October 25th, 2010 / 3:00 pm

It’s All Fun and Games Until an Editor Pokes an Eye Out

It is mean week, so I will do my small part.

I’ve written, at length, about how much I enjoy editing and reading submissions and working with writers. I enjoy blogging, scrounging for money, thinking up new ideas, and fixing what’s broken. I don’t even mind correspondence with angry writers because there’s an amusement factor there that is priceless and if I’m going to share my opinion on a submission I damn well better be open to hearing how a writer feels about that opinion.

I do not, however, love everything about being an editor and I thought it would be fun (therapeutic) to expose the seamy underbelly of editing. That was unnecessarily dramatic. There isn’t so much an underbelly and if there were, it would probably be pale and hairy rather than seamy though it could be said that for something to be seamy it is also pale and hairy. There are some tasks that make me want to throw a tantrum but they need to be done so I just suck it up and do it. All editors do. The “I” here does not imply any specialness or uniqueness on my part. Most of these odious tasks involve the logistical maintenance of the magazine, duties I split with my co-editor. The suffering is definitely shared and while suffering is a bit of an exaggeration given what we’re talking about here, some aspects of editing are infinitely less pleasant than others.

Every month, about three days before the 15th (I reckon that would be the 12th), we begin to assemble the online issue which means finding all the work that’s going to be included and setting up posts in WordPress. We used to manually code every single page in Dreamweaver before moving to a CMS and that was its own fresh hell, believe you me. Our web designer created a beautiful system for managing our content but nothing can simplify the copying/pasting/formatting for each issue. Then galleys have to be sent out and I go into a meditative trance as I wait for the author corrections to come in.

As a writer, I understand wanting your work to be presented as professionally as possible. As an editor, I genuinely want the writers we publish to be happy and it is generally not a problem to make changes.  Things get missed and formatting can go awry at times and we’re just glad to give writers the opportunity to address these issues before their work goes live.

That said, I am so very human and making corrections to galleys pushes me to the edge of losing it. There’s something about the process that gets under my skin in the worst way. My reaction is completely irrational and immature. Don’t let this deter you from sending corrections. This is my own bizarre issue, plus we have an assistant editor now who will soon be taking over these duties.

This frustration intensifies when writers use the galley process as an opportunity to revise their work and do so by saying things like, “In the 83rd paragraph, please shift everything from first to third person.” Really, writer? Really? It also makes me sad when writers update their bio two or three times. No one cares about your most recent publication in Aunt PittyPat’s Lemon Tree Review, or I don’t care, or something. Because I hate these corrections so much, I rarely ask editors to modify my work when I see proofs. I try to do unto others. I am sorry for every instance where I request revisions retroactively and well into the future.

When production ramps up for the print issue, I am not fond of dealing with those galleys either. The part I hate the most is splitting the master PDF, using Adobe Acrobat, into 60 or so individual files and then sending those files to the writers. That gets unbelievably time consuming. Fortunately, our copyeditor now handles the PDF splitting. It’s a little thing but sometimes, little things become big pains in the ass.

I also hate having to communicate with printers because I have this pesky quirk where I like to be kept informed about production schedules, projected costs, delivery dates and the like and printers have this pesky quirk where they just don’t give a damn about what we, as the paying client, want. I cannot speak of distribution because we are still suffering (there’s that word again) the deeply traumatic effects of a mail “situation” last year where a couple hundred copies of the magazine were shipped first class by individuals who were angry about having to ship, well, a couple hundred copies of anything even though they had been given fair warning.

You would think a writer whose work was accepted would, perhaps, read the e-mail we send but such is rarely the case. To be fair, that e-mail is a bit long and it contains instructions. As I tell my students when I am teaching technical communication, people hate to follow instructions so when you’re writing instructions you are, essentially, wasting your time. You are writing those instructions to make yourself happy, to enjoy the sound of your own voice. Approach all instruction writing with a sense of futility and you won’t be disappointed. I try to embrace futility when I send an acceptance. In fact, I try to embrace futility in any way I can. It’s for the best.

Speaking of futility, there are the people who submit on a schedule. That is, writers who, as per our request to only submit once a week, submit once every seven days, undeterred by rejection. Now, it is not the frequency of submission that bothers me. Bring it on. Of real concern is the submitting without any thought as to whether or not that submission might be right for PANK. Just because you wrote it means you should submit it and yet that small amount of critical reflection is all too often, completely absent. It disturbs me that a writer has enough unpublished work that they can submit for, say, 38 consecutive weeks. Really. The strangest thing about these habitual submitters is that they will submit the same kind of writing every single time, completely ignoring the feedback we’ve offered trying to explain why a given submission isn’t right for us. It’s as if they’re hoping that sheer will, resolve, and determination will accomplish what their writing cannot.

I am not a fan of cover letters that are addressed Dear Editors or Dear M. Bartley Seigel and Roxanne Gay because my name is spelled with only one N. This is petty of me, yes. We’re all tired of my ranting about this, I know, but it is my name. I don’t have a middle name and everyone makes fun of my last name so I am even more attached than is reasonable to my first name.

A part of my soul blackens when a writer declares, in their cover letter, that they only want their work considered for the print issues. Our standard response: please withdraw your work. When a writer submits a story, knowing full well we respond within two weeks and often less, then withdraws their work in less than 48 hours, a bug crawls right up my ass and lodges itself firmly in those sensitive membranes. You couldn’t wait? Really?

For the editors out there, what editorial tasks take you to the edge?

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  1. Dinty W. Moore, Old Guy

      Roxane, I laughed out loud, right about here: “Really, writer? Really?”

  2. Amber

      The “I need to revise my entire story is that okay?” drives me the most batty. Mostly because I’m too nice to say no.

      This is my other favorite, which happens bizarrely often: I reject a story and get an email back saying the writer is withdrawing the story. Huh? Do people have this fragile of egos and this much ability to create their own realities? Seriously? Are they doing this so they don’t have to record a rejection on Duotrope? Are they mental? Sometimes the “withdrawals” are rude, with the writer saying they’ve thought about it and realize their writing is too good for our magazine, or some such thing. Though, these strange missives don’t burn me up so much as amuse me, honestly.

  3. DW Lichtenberg

      I also find fixing the formatting of LPZ a major issue. Not necessarily because it annoys me to fix, but because it’s all such a rush. My new approach is to not spend too much time formatting things and rely on the authors to proof read before going live. Because I’m not putting as much effort into formatting, I can get the issue out extra early, giving me time to make formatting corrections that I’d probably have to make no matter how closely I wrote the code for the new issue.

  4. P. H. Madore

      Funny, since that last thing is exactly what you did to me. It didn’t bother me so much, though, because I understand that it wasn’t you pulling your work from me but instead someone else accepting it from you.

  5. Robert Swartwood

      As the founding editor of Aunt PittyPat’s Lemon Tree Review, I am insulted. You are mean, Dr. Gay. Mean!

  6. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      Tell your last name it gets better.

  7. Roxane

      Sorry! I try to only submit to 2-3 places at a time to avoid that sort of thing but sometimes it does happen.

  8. christopher.

      I used to misread “awry” as “AW-ree” instead of “uh-RY” because I’m a fucking idiot. Thanks for using that word in this post and reminding me of that.

  9. SCS

      Thanks for your post Roxane, I have questions: what is a good cover letter? Like in Submishsmash they ask for a cover letter, and I don’t want to give TMI, but on the same, I don’t want to be too impersonal to come across like I’m carpet bombing. Do cover letters matter?

  10. Sean

      I was waiting for this one, Roxane.


  11. Trey

      dude, yes. I did that until a friend in high school laughed in my face when I said it out loud. now I hate to hear it.

  12. Brad Green

      They can matter, but not as much as the writing itself. Often people over-explain or provide a biography of their past twenty years. If you’ve read something in the journal that you’re submitting to that rocked your world, I think it’s worth mentioning that, otherwise I believe in keeping it spare. Cover letters take time to read too and there’s little of that already.

  13. christopher.

      I think, given the spirit of mean week, you were supposed to call me a fucking idiot, but the camaraderie I admit is a cooler response.

  14. P. H. Madore

      I think a cover letter is just to disclose the contents and make sure there’s a separate place for contact details. Sort of outdated now.

      Bio lines, however, are the writer’s best friend.

      Sometimes when I do something stupid and laugh at myself, I write down a bio line in this old notebook I have. And every time I send out a story, I’ll include a bio line from that notebook. Sometimes. Other times I feel very egotistic and write four paragraphs. Actually I haven’t done that since I was a kid. People who do that are kids.

  15. Roxane

      HI SCS. As an editor, I love cover letters. I don’t care what’s in them. It makes me feel connected to the writer. I do think it gets uncomfortable when writers list more than six or seven credits because it comes off as pretentious. I also hate when writers say things like, “I’ve been published in more than 100 magazines,” because that also comes off as pretentious. I don’t mind personal sharing at all. Is there such a thing as TMI in a cover letter? Of course, but it doesn’t bother me. There’s a certain sweetness to it. To answer your question more succinctly, cover letters don’t influence whether or not I accept a story but I enjoy reading them.

  16. P. H. Madore

      Six or seven even seems like a lot to me. If I list any, I just list those of which I am recently most proud.

  17. Roxane

      I think that phrase oh so much, Dinty.

  18. Elisa Gabbert

      As an editor I wholly agree that bio updates are annoying, though I do them, for the very reason you cite: Who cares. I also dislike when writers send revisions rather than corrections. Once a writer sent such drastic revisions I didn’t want to publish the new versions; the writer didn’t see the originals as fit to publish anymore, so we had to pull the work. That was crappy.

      My other pet peeve is when I send an acceptance note and they don’t respond, or respond, but without sufficient glee. :)

  19. mimi

      Yeah, you are a fucking idiot.

  20. La Petite Zine

      “Roxane Gay’s use of the word ‘underbelly’ in ‘It’s All Fun and Games Until an Editor Pokes an Eye Out’ reminds me that when Roxane Gay tweets ‘My name is spelled with one N, my name is spelled with one N’ it makes me giggle and puts me in the mood to lift some belly.” -Gertrude Stein

  21. christopher.

      Thank you, mimi. I needed that.

  22. mimi

      You’re fucking welcome.
      Hang on to your seat, it’s Mean Week around here, things’re gonna get ugly.

  23. christopher.

      Oh believe me, I know. Shit’s just warmin’ up.

  24. Chet

      is mean week up already?

  25. Wickerkat

      …and yet, if you turn in a CV they want you to list all of your publishing credits. I just created my first CV as I prepare to finish up my MFA and asked a much more successful friend to send me his as a guide – wow 10 PAGES. And easily 100-150 publications.

      I guess it makes sense to only put a handful of credits, but on the other hand, doesn’t it show that a wide range of editors deemed your work publishable if you list a dozen? But, I guess, I understand what you’re saying too. The writing should just stand on its own, and listing your top 5 or so credits should suffice.

      Good posts, Roxane.

  26. lily hoang

      For CV purposes, I suggest doing a “selected publications” section rather than listing out every single publication, ever. No one wants to read that. They just want to know about the big places. (100-150 publications at online zines no one’s ever read of is less impressive than a 20 solid publications. Plus, 100-150 drown out those 20 good ones. I’d likely dismiss 100-150 out of laziness than comb through it for those solid 20.)

      For cover letter purposes, again, no one wants a huge list. It looks either pathetic or egotistical. And it’s hard to gage which is which. Just my 3 cents on the matter.

  27. N. Bartleby Seagull

      Suck it up, editor, and quite your snivelin’. -N. Bartleby Seagull