editing by gut


One thing I’m beginning to realize as a fiction editor of a litmag: so much is arbitrary. I have always known that “subjectivity” reigns the literary world…but boy oh boy, it’s another thing to be part of that subjective machine.

I’ve got my rubric for screening the slushpile. I don’t expect a Pushcart Prize worthy story–but there has to be something SPECIAL about the piece that catches my eye. It can be a craft element that that story just hits out of the ballpark, or an idea that has never been tackled before, or language that makes me feel like someone is running fingers through my hair. I’ve got my rubric. And it makes sense to me.

The pieces also have to have a lot of heart. I am truly beginning to see how much a manuscript can say about the human being behind the piece.

But in the end, it’s an entirely subjective process, one that I determine. That’s a wieldy amount of authority. I’m not all that comfortable with that position, but so be it. It’s been a learning experience.

Cover letters–wow. I’ve learned my lesson about those. I accepted a piece with a cover letter that was obnoxious times one hundred. It was filled with boasting. But my editor suggested I take a second look at the manuscript…and I was low on accepted pieces (rotten excuse)…and I thought there might be a little something special about the piece even though I find it hard and glinty in spots.

And what the hey–I accepted it. I took a risk.

Turns out the writer is like the cover letter. It’s been interesting corresponding with the person–boy oh boy. The writer’s correspondence makes me regret my decision to accept the manuscript.

Going to follow my gut next time. I guess it’s not so arbitrary in the end.



Filed under Publishing, Writing

5 responses to “editing by gut

  1. I’d love to know more about your rubric. I agree that it’s mostly a very subjective process.

  2. Eve

    I think it was Maya Angelou who said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” It’s good to know that your gut instincts are working just fine, huh?

    Interesting, reading a bit about your editorial perspective. I’m so glad you approach your work with such sincerity. That’s good for writers.

  3. Schmoo

    “language that makes me feel like someone is running fingers through my hair”

    I love that!

  4. I can’t wait to read the first issue you’ve edited! I’ll be keeping an eye out.

    How do you keep your cover letter from boasting? I guess listing accomplishments is just the norm, and not boastful, but I’d hate to put people off with a cover note.

    No, but seriously, I think I tend to go in the other direction… I have a hard time plugging myself and saying the good things. Arrogance really puts me off. But I think insecurity, of which I’m very guilty, is probably pretty annoying too.

  5. Susan: will share it with you in person!

    Eve: Well–the one thing I am VERY conscious of, as I read through the slushpile, is the intense amount of effort involved in producing the manuscripts. As a writer, I respect that tremendously, and so I try to take some care.

    Schmoo: thx. 🙂

    nova: I hope it’s good–I tried to pick pieces that took risks somehow. I feel it’s a different bent than the previous editors took.

    I think listing accomplishments is fine–but boasting is boasting–it’s full of adjectives (LOTS of adjectives–and in this particular case, it was pretty hilarious). If you keep out the adjectives out of your self description, I think you’re well within the line.

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