Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Mentor of the Month: Salman Rushdie: Part One: Stuff the Editors Think

"If you read two hundred or so novels, you do begin to notice certain general trends and themes. There was a point at which I said that if read another novel about a young girl beginning to menstruate, I'd scream."
--Salman Rushdie, "The Best of Young British Novelists", Step Across This Line

When you are rejected, it is nothing personal. Unless you've somehow managed to piss off the editor by standing outside his office and hovering while he read every single sentence of your manuscript and you kept saying "Are you done yet? Are you done yet? Areyoudoneyet?" the editor probably doesn't know you from Adam.

What the editor does know: "I just read thirty poems about deer. If I see one more fucking deer poem, I'm going to throw this whole stack of paper against the wall."

Salman Rushdie had the opportunity of sitting on a panel of people to select the up-and-coming list of new novelists. The quote above would be one reaction. I completely understand. When I edited the literary journal for my college...well, let's just say no animal poem fared well. And that was both my prejudice and my prerogative. My magazine, my call.

So, if you're going to write a poem, story, or whatever, just do it to the best of your ability, send it out, and cross you fingers. The person on the other side may be tired of it or not. You don't know until you send it away.

But if you're rejected, don't take it personal. It may have been one squirrel story too many...maybe the next editor will be less bothered. Keep sending it out.


  1. A little while ago, I used to blog on, and my first 3 posts were these raging, steaming insults at the literary and film agency I interned at. I'm not sure about the people in publishing houses, but the agent I worked for, as well as some of the people I interned with, had the collective I.Q. of a used crack needle.

    I must admit that we did get in quite a bit of submissions in all kinds of genres, both fiction and non-fiction, but the set-up there was completely chaotic. I would would at least take the time to read like 3 or 4 pages before making a judgment about someone's work, and sometimes I'd read even more. Other people would read, like, a sentence or 2 and then deem the whole book as "going nowhere". The publishing world should definitely, definitely, shift to the hands of the fans and the writers themselves.

  2. Good point. Most of the editors I know read at least the first couple pages. And even though animal poems didn't do so well with me...I mean, they're *poems*, so it took me all of a minute to read the whole thing and then decide. It doesn't take much to put some effort into it.

    I'd also say there's putting too much effort into some things. If a piece is well-written, it takes more effort to decide whether to jump in with it, so reading more pages is worth the decision. If the first sentence is sooooo grammatically terrible...well, probably better to send them back with a helpful reference book.

  3. During my tenure as short fiction editor at AL, I usually knew within the first paragraph (and often after the first sentence) whether I would take a piece or not. I did read the whole thing since they were only 2,000 words each, hoping for redemption. Some I initially liked would end up shooting themselves in the foot by the end, but I never ever changed my mind about the ones I didn't like at the beginning.

    And only once did giving feedback cause an author to go back, rewrite and submit something that worked. Instead I'd usually get a different story from them that had all the same problems.

    We didn't restrict genres so most of what I got varied in theme. But I wouldn't have published two squirrel stories in the same issue no matter how well written they were. Of course, I don't like squirrels so I probably wouldn't have published one.

    Chipmunks are a different story.

  4. Writing is a world of 10,000 "no thank yous" and 1 "yes."

    We work for that 1 yes.


Fellow thieves! Please feel free to let me know what you've taken from this post - or share pertinent information that you don't mind me stealing.