Confessions of a submissions editor, writer, editor, reviewer, and critic

Last Sunday the Chicago Tribune Arts & Entertainment section titled it’s theme “Amateur hours: When everybody is an artist, what happens to the art?” It featured writers reviewing the seismic changes taking place in the arenas of television, dance, pop music, theater, jazz, movies, books, classical, architecture, and art.

Of course my big interest is in books so I’ll spend my time concerned with Julia Keller’s articles, (Regretfully, to access these you’ll need to register with the Trib
first, and they’re probably only accessible for free this week.)
Hey bartender I’ll have the dizzy fizz” and “Everyday Shakespeares a click away with technology”  Julia writes in the second piece that, “the proliferation of first-rate bloggers is vivid proof that the world is filled with exquisite writers” and then in what I regard for myself as triumphant justification for what I do: “Many blogs are better than many published books.” Yessss! She’s so right of course! Insert the grin of a Cheshire cat here. Nevermind that she hasn’t seen my blog. I’ll still accept the compliment.

But I can’t get over her final words:

Trouble is, the sheer blizzard of undifferentiated stuff out there will ultimately work against, not for, new voices. If everyone’s a poet, then nobody is. As Flannery O’Connor put it, when asked if writing schools stifle writers: “They don’t stifle enough of them.”

I agree, but I’m not sure this “sheer blizzard” is a bad thing. Call it a blizzard, or noise, or whatever, but hopefully it will make us more discerning users, more deliberate and careful in our choices. Writing, poetry, music, video, they are all mediums for creativity in flux, and this flux is slowing changing or adapting our tastes.

I’m that person that many would be published authors fear. In my job I’m the guy that receives the mail and peers through their book submission and then passes judgment. I once envisioned a funny cartoon to explain the angst involved in my job. A little girl brings her favorite puppy to this older, balding, bespectacled man and hands it to him to make pretty and famous. He smiles and takes it in his hands, gives it a good look and then promptly dashes it to the ground and stomps on it with his big heavy boot. The little girl of course is traumatized for life. Then the man picks up the puppy and discards it in a “puppy bin” where identical or similar puppies all have their eyes “x”ed out. (I submitted this cartoon idea to my neighbor who has had his stuff published in magazines. The irony is that I don’t think he has the heart to tell me “No.”)

But what these writers who recieve my rejection letters will never know is that I too am a writer. I too care about what people think about my writing. I would hope that they don’t give up when they get my form rejection letter. A rejection very often does not mean the work is not good. It just means that my little publisher can’t afford the project, or that it doesn’t fit our audience, or that the timing is just off. In a way, acceptance can be more painful for the writer than rejection. Acceptance means scheduling your life on someone else’s timetable for the duration of the project. A “Yes” can mean an impossible “and right now!” or “wait another painful year.” Either way, in my opinion, writing takes patience, hard work, and deliberate patience.

Another hat I wear is that of “editor.” Editing is both mechanical and artful. In the world today, the rules get bent to breaking all the time, depending on the writer or the medium. The bottom line is always effective communication, but the editor has to think look at each written piece at face value. It takes a fair amount of people skills to relate to an author regarding “their baby” in an inoffensive, disarming, and yet functional way. I’m not sure I’ve always done it well. Never yet had a fist fight or been hung up on, if that means anything. Maybe that says more for our authors’ people skills.

Finally, I’ve written my fair share of music, book, and even film reviews, and I’m always more than willing to be a critic. So I guess I see that it comes full circle. “If everyone’s a poet, than no one is” but what about when everyone’s a critic? Isn’t any creative activity itself a desire for criticism–or peer review? I’ve found that the internet is a great place to “write on the wall,” but for real peer review one has to get published and be a part of some sort of serious academic community. The internet, in my experience, doesn’t seem to attract deep conversations. Does the General Market foster real community? I guess that’s always been the question now hasn’t it? In my humble opinion, the community it wants has one end in mind: your money—and not just your money, but your repeat business.

technorati tags:, , , , , , ,


Leave a comment

Filed under books

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s