June 23, 2013. Last week I talked about writing and amassing rejection slips. I have often thought I am setting new standards in this particular realm–the number of times I am rejected before being accepted– but it is difficult to say. I can’t resist relating, however, that I once published a perfectly respectable story (“Hemingway’s Last Question”) in a perfectly respectable lit mag (LITnIMAGE) after said story had been rejected no less than 52 times. Shortly thereafter the story was reviewed by an MFA student who lauded it as a classic example of how to have character development and plot in a 1000 word story. What can you say? Apparently the 52 editors who perused the story before it’s publication and enthusiastic review did not agree.
I understand editors have their own share of problems, however, since I became an editor in the production of my war veterans anthology, REMEMBRANCES OF WARS PAST. This book came about when an 88 year old friend of mine recounted some horrifying details about visiting the German concentration camp Buchenwald in World War II one day after the camp was liberated by the allies. I thought this story should be told and had him come to my office where I taped him, then wrote up the account and sent it to sixteen literary magazines as a memoir. The first fifteen rejected the story without comment. This amazed me since I was sending around a story with some meat on it, not fluff (there is entirely too much fluff published in the literary world). Fortunately, the sixteenth magazine, the Connecticut Review, by name, was having a war veterans anthology special, and the editor took the piece. When I got my copy I was AMAZED at the quality of writing. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry: it was all great. I wrote to the editor and said, “I didn’t know veterans could write so well. Why don’t you publish a book of these works.” She replied that she would love to but anthologies don’t sell, and she couldn’t get a publisher to take it. This surprised me and I told her somebody OUGHT to publish a book of this nature.
And then I decided to do it.
So, I became an editor. I sent the word out that I was looking for work by veterans, or relatives thereof, and the submissions came rolling in. Over the next four months I got over 500 submissions from people all over the United States and several foreign countries. At least half the work was publishable. And here is the point: when you are an editor you are looking for certain types of work that fit in with your idea of what you seek to publish. It’s all subjective. I ended up rejecting some perfectly acceptable work because it simply didn’t FIT. One writer got incensed after several rejections and wrote saying, “What are you looking for?” Well, I couldn’t answer him. His work was fine, it just wasn’t what I was looking for. So for those of you who are amassing piles of rejection slips, really, you can’t take it personally. You might simply not be sending the editor (or reader) what they are looking for.
I will finish by mentioning editing. Some lit mags edit more than others. I find myself disagreeing with fifty per cent of changes in my own manuscripts that editors want to make, but sometimes their suggestions are invaluable. In publishing REMEMBRANCES OF WARS PAST, I actually lost four of my writers because of their strenuous objections to being edited. The book was edited three times: by me, a professional editor I hired, and a third editor who volunteered her services. The edits were needed. Sometimes it’s a tense relationship between editor and writer, but I can assure you the more flexible you are about this relationship (both from a writer and editor’s point of view) the better for everyone.
It was an interesting experience, editing, but I probably won’t return to it any time soon. I’ll just get back to amassing my own rejection slips.