Thursday, September 23, 2010

The All-Knowing and other snarky tales

While taking a break from grading papers last night, I began shopping for online journals that accept electronic submissions. I found a journal indicating on their submissions page that: "...And if you really want to piss us off, you should probably take a look at Joe Konrath’s “How Not To Write A Story,” and then go ahead and do everything on the list."

A rhetorical challenge, then? For some, the gauntlet would be thrown. For me? Um, no thanks.

I went to see exactly what constituted high annoyance for these editors. I had already determined the tone of the guidelines indicated that to submit to this journal was, ultimately, a set up for failure, and therefore, a waste of time. Why? Based on the word choice, why would I expect my manuscript to be read with anything but immediate disdain, and perhaps even disrespect?

Mais, non? Then prove me wrong.

I wonder, too, if these editors, who are likely also writers, have been treated this way by other editors and have learned to deal with it by passing this behavior on. Understand that I'm not intending this to be a snarky post myself. It's just something I've noticed, and it's a little disheartening and also reflects the attitude of the nation at large. Sure, there are a lot of people writing who maybe shouldn't, but does that mean we should make them the butt of snarky commentary? About a year ago, I was at a table with a group of writerly folk. During our chatter, one editor passed her iPhone around over our martini glasses and laughed about how bad the writing was. Of course, I wasn't the brunt of the joke, but it still hurt my feelings anyway. Someone cared about that piece of writing, and I felt for them. I could not laugh--even with half a Manhattan in me.

Here is the post by J.A. Konrath, a thriller writer.

And here was my comment. I spent more time on this than I actually had last night, but I felt somewhat better after sending it through.

"While these may be helpful points-- and, of course, I have not read the stories that were so abysmal (so that I might share your annoyance)--I suppose it makes me a little sad to see this kind of negative commentary on a professional activity that probably meant a great deal to the writers who submitted. While I respect your opinions on the subject, so much of editing is subjective: you like stories to start with conflict. I and a few other editors happen to like description and, figuratively speaking, a survey of the landscape. Sometimes these approaches aren't handled well, but it doesn't mean I would say to a writer 'don't ever do this--ever'. To create a list of ‘absolutely-do-not-do-evers’ seems to impose a narrow and (forgive me for saying this) condescending take on literary output. Naturally, as judge, this is your prerogative, but let's not forget that works like Orwell's _Animal Farm_ had animals as protagonists and seemed to be received fairly well. Granted, there may not have been any Orwells in the bunch, but maybe we can focus on the positives: what more successful approaches might you suggest instead?"

So why has respect and civility gone the way of the Do-Do? Are the submissions so plentiful and now so bad that they deserve a hostile reception? Granted, I've seen some doosies myself as an editor, but I would never denegrate them. So, should I be? What, to teach them a lesson in humility? If I were to do that, maybe it's I who would need a lesson in humility.

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