Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Horribly Mean Editor

I want to be a nice person. I really do. I think of myself as being kind, generous, and empathetic. That's the way I hope people will one day (years in the future) describe me at my funeral. However, less than one month at the new job, and I am already realizing I am not.

I had forgotten until this month that I am a horribly, horribly mean editor. Seriously. You do not want to send a proposal with high hopes to any company where I work and have it land in my in-basket. Nor do you want to be inside my head when I am reading through such unsolicited material. Want some proof? Here's a dip into some of the thoughts I've had while reading some the the proposals my predecessor was wise enough not to tackle before leaving the company.

"Your 'modest opinion' seems a little light on the modesty and quite heavy on the ego."

"Four pages of acknowledgments? Really? If you want me to be awake enough to get to the heart of your manuscript, you just might, you know, want to leave those out for now."

"I'm no expert, and this is definitely a new subject area for me, but, trust me, sometimes there's a very good reason that 'There is nothing else like this out on the market.'"

"If you begin your email with a sentence like this one, "I am sending to you a book proposal that I and two other..." chances are, unless you happen to be a bestselling Trade author, no editor in the business (we being somewhat picky when it comes to grammar) is going to get much past that."

"Please, please, please don't waste my time if you are someone who likes to blather on for 3 pages without getting to some sort of point -- without even hinting at some sort of point. This is not an exercise in free association. This is not a journal entry. It's not a blog post. You are proposing a book that you would like a reputable publisher to publish. Act like it."

"I wonder if this guy is schizophrenic or something."

There. See? The problem is, though, that no matter how bad the proposals are, I still feel horrible telling our editorial assistant to reject them (because, you know, if I were to do it, some of those thoughts might end up somewhere other than my head or this blog post). Does that make up at all for all my mean-spirited thoughts?


Dorothy W. said...

You're reminding me a little bit of what I'm like as a teacher. I mean, I'm nice and all, except when I'm not...well, I try to be kind and sympathetic in what I say about my students' writing, even if inside I'm thinking "what in the world???" It's very hard to be kind and at the same time to tell someone their writing, um, needs improvement.

litlove said...

Some (like me) might find those comments amusing rather than mean! Mean would be if you said them to the author's face, a thing I could NEVER imagine you doing. However, until the time that unsolicited authors set up CCTV in your head, you may think whatever you like about their crazy manuscripts. I know you'll be the soul of diplomacy in person.

Heather said...


My favourite is the last one because I tend to wonder that about some of the people I talk to in my job.

Anonymous said...

I agree with litlove - these are pretty darn funny. And if you don't say them out loud, eventually, you might be forced to respond. This reminds me that you would totally appreciate the email "cover letter" I got from a student applying for the internship I posted..."I don't want to toot my own horn but I'm a pretty good writer. I write in a very personal style." And as if that weren't bad enough it was as though the writing samples she forwarded were in lorem ipsum!! "Thank you for applying for the internship. We have decided to go in a different direction this year..."

Anonymous said...

That's you being mean, is it? If I were you, I wouldn't worry. At all.

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, you understand beautifully! It's odd, though, that those "students" never seem to learn (very scary thought: some of them even managing to become professors) and then think they can propose their books to publishers, isn't it?

Litlove, I am so lucky to have such souls as you in the world who have such faith in me!

Heather, I am sure I would wonder that, too, if I had your job. Sadly, I'd also probably wonder all sorts of other things better left unsaid.

Sara, oh yes, you are right about how I would have appreciated it. Don't you love those "form" approaches that get you off the hook?

Ms. Musings, bless you! I can always count on you to make me feel so much better about myself.

Make Tea Not War said...

:) I like to think I'm a kind person but, though it's not exactly the same, marking student assignments and tests can bring out the worst in me. At least in my thoughts. Because it's extremely boring I begin in a state of barely repressed fury as it is. I'm not that bothered by people who have clearly attended class and who have made some effort but the sight of an essay where somebody has, for example, neglected to provide an introduction despite the need for one being on the instructions, on the marking sheet, and having been explained more than once in class puts me in a someones going to fail mood straight away. And don't even get me started on my emotional state when I have to read unrelated material cut and pasted from the internet