Demand Respect (Writing Horror Story)

Before we begin, no matter how long you’ve been writing, hie thee to these two excellent resources for vetting publishers, editors, agents and other professionals:
Writer Beware
The Absolute Write Water Cooler

I came across this horror story on Facebook, shared by F. Paul Wilson.

The short version:
Writer submits to an anthology, signs contract, never receives her comp copy; a friend mails her a copy at considerable expense, and she finds her title has been changed with a typographical error to “She Make’s Me Smile,” and a superfluous scene of animal abuse, a suggestion of rape, and other edits have been made without her approval. She writes to the editor, saying in polite terms, “What the hell?”

Her questions, paraphrased (If this was me, it would make Chuck Wendig’s colorful vulgarian exclamations seem tepid):

1- Why there was a mistake in the title
2- Why my bio was shortened? There were much longer ones (like his own) so it wasn’t for space issues.
3- Why the story was changed?

The publisher’s response:

lets see.on the contract, it clearly says publisher has the right to EDIT work. you signed it. are you saying you are a dishonest and immoral person and will now try to deny you signed the contract? well i have a copy right hereand as for the story. the editor had a hard time with it, it was very rough and he did alot to make it readable. despite what you think, your writing has a long way to go before its worthy of being printed professionally.we did what we had to do to make the story printable. you should be thankful, not complaining. ah, the ungrateful writer, gotta love it

Now, writers can be a touchy lot. We are very eager to see our work in print. Not everyone responds to edits in a professional manner, but you do NOT make edits without approval unless they are correcting typographical errors, streamlining usage to the publisher’s stylebook, or other minor changes. And you do not write your own paragraph to insert into someone’s story and call it an edit. It is not an edit, it is a collaboration. Or in this case, a defacement.

This is the added paragraph. If you read Ms. DeGeit’s post, you will notice that she intentionally made her character gender neutral; the editor made him male, and sexually aroused by an animal getting beaten. This isn’t a “this line is awkward, can you reword this?” or a “Can you give us a little background as to why this character beats his dog?” It’s “I’ve decided your character is male, and to give him this backstory.”

“Something strange happened then. I recalled a moment when I was a boy. I was playing in my backyard when the dog in my neighbor’s yard escaped through an open gate. My neighbor, an elderly man who lived alone and spoke in a thick accent (I later discovered that is was German), managed to corral the dog back into his yard. I watched, fascinated as the man ripped his long black belt from the loops at his waist and brought it down with a hellish fury upon the dog’s back. The dog slunk down and rested it’s head upon its paws, resigned to its fate. Why didn’t it fight back? Why didn’t it bite the hand of the master?
With the only friend I ever truly had writhing between my legs, I became aroused.”

Ugh. For one, this is just awful writing, and awful characterization. If you want someone to be erotically aroused by animal abuse, it does not happen from seeing your neighbor do it once. May I recommend this fine article, if you want to incorporate this sort of life-changing event in a disturbed character’s life: Frenzy, at Alice Miller’s site.) But it doesn’t matter if it was brilliant; this is not Mrs. DeGeit’s work. This isn’t an edit, it is an insertion, without approval. The lack of professionalism in his response is galling. Pluck smash!!

Now, I’ve had edits I don’t like. I had one editor cut the first five paragraphs of a story. It was one of my first publications, of a very profane and silly story about four metalhead stoners who become the horsemen of the apocalypse. I hastily signed the contract, didn’t see the attachment, and missed the edits. And I did complain upon publication, and the editor pointed me to the previous email, and he was right. I didn’t complain publicly, because they did not rewrite my work, they trimmed it. I promoted the story to my readers without grumpiness, and I submitted the “unexpurgated” version to another zine, which accepted it without edits, and even had their artist make a nifty illustration:
Not with a Bang, but a Squeaker, at Schlock Magazine.

No matter how excited you are to be published, remember:
Yog’s Law: Money Flows TOWARD the Writer.
There is no publishing without the writer. The writer must whip themselves into shape, and the writer’s every word is not always honey, and the writer does need to learn to edit- but have some self-respect. Mandy DeGeit is perfectly in her rights in this, minus the fact that the contract was vague and she assumed she was dealing with professionals. Don’t let publishers treat you like shit. Like accepting bad treatment in any relationship, it becomes a habit.

And this is not to excoriate editors. I know plenty, and I appreciate their hard work. It is no picnic.
I am an editor, for the Lost Children anthologies. I respect the writer’s work. I’ve corrected authors with a dozen excellent novels under their belts, writers I idolize. We all make typos and mistakes.
And I’ve had to ask for rewrites from fine writers who I consider friends. You need to be tough, to respect the reader as well as the work. But I didn’t write a damn word of the rewrites. I made suggestions, and one writer went so far as to change the ending in a way that really made the story stronger than I imagined it could ever be. I don’t consider myself a great editor. I get gut feelings with a story, that I visualize as “holes” in the world it creates inside my head. I try to explain how to fill that hole. I don’t get the can of spackle and fix it myself.

So, vet who you submit to. READ the magazines you submit to. For one, this saves time on rejections because your story isn’t a good fit. Secondly, you see the level of professionalism. Do they accept just anything? Does it look more like your little cousin’s Facebook status than a well-edited publication? Do the same writers keep showing up, issue after issue, a circle jerk of buddies who might deign to let you into their club if you kiss enough pimply ass? This is beyond the ripoff artists who charge “reading fees,” who mention payment but never pay, who accept your work and sit on it without a contract, and so on. The one editor who taught me the most about being a pro is Alec Cizak, formerly of All Due Respect, now editing Pulp Modern. He had serious edits for a story, but went about it professionally. He mailed two copies of a contract. He published on time, he sent payment promptly, and he made my story look damn good.

He’s an ideal publisher; there are plenty more. Your work deserves that kind of treatment. If you don’t believe that, than why are you sending it out? If it’s not good enough to deserve respect, rewrite the damn thing or throw it out.

~ the Plucker

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

2 thoughts on “Demand Respect (Writing Horror Story)

  1. Jesus Christ. I think it's clear from that email that the editor is a clueless asshole.After a couple of bad experiences (nothing like this though!), I pretty much only work with editors I know now. And you're spot on about Alec Cizak–class all the way.

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