Wake up, Polly Parrot.


Stupid Editor Tricks
by Brian Plante

I love editors. I have to say that, since I am dependent on them to buy my short stories. But not all editors are created alike. There are good ones and bad ones, and I'm not talking about the stories they select or the quality of their magazines. It's about how some of them treat their writers. Of course, all editors who have bought my work in the past (or will in the future) are good editors. Really. Stop reading here, if you're one of them. Please.

Some otherwise highly regarded publications have editors who are very writer-unfriendly (the flip side is that there are also some magazines well down the food chain that have editors who are a joy to work with). Over the years, I've received my fair share of poor handling from editors, and heard reports of other writers' shabby treatment. I'm not going to name any names here, since I don't want to burn any bridges, but you know who you are. Besides, all the good editors stopped reading after the previous paragraph, right?

The biggest bugaboo for beginning writers is probably response time. I've gotten a couple of replies back over a year after I sent in the story. There is just no excuse for a response time longer than a few months, in my opinion. It stands to reason that if a magazine receives an average of, say, ten manuscripts a day, then that editor must reply to an equal number per day, whether it's within a week or a month, or a year of receiving them. I understand that some editors reply faster to Big Name authors, and the longer response time is a tool used to discourage slush. If you're not a Big Name, it can get pretty discouraging.

Writers often complain about the lack of feedback from the editors. I understand the time constraints the editors work under, and don't expect a blow-by-blow critique of my story in the editor's reply. But if an editor holds on to a story for eight months, then it's a bit of an insult to receive just a form rejection. Overall, I prefer getting a speedy "No thanks," to waiting a year for a detailed explanation, but having to wait that long for a form letter is too much.

A few neglectful editors never seem to respond to queries. If holding on to a story for a year without explanation isn't abuse enough, when a writer sends a letter asking the status of it, he should expect some kind of an answer. Again, I understand the editor's time constraints, and I'm careful not to bother them with needless correspondence, but when a reply is many months overdue, an editor has a duty to let the writer know what's going on.

Another annoying editorial habit is the creeping anthology deadline. If a market is announced with a deadline of January 1 and a writer sends in a submission in December, he should reasonably expect a decision not too long after the deadline has passed. But if the editor then announces that he's extending the deadline to July, the story is held up in literary limbo while the editor waits to see if something better will come in before making his selections. Ouch. A deadline is a deadline.

An editor (and/or publisher) has a duty to get his announced issues out on time. In the semi-pro world, lots of magazines fall way behind. And since most of these semi-pro magazines don't pay their writers until publication, late issues mean the writers are floating an involuntary, interest-free loan. Editors: don't call your publication a quarterly if you can only manage two issues a year.

When a magazine is dying, editors are reluctant to admit it. This hurts the writer, who still submits work to the publication, which may never see print again. Time lost in submitting work cannot be made up. Some editors announce their publication is "on hiatus" which keeps the writers from submitting, but hangs up the subscribers and the authors whose work is already under contract. If it's dead, say so, and stop stringing the readers and writers along.

When the editor does finally admit that his magazine is dead, it does not absolve the editor from replying to the writers. Some magazines go out of business without announcing it or replying to the writers, effectively leaving those submissions in literary limbo. Worse still are the writers whose work was "bought" for future issues -- since it's pay-on-publication, the writer signed a contract giving away rights, but received nothing yet in return. Unless the author receives a notice that the rights are returned to him, the editor still holds those rights (which is why writers need to add a reversion clause to every contract that does not already have one). It's a matter of courtesy for a failed publication to send replies to the writers whose work they hold.

Some ambitious editors buy enough inventory for three years in advance, often for planned theme issues. A lot of these editors don't remain in business long enough to use the stories they've contracted for. Sure it doesn't cost them anything, since they only pay on publication, but it costs the writers something. Time. And that's a valuable commodity.

If an editor pays on acceptance, he shouldn't hold up the contract for three months before returning the countersigned copy and payment to the author. But some do. Obviously these editors use a different definition of the word "acceptance."

If an editor pays on publication, then the check ought to be sent at the same time as the contributor's copy. But some editors pay after the magazine has been out awhile, hoping to collect some money from sales before paying the writers. Again, this is asking the authors to float an interest-free loan, and if the publication goes out of business, guess who's holding the bag? I'm sure the printer doesn't have to wait for his payment, so why does the publisher assume it's okay to stick it to the writers?

Some editors don't even proofread their magazine before publishing it. I'm pretty good, but I let slip the occasional spelling or grammatical error. The editor should proofread, and send galleys to the author. The editor should not introduce any new errors if the writer sends them a disk with the story text on it.

An editor should not announce his new magazine will pay pro rates and then send out contracts for lower rates when he realizes how much money he's losing. He should figure all this out before he sends out announcements to writers to submit their work. But a lot of new editors don't do their homework.

I love editors. I really do. If you're an editor and you've read this far, I'm sorry. You're not at all like some of those other editors I described. By the way, I have some great stories I want you to look at.

Copyright © 2000 Brian Plante

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