Writer's Cramps

"Behind the Scenes"

by L. S. King

how this editor does what she does

Yes, me speaking as an editor again. Is this getting old? You tell me. But it says something that despite the writing I'm doing (yes, I'm writing and being editor - I gave up sleeping), the things that are hitting me come from the editorial side.

To the point: I came across some interesting remarks lately about submissions editors and the rejection process, questioning how it was done.

I can't speak for all, but I will give a few insights into how I handle a story.

First I look at any info in the cover letter. Name, title and size of story, teaser, previous stories published. This, hopefully, gives me some indication about the story and author. Or not.

Then I look at the story itself.

I've nagged about this before, but the first thing I do is look at the formatting of the story. Am I anal? Yes. But besides the fact that formatting a document with one-inch margins (what is it with the 1.25" margins - doesn't anyone know what one-inch margins all around means?), standard font, double-spaced, et al, makes it easier for my poor, old (literally, I'm old, folks - a grandmother) eyes to read, when I see a submission properly formatted, then I have a good first impression. Why, you ask? Glad you did: it shows the author pays attention and can follow directions.

Next I start to read. Do I read each submission all the way through?

Depends. I've been a submissions editor on three different zines now, and I don't force myself to keep reading - if the story doesn't catch my attention in the first page or two, I close it and mark it off, whether from bad writing, hokey dialogue, plot - or perhaps what plot, or when-does-the-infodump-stop-and-the-story-start. When that submission queue gets long, believe me, you aren't going to waste your time with a story that doesn't hook you. And if you don't believe that, then go back to Fiction Writing 101 and look up The Hook. So, no. I don't necessarily read the whole thing.

When I do read it all the way through, I go by my gut impression as a reader. Now, I admit, I'm not a reviewer type, or a 'true' editor. I can't go into a story and say, 'This smacks of the irony of Author B, and has a quaint feel of Author K.' Or launch into some grand dissection of the use of theme or this or that. Sorry. I'm not cerebral enough. I go by my stomach and my spine. Does the story make me yawn, or make me feel ill, or make me roll my eyes, or does it make my spine straighten with a 'Wow!' reflex that makes me want to read the story again?

If the last, then the process is done, I put in my vote to buy. But if not, then I have to analyze my impression, try to figure out the 'why?' Sometimes I do. I can go back and see the characters were flat, or the plot was clichéd, or that the writing was too flawed even though the story was decent (probably ask for a rewrite on that one). Sometimes I can't put a finger on it. The story just doesn't work for me.

And that's how I work as a submissions editor. I hope it might help writers just a bit to know how at least one editor approaches submissions. Others may do things differently, and I'd love to see feedback from other editors on the Sword Review Forums.

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© 2005 - 2010 L. S. King