In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and small publisher Alan Baxter discusses coping with conflicting feedback.
Submitting work for publication is a complete lottery. But it’s a lottery we can stack in our favour. The simple fact is that publication comes from a variety of efforts. I wrote a piece before about what I considered the essential factors in success. It basically boils down to dreams, talent, determination, friends and luck. All of which you can develop. Or, as my writerly friend Angela Slatter said recently, you have to appease “the Gods of Writing (also known as Fear, Famine and F**k-you).” You’ll see a post from Angela soon, where she says that, and you’ll know what I’m on about.
[Publetariat Editor’s Note: post contains strong language]
Anyway, the reason I bring this up now is because I had an experience recently which helps to highlight how we can develop those essential criteria of success. It comes down to interpretation, and seeing through the incandescent veil of ego to the reality behind our work.
I recently had a short story submission rejected by an editor who said, and I paraphrase, “This is a great story, but I felt the lack of an explanation of the relationship between X and Y let it down.”
Fair enough, thought I. That’s something to consider. After all, we should always carefully consider any editorial feedback we get. We don’t have to take any advice, but it behoves us to at least consider the comments. I reread the story. Thought about it. Put aside my internal princess and accepted that perhaps the editor had a point.
I addressed the point, developed, within the story, the relationship between X and Y, in order to smooth out that narrative issue. I sent the story out into the wild again.
The next editor rejected it. This editor said, and again, I paraphrase, “Great story, really enjoyed it, but I felt it slowed down with the unnecessary explanation of the relationship between X and Y.”
My first reaction, naturally, was something like, “What the shit, editors!? What the fuck is wrong with you people!? Can’t you decide on what you want? Can’t you see the beauty within this story, the exquisite nuance of X and Y and what that means for my protagonist?”
That, of course, was my internal princess throwing a hissy fit, wearing her biggest veil of incandescent ego. The only way we get anywhere in this game is to give that aspect of ourselves a moment’s freedom (so we don’t explode, and always in the privacy of our own boudoir), then rein it in and say, “Calm the fuck down and have a proper look.”
The truth is, I’m sure both editors are right. I’m the one with the problem. Editor A was right that the relationship between X and Y needed better explanation. It’s not a romantic relationship, by the way, simply the nature of two characters and how they affect and reflect each other and therefore the protagonist.
Editor B was also right. Not because that relationship didn’t need to be explained, but because I probably made something of a hack job of doing it. I can choose to be prissy about it, or I can choose to be a grown-up and learn from it. Develop my craft. Improve my story. I choose life.
So I need to develop that aspect of the yarn in a better, more professional way. I’ll work on that now and hopefully editor C will see the shining gem that I’ve polished into existence and offer me buckets of cash to publish it. Maybe not, but we have to keep believing or we’d just curl up and die. Or go and get a different job. And honestly, hard and unforgiving as it is, being paid to make shit up is the best freaking job in the world. What’s important is learning and growing and never thinking we’re some special snowflake.
So now I’m off to sort that story out. And then get back to editing the next novel, which was recently eviscerated by the aforementioned Angela Slatter. Man, that woman is a harsh critter. But she’s also an excellent writer and knows her shit. Off I go to learn some more.