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Editors...the bane of writers

I've been a professional author for over 25 years.

In all that time, I have encountered perhaps four or five genuinely intelligent, well-adjusted, trustworthy, decent editors.  Four or five.  In more than a quarter century of putting words on paper.

The others?

Stupid. Vain. Dishonest. Sub-literate. Incompetent. Mentally ill. Sociopathic.

Not an exaggeration, I assure you.

Take the editor who worked for a major SF/fantasy publisher, a New York institution, one of the most celebrated imprints you'll find. This individual read portions of an early draft of what later became my novel So Dark the Night. She responded within weeks of my submission, excited, wanting to see the rest of the manuscript. I complied, waited, waited...and finally called up 6 weeks later. She was apologetic, said she remembered my book, was anxious to get to it.

Then...nothing.  For two months. So I phoned again and she curtly told me off, said she'd get to it when she'd get to it and that was that. Indeed. Never heard from her again. About four years ago I heard she'd been let go in the latest "down-sizing". Couldn't have been happier. Hope she's living on the street right now, eating out of a fucking dumpster. Some fate befitting her winning personality. Choke on that stale pizza, you hapless cow. And good riddance.

Or how about the individual employed by one of Canada's biggest publishers, an arsehole who kept me waiting for over a year, rarely responding to my queries, finally phoning me to turn down the book.

There was nothing really wrong with the book, it was well-written, engaging: "It's just not the sort of thing we publish." Oh, really? And couldn't she have told me that somewhat sooner? But she wasn't done:

"It's too bad you're not an East Indian writer," she gushed, "they're very hot right now."

"You mean race factors into your editorial decisions?" My wife, who was listening in, said my face had turned grey with fury at that point.

Long pause. She realizes she's in trouble. "Er...no. Ah...of course not. Actually, I was thinking," digging herself even deeper into a hole, "your book, it seems awfully, um, American to me."

Meaning it lacked Canadian place names. Meaning it lacked elements that Canada's cultural poobahs insist must be included in any "real" Canadian artistic offering, an aspect that celebrates our multi-nationalism, gives voice to the oppressed, offers a regional perspective, etc. etc.

Plus, y'know, my novel had an actual storyline, characters that didn't sit around pondering their identities and origins but actually did something.

I think you begin to comprehend why I chose the independent course. Since I started my own imprint in 1990, I see no reason why I have to pander to morons. I work without an editor, publisher or agent. I create and print my own books, distribute them worldwide and don't have to cater to the kind of dunderheads who work like mindless cogs in the big publishing machines of New York/Toronto/London.

I set my own terms and on those occasions when I am contacted, people soliciting my work, I make it clear that I write what I want and no outside input will be accepted. Folks in publishing aren't used to writers talking like that. They HATE the notion of authors empowering themselves, calmly telling traditional publishers and their hired lackeys to take a flying fuck at a rolling hand grenade.

My very last brush with an editor was regarding an anthology of Canadian fantasy stories. Intially, one of my longer works was accepted, then one of the editors phoned me and said that "due to space restrictions, we're going to have to cut your story". Understand, they had already accepted the tale, sung its praises...but then they started having second thoughts and they wanted permission to slash the story, not because ot was overlong or lacking in any way, but simply because they wanted to keep their page count down.

My response was, shall we say, brutal. I told them if they touched one WORD of the story, I would fucking wipe the floor with them. The editor was shocked, voice rising:  "You don't seem to understand. If you don't let us edit it down, we're not accepting it."

"No," I countered, "you don't understand. I'm pulling the fucking story. I don't want it appearing in your piece of shit anthology. Fuck you, fuck the two of you."

I know most writers don't behave this way. Most writers are gutless, simpering assholes who would sell their grandmother's walker to get their name in a book. They are pathetic, craven and beneath contempt.

Sometimes editors deserve respect. Most often than not, they require nothing more than a right hook to the face and a knee to the groin. Editors are scum. Agents are scum. Publishers are scum.

That's how we end up with shit like Fifty Shades of Grey and its ilk.

Welcome to contemporary publishing.

I opted out years ago.

Maybe it's time you did the same.

9 Comment count
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Wow, Cliff, you've had some bad experiences. Still, I winced when I read your post, because I am an independent editor (fiction, screenplays, children's books) and have received nothing but praise for my work. (I can back up my claim with emails and messages.) My writers appreciate my efforts, which are always to improved their work, while maintaining their voice. Please don't lump me into your hated category. I truly respect writers and only want to help them as best I can. There are good editors out there. Promise.

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Thanks, Jodi

I appreciate what you're saying but my experiences with editors, while not uniformly bad, have definitely given me the impression that, as a species, they are somewhere below one-celled amoebas on the evolutionary scale.

When an editor interferes with an author's work, inflicts their own (stupid) criteria and (insipid) biases and has the power to impose their ridiculous views, you have the makings of disaster.

Editors, at best, should be proof-readers, line editors, checking spelling, looking for repeated words or phrases. If a writer requires more than that, their manuscript is nowhere NEAR ready and should be sent back to the drawing board.

I hope you'll understand, my post was really about writers using the new technologies (like print on demand and blogging) to empower themselves and place themselves beyond the reach of fools.

I have no doubt you're a fine person and a conscientious editor. I'm sure you know your place and don't try to rise above your station. Modesty and tact are hallmarks of a terrific editor. Keep up the good work.

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This hit some truths with me.

This hit some truths with me. I had a call from a producer in July asking for scripts. I finally got around to them and emailed him to tell him that I had the material. As your blog reveals, he never got back to me. I am raging. I put alot of time and effort into them. What I would like to know is how these people get to where they are? Do they get a degree? Or they qualified? How do they achieve the power? I have met many decent people in the business over the years but then, there are the ones who seem to relish abandoning you, almost as if they know you are a vulnerable, sensitive writer. I like your position. It is honest and real. A pity more writers don't give voice to the topic as you have, in such an eloquent and passionate way. Happy day. m

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I completely empathize

God, Mary, you're in tough--film places even MORE power in the hands of producers and reduces the writer's role to that of mere peon. Completely at the whim of people who hire folks to read FOR them (or to them), gits with the I.Q. of cucumbers and morals of snakes.

One of my novellas was optioned by a L.A. company specializing in horror films. The first contract they sent me was unacceptable and I said so (they literally tried to get all rights, including exclusive rights to the original story). Then the next contract they zipped my way pared away at the money--instead of a "minimum" of X number of dollars based on the budget, they subsituted "maximum". So my potential money was capped regardless of any changes to the budget.

I went ballistic. Unfortunately, the lawyer representing the film company made the mistake of calling me from Los Angeles, positive that I'd be delighted by their cute exercise, just happy to accept whatever shit they handed me.

I sent my wife and young sons out of the room and then I proceeded to flay that greasy motherfucker alive. He kept spluttering "You can't say that! You can't say that!" as I went into detail as to what I would do to him and the producers if they were ever in the same room as me.

The contract was re-written to my satisfaction (I had the advantage of a sample contract I had secured from the Writers Guild of America ahead of time) and the onerous clauses were hastily withdrawn. The film was never made but I kept my dignity and reinforced my reputation as the most dangerous writer these asswipes had ever encountered.

Never let them take away your soul or self-esteem, chum. No matter what they promise you.

And good luck.



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Cliff, actually my scripts

Cliff, actually my scripts were for radio! But nevertheless a painful rejection process. Thanks for filling me in on what sounds like a horrendous experience. Still, I have to believe good wins out in the end. m

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Love radio drama. LOVE it. Old time radio is on regular rotation in my home office. BBC drama whenever I can find it.

I wrote a piece a few years back that was aired nationally on CBC Radio; it's  still one of my faves.

So, I guess I'm saying...write on.

Keep the faith & stay frosty.

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Frosty? Now Cliff that is a

Frosty? Now Cliff that is a big request. No way. I have to remain calm and collected at all times lest I drown the creative spirit. You must know all about that. I love radio too. I used to listen to NPR when I lived in the States. It kept me sane. m

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Ol' W.B.

I sense you're a bright lass. Anyone who would use that Yeats quote on their site is okay in my books.

Keep at it, never retreat, never surrender.

(One last word: I use Garageband and my home office to record and create spoken word tracks with ambient music. It's like having my own little studio and, again, I bypass producers and the like. Just a thought.)

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Well, Garageband sounds

Well, Garageband sounds interesting. Will check it out. And what can I say about Yeats? He was a man after my own soul and many others who chose/choose to read him. Thanks, best and good luck. Thanks for the words. m