This is a conversation I’ve had several times recently in varying forms, and I think it would help us all if we just had it here, in public.
I will preface this by emphasizing that I am a writer, too. I have had the very same thoughts and instincts as the ones I am about to describe, and it was only when I started to get into the editorial side of things during my time at Lightspeed that I came to understand things differently.
SO. You who read this and relate, please understand, you are not being judged. I just really want you to understand—as other editors once wanted me to understand—so that we can continue and strengthen the unique symbiotic relationship between writer and editor.
The thing that I keep hearing, sometimes directly, sometimes passively, is this:
“I do not want to take advantage of our relationship.”
This is an excellent instinct! This demonstrates that you are a person of character and integrity. The reason that you are telling me this is because we have met in some capacity that is not strictly business: a workshop; a retreat; an online writers group; the bar at a convention. We have exchanged non-working communications and have expressed some degree of actual interest in each other as human beings. I LOVE THIS. This is what makes getting out of bed in the morning worth doing.
So we have a relationship, you and I. Maybe we exchanged a couple of emails, or we stayed up ‘til 2 a.m. talking about chickens, or I told you that your work was amazing at a workshop we attended, or we had a great conversation about gardening at a convention. At some point I said to you: If you have a novella-length work, I’d love to see it.
And your ethical instinct was: I can’t send it to you, because I know you, and we’re friends now, and I would be taking advantage of our relationship. You like me, so you might look at my work differently, and if you accept it then I won’t feel that I have earned it.
I 100% get this. OMG do I get it. But stay with me.
My very first convention was World Fantasy in San Jose in 2009. There, at 11 p.m. on the night before the convention began, I met the editor of a relatively long-running and highly respected print magazine that I had dreamed of someday being published in. I spent HOURS talking to them. By the end of the night I thought for sure that I could never possibly submit a story to them because now we kind of seemed like friends. Eventually I came to understand the things that I’m about to try to convey to you, and I did submit to them, and I received a coveted Color-Coded Rejection of Hope (because this was before people accepted online submissions). I did not take it personally. The editor was doing their job with integrity, which is exactly what I should always have expected of them.
This is where I get to the Actual Points that I would like you, the writer, to consider.
#1. If you stick around long enough, you will have had those late-night conversations, workshops, email exchanges, or Twitter conversations with every single editor in the field. Because it turns out that we’re just people, moving in the same circles you’re moving in. So what then? Once you know all of us, is that the end of your career, because you couldn’t possibly take advantage of our friendship?
#2. This is hard to hear, but once you do, I think you’ll feel a lot better about your submissions:
You don’t realize it, and you certainly don’t mean to, but you’re insulting us. When you assume that because we like you, we’re going to stake our editorial integrity and careers on a story that we wouldn’t have otherwise published, but we did because we like you—just think about that for a second.
Let it really sink in, what you’re implying.
I like a LOT of people. I have very dear friends in this business.
I also reject most of their stories.
I hate it, but I do it. Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t deserve to be doing what I am extremely privileged to be doing.
#3. This is one that we all hate. Take a deep breath. If you have a god to pray to, now is the time to pray for humility before you read on.
As writers, none of us are that fucking important. Every editor has more slush to read, more stories to either reject or love. There is always someone better than we are out there, who has submitted to the same markets, who is just as nice as we are, who wants it and deserves it just as much–or more. They have been to the same conventions and workshops; they have worked the same number of hours. But one or two or three of them have written stories that the editors have never seen, not in that voice, not quite that way–and that’s a thing that can’t be gamed.
No matter how much I like you, if you haven’t written that, you’re going to get a rejection from me.
So that’s it! Continue being awesome, continue being our friends…but please, please, PLEASE, above all…trust us.