Editors Have Wounds, Too

featuring horror and SF by Barbara Custer

In June 2018, Author Kelly Simmons gave a talk on characterization at the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference. She listed the traits that a sympathetic character should have: desire, spunk, resilience, foolishness, disbelief, and wounds. That last stuck with me in particular as I worked on my material.

Fast forward six months later, I went through the Night to Dawn submission pile and read someone’s first chapter. His letter reported that he had already gotten rave reviews. However, I couldn’t get beyond the first page. The protag started off by declaring an urge to kill his teammate, who happened to be a class clown, maybe overly talkative, but basically harmless. I got the image of the protag as a bully straightaway, and I said so to the author in no uncertain terms. The author asked why, and I could tell from his letter he was hurt.

Damn, girl! I scolded myself. You’re a balloon lady. Balloon people are sweet, not mean.

psychological horror written by Gerald Browning

Then I realized what had gotten into me. When I was in grade and high school, I was that class clown – and I’d gotten bullied in school. Junior college wasn’t much better. Those memories came to mind as I read, and that’s why I had to stop reading. So in my second response, I encouraged the author to keep submitting. I owned up to having been bullied in school, explaining that this may have biased my opinion, and assured him that another editor may have a different take on his work.

The takeaway? When workshop leaders tell writers to quit taking rejection personally, they’ve got it right. It would help, though, to explain why so here goes. Editors (and agents, for that matter) will arrive at the submission party with wounds of their own, just like your characters. Someone who’s been abused as a child may not appreciate a tale told from the abuser’s point of view. Alas, this type of information isn’t something you’ll find on AgentQuery Connect or the company website. Occasionally, if you’re going to a workshop run by said editor or agent, he or she may admit to a wound or two. Otherwise, if you’re submitting cold, all you can do is send and hope for the best, but have other publishers/agents in mind as well.

Your thoughts?

I will be giving a $10 Amazon gift card to a random commenter.

About Barbara Custer

Author of: Twilight Healer Steel Rose Life Raft: Earth City of Brotherly Death Close Liaisons Infinite Sight When Blood Reigns Infinite Sight Publisher / Editor of Night to Dawn Books & Magazine
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  1. Joseph J. Patchen

    People are people. I don’t guess. I write for me and submit to anthologies, magazines, e-zines if they are still called that, etc. based on my gut. If I get a rejection I go to the next one. I can’t figure out or read what experiences one has had in the past just as though another can’t read or believe where my scars have come from. Whether someone likes me or my work I have no control and have stopped caring. I have faith in writing; I have faith in my work that it will find publication and live beyond my own mortal coil,

  2. Yes, the reasons for rejections can be many and editors are only human.

  3. For an assignment I once wrote a story told from the POV of a wannabe killer (or so he tells himself), a guy out for cheap thrills who gets his comeuppance. The teacher (as I was doing a writing course at the time) applauded the work but hated the story. I eventually finished it and sent it out. Second person, this time an editor, rejected it. The third editor snapped it up and loved it for all the reasons the first two hated. The fact is the frustrating part of submitting is that a rejection may have nothing to do with the writing, the plot, the theme, any sub-themes, the characters. A writer is trying to guess what an editor wants and even what an editor likes, which is influenced by that person’s experience as you’ve so accurately pointed out here. Plus the editor is trying to make an informed ‘guess’ as to what the market they’re aiming for will like. There are many variables fledgling writers never even consider. The main trouble with this is the time it consumes for everyone involved in the writing industry. As I’m in the UK give the gift card to someone else.

    • I hear what you’re saying about the time consumed for everyone in the writing industry. That’s one of the reasons I opted for independent publishing. When you get to your late 50s and 60s, time suddenly becomes precious. Thank you for sharing! 🙂 Barbara of the Balloons

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