Monday, March 16, 2009

Cohen Turns a Cold Eye

Douglas Cohen, assistant editor of Realms of Fantasy, posts about writerly self-pity over at Monstrous Musings. Excerpts:

The very first submission I opened was from someone who submits to us on a fairly regular basis, or at least often enough that I recognize the author's name. I don't believe I've ever given this author more than a standard rejection slip, though I can't be certain about this. In the cover letter, this author proceeded to mention that this cover very well be his/her last submission to us. S/he explains that a few years ago s/he scored a sale, followed soon afterward by another one (neither sale is specified). Since then nada. The author doesn't say it, but based on context it seems fairly obvious that s/he is discouraged and ready to let his/her writing become nothing more than the occasional hobby. …

I am not inside the author's mind, so I don't claim to know his/her exact thought process here. But this also seems a little desperate, an appeal to the heart to get something more than a standard rejection slip. It is almost begging for a reason to keep going.

But as an editor I must judge the story, not the person. My personal feelings don't come into play, unless the author happens to tug my heartstrings through the story itself. Otherwise I'm not doing my job. So I opened the submission, read as much as I needed to, and decided to pass on this. Perhaps I could've scribbled a note on the rejection note. I considered it. But under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have. And to write such a note now would be unfair to the author because who am I to tell this author to keep trying or to give up? That's for the author to decide …
Read the whole thing. Turning a cold eye to a blatant emotional appeal might seem cruel, but is it really? I don’t think so. Cohen rightly concludes that motivation must come from internal, not external, sources. The latter, after all, almost always goes away at some point. Then there’s the matter of professionalism. If you’re feeling fractious and self-pitying, save it for a friend or spouse. I’ve never seen an editor guilted into much of anything.

(Picture: CC 2005 by
[phil h])

4 comments:

Samuel D. Smith said...

This can be very tough stuff, indeed.

I always wonder at people who have the empathy to write deeply human characters, even tender characters, who are still tough enough to take the lumps in the business as well. Rejection. It hurts.

Loren Eaton said...

It really does. I wonder sometimes if the successful folks achieve as much through perseverence as talent. Soldiering on through all the discouragement is a greater achievement than most people recognize.

ollwen said...

Reminds me a little of the art majors who couldn't make the grade in Drawing 101, or the High School stage stars who don't make the cast lists. Devastating? Probably. Necessary? Certainly. But as he said, the motivation must come from within.

Loren Eaton said...

It absolutely has to. I can think of a dozen external reasons to stop writing -- and that's on a good day.