of the virtual lynch mob or participants in “political correctness run amuck” (a phrase usually doled out by a troll hiding behind a name like TooChickenSh*tToPostUnderMyRealNameButAren’tIBraveBehindMyKeyboard). To me they’re just frontline soldiers up against what we have to face entirely too often: a mentality that needs to be recognized for what it is, highlighted when it occurs, and rooted out.

Professionalism is a two way street. I, as a writer, should try and maintain professional practices as part of me submitting stories and corresponding to editors, agents, publishers, etc. I fully expect professional treatment in return from those self-same folks. I know plenty of editors who post missives received from disgruntled submitters, some delete the offenders names, some do not (preferring to leave the bloody stump of their head on a virtual spike on teh Interwebz as an example of what not to do).

The larger issue may be whether any correspondence should be posted on the Internet. Online etiquette says no, at least not without the person’s permission. “Piss me off etiquette” says you might reap what you sow. To be honest, I fully recognize that this is a digital age, so ALL of my correspondence is written with the idea that it is one button click from being forwarded to the entire online world. I imagine most editors should know this, too.

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American Idol: the Editor’s Dilemma

If the American Idol auditions are like writers submitting their stories to a slush pile, then that would make the judges the equivalent of editors. I want the record to reflect that I want all of my editors to be as drunk as Paula Abdul when reading my stories (you hear that Sizemore?!? You too, Puglisi!). Let me tell you, if I had to read the equivalent of these auditions as slush, I’d be drinking, too. Heavily.

What kills me is how frivolously some people take their opportunities, though I try to take the American Idol auditions with a grain of salt since, after all, they are mostly teenagers. Here you have judges dressed like normal people and you have people showing up in costume in the name of standing out. If we want to talk about being professional, this is the same as sending in your manuscript on colored paper or sticking glitter in the envelope.

Here’s the thing, editors have a job to do. Just as the Simon Cowell et. al. are searching for the most marketable talent, editors are trying to find stories they want to publish. They have magazines, anthologies, and web space to fill and want to find the best stories to do so. They especially want to be the ones to break new talent. They aren’t the enemy and aren’t out to get you. Realize that you are not the exception: read the guidelines and submit your best work. Sure, you might get a rejection letter from them, but if you’re lucky, you will get feedback from them also. Feedback aimed at why your story didn’t work for them and how you can make your story better.

So then how do we as artists respond to our judges, critics, or editors having to reject us? Too many are quick to respond with “they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re a frustrated [insert vocation of choice]”. Worse, they put that response in print and hit the send button (much less those who do it on camera on American Idol), fearless as to how many bridges they may burn, due to their lack of professionalism, in the process. We have to remember, it is only that editor’s opinion that matters … but only for that market. (And it’s funny how we respect/crave their opinion before the audition/submission, but their opinion holds no water should you flop). To quote Nick Mamatas from a Shocklines discussion:

I don’t think musicians or fine artists or automotive manufacturers or chefs should respond to their critics either, except insofar as defamation may be at issue (e.g., a review claiming that a safe car is unsafe). The reasons are simple:

1. It doesn’t matter. What can one say? “No, my book is scary! My flavor pairing were appropriate! My car does make your penis feel larger!” There will be no persuasion, so one may as well save one’s energy.

2.The public has a right of response and responses will always be varied. There’s no substance to negative complaints about the response because of this diversity of response.

Now, reviews can be poorly written, and God knows that in genre fiction they frequently are, and the public has a right of response there too. But when the only complaints one can make is about reviews of one’s own work, it becomes transparently obvious that one is just whining and cares nothing about reviewing itself as an art or craft. A writer can respond to reviews as a reader of reviews, and talk about reviews generally, but shouldn’t complain about his reviews.

If you have to respond, and I mean, if the voices in your head won’t leave you alone until you say something to your reviewer, at least keep it to e-mail (actually, it’d be best if you wrote that e-mail, printed it out, and put it in your trash can). What you really don’t want to do is go to message boards griping about your review. You will only look like a cry-baby (and you can probably consider that reviewer site dead to you).

American Idol” judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul say they’re no crueler than usual this year, and that people who audition should know what they’re going to get.

I imagine that editors reading a slush pile probably do sound a lot like Simon. Thank God I’m not actually at ground zero when they are reading my stories. All I have to put up with is the occasional self-addressed stamped envelope with a rejection letter in it. (And I know how to take rejections, even from friends.) At their first stop, the judges picked 17 people to move on to the next round out of 10,000 applicants. That’s a worse average than most slush piles (where, at the risk of antagonizing yet another editor before I submit to them), where it’s close to 1 story in 100 moving up the editorial ladder. Our job as writers is to be that 1 in 100.

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American Idol: the Writer’s Dilemma

So because we run Creative Space on Tuesday nights, it fell on our family to record the season premiere of American Idol so that some of the participants would be able to still feed their addiction. We can sacrifice many things in the name of ministry, but not American Idol. My wife and my sister, who love the show (and, frankly, far too much reality television) would never let me hear the end of it.

Welcome to my corner of hell.

Anyway, suffering through another season of A.I., I was once again struck by the similarities between the whole audition process and submitting a story for publication. In fact, I concluded that watching the auditions is the equivalent to reading a slush pile.

This season, like in seasons past, we were baffled by the amount of people who don’t recognize their own lack of talent. Granted, they might be tone deaf, but you would think that they would have friends or family who weren’t. How do people who claim to like you not inform you that you are the worse thing to happen to, well, sound? It could be chalked up to an inflated sense of self (the end result of going through life with people coddling each other’s self-esteem), it just seemed interesting that (plants aside), the worse the singer, the more adamant they are that they are good. Or it could be as simple as people hearing what they want to hear. I ran across an interesting study from Cornell.

… according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent. On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

This deficiency in “self-monitoring skills,” the researchers said, helps explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that are not funny, of day traders to repeatedly jump into the market — and repeatedly lose out — and of the politically clueless to continue holding forth at dinner parties on the fine points of campaign strategy.

Part of screwing together the easy courage to stand in an audition line (or write and submit a story for publication) stems from the idea, spoken or not, that anyone can do it. Anyone can sing. Anyone can write. Not everyone can do so well (contrary to the evidence proffered by the number of crap CDs and books churned out each year). I don’t know what the writer’s equivalent to tone deafness would be. Maybe believing that everything you write is gold. Maybe it’s the inability to take constructive criticism.

Whenever a contestant begins by naming their credentials, essentially the same as a writer’s submission cover letter, and they can only list things like “I’ve had ten years of training” or “I’ve been doing (singing in this case) all of their life”, all I hear is the writing career equivalent: “I’ve been giving away my stories on the Internet”, “I’ve paid a company to publish my story”. All the lies we’ve bought into in the name of garnering exposure.

Interestingly enough, the last stage in the process is the part that counts the most: the actual product music itself. All the gimics, persona, and costumes in the world aren’t going to help you if in the final analysis, you have little to no discernible talent. Artists of all stripes need to find their own, distinct voice. Not picking up an affectation or doing a pale imitation of another artist. It has to be more than karaoke (the writing equivalent might be fanfic).

If nothing else, respecting the audition process should teach all aspiring artists to make the most of opportunities when they come up, be they auditions, pitch sessions, or new markets. Take them seriously and professionally. Be yourself, be confident, but let your work speak for itself, because in the end, it does.