After attempting to edit an anthology myself and failing miserably, I have a deep appreciation and respect for anthology editors and the work they do to compile a cohesive yet varied collection of stories that will be salable and, to one extent or another, feature something to everyone’s taste.
They often have to cull through hundreds of stories on a single call. And sometimes, when they make those calls, their choices are over-ridden by the publisher’s editors. They don’t always have the final say over the cover, and yet are expected to be responsible for the sales of that book, most of its promotion, etc. It’s a hefty undertaking and many anthology editors have a day job, too, which means that making their choices is, by necessity, a slow process.
Yesterday, both Alison Tyler (Writers Fucking Writers) and Sommer Marsden (Don’t Shit Where You Eat) posted blogs about the difficulties of editing anthologies and how much grief some writers have caused them.
And yes, you might say: ‘hey, that’s the job. If you don’t like it, don’t do it.’ But that would be a genre slitting its own throat. As Alison says – editors are human. If you expect an editor to be sensitive and empathic enough to recognize a good story when she or he reads one, then why would you expect them to be insensitive about being publicly insulted or privately harassed? These aren’t optimal working conditions for ANY editor. Cut them some slack. Otherwise, no one will be publishing any short erotica that has gone through a thorough editing process at all. And the plethora of unedited crap coming out under the banner of ‘erotica’ is not doing our genre any favours at all. These people are saving our communal genre butts.
Okay, now, from the writer’s viewpoint:
I’m honestly stunned to hear that editors get nasty letters from writers whose stories have not been included in a book. I’ve had my fair share of rejection emails and I always take them as a blessing.
Honestly, do you really want a piece of your not so good writing immortalized in print? Once it’s out there, there’s no retracting it. There’s only cringing over it as the years go by and you improve and recognize its flaws. Personally, I have a couple of stories I’ve heartily regretted having published. There’s no taking them back. They eat away at my pride.
Sometimes your piece just doesn’t fit the editor’s concept of the theme call. You’re submitting one piece of a puzzle, but readers consume the book as a cohesive work. And, believe me, you don’t want your piece sticking out like an irrelevant sore thumb in an antho. It feels like shit. So be grateful for the near miss and find a better fit for your story. I submitted a piece last year and was almost fucking relieved when I got the rejection letter, because on consideration, it just wasn’t good for the antho. She saved my butt. Truth.
On the other hand:
The length of time it is now taking anthology editors to accept or reject stories is edging, to my mind, on the ridiculous. I absolutely understand their workload. I do. And yet having a piece tied up without word for a year (which has happened more than once to me) is growing increasingly untenable. This isn’t a threat, but I write to be read. It’s my primary motivation. The kind of money being paid per story on erotic anthologies simply isn’t enough to buy a year in the ‘maybe’ pokey. I recently submitted a story to an anthology and was later informed that it would take 10 months to find out if it would be accepted. I decided that was too long for me. I wrote back to the editor and very politely asked them to pull it from the submissions pile.
I really don’t know what the solution is to this one, but the self-pubbing revolution (especially the ability to pub shorter work and novellas) is going to take a considerable toll on the amount of good writing going into editors’ submission piles. It is commonly assumed that the major motivation for this is financial, but I’d guess the spectre of a protracted waiting period is also playing a significant part in the decision.
Even when you get accepted, you’re not always accepted. I once got an acceptance letter to an anthology I very much wanted to be in, only to find, when it was published, that my story wasn’t included. A simple ‘ack, sorry, not this time’ letter, would have been polite. I know editors are busy, but they’re busy with our material. A modicum of mutual respect is not too much to ask for.
Sadly, there is a midset that sometimes emerges with some editors. Being the gatekeepers to publication, especially in print, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that raw material they are working with is someone else’s labour of love (it certainly isn’t a labour of money). The power dynamic can get out of hand.
Witness Alison’s “How to make Me Want to Fuck You” post. I have nothing but respect for Ms. Tyler and she is both a wonderful erotica writer and an exceptional anthologist. However, I won’t agree to having my pen name changed and I’m no less busy than she is, so my bio is probably not going to arrive in five minutes. Although it is not a concern for me, some writers cannot accept certain forms of payment, so unless an editor wants to risk a writer turning around and requesting that their story be withdrawn, it may be smart to state, up-front, how you pay for them.
If I have to be honest, that post is why I have never submitted anything to any of her calls. There are many far, far better writers submitting to her anthologies; my work will not be missed by her or the readers of her anthologies. But for me, it’s an issue of personal principle: I only engage in that sort of power imbalance with lovers.
(Alison Tyler also wrote a post from the POV of the writer here: http://alisontyler.blogspot.com/2008/03/how-to-get-me-wet.html)
So, as Sommer would say, I am one of those awful writers that Shit Where They Live. Or rather, I care about the environment of where I live. I care, very passionately, about the genre as a whole and I like to see it kept respectful.
Meanwhile, although it boggles my mind why anyone would give a bad review or star rating to an anthology they were accepted in, I think it’s pretty unethical to review or rate an anthology you appear it at all. Alison’s generalized complaint that erotica writers shouldn’t ‘tear each other down’ with a bad review needs to be explored a little further. Because I don’t think we are doing ourselves or our genre any favours by failing to point out really awful writing when it occurs. In fact, I would say that, if this genre needs anything, it needs a good deal more critique than it’s had in the past. Most good writers of erotica are voracious readers and fairly decent critics, too. By suggesting that no one should ever give a fellow writer a bad review, we’re condemning our genre to permanent ridicule. I’m not certain that’s what she meant, but that’s what it read like to me.
I do think, however, that we need to be skilled critics. If you’re going to pan a novel, for god’s sake discuss its structure, its character development, its lack of good descriptive writing or implausible conflicts, its reliance on cliche or formula. What we need in this genre is genuine literary critique, not vicious, bitchy infighting.
Anthology editors are the engine of this genre. They do a bloody hard job and they do it well. For the most part, the job is pretty thankless and yields little in the way of significant remuneration. So, Sommer Marsden, Alison Tyler, Rachel Kramer Bussel, D.L. King, Alessia Brio, M. Christian, Maxim Jakubowski, Violet Blue, (and all the others I’ve been too braindead to remember), I salute you and I thank you for your amazing work.
Stories are the raw material of this genre. Writers deserve to be treated as an essential part of it. They deserve your respect even when they send you pieces that don’t fit your call, because they can’t read minds anymore than you can. Just because you’re working with bronze instead of marble today, doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate a nice chunk of marble. And you may need some at a later date.
The goal, ultimately, is to publish excellent work within our genre. That should be a single aim we can all agree on. And for that to be sustainable, mutual respect and an acknowledgement of the value each party brings to the table is essential.