Thursday, March 11, 2010

True Professionals

I may catch some flack for this post, but I really don’t care. The content needs said, and I am more than willing to say it.

Someone once asked why I invite “big name authors” to contribute to my projects rather than allowing more slots for up-and-comers. I tried to be diplomatic in my answer, hoping not to come across as the jackass I really am (just ask my wife). So, I replied with something that sounded nice, sweet, and non-caloric.

Well, I would like to answer that question a little more openly here.

The reason I like working with “big name authors” is because I know I’ll be working with professionals.

I don’t have to worry about egos, petty crap, or prima donnas crowing endlessly about messing with their art. I know that sounds bass-ackwards, but it’s true. The “problem authors” I’ve had to deal with (or pacify) while working as an anthologist or editor, has primarily been first time or up-and-coming writers.

You see, if I LOVE a professional’s story but ask for changes, I don’t get hostility, resentment, or a flame war, I get the story I want with true professional cooperation. The professional wants to work with the editor or publisher, not fight them. That doesn’t mean a professional will not disagree over certain points, but it means each will work together to produce the strongest piece possible…without the attitude.

Let me say this, too. The problem children—the loudest crowers—are by far less talented than those I call professionals. This is my opinion, but I swear I see it on a consistent basis. And by the way, professionals are not all “big name writers” per se…they are merely professionals. I know and have worked with many professionals that do not have the “big name” tagged on them.

And while I’m at it, let’s talk about submission guidelines.

The true professional stays within the guidelines, straying very little…and when he or she veers slightly from the path, I can see why and usually agree with them.

I edited an anthology with Mark Justice called Appalachian Winter Hauntings where the theme was (plainly stated in the guidelines) Christmas ghost stories set in the Appalachian region of the United States. Our first submission was not only set in Oregon (as far from the Appalachian region as one can possibly get and yet remain in the Continental US), but also had NOTHING to do with Christmas, or any other holiday for that matter.

I have yet to put together a project where I have not had to deal with this in mass quantity, and I don’t understand it. Do the writers think the editor or publisher will forget what he or she is asking for and take anything coming in? Or do they just not read the guidelines?

A friend recently took on his first editing job with a themed anthology and I warned him he would get similar submissions. I don’t think he really believed me, but he recently called me with the news that he’d already experienced this phenomenon…and his submissions are not even officially open yet!

While I’m at it, I’ll also mention that within MINUTES of posting the submission guidelines for Appalachian Winter Hauntings, I received the non-Christmas ghost story set in Oregon. Of course this told me I would be reading a trunk story, and I would not be dealing with a professional.

If you really want to be treated like a professional, then you must write, work, and act like one.

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  1. You mean Mt Hood isn't part of Appalachia? Who knew?

    Well said and I hope you get some great stories for your next antho from those lesser known writers. I will not be one of them as I know little of the culture of the coal mine and so it would be a waste of both of our time.

  2. I remember one author who argued with me over a polite rejection for a back and forth of at least 5 emails (from him) telling me how horrid I was, and how sorry I'd be for this when he was a bestseller. That belligerence never made sense to me. Even when you're nice, some folks will find a way to take offense.

  3. I concur with this phenomenon in my own experience. As an editor I began quite idealistically, and spent time responding to submissions personally, with notes. It became clear in time that although authors "say" they want feedback, very few can handle it.

    A professional approach from both sides of a story (editor/writer) can make a world of difference.

  4. This reminds me of American Idol--where the contestants who most loudly proclaim their superior singing abilities tend to be the ones who show up in pathetic costumes and whose voices bring to mind cats in pain.

    I would agree with you that a seasoned author is one who is willing to take suggestions with grace. The ability to accept real critique must be learned, and if someone can not do that it's a sure sign they are at the beginning of their writing journey.

    I have to say I didn't realize so many writers disregard guidelines like that! Very interesting. My guess would be that many of them DON'T read guidelines, or they are just so desperate to sell the story they are blanket-sending it to anything open.

    Great post!

  5. Why must enema bags posing as normal human beings ruin it for the rest of us? Why, oh why?

  6. very interesting post. thank you.