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Through The Eyes Of An Editor

Through the eyes of an editorImagine that you are an editor of a literary journal. You pore over hundreds of submissions over a number of months in an effort to find a handful to publish. You fall in love with many dozens of submissions—perhaps more—but painstakingly whittle down your favorites to just the few you have room to publish.

With hopeful anticipation, you contact those writers whose work you’re accepting into the next issue, and then you really get to work. After organizing a cohesive issue that will awe faithful readers, you browse your contributors’ bios, checking out their credits online and visiting their websites. And that’s when you discover this: Those pieces you were so proud to showcase in your thoughtfully organized issue have already been plastered across the Internet.

Here at Writer’s Relief, we’ve made it our goal to show writers how to use the Internet to enhance, not hurt, their publication endeavors.

While we have spread the word on what “previously published” means to writers in its literal definition, we realize there still may be some confusion about what actually occurs when a writer submits previously published writing to literary journal and magazine editors. Because of that, we want to call attention to how the issue regarding what “counts” as previously published work affects editors too.

The main objective most editors have when they start a publication is not to install themselves in a position of power but to help writers reach readers. And with that motive in mind, many editors use their unpaid personal time to:

– Read hundreds of submissions

– Contact writers whose work has not been accepted

– Correspond with writers whose work has been accepted

– Proofread, edit, and format the accepted pieces to prepare for publication

– Release the issue and spread the word—helping those poems, short stories, and essays find an audience

When considering the time, effort, and personal sacrifice that goes into composing each journal issue, we think it becomes obvious: If we were all in editors’ shoes for the time it takes to publish just a single issue, we’d most likely choose to publish pieces that aren’t easily found in a Google search, and we’d feel our time had been better spent because of it. Publishing work that has already been seen, read, and shared on Facebook pages, personal blogs, and workshopping sites just wouldn’t feel as gratifying.

Being published in a literary journal is not (or should not be) a completely self-serving practice on the part of authors. Instead, in a best case scenario, the agreement to publish is a mutually beneficial partnership between writer and publisher.

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As writers, we can get caught up on the difficulty and intricacy of our craft, and upon receiving rejection letters, we tend to think of editors as “gatekeepers” who keep people out—rather than the champions of our work.

But editors—many of whom are writers themselves and have experienced rejection—offer their time not to tout their own writing, but the writing of others. They present our poems and short prose beside other talented artists, giving us a sense of accomplishment and pride.

When an editor chooses our work for publication, he/she is putting his/her personal seal on our work as a supporter. So help us spread the word about previously published writing, and share this article with your writer friends. Next time you, or other writers you know, prepare work for submission, you can confidently proceed knowing that if an editor offers to do right by your written work, you’ve also done right by that editor.

Photo by Antonio Mantero

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: How selective are you about what creative writing you post online?

3 Responses to Through The Eyes Of An Editor

  1. Following is an earlier book review that opened my eyes about the role of editors. Unfortunately, I still mess up when posting. I feel so compelled that I skip editing, proofing, and sometimes post without even first finding and putting on my reading glasses. Also, I sometimes feel that comments here and there are informal / colloquial and not expected to be as formal as those made elsewhere. If possible to take back or edit some of my posts over the last few years, I would.

    Two examples of posts that have bitten me hard in the butt:

    (1) In 2006, I was working on a political satire SF / F story that was ultimately published in Wingspan Quarterly – I Found God in Cyberspace. The satire focused on the issue of free speech on the internet and included U.S. Supreme Court Opinions properly cited. I allowed myself to enter into a debate about the topic on a website named Science Fiction and Fantasy Chronicles. While the the debate that I instigated was helpful to crafting my story, today I am banned for life from that website and Wingspan Quarterly, a wonderful print magazine that is likely missed by thousands, has gone defunct.

    (2) Also doing research for a character in my first novel, I intentionally inflamed members of the Conservative Old Hippie website with nonsense. While its members were ridiculous right wing political radicals that probably deserved to be railroaded out of America, the owner of the now defunct website commented on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Chronicles site mentioned above. He called me an insulting name. To this day, over eight years later, if one searches the title on my novel, this insult pops up. While my exchanges with members of this group were helpful to character development, was the price too high to pay?

    Anyway, more on topic, following is one editor’s perspective about my efforts with respect to her role:

    “I Owe One to Robert Eggleton

    October 30, 2006, by Evelyn Somers, Editor, The Missouri Review

    Earlier this year I was contacted by first-time novelist Robert Eggleton, asking if I would review his forthcoming e-book. If people knew how many requests of this kind editors get, they would understand that out of self-preservation we sometimes… well, I ignored the request.

    Robert tried again. There was something in the tone of his e-mail: this mattered to him. So I said yes, I’d take a look, though I didn’t think we could review Rarity From the Hollow. This is all fogged somewhat in memory: in the months since then our magazine moved its office, I was hospitalized for a cat bite (yes, they’re dangerous), we’ve published two issues, read hundreds of manuscripts, I went to Africa, etc., etc. But as I recall, Robert sent me the first chapter, which begins with two impoverished schoolgirls (from the Hollow of the title) studying together and spelling the word for a sex toy. It was quirky, profane, disturbing. I said I’d look at the book, not entirely sure what I could do to help.

    He sent me the whole thing by e-mail. I read portions of the book, which is subtitled “A Lacy Dawn Adventure,” after the girl protagonist, Lacy Dawn. I liked Lacy Dawn, who lives in a world of poverty, classmates with precocious sexual knowledge and/or experience, unemployed men, worn-down women, and cruelty so casual that it’s more knee-jerk than intentional. Maybe I was just too bothered by the content, but at a certain point I knew I couldn’t do anything. My time was nonexistent.

    So I deleted the book from my desktop.

    Robert contacted me again, and I got soft. You see, there was something about the whole project in general. Robert is a social worker who has spent at least a portion of his career working with child-abuse victims in Appalachia. The book was partly about that, and mostly very strange. In the Hollow, Lacy takes up with an android named DotCom, from “out of state,” which really means off of this planet. Under DotCom’s wing, she decides that she will “save” her family. Little does she know she will end up saving the universe. The subject was not exactly run-of-the-mill. And Robert was donating the proceeds from sales of the e-book to help child-abuse victims.

    Robert is not a kid; he’s maybe my age, maybe older. What was at stake wasn’t youthful ambition, vanity or reputation. This was about some kind of personal calling. I believe in those. I also believe in people who are driven to get their writing out there to an audience, through whatever venue. The e-book idea intrigued me. The earnestness of the appeal got to me. Send the book again, I said. He did. It’s still on my hard drive. (I suppose I should delete it, since I haven’t paid for it.)

    Robert kept after me. If I liked it, could I write a blurb? Yeah, of course. I was fund-raising for my African trip (a Habitat for Humanity build), teaching, editing, raising three kids. But who is not busy and overwhelmed? We set our own priorities. I put Robert, and his book, lower than some other things, which really wasn’t fair because I had said I would do something, and I didn’t.

    And it has bothered me. Here’s another thing people don’t know about editors. They sometimes have consciences about books/stories/poems/whatever that they’ve allowed to slip through the cracks, to get lost or neglected in the shuffle of what amounts to thousands of pages.

    So I’m belatedly giving Rarity From the Hollow a plug. Among its strengths are an ultra-convincing depiction of the lives, especially the inner lives, of the Appalachian characters. The grim details of their existence are delivered with such flat understatement that at times they almost become comic. And just when you think enough is enough, this world is too plain ugly, Lacy Dawn’s father (who is being “fixed” with DotCom’s help) gets a job and Lacy Dawn, her mother and her dog take off for a trip to the mall “out of state” with Lacy Dawn’s android friend, now her “fiancé” (though as Lacy’s mother points out, he doesn’t have any private parts, not even “a bump.”) In the space between a few lines we go from hardscrabble realism to pure sci-fi/fantasy. It’s quite a trip.

    Rarity is published by FatCat Press, which has other e-books for sale as well. You can find it at http://www.fatcatpress.com. The blurb on the website says in part:

    Lacy Dawn is a true daughter of Appalachia, and then some. She lives in a hollow with her mom, her Vietnam Vet dad, and her mutt Brownie, a dog who’s very skilled at laying fiber-optic cable. Lacy Dawn’s android boyfriend, DotCom, has come to the hollow with a mission. His equipment includes infomercial videos of Earth’s earliest proto-humans from millennia ago. DotCom has been sent by the Manager of the Mall on planet Shptiludrp: he must recruit Lacy Dawn to save Earth, and they must get a boatload of shopping done at the mall along the way. Saving Earth is important, but shopping – well, priorities are priorities.

    Yes, priorities are. I should have had mine in order. Robert Eggleton’s book deserves your attention. Check it out.”

  2. A very good post. I remember when I was first so happy to have my own writing blog. I posted anything I could think of on it, like old stories and poems I found on my hard drive. But as I submitted more and more to literary journals, I realized they fall under the “previously published” category.

    I like what you said about publishing work is for the author and the editor, not just one or or the other.

    Now my blog is only for work that has been featured elsewhere first. It’s a much smaller blog because of it, but I am much more proud of it as well.

  3. Extremely careful. Essentially, I post poems only to my own blog, and then only those that have already been published, and then only those that don’t appear elsewhere online. I don’t want to waste an editor’s time, and I sure don’t want them to feel that I led them on–wrong way to get your name remembered.

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