Flipside: Editor Responsibilities

Jeff VanderMeer • September 30th, 2007 @ 5:54 pm • Uncategorized

The flipside of the Clues for the Clueless is, of course, editorial responsibility. The fact is, every editor screws up at some point, just like every writer screws up, but in general, here’re some pointers for editors.

(1) If you pay crap, be extra nice, prompt, and courteous to writers who submit to you because there’s no real reason why anyone should submit to you.

(2) No matter whether you pay crap or a decent wage, don’t make your guidelines needlessly complex, or insist on a needlessly complex manuscript format for submissions (beyond the usual decent margins/double-spaced).

(3) Value speed over pontificating. Most writers would rather hear “no” in one month than get a one-page analysis as a rejection in nine months.

(4) Don’t give personal excuses for why you’re late or having other difficulties running your publication, unless it’s catastrophic, like a flood wipes out your house. But if you’re getting divorced or something like that, keep that crap to yourself and suck it up, or fold.

(5) If you’re the kind of editor who can pick a story but you’re not good at specific comments…DON’T GIVE THEM. And don’t ask for rewrites–accept or reject. (Corollary: If you’re a beginning writer who has just become an editor, accept the fact that it’s unlikely you have anything any more valuable to say in rejection than the other unpublished writers in your workshop and have the humility to recognize that and just accept or reject, getting someone who’s an experienced copy editor to perform that function.)

(6) Don’t abuse your position for anything resembling quid pro quo for your own writing, if you’re not only an editor but also a writer.

(7) If you are going to be late responding to submissions–like, more than a month late–communicate with the writers affected so they know what’s going on.

(8) Pay on time, except when you can’t, and explain why in those cases, clearly and succinctly.

(9) If you don’t pay and you solicit from a so-called “name” writer and they say no, don’t go around saying that writer is a stuck-up arrogant bastard, when in fact that person needs to put food on the table.

(10) If you have held manuscripts for an issue for more than two years, have no real plan for publication, and are just hoping for a miracle to allow you to continue…have the good grace to fold and return the rights to the manuscripts to the writers in question.

12 Responses to “Flipside: Editor Responsibilities”

  1. Matt Staggs says:

    I think I’ve had a “category 10″ happen to one of my stories recently.
    Really good information, by the way. I don’t envy editors – tough job.

  2. Jason Erik Lundberg says:

    I’d also add something about editors publishing their own stories; something that just drives me batty when I see it.

  3. brendan connell says:

    Good comments. The thing that gets under my skin the most is when an editor who doesn’t know what they are talking about sends a long winded rejection letter stating just why my story is unfit for publication…

  4. Ian Rogers says:

    There are very few editors who, I feel, can get away with publishing their own stories. With the rest I tend to think, Um, who made the decision that your story was good enough to be included? Your wife? husband? cat? Please tell me there was some sort of process involved beyond, “I think I’m gonna put one of my stories in here because, well, I can.”

  5. Paul Jessup says:

    #3 is very important. In fact, the more stories I write and send out there, the less and less I’ve cared about editorial comments. Mostly because after awhile, they all become contradictory, and something one editor hated about a story is what sold it to another publication. When I gave responses to GrendelSong, I either accepted or rejected and that was it.

    The slushpile is not your own personal writer workshop. And writers that hang onto this “free advice” (usually new writers who don’t know any better) frighten me a little- just because editors advice isn’t always a way of fixing or selling a story. hell, from working slush I know when I rejected a story, just making some changes to it and sending it back would not have been enough for me to buy it out of nowhere. there are so many reasons to reject a story that has nothing to do with quality (like, space in a magazine, or making sure all of the stories fit together).

    Also- #10 is the reason GrendelSong folded. We didn’t want to hang on and hope for a miracle for the second issue.

  6. Eric Marin says:

    Well said, Jeff.

  7. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Oh, another one I hate. Editors who share their slushpile stories, even without the names attached, for teaching purposes. I.e., they get invited to a conference to teach and they bring along some manuscripts and go through them, or use examples from them on what not to do. When someone submits something to me or Ann, we consider that a private transaction between us and the writer.
    JV

  8. Camille Alexa says:

    And editors who respond only to acceptances, but state in their guidelines “no simultaneous submissions.”

  9. Mike Allen says:

    This is a damn good list, and a good refresher/reality check. Thanks, Jeff.

  10. David de Beer says:

    interesting; one seldom sees “what to do/ not to do – guide for editors”

    Am not overly keen on the idea of editors publishing in their own mags, either.
    Re: feedback -while always welcome, this is something I think you (generic you) want much more in the earliest stages when you just start out. But, now, I just want an answer. In many cases I prefer form letters:
    1) beyond yes or no becomes almost irrelevant;
    2) there are crit groups and workshops and first readers you can employ to thoroughly go through the work
    3) I don’t want my confidence, no matter how delusional, in an editor or slush reader shaken, especially not by a magazine I like. Nothing does that quite like an editor giving feedback, specifically pointing to reasons why the story didn’t work and I’m sitting there blinking, “Dude, that’s completely the opposite of what I wrote.”
    4) #3 also shakes your own confidence, especially when related to something you thougth was very obvious and simplistic, and it makes you wonder and second-guess everything.

    But I don’t envy editors, I really don’t.

    What on average do people feel of as a “long” wait? I’m willing to wait 3-6 months, then I get edgy, but i do favor markets that can respond in a month or two. After 9 months, I’ll pull the story.

  11. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I’m willing to wait up to 6 months, tops, but only for a paying market, and a well-paying one.

    As for the other issue, of comments–editors have one job: choose stories. When you start setting yourself up at the Critique King or Queen, when you’re already overworked, you may wind up dispensing false advice. Often an editor can instinctually know something is wrong and, of course, know they don’t like a piece, but the *why* they provide to a writer on the fly is often not correct.

    But, also, from a writer’s point of view, why would you take advice from someone who is rejecting your story, when someone who buys it may have a totally different point of view? If you’re buying my story but want changes, yes, please, give me your comments and I’ll faithfully make revisions. If you’re not buying my story, just tell me that with all haste and I’ll get on with my life and you can get on with yours.

    Again, an editor’s job is to *buy stories* and encourage new talent, not to offer comments on every rejected manuscript. That’s a power trip, in my opinion.

    Even worse are the publications with a checklist rejection form where they blithely check off crap like “Didn’t believe in the characters” or “Setting not fully realized.” Well, in both of those examples the problem within that stated issue could be any number of things. So it’s not really helpful even if it’s not an on-the-fly assessment.

    My point is not that you shouldn’t take advice from editors, but that editors who become wrapped up the idea of their role being to provide comments tend to misunderstand the point of being an editor and can do more harm than good.

    Jeff

    JV

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