Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Head on the chopping block

(Sandra's editing post)

There’s a new blogger in town, and in two months, he/she/it has had more than double the profile views I’ve had. If you thought Miss Snark had cornered the market on exposing nitwits, then you haven’t seen Evil Editor’s blog.

I was reading this post about the guy whose ex girlfriend prompted him to query, cackling mercilessly. The guy writes in, saying, “I am only sending this to you as my ex-girlfriend is making me... The crux of the matter is she that thinks what I write is profound and needs to be seen, whereas I write to fill my time and consider my “work” not much more than an overblown and frankly worthless etude.”

What does Evil Editor say? “So far, Evil Editor is on your side in this.”

I probably shouldn’t find so much amusement in this, but I can’t help it. I am, after all, an editor. As well as a writer. And despite experience and education in both departments, I still have a lot to learn.

Being in the position of an editor has taught me a lot about the process of submitting work and publishing. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked at length about my shit-list here. Yes, I have a shit-list. These are the names of people who’ve really, really, really inspired a desire within me to kill. The people who’ve pissed me off to the extreme.

All writers.

Now, right off, I wrote this post ages ago and just haven’t posted it. Because I was always worried someone would think I was talking about their story or that this was some sort of inverted complaint against someone who edited me. It isn’t. As far as I’m concerned, if you get edits and critiques before your book comes out, you’re lucky. You’re getting every possible chance there is to catch mistakes and make it as good as it can be.

But, about editing, Spinetingler has submission guidelines posted at Spinetingler. Not every magazine or ezine posts their guidelines, which I find annoying. Those editors don’t have the right to bitch about anything they get, because they’ve left it wide open.

We’ve always had guidelines. They’ve been expanded over time to be more stringent, as situations have prompted us to add stipulations to the list to protect ourselves.

But one sure way to annoy us is to ignore them.

What are some of the things people do that make me scream?

Hard returns at the end of each sentence.(Sorry - I said paragraph, meant to say sentence.) Fuck, I hate them. Originally, my copy said, “it would be kinder to come over and shoot us.” Evilkev took that out, but I stand by it. This creates volumes of work for us, when we do edits, and when we format the ezine. Is it so hard not to hit return? Just say no people, step away from the keyboard…

People who don’t submit the release. Why do we ask for it? We’ve had someone try to sell a story to us and simultaneously sell it elsewhere, more than once. We even had a publication come back on us, pissed that we’d already published the story. That release saved our ass, because it put it squarely on the author’s shoulders – they knew they weren’t supposed to do what they did, and did it anyway and they got a bad reputation with two publications as a result, instead of us getting a bad rep.

We had someone submit recently without the release. I wrote the person back and said we couldn’t consider the story without the release. Few months ago now, still haven’t heard back. Hmm. Guess they weren’t serious.

Another thing annoys us is people using email addresses they then cancel. And then they send bitchy emails months later asking why the hell they haven’t heard anything. Of course, sent from their new email address. Which is when we forwarded all the emails we’d tried sending for months to contact them about their story…as well as the final notice that this would be our last attempt to contact them.

But – other than the people trying to sell stories simultaneously – these aren’t even things that will get you on my shit-list. What will, you ask?

One thing is how people handle rejection letters. We try to include some general notes about what went wrong in the story, in a very tactful way. I hate writing those letters - I know what it feels like to be on the other end. But writing back a few hours later, furious that we didn’t accept it or being really snippy about informing us they sold it elsewhere, so there is not something I recommend. If it was up to me, I don’t mind simultaneous submissions. We don’t pay much, writers sometimes have to wait an unreasonable amount of time for an answer, but that type of response is why we had to forbid them – and again, why we ask for the release with submission. Unless you write us and pull the story from consideration, you’ve already given us the right to publish it. Writing back snottily saying you sold it elsewhere already (as one person did) just pisses me off because I wasted time on your story that I could have spent on a story for a writer still waiting and hoping. From the writer side of the equation, that might sound draconian, but do you know there are people we included in the anthology who never even replied when we informed them they’d been selected? Some of them finally wrote when they wanted to get royalty payments and payment failed because they hadn’t informed us they’d changed their paypal account… Ugh. The headaches. Truly, no good deed goes unpunished.

So, the whole rejection response can put me over the edge. Plus, some rejected writers that I sent suggestions to responded same day with new submissions. This is NOT a good idea, people. If an editor writes with suggestions and web links to writing articles to be considered, show them the information is read and processed. When the readers saw those stories weeks later, their comments were almost the exact same as for the first story we’d rejected. Believe me, this is a way to get your name remembered and elicit a groan next time you submit. I wouldn’t even automatically reject these people, but they’re making it harder for themselves. We’re all human, and when names become familiar for the wrong reasons… well, you’re stacking the deck against yourself.

And every time it happens, I swear I’m moving to form letters that say nothing about the reason for rejection.

Those are my minor points. What’s my major piss-off?

People who blow off editing.

Bottom line is, as we’ve been working to make Spinetingler better and better and raise the quality each issue, it involves editing. And guess what? Writers are involved in their edits.

Maybe it’s my journalistic background. I remember the red pen all over copy. Actually, for me, that didn’t happen often. Sometimes, copy came back first time with only one or two typos.

I remember wondering why they didn’t just change them there. But now, I remember what I learned from correcting my mistakes.

If someone takes the time to send editing notes, you should always treat them seriously. Not just if they pay big bucks. Even if they pay nothing.


Are you serious? If you’d even ask that, can you really call yourself a writer?

At the end of the day, everything you put out for the world to see if your work, and it reflects on you. I’ve always had a bitch of a time with short stories, because I love subplots, and short stories aren’t my strength. My second book, Echoes and Dust, started life as a short story that turned into a 115,000 word book that launched a series.

In November 2004, I was trying to clear my head from writing that manuscript, and started working on some short stories. Write to Kill was one, Restoration was another. Restoration didn’t come together for me until the Spinetingler Anthology in November 2005. So, winging off a short story wasn’t routine.

But I did fling one off, Breaking The Christmas Curse. I submitted it for a contest. Didn’t think much more of it, actually. I remember I was having a horrid day, really upset about something, but I don’t remember what now. And then I got an email, telling me the story got an honourable mention in the contest.

I rushed to look and there was a typo in the first line.

Talk about embarrassing. I mean, typos happen to all of us. We all get edited. We all make stupid mistakes.

Was it the ezine’s error? No. It was mine. I was sloppy with the details and it showed.

Even in learning, I’ve had moments of frustration. Another story, I was asked to send in edits. I did and they didn’t run them. Argh. But again, it goes back to being as clean as you can with the copy you submit, making sure it’s ready when it goes in the first time – at least, as ready as possible.

But when an editor does take the time to provide feedback, it’s courtesy and professionalism to do the edits. We’ve had a few writers refuse, think the suggestions were debatable when typo corrections are not.

And those people are on my shit-list. I sent a story back once and asked the writer to go over it and correct the typos. That was it – not even structural changes, like clarifying the ending (a common one, actually). He emailed back and said no changes were needed.

Oh, silly stupid me! I mean, what was I thinking, suggesting he fix those typos? I must have been on drugs that day.


This is no different than any other career in this respect. There are learning curves. People make mistakes – get over it. I’ve screwed up, so will you. Do you give up the comedy act and run off stage crying the first time someone yells, “Boo” from the crowd? Or keep at it? That’s what tells people if you’re a pro.

I mean, if you’re going to give up on an edit when people actually want to publish you, quit now, because a lot of reviewers won’t care about your feelings.

The point is whether or not we learn from those mistakes. And how we deal with edits is part of that. If writers don’t understand the editing notes or know how to implement a suggestion, that’s what I’m here for. Each one has only to ask for more feedback or guidance. But just not doing it and sending in the story, saying, “here it is” without telling us you didn’t make the changes?

It doesn’t show a lot of respect for the editors, their time, or your own writing if you do that. If someone else spotted a weakness, you should always seriously consider it. I’ve had cases where three readers have come back, exact same comment (and one is in New York, another in Australia, another in Canada, and I’m the only one in touch with each individual and I SELDOM read submissions unless I’m doing the edits AFTER they’ve been accepted) and the writer has refused to hear it.

Man, three out of three? Hello! I’m not even saying you take every suggestion you get and implement it. But I am saying that you consider it, and if you disagree, you discuss it like a professional.

I think about editing Stuart MacBride’s story for the anthology. Hands down the most experienced writer we published in our first year, and truly, a treat to work with. A real pro. Attitude? He only knows what that means from hanging around me, because he doesn’t have one.

I could understand by the end of our first year why some publications won’t consider new writers. It’s sad. I always try to cut more slack, but it is very hard. There are only so many hours in the day. I haven’t got time to argue with people with egos that are bigger than the size of France.

I’d much rather make fun of them in a future blog post.

Okay, seriously, I’m not posting all of this to put down specific people. Examples are an amalgamation of a few writers from our first year, or apply to several people I’ve dealt with, either in my journalism days or since we started Spinetingler.

But I decided to post it, because I thought it could be helpful to some of the newer writers, and because Evil Editor inspired me.

We’re (almost) always looking for editing help. Especially with the volume of submissions going through the proverbial roof. When Tracy Sharp submitted work, we were really impressed with the caliber of her writing and her professionalism. We added her to the team. She’s one of the people that has read my unedited version of Suspicious Circumstances and provided great feedback that’s been very helpful to me.

Then MG Tarquini submitted. And I dared to have her edit something of mine. She kicked my ass. And you know what? She made me a better writer for it. So I took her stories (great one last issue, great one next issue too) and recruited her.

I’d best end there, but bottom line here is that your attitude shows whether what you’re doing is a hobby or a profession. People in the business will see that, and respond accordingly. Editors and writers should always remember, some day, the shoe may be on the other foot. Just ask authors who’ve edited anthologies…

And I decided to post this while my heart gets dragged out through my bowels by an author who felt dumping a “this is shit” letter on me was taking the easy way out. I think they want to see me cry. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, if I stop sobbing by then.

Kitty Pictures, as promised!


Boy Kim said...

In work... post too long to read... will read it later... if I remember.

Sandra Ruttan said...

no worries BK. I'm being slaughtered elsewhere anyway.

Brett Battles said...

Timing couldn't have been better for me on this one, Sandra. Got an email from my editor yesterday telling me they were overnighting my copy edits. So by the time I go to bed tonight, I'm sure I'll have seen more red ink than I have in a long time. And, by God, I'll be thankful for least that's what I keep repeating to myself this morning.

Boy Kim said...

Can I put in an order for a couple of prime, juicy rump steaks please?

JT Ellison said...

Hey girl,
You make such a great point about taking editing seriously. I have several readers go over my work, as often as possible, and they've saved me from more than one major gaff. I find having outside input and edits invaluable.
Cheer up. You're work is so far from shit. Sometimes jealousy drives hateful comments.

Karen Olson said...

Sandra, I feel your pain. As a longtime copy editor, I've seen it all. And had to fix it. The scary thing is when I spend an hour on a story, rearranging paragraphs, fixing typos and grammatical mistakes and then have the writer come back and say, "Hey, you didn't touch anything!" I wonder how blind they really are to their own work, but then I remind myself to pat myself on the back because if you're a really good editor, no one will see your handiwork and the writer's voice will still be there as it should be.

Steve Allan said...

I've dealt with these assholes in various writing workshops. You make a huge effort to help them and then they shit on everything you said to them. The best thing to know is that editing other people's writing only makes your own stronger. If they didn't get anything out of it, at least you did.

As for the shit letter - fuck 'em.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Okay, more from me later as I'm busy at the moment, but the "this is shit" letter comment? I was just afraid I was going to get that. I've gotten that before, but not from this person. So, uh, really bad wording on my part.

This is actually good shit. It doesn't stink too bad.

Trace said...

Thanks, Sandra! Helping with Spinetingler has been a joy and an honor.

Aaaaw widdo kitties!!

Trace said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JamesO said...

Colour me stupid, but being a bear of very little brain, I don't quite understand this 'no hard returns at the end of paragraphs' rule. How exactly are you meant to signal the end of the paragraph without a return?

On the other hand, I must have got it right, otherwise you'd have chewed me off a strip by now.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Uh, duh, it's supposed to be "no hard returns at the end of each sentence."

Gawd, no wonder i'm getting my ass kicked...

sandra seamans said...

I've got a question from the new writer end of the equation. I had an editor ask me to expand a 400 word flash story. I rewrote it into a 1200 word short story, which the editor passed on as he didn't like the turn the story took. Does this happen a lot? I did place the story, so I know it wasn't total shit.

angie said...

I love Evil Editor. I'm seriously contemplating forking over the cash for one of his groovy coffee mugs. Between Miss Snark & Evil Editor, there's A TON of good info out there for writers. And the snippy-snap is fun, too.

Good post on editing. Amazing what basic stuff falls by the wayside or is flat out ignored. I've never understood the point of writers who refuse to consider editing suggestions. I'm not saying I love criticism (honestly, who does?), but dammit, if it makes it better it's worth it!

Sandra Ruttan said...

v quickly, as I'm still tied up with something...

Sandra, you'll get an answer - an interesting one, actually. But it may take another hour or two....

Sandra Ruttan said...

Okay, I have a 2 minute break... Sandra, I've never done that to somebody. I think that if you ask for the story to be expanded, then you either make it clear you have a direction in mind, or you work over it again if there's a significant issue. But I did hear one author tell a story of having a book accepted (children's book) and they wanted edits. Then this wasn't quite what they wanted. Then that. And on and one. In the end, it was 22 drafts, and you know what one they published?

The first one.

Go figure.

Once accepted, I have never rejected a story off of edits, but there may come a day I do reject one b/c the writer refuses to make any changes at all. There are a few people who now had better send in a story spot-on perfect, because I won't waste my time or anyone else's going over it for them.

James Goodman said...

Working on edits now and taking them quite seriously...

S. W. Vaughn said...

You go, Sandra! Some writers really do need a kick-in-the-ass reminder of a simple little thing called "common courtesy." You'd think editors would be treated better. And you get to experience it from both ends... oh, man!

I, for one, would be ecstatic to receive red-pen marked work. That would mean a professional editor is interested in publishing my work. I would welcome red pen with open arms. :-)

Andrea at Lochthyme said...

I don't get people like that. If they want to be published then their work will be edited and then to for them to say no my work is perfect? Sheesh. I guess if they can't take the heat they better get out of the fire.

sandra seamans said...

Thanks, Sandra. It's good to know that not all editors do that!

Eileen said...

I love the kitten updates

Boy Kim said...

All very interesting I must say but when do I find out if I get my rump steaks or not?

Bill, the Wildcat said...

Co-writing with my wife has helped thicken my skin a bit as a writer. I can't tell you how many times I've written something and had her get ahold of it just to say, "I don't think any of this works." I don't think I'll ever exactly look forward to seeing my work edited, but I'm not fool enough to think I don't need an editor's help.

Just as a reader, I know how many times I've read a book and wished an editor had done more to improve it.

Glad to see you posted this entry, Sandra. Some interesting stuff.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Okay...I'm still alive!

Brett, you'll be fine! And you're a pro, so I know you'll be okay with your editing notes. Plus, you're an awesome writer, so there won't be that many.

Boy Kim, har har. You have to come to Harrogate to collect!

JT, yeah, believe me, I've been saved from major f-ups! Saved from my own stupidity!

Karen, I think being in both roles helps us, though. At least, I hope it does, despite the agony. Every time I fix something in someone else's copy, I remember someone kicking my butt...

Steve, good point. Editing does make your own writing stronger. At least I can learn something, even if they don't.

Trace, you kick butt with Spinetingler!

James...I answered you. Man, I hope I made that mistake in my post...and that Kevin didn't screw that up on the website. Oy.

Sandra, welcome! I'm sure your story was good - your attitude about it clearly is because you haven't dismissed the experience outright.

Angie, I think Evil Editor is pretty cool. I don't read every day, but I do enjoy it when I do. Always a good laugh there.

James Goodman, this post was not about YOU! I know how awesome you are at your edits!

SW, it is true that not all editors are a gift. But a good editor is something to be treasured, and especially as a newcomer to this industry - as I am - I appreciate every opportunity to learn. Even if I disagree, thinking things through is a good learning experience.

Bill, I'm glad you found this interesting. And I think it would be very hard to be edited by your wife, so you're incredibly brave. But going through that from the beginning really helps you be stronger in the long run. I can tell which writers listen to their editors or critiquing partners...and which ones don't.

I'm glad I survived this. I thought I'd get hate mail. Really, as much as I get frustrated sometimes, 99% of what I've dealt with has been a joy, and the writers have been fantastic. We've been a lot tougher last few issues, and the results have been spectacular.

Sandra Ruttan said...

And Eileen, the kitties are adorable, aren't they? I plan a weekend post just on kittens! I hope...

Jeff said...

This is great and helpful advice for novice writers like myself. Thanks, Sandra. :)

James Goodman said...

lol, I know it wasn't about me. :D just throwing my 2 cents around.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Good James - just making sure!

And Jeff, I'm glad you found it helpful. Truly. Now, whenever I type up a letter to an editor, I try to remember to think about what it's like to be on the other end...

And hope I extract all smart-ass remarks accordingly.

Amra Pajalic said...

I love Evil Editor too. Kill myself laughing and learn something every time.

I don't understand people who don't appreciate edits. A lot of journals and short story competitions I've submitted to, the rejection has been dead silence. The few times I've received feedback or a personalised rejection I appreciated it.

An editor who sent me a personalised rejection was then judging a short story contest and I entered another story and won third place. So people who take rejection so personally really need to pull that stick out of their arse. Most times a rejection can teach you something, even if it is to realise that particular story doesn't work and to retire it.

All my published stories have been edited and if I send a copy to someone interested in reading my work, I send the edited version because invariably there has been a clean up and tightening of the story.

This is the main reason I've dropped out of writing groups etc because a lot of people don't appreciate how hard it is to critique another person's work and that even if you don't agree with their opinion, there's always a gem there that will improve your writing.

I've read a few stories in Spinetingler and been impressed with the quality of the writing which is a reflection of the editing committee. Keep up the great work and the rants. There's always something to learn, not to say that it makes those of us who see your point of view feel better. All those people out there leaving a bad rep are making it easier for the rest of us to get ahead.

Amra Pajalic said...

I always forget something. I read your short story Fucked Again yesterday and loved it. Very fast-paced with a kicker of a end.

Sandra Ruttan said...

"a lot of people don't appreciate how hard it is to critique another person's work and that even if you don't agree with their opinion, there's always a gem there that will improve your writing."

Amra, this is SO true. Honestly, I worry when I give feedback. What if I miss something? Especially in group something, what if someone else was more thorough than I?

On the receiving end, I'm happy for anything I get, because even if you don't make the exact change someone suggests, you come away with a better idea of what you were trying to achieve, and sometimes, you modify their suggestion and your original idea and it ends up even better.

It's a process. We all have stuff to learn. I'm so thankful that people were willing to give me feedback on my manuscript. I'm so blessed people cared enough to take the time to read it, and offer me their insights. Believe me, I'm so glad I have a chance now to make changes, instead of having people tell me what they don't like after it comes out.

We're all learning from each other. If someone offers advice, be thankful for it!

And thanks for the kind words on Fucked Again. Still, room for improvement. But it was a fun story. Ever since I started reading Simon Kernick, I've wanted to try my hand at first-person with a real edge to it. Micky is no Milne (understood if you read Simon's books The Business of Dying or A Good Day to Die), but it was still fun.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Whew...I was going to ask about the hard returns too, but you answered it.

Sandra, you're a great writer, don't start second guessing yourself.

You'll come out better for any work that you put into it. I'll pray for you!

Love the kitties!

M. G. Tarquini said...

whoa. I don't know what all that stuff is about the 'this is shit' email, but I take it that it's constructive criticism from somebody you respect?

I'll take any constructive crit I can get. Even the destructive crit usually has something I can take from it. I figure it this way...If my writing were so perfect, the Nobel committee would be spamming my voice mailbox. Until that happens, best I shut up and listen to what others have to say.

And thank you for your kind comments about my stories. Now then, if you've any ideas what to write for my bio...

Stephen Blackmoore said...

All the people you hate are writers?
You really need to get out more then. There are really so many more people to hate out there. You should expand your horizions.

Start small. Mailmen, for instance. After all, they bring the bills. Then you can work your way up to telemarketers, girl scouts and those annoying brats in wheelchairs who show up at your door at 6 in the morning wanting to sell you magazines so that they can get enough money to pay for their "surgery" because they want to "walk".

Scam artists. I'm onto them. Sure, they'll fake it when you pick 'em up and throw them to the curb, saying they can't walk and please don't hurt me. Whiners. Yeah, that last one was almost convincing when I backed the car over him, but I knew the truth.

Sorry, where was I?