1. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why are editors the bad guys?

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by CDRW, Jun 10, 2009.

    We know that in order to get a book or story out we have to sell it to the editors first, and we know about their preferences. You need to have an immediate attention-grabbing hook. You need to make the conflict apparent as soon as you can, and so forth. Doing any one of those things differently is grounds for moving on to the next manuscript. It's one thing to know this as a writer, but these things have been starting to creep into my feelings as a reader.

    More and more I'm getting the feeling, "these are the people standing in the way of the stories I want." I keep asking myself, "if the standards are so high, why does stuff like 'The Motorman's Coat' and 'Firehorn' make it into F&SF while classics wouldn't get read past the first page if submitted today?" Is it because they think readers have the attention span of a goldfish? Do they think we're stupid? Is it because they really do only read the first page before deciding? Is it because they get so many submissions that they just don't have time to read each one carefully so they need to invent a standard to go by, whether it's a good one or not?

    Why is it that what the editors want is so much different than what I as a reader want when it is their job to give me what I want?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Because nothing is set in stone and opinions are as abundant as people to have them. I think the audience also changes over time and the editorial process changes to suit it, so that earlier works may well leave one perplexed as to how they got published.

    I wonder from time to time as a I watch a movie where the special effects have come to the point of being indistinguishable from true life action, what would happen if this movie were shown to an audience twenty/thirty/forty years ago? Would it be phenomenally successful, or would it be too much for people of that time to take in?

    I think the same thing happens with the editorial process in written books. I'm sure the profession conforms itself to the audience of the time. Take Steinbeck, for instance. His purchasing audience would have remembered the Great Depression rather well. Hence the almost sepia toned, depressing, earth of the Earth feeling in his works. I'm sure not a little bit of that 'flavor' came at the hand of his editor. Me personally, can't deal with Steinbeck unless it comes with a complimentary Valium. For the audience buying at the time, work that spoke to their personal experiences.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    CDRW, you are a reader. The editors know what their market of readers will plonk down cold hard cash for.

    It's a business.
     
  4. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I assume you're talking about short stories and lit mag editors--and genre-specific, at that (F&SF)--whose job it is to compare submissions to one another in order to find the best, most publishable stories for the particular upcoming issue. I don't think the problem is necessarily a matter of standards that are too high or general perceptions of readers too low, but a matter of "known" readership preferences, which serve to support and sustain the publishing "habit" of a given hardcopy pub or e-zine.

    I mean, the first job of the editor is to toss out those that probably aren't going to measure up to the particular demand, so that more time can be spent sorting through those that do. Good chance a reader is only going to give a short story one shot (so why should the editor read a story more carefully than his consumer in order to eliminate those that don't meet expectations?).

    If your writing is excellent and you're meeting with objections to stories on the grounds you mention, maybe your writing appeals to a different kind of an audience than the one you're submitting to. Try submitting to non-genre lit mags, instead, e.g. Especially so, if the pubs you're submitting stories to are not offering the "kind" of story you enjoy yourself.

    Of course, any short story will require engagement from the outset and will need to offer the reader (including the editor) a compelling reason to continue. In non-genre lit mags, a "hook" is not necessarily key or essential; it's a more complex matter of immediate reader engagement. Every bit (every word) of the language and prose matter, as well as character development, storyline, tension, and payoff. If those qualities aren't consistently present, there're plenty of other stories out there (or in the slushpile) to choose from. And while short stories are "short," they're too long for any reader (or editor) to waste time with, if and when disengagement occurs. And consumers, in particular, will surely not continue to waste $$$ on lit mags that don't deliver the goods.
     
  5. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Momentum. In a nutshell, every editor (as Cog said) is interested only in the "business" of selling books/magazines. When they have an established formula that puts $$$ in the till, they will beat that formula to death before trying an unproven format. Before Tom Clancy's Hunt for Red October, there were very few successful military-technical fictions and all the major publishers rejected his manuscript. After his success, they were quick to jump on the bandwagon and seek out similar stories. In today's market, there is a proven profit formula in the early-hook, quick drama formula. Unless some publisher "discovers" a demand for old-style, character-driven literary stories, momentum will dictate more of the same.

    I wonder? Which publisher will be the maverick? Which one will buck the trends and invest (waste) money on something new/old? Don't hold your breath waiting for the rush to innovate. LOL
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    so, who says they are?... if they were, all those successfully published authors out there wouldn't be saying 'thanks' to their editors, on the acknowledgement page, now would they?
     
  7. Hsnodgrass
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    Hsnodgrass Senior Member

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    Writer = Artist.

    Editor = Salesman.
     
  8. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are plenty of smaller markets that Fantasy & Science Fiction to try. Sure, they don't pay as well, but maybe they publish works similar to what you're writing. Possibly they'll flourish and become a pro-rate paying market. Or maybe what you write is more of a niche type of story (maybe including structure) and while there is a market out there for it, it is not a large one.

    Another thing to consider is that magazines get hundreds of submissions a week. And they can only publish maybe a dozen a month., In addition, authors who have been successful with them before, or authors with name recognition have a slight advantage. So by sheer numbers and being relatively new, the odds of success (getting into a pro magazine) are stacked pretty high.

    Editors aren't the bad guy. They're readers dedicated to their magazine (and possibly the genre), with limited time and resources. Consider if, in addition to having to edit and do all of the business side of a magazine--dealing with contracts, printers, cover artists, advertisers, etc.--you have to read slush. Yes, they have assistant editors, but until you've read slush it's difficult to understand.

    Editor: I've been reading for two hours and got a stack of 50 more stories to go through. I'm three pages into this story. The writing is competent but the story isn't going anywhere fast. I've got tons of other things to read and do. Readers of my magazine will probably feel the same. Move on.

    Maybe what you need is some editorial feedback, which is hard to get.

    The ezine where I edit/read slush (MindFlights) offers comments on rejections. There is Baen's Bar (part of the Baen Books Website) where you can submit as a 'first time author' for Jim Baen's Universe. They set aside slots for new writers. When you post there, editors and members--most of them well read and subscribers to the pro-rate paying ezine--will comment. You're allowed to revise and resubmit (again and again until you give up on that story).

    Just my two cents worth.

    Terry
     
  9. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for the advice guys, and especially those links Terry, but this was not a rant about me not being able to get published. It was a rant about nobody publishing the kinds of stories I want to read. I'm sorry if I was unclear about that.
     
  10. Gone Wishing
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    Gone Wishing Contributing Member

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    Maybe to conquer this particular enemy, one must become the enemy... o.o
     
  11. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Sometimes it's hard to find a "fit" with your expectations--especially if, among them, you want to be surprised in some way by possibilities you hadn't thought of before (like many editors). I don't know if you've ever pored over submissions guidelines, which either say as much ("surprise us") or are vague enough to be hopeful. What kind of stories do you want to read? And are you looking for satisfaction in short stories or novels?--I think they each offer different ways of satisfying.
     
  12. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm talking about short stories, but it applies to novels as well. I'm looking for stories that don't abuse their macguffins in the name of Commenting On The Human Condition. I'm tired of reading stories where a mysterious monster murders a bunch of sentient robots in order to get the characters into the right setting, and then is never given more than passing reference again. Sure, the real story is about the relationship between a man and his re-married ex-wife, but I don't want to go around digging for the Message if I'm still stuck on "what was the monster?" (Firehorn)

    I want stories that don't just comment, but also propose ideas. I remember reading one a long time ago where a scientist had his design for an anti-gravity field stolen by his friend. During the press conference for unveiling the field they had a demonstration using a pool table with a hole cut in the middle of it. The scientist was invited to take a shot, and when the ball entered the field it took off at the speed of light, right through the middle of the former friend. The narrator said he was unable to decide if it was murder or accident because theoretically the ball could have taken off in any direction, but he noticed that right before it entered the field it was headed straight for the man.

    I guess to say it shortly, I want stories where equal care is given to the superficial story and the meaning behind it, and I want new ideas.
     
  13. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I'm not an expert on sci-fi genre writers, but you might be surprised to find some really innovative stuff outside of the genre (which could fit inside of it, too). Doesn't The Best American Short Stories have a science fiction counterpart? If not, there are surely some sci-fi anthologies in which various authors' stories have been picked for some reason. In something like that, you might at least find who's considered the best by whoever edits the collection. Might try McSWEENEY'S MAMMOTH TREASUREY OF THRILLING TALES, edited by Michael Chabon. I've only read a couple of stories so far, but you might find some authors in there who write other stories you'd want to read alongside many you probably already have (Nick Hornby, Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Laurie King, Chris Offutt, Dave Eggers, Michael Moorcock, Aimee Bender, Sherman Alexie, Harlan Ellison, Karen Joy Fowler, Rick Moody, and one by Chabon himself).

    New "ideas" are usually, more truthfully, new or innovative presentations. One idea that was "new" to my read was Beckett's UNNAMABLE--a frightening portrait of a man (mostly the man's head) who couldn't stop thinking in order to die. That's a literary classic (and a not easy read); and it's not pigeonholed as sci-fi, but it could probably pass.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i don't see how you can think that... editors aren't 'selling' anything... even if you're referring to the 'accept or reject' part of their jobs and not their 'correcting/editing' chores, i still see no 'selling' there... what they accept is what they think their readers will want to read, period...

    they're not trying to change anyone's mind about what they want to read, because each magazine's readership is made up of those who like its already established style and range of content...

    if you're not finding what you want to see in the magazines you read, you're probably not reading the right magazines, 'cause with the vast numbers of mags in print and on the net these days, there's plenty out there for everyone...
     
  15. Hsnodgrass
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    Hsnodgrass Senior Member

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    The editor has to shape something up that will sell. They take the writers work and look at what is currently popular, then edit accordingly. A lot of editors also have to pitch the work to various magazines or publishing companies. They do work with the author and try to get the art out without sacrificing too much, but at the end of the day the editor is more concerned with income.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it seems to me you're only referring to free lance editors who charge for their services, not the ones who work on salary, for magazines and publishing houses...

    the latter are only working on writing that has already been sold... so none of what you say there refers to them at all... and those the ones this thread is about, isn't it, since the op is complaining about what gets into the magazines, thanks to the acquisition editors' decisions?...
     
  17. Hsnodgrass
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    Hsnodgrass Senior Member

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    Point taken. Redact previous statement.
     

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