Friday, August 18, 2006

Editing Rant/Motivational Speech

I harbor a secret fantasy of one day editing my own speculative fiction magazine. Except, I’ve known enough real-life editors of both pro- and semi-pro SF/F/H magazines to know that I don’t really want all the hassle involved in essentially running a small business.

But, I always used to think that getting to pick stories out of the slush would be… well, fun.

Except now I know better. Yeah, you’re saying, Lyda… why is this news? Everyone always says that reading slush sucks. Well, guess what? Reading really great submissions sucks even more, especially when you have a limited number of slots to fill.

Thing is, I just got my submissions for the Writer-to-Writer course for SASE: The Write Place, where I’m acting as the speculative fiction mentor this year. I knew that I’d have to pick and chose my students for this group, but I had no idea it would be so HARD. I will admit that since this is the first time SASE has offered SF/F/H as an option, I didn’t really expect a lot of applicants. I sort of figured I’d be choosing to eliminate one or two. Instead, I had to cut half! There were twelve applicants and six spots.

Like, with any “slush” there were submissions that were fairly easy to dismiss for one reason or another. My main reason being that nebulous, “this didn’t quite grab me, alas” to the more obvious "this is an SF/F/H cliché." That still left me with nine really good, professional quality writers.

Because this group is meant to work together as a team over the course of three months, I had to start doing things that I imagine magazine editors have to do all the time – like, try to find a common theme. To that end, I bounced one submission because it wildly varied from the kind of writing the others were doing. Even though what this writer wrote was as high quality as the others, I felt that a better group cohesiveness could be formed if everyone was writing in basically the same genre.

That still left me with eight.

SASE required submissions to include a artistic statement, and all I can say is: Thank God/dess. The final cut came down to those people who sounded serious about their writing. Even so, my final “rejections” nearly broke my heart.

I have no idea how magazine editors do this day-in-and-day-out. I put my hand to my heart right now and I promise the universe that I will no longer complain when an editor holds on to my work for months and months. I now understand what’s happening. They’re tearing their hair out trying to decide among dozens of stories that are equals.

And when I get rejected? I’m not going to take it personally. I’m sure some of these applicants are going to get the letter from Intermedia Arts explaining that they didn’t get into the program and they’re going to cry, curse my name, and make voodoo dolls with my face on it and stick multiple pins into it. I can’t really blame them, honestly. Rejections always hurt. But, the truth of the matter is, that it may just be that they got bounced because I could only pick six, and I finally had to make very personal, arbitrary decisions about who appeared to be the most suited for the group.

I really think that’s part of why rejections hurt so much, particularly when you’re in that weird time in your career when you know your writing is reaching professional levels, but you can’t quite seem to make it in over the transom. You sense it’s all very capricious and unfair. And it is. The people who succeed, in my opinion, are those who take to heart the idea of not letting the bastards get you down.

Because once you reach a certain level of craft, it *is* all random. I may have rejected an applicant because an image didn’t work for me _today_. Send it tomorrow and I might think it’s brilliant. In a strange way, that’s what a person should take to heart. If it is all random, eventually your story will find its editor, as they say. And, even though it seems like the prime time to give up writing, it’s the worst. You’re getting close. Stay the course.

Besides, if I can do it, you can.

And don’t worry. I won’t be editing a genre magazine any time soon.

1 comment:

~ Mari said...

But, I always used to think that getting to pick stories out of the slush would be… well, fun. Same here. I've since learned better. LOL

I have no idea how magazine editors do this day-in-and-day-out. You have to learn how to grit your teeth, really. That, and at Apex, we have two "holding bins". If any of the four of us like a story, it goes into bin one - so the other three can read it. If it meets approval, it goes into bin two. If one of us doesn't like it, we debate about it, and eventually it gets rejected. Sometimes really good stories get bumped out of holding bin two; that's a real heartbreaker.