I want to reconstruct my incredibly brilliant post that got lost when the PC crashed. You’ll have to take my word for the brilliance, because this reconstructed one won’t be as brilliant. As you read it, just think, “I bet the original was brilliant.”
Top Ten Reasons Why the Editor Doesn’t Applaud What Your Crit Group Loved:
10) The critique group knows too much-- the context of your story and how much you've improved and what this all means. But the editor knows only what you submit: “This writer never heard about killing her darlings—and she sure has a lot of darlings, all very precious and twee.” Sometimes what we love is actually a bit… self-indulgent. Once I started a mystery set in a critique group, with both the murderer and the victim as members of the group, and each fictional group member was based on a member of my then-critique group, and it was screamingly funny—to us, anyway. Actually, it’s not a bad idea, but I can certainly understand why editors weren’t rolling on the floor when “Sadie” and “Mary” once again debated semicolons and “Laura” went on a diet and the other members kept bringing chocolate to meetings, you know, exactly as happened in my critique group! (It was really funny! My critique group just howled!)
9) The critique group sees things scene by scene, by the editor sees the manuscript as a whole: “Huh? What’s this got to do with the story? Is it an outtake from some other book?” Scenes can be terrific each on their own, but not always fit into the tone or plot of the rest of the book. The crit group might see your story a scene at a time and love each individually… and never read the entire book and so not notice if one scene is out of place.
8) “Nicely written, but (insert trendy plot device) is so last year, or will be next year anyway.” From acceptance to publication is usually a year, so the editor has to scout ahead and imagine what will be appealing to readers not right now, but in 12 months. So you and the critique group might be right, that your wizard is better than Harry Potter… but the editor might be getting up-to-the-minute info from the sales force that wizards’ popularity is dropping off, and will be nil next year.
7) “Good story, but the prose is so rough—I just don’t have time to fix every sentence.” There is a minimal level of prose, and sometimes your critique group might, um, have a lower minimum than the editor does. If the overworked editor has two good stories, and one requires maybe three hours of editing, and the other twelve hours, which would you suggest she take? It’s your job, not hers, to make this story publishable. And editors are editors. We love the English language, grammar and all. When you turn in a manuscript full of errors, it’s kind of like you’re disrespecting our great love. We can’t help but take that personally!
6) Your critique group expects a rough draft, a chapter with crossouts and handwritten additions. The editor expects something else: “I can’t believe she submitted this manuscript in this condition. The paper reeks of smoke; there is a bloodstain, I’m pretty sure, on page 12. Who does she think she is? Stephen King delivers a clean manuscript — if this no-name wants to be a professional, let her get started on acting like one.” You think I’m kidding? I’m not. If the editor has an asthma attack opening your envelope, or goes looking for latex gloves so as not to encounter your bodily fluids, well, let’s just say, no matter how great the story is, it’s probably not going to be read. Print out a new manuscript for each submission. And keep your paper and your printer in a room where no one smokes.
5) “Great idea, well-executed, but, umm, we don’t publish short stories (or horror novels or non-fiction or…).” Your critique group might be right— you are the next Alice Munro. But if the editor doesn’t edit short story anthologies, you can’t count on her taking the manuscript across the hall to the appropriate colleague. I was sort of shocked, when I became an editor, how many submissions I received which had nothing to do with what I could acquire. Do your research, and don’t waste the editor’s time and your postage with the sort of book she doesn’t edit.
4) Your critique group is probably filled with experienced readers who get a kick out of something new and fresh. The editor might too… until she remembers that she’s not the target audience: “Very quirky, very cutting-edge—but our audience would never buy this.” Publishers are only as innovative as their customers. They might be wrong—publishers frequently underestimate the ability of readers to adapt quickly to what might seem experimental—but editors do have to take the attitude of the higher-ups into consideration, and the higher-ups generally think their customers are conservative and change-resistant.
3) Your critique group loves your premise and thinks it’s just the high-concept the publisher is looking for—easy to market, easy to blurb. And the crit group is right. What they don’t realize, however, is that the editor knows more: “We have another book with a similar premise coming out in three months. This is better, but that’s already paid for.” There are no unique ideas, or they’re not unique for long. I remember one editor saying she got – in one week-- three manuscripts using the premise of Jesus being cloned from the blood on the Shroud of Turin, and each of the authors arrived at that premise independently. Only one book got bought, probably the first to hit the desk. You and the critique group might be exactly right, that you came up with this on your own, but so apparently did someone else-- earlier.
2) Your critique group probably loves you no matter what. And heck, you might be a prince in F2F personal relationships. You remember birthdays, and you’re always there with an encouraging word, and they have a history with you, so even if you’re grumpy one day, they’ll forgive you. The editor, however, might think, “In the dictionary, next to the word ‘difficult,’ is a photo of this writer. Depending on the time of day he calls (and he’s called every day since he submitted), he seems to think that I am either his enemy or his therapist. I cannot, cannot, cannot deal with him for the next year. Maybe he’s the next Dean Koontz and I’ll get fired for rejecting him… but so what? No job and no author is worth this increase of stomach acid.” An editor has to do more than acquire a manuscript. She has to edit it and shepherd it through, which means continued contact. How much do you want her to dread that? Think of that before you pick up that phone or hit “send”.
1) Your critique group is right. It’s really that good a book. And seriously, if there was any justice in the world, it would sell at auction and the advance pay for two kids in private college. However: “I love it, but my boss will hate it.” No accounting for tastes. I remember an editor-in-chief refusing a book because the heroine had the name of an ex-girlfriend. The author offered to change the name… no go. Lesson—sometimes it doesn’t make any sense. Great books get rejected all the time, for good reasons and bad. The market is fickle, and so are bosses. And the trouble is, you might never know whether your book was rejected “for cause,” or if it really is as great as your critique group says, and some factor completely beyond your control interferes.
So keep writing, keep critiquing, keep growing, keep trying. And make sure your critique group knows you want absolute honesty, and reward them with openness and gratitude. They might not have the editor’s perspective, but they’ll be the best readers you will ever have, and they can help you hone the manuscript to its best form. Then, well, then luck, timing, all that uncontrollable stuff, will factor in. But you will know you’ve done everything you can!