The Worst Mistakes an Editor Can Make, Part 1

When I did a google search for ‘worst mistakes an editor can make’ (‘cause misery loves company and I was curious to hear about goofs by my colleagues) I was genuinely surprised at what I found: NOTHING. Apparently, editors are above reproach! I wish someone had told me that years ago before I started doing things like apologizing to authors or listening to their opinions….

Admittedly, I only went two pages deep into the google search but it was enough to get the point. Editors sit behind the screen, gatekeepers to publication, and tell authors what they are doing wrong. I’m not trying to sound critical of my own profession, and the advice I read was REALLY good advice to authors, but I feel like it’s time to say this: Editors make mistakes too.

Curating Alexandria opened their metaphorical doors in March of 2018- we have been surprised and delighted by our reception in the writing community. In the nine months of serving as senior editor of this literary project, I hope I have offered some kindness, encouragement and guidance to the authors who have shared their work with us. I hope that my work has been more in the balance of good than bad, but I have undoubtedly made some mistakes. Here are some of the worst.

TIMING

If ‘location, location, location” is the motto of commerce and real estate, the motto of literary endeavors is ‘timing, timing, timing.’ This is probably one of the milder mistakes I make, but it’s a pervasive one. I’m often too slow to send rejection letters (because I honestly hate sending them) and will let something linger an inconsiderate amount of time. I let those decisions linger for so long that I’ve had authors write in to say “well…you published the collection I submitted for and I didn’t hear from you…so that’s a no….right?” I reply to those emails right away, instantly embarrassed. And then I have to send apologies AND a rejection at the same time. It’s the worst.

WHAT A JERK!

On the topic of timing, here’s something inconsiderate I did: I sent rejection letters on Christmas Eve. I almost pressed ‘decline’ on Christmas day when that under-observed voice in my head said STOP! You can’t send rejection emails on Christmas! In that moment, I stepped away from the laptop, sent a prayer of apology for every rejection I sent the day before, and vowed to not open up my submission management program till January 2nd. You see, one true thing about all editors and publicists and agents is that we honestly live on the edge of having more work than we can handle. ALL THE TIME. There’s no such thing as “done” or “caught up” in my life.

When holidays roll around, those are opportunities for me to work. I don’t mind the fact that my chosen lifestyle-career means doing work related tasks every day, and especially on holidays. The holiday work is honestly a little different. Email is quieter, the phone is quieter, no one is breathing down my neck about a deadline. I feel like I can breathe and focus when I work on holiday; I genuinely like it. But while I was busy feeling so productive and checking items off the to-do list, I forgot that most people are with their family and mentally disengaged from work. To make matters worse, holidays are emotionally fraught for everyone to some degree- It’s not the time to handle a rejection email. In our world of instant notifications, I realize that someone was sitting down to Christmas dinner, heard their phone chime with an email from me, and opened up a rejection letter. I can only imagine how painful that timing was. At best, it was mildly obnoxious and I’m deeply sorry I was such a jerk.

BIG BIG OOPS.

In one of our collections, I totally missed publishing two works I promised to publish. One of the works was in a submission form with the highest level of “blind” submission. I try to do my best to reduce bias in the editorial process and to that end, I turned up our “blind” levels to the maximum. Of course I read the software description of the various levels, but it either didn’t specifically say this (or I misunderstood) but all internal communication with the author was “blinded.” Effectively, I could send him notes but couldn’t see his replies. (WHY WHY WHY????  Who in the software design team ever thought this was a good idea?!) Anyway, I sent him a conditional acceptance and a follow up question I needed resolved before publication. No reply (like I said, he actually did reply but the software hid it from me). I asked again…no reply…. and finally had to decide that this “totally uncommunicative author obviously doesn’t want published” and I passed on his work. When I selected that “decline” button on his work all our communication popped up and was finally visible to me. I’m sure he thinks Curating Alexandria is the most half-assed, jacked up publishing organization he’s ever tried to deal with…and I’m deeply sorry for the confusion on both ends. (Also, I turned off that blind setting).

Regarding that same collection, I missed publishing a piece I had promised to. I can’t blame this one entirely on the software management- it was poor tracking on behalf of myself and the CALP team. We have a lot of different submission forms: some are general and some are edition specific. When I was going through our submission software to grab all the “yes” works for publication, I forgot to check one of the general forms for works pointed to that collection. (I have to say that I did immediately send an apology to the author, reconsider all her works for future publication, and she has been endlessly kind to work with. I’m also happy to say we’ll be running one of her poem next fall, and in the mean time some of her other submissions have been accepted elsewhere).

So there you have it, some of the worst things I’ve done recently as an editor. Off the top of my head I can think of at least five more “OMG I can’t believe I did that” moments in my work (and I’ll embarrass myself with those later). When Curating Alexandria started I wanted to be a publishing home where authors feel respected and their work is honored. To that end, I have to accept that I’m human and make mistakes and sometimes fall short of my own goal. Apologies are hard but the bigger we grow and the more we try, the more I have to approach this work with humility.

I hope everyone has a wonderful new year. May 2019 be full of beautiful stories, abundant creativity and the right publishing home for your work.