Monday, April 03, 2006

Dear God in Heaven! You mean authors make mistakes?

Even before I read JA Konrath whining about editing his latest manuscript, I had planned to post on editing today.

Really. I swear.

Actually, I found something that made me have to sit cross-legged until I could chance dashing for the bathroom when I read it.

It started here (I’m quoting it below):

I would like to lodge a formal complaint to the editorial board of the Behavioral and Brain Sciences journal over the handling of my paper, Harmonic Response Theory: An alternative to the "Neuron Doctrine" paradigm of neurocomputation to address the Gestalt properties of perception.
I submitted this paper in hard-copy triplicate by post, as was then the submission standard… I never received a formal acceptance, rejection, nor even acknowledgement of receipt, only a curt email… I resubmitted the harmonic resonance paper referenced above. On March 19 2004 Paul Bloom, editor, wrote to say that "after consulting with two experts in the area" he decided that he could not accept it for review at BBS
The whole purpose of a peer review system,… is to bring the review process out in the open for all the world to see, rather than have papers be quietly rejected after consultation with anonymous and undocumented "experts" who are not even required to provide a written report. A quick email note would be sufficient, just for the sake of transparency of this most vital cutting edge stage of the whole review process.
Secondly, this paper was rejected without consideration of the larger picture presented jointly by the Harmonic Resonance theory together with my first paper just published in BBS…


Okay, you get the point, and if you really want the long version, click on the link.

But it gets better: the editor responds.

Dear Dr. Lehar,
Unfortunately, BBS gets more submissions than it can review, and so many of them are rejected by editorial decision. I read your letter carefully, and appreciate that you feel that this should not have happened with your own manuscript. I am sorry to say, however, that my decision stands, for the reasons given in my action letter. Again, I wish you success in finding an alternative outlet for this article.
Sincerely,
Paul Bloom
Editor, BBS


Now, if you’re a reasonable person and been through a few rejection letters, you’re likely thinking, fair enough. I mean, stuff gets rejected. This writer obviously disagreed, expressed that, the editor wasn’t rude but is standing by his original decision.

The writer, however, sees things a bit differently.

Dear Professor Bloom,

The published Aims and Scope of the Behavioral & Brain Sciences Journal state: "Particularly significant and controversial pieces of work are published."

The theory that spatial standing waves in the brain represent the spatial structures that we experience is a particularly significant, and obviously controversial piece of work…

If THIS paper is not merely rejected for publication, but not even accepted for review, then BBS should make it clear in their Instructions for Authors that: “Only theories that remain safely within the bounds of generally accepted paradigms of neurocomputation will even be considered for publication!”
Etc.



(Just substitute editor on the left and author on the right…)

Now, let me just put on my editorial hat for a moment.

First, the guy insulted them by saying the purpose “is to bring the review process out in the open for all the world to see, rather than have papers be quietly rejected after consultation with anonymous and undocumented "experts" who are not even required to provide a written report.”

I mean, buddy, if you don’t think the system is transparent and honest, why would you want your work in such a disreputable publication?

The editor responds. I actually think in a pretty polite fashion.

But this guy is one tenth of a millimeter short of saying that this publication is making a policy statement by rejecting his obvious cutting-edge article.

Holy fucking crap man, give it up already!

Look, the truth of the matter is, nobody really likes being edited. Sure, good writers appreciate the value of a great editor. Smart people know how important it is to fix mistakes before they go into print forever.

And the truth is, we get so close to our own work that we can’t see it straight. It needs fresh eyes to spot the gaps in the storyline, the typos that’ve snuck in during a bleary-eyed 3 AM writing session.

Truthfully, JA’s honesty is pretty refreshing. Because we all know that deep down, we’d rather be told it’s flawless, perfect, requires no changes whatsoever.

In short, that we’re brilliant.

But one thing I’ve discovered from good editors is how much they’ve made me a better writer. When I write material now, I’m thinking of my common mistakes as I pull the story together – I’m looking for those gaps and typos, like taut and taught, that seem to plague me. And apparently reign and rein have been a source of amusement for my first readers on SC…

Editors are like make-up artists. They’re there to make sure all the weakest spots in your features are smoothed over so all people see are the strengths. Okay, in some cases, they’re like plastic surgeons, but you get the point.
We aren’t perfect in our marriages. We’ve even all had bad sex on occasion, except my husband of course. So if the things we enjoy don’t always come easy to us, then why do we go hypersensitive when someone tries to help us smooth out the bumps with our precious stories?

Nobody does their job perfectly every day.

Consider yourself damn lucky if you have an agent, publisher, editor, that thinks it’s worthwhile to invest the energy in brushing the fool’s gold away so all people see is the real thing.

PS: WARNING! Later today, I will be flashing for Tribe and the rest of the world.

And I think you'll all enjoy it. I'll throw up a little note when the show starts.

9 comments:

Bernita said...

Considering how I found I spelled "shining" as "shinning' on my forty-second go-through, I agree with a whole heart - and that's just spelling, not other plaguey devilkins such as plot bunnies.

The guy seems to ignore the fact that his work might have been rejected for some other reason besides the fact that it was "controversial."

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yes, I completely agree.

And once you get contracted and have books under your belt, you don't get 7 edits anymore. So you have to really work your butt off.

I've had a few people like that respond after getting stories rejected with Spinetingler. Not fun. I totally respect that editor's patience!

Erik Ivan James said...

Samdra,
Have you had anyone write back to you and say, "Is there anything I can do that will make it better and publishable?"

JamesO said...

I can partially sympathise with Lehar - there's nothing worse than a curt form rejection slip with no explanation or anything on it. Where he loses me is when he takes up his pen and starts to harangue. What, does he think that hassling the editor is going to make him more amenable?

Some years ago, I made the big mistake of writing an annoyed letter to 2000AD Magazine after a number of my comic script submissions had been rejected 'because we're not buying anything right now.' I got so hacked off with being told to try again in a month or two months time (and bearing in mind I'd sold a story to them, so I wasn't an unknown quantity), only to get the same letter. I can still remember the heat flushing up the back of my neck as I read the editor's reply to 'save the sarcasm until I was famous.'

With hindsight, I know the stories weren't good enough (some of them are downright embarrassing), but if they'd just said that at the time I think my ego would have been able to cope.

Then again, maybe it was their way of encouraging me to keep trying...

jason evans said...

Bristling about a rejection never comes off well, no matter how heartfelt or understandable it is.

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