Friday, February 5, 2010

Advice for Replying to Editors

Advice about how best to reply to an editor depends upon whether you're accepted.

If you're not, the most helpful advice would be--don't reply. Reflect.

But if you simply must (a fruitless move since it's likely to do nothing more than depress an editor), here's what I'd say: (1) be positive, (2) be understanding, and (3) be cool.

It's happened to me: an editor explains why she's passing on a story. Once, a magazine liked my first submission but wanted me to either lengthen it or send something longer. I sent something longer. It wasn't taken. The worst thing I could've done at that point was reply. The best thing, when rejected, is to reflect. To revise. In my revision, published as "The Arsonist" last year in SLAB, I clarified that the first-person narrator was embodying the arsonist. I also mentioned in cover letters that any perceived p.o.v. shifts were intentional. It worked.

Again, if you do reply, be positive ("I really appreciate your feedback"), understanding ("with 100,000,000 submissions a month and only 0.75 acceptances a year..."), and be cool ("best of luck to your journal; I love your stuff"). Still, I'm not convinced that it's worth it to almost ever reply to a rejection. Just get back to an equilibrium, to an emotional state that vitalizes you creatively--maybe through exercise (practicing kung fu and working my left hook on a bag help for me)--and write.

Now, if you're getting something published (congrats!), an editor might email you an edited version of your writing for you to look at. Edits are highlighted, say, in red. Do you approve?

If the edits are line edits, say adding a comma here or maybe changing a phrase there, approve them. You might be happy, later in life, that you did.

It's tempting sometimes to say, "You're killing my voice" or get carried away with defending artistic integrity. I recommend reflecting first. It's extremely difficult for anyone to get published. Once you get something in, go with it. The editor is your ally, and comments given reflect time invested in understanding and trying to invigorate your writing.

Of course, if an editorial suggestion isn't working, wait a little while before responding. A day or two, perhaps. Then craft a carefully worded email that, above all, makes you seem like a nice person to work with. The world can always use another nice person.

I like to remember something Socrates is always saying to Plato in various dialogues and in different ways; it's a foundational premise to put logical investigations into perspective. To summarize ... "Any amount of time we're here is negligible in the context of deep time." Take "We" to mean anything you like--an individual, a species.

I've already expressed my belief that literary journals are cultural bulwarks in the spreading US-driven Television Culture. Works of art justify living. Still, this metaphysical viewpoint reassures me that a comma here, or even a phrase there, or even major revisions, usually aren't worth fighting for.

Emotional balance and harmony ... are.

Justin 正义


(Justin's novel Ash Dogs was a First Novel Finalist in the 2009 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. He lives in Xinzheng City, in the Henan province of China, and studies the syncretism of fiction writing and kung fu.)


muser said...

Justin, your advice to reflect upon receiving a rejection is the best I've ever heard. After writing for almost ten years, I just turned sixty, I have recently submitted some of my poems to two online journals. I have neither received acceptance nor rejection, but your advice has given me a sense of calm, peace.

I love my poems. Writing them was like giving birth, and I am protective of them. If they are accepted. I will be excited, proud, exuberant. If they are rejected, I will still love them, and I will reflect.

Thank you,
Cynthia Fleetwood

justin nicholes said...

I'm glad it was helpful, Cynthia. Keep sending out those poems and writing, and reading poems and studying what they do. In general, most of what we hear from editors are rejections. EVERYONE, even the most established writers, get them. Sometimes it's good to remember those early works, stories or poems, what have you, and move on to new creations, too. So yes, love those poems, write new ones, study other people's poems, and embrace the balancing quality of writing.