Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Many Perspectives of Editors

I've been debating about posting this since it involves posting editor's comments, and from personal experience, less secure editors can't help but email you about it (yes, this really happened once). However, this time I can turn it into a learning experience, specifically: every editor has a unique perspective.

For the veterans out there, you probably know this already: Editors are hard to please, and there's no pleasing all of them. But for the newbies, take note!

Last month, I subbed a humor sci-fi tale to a market. Initially, the first reader liked it, however, when it hit the appropriately named "Death Panel"...well, this was their various responses.

Death Panelist #1:
I didn't thrill to this at all.  While I'd like to consider myself studied enough to say there's a lack of solid timing and pacing with the jokes and humor, I'm a flubbering nub when it comes to technical rigor.  It could be the comedic timing's off, but what I've identified as my "can't get over" flaw is the voice.  The first thing that made for a unpleasant read was the reader invitational through the fourth wall, into a world I really can't conceive.  It'd be easier to walk beside the protag as it were in a conventional world, but when we're throwing up guard-screens, diving off balconies and flying up to giant domes and the potential cracks therein on a rocket pack, then it gets to be something a little more harder to visualize then jumping out of the Volkswagon Beetle and finding gum wrappers.  The second thing that was a definite, identifiable problem for me was the protagonist is really all over the place, and never really takes herself seriously.  Having a genuine motivation (which she does) isn't the same as seriously, believeably working towards her goal.  Where's her fear of failure, of getting shot, of falling?  If she doesn't take herself seriously, the audience can't take her seriously.  Ironic in comedy, I know... but nonetheless true.    

Death Panelist #2:
Hmmm, some funny stuff here. It reminds me of some of the stuff Harry Harrison used to write. not as rip roaring funny as I like but not bad.

Death Panelist #3:
I vote no - I couldn't get into this one either. (Of possible
relevance, it always takes me about 30 pages to get into books written
in present tense, so that may have been part of the problem.)
 Death Panelist #4:
I felt like the writing was a bit hard to follow in some places and didn't really think there was much "to" the story.

As the saying goes: give a story to ten readers and you'll receive eleven different opinions. But don't get discourage if one or two or a dozen editors don't "get" your story; I think there's an editor out there for every story, it just takes some time to find them. Doubly so for humor, which has a tough time tickling editors' funny bones.


  1. Most editors are wannabe writers themselves, as you well know, but the feedback can be beneficial if it's constructive. That's why I keep submitting to Triangulation and Shimmer -- ALWAYS helpful critiques from those markets.

    "Flubbering nub" -- now that's worth filing away for a future story...

    1. *snerk* That's true--some aren't even writers at all. However, I don't think these comments were to be critiques; just the reason(s) why the story didn't work for them.

      I'm thinking of saving the first death panelist's comment in my personal archive because it amuses me so.

  2. All feedback is good.

    Humour is always a difficult one to crack as it's more subjective than most. What makes one person laugh will amuse another and horrify a third.

    Just keep at it.

    1. Actually, I consider this feedback to be near worthless, lol. No offense to the editors, but this is just their opinions. Which is fine, we all have our own idea of what makes a "good" story, but I wouldn't confuse their comments with feedback.

  3. I just wrote my first humor story and I'm more nervous about it than any of my other recent pieces. It's just nothing I've ever really attempted before, but when I got the idea it just seemed the only place for it. Humor is so damned subjective, I suppose I'll consider it a miracle if it places. :P

    Anywho, awesome post. Thanks for the incite.

    1. No problem. :) It saddens me that humor is so difficult to place, because I really do love to write humorous material (as well as read it). But if there's no market for it, then what's the point of writing it?

  4. a unpleasant read?" I are illiterate?

    Humor's tough, but when editors quibble about the use of the present tense to drive the story you're in for trouble. It means they're painfully left brained (not the most creative place to be,) handle the here & now in their own lives by constantly comparing it to the past. Might want to pass of this market unless it's a feather you really want in your war bonnet.

    A general note on editor’s critiques, especially non-professional editors: they’re rarely helpful; usually euphemisms for not for me. If there is something seriously wrong with your writing, it’s nice to know. As for the subjective stuff, especially from those whose own credentials go from dubious to self-serving: think gorilla hammering on his chest.


  5. Haha, you're very right. I've found most editors' comments to be useless or unhelpful, some even down right rude.

    It's good to know what a editor likes or dislikes, so you have a better chance of getting in. But involving first readers and panel readers winds up convoluting the process. I can't gauge what all these editors like, and as I've heard, this panel rarely agrees. What one likes, another probably hates.

    btw distanceswimmer, your words remind me of my writing guru--also a very wise man. I can see him saying something along those lines.