It’s still amazing to me how grumpy many editors can be when just being nice to writers—and encouraging them to do what they do best—pays much higher dividends. An example is last week’s post (December 24) in which I shared Pete Croatto’s compliments to BiblioBuffet’s editorial team. The next day I received this in my e-mail box:
I’ve been reading your Behind the Words blog for a while. Your recent post about your editing style struck a chord with me. The chord reverberated so soundly that here I am, writing to you at an unholy hour.
I would very much like to write for BiblioBuffet. I am an Australian writer, historian, teacher, editor and reviewer. Sometimes these things are serious business. Sometimes they’re not. The interaction between the different parts of me always take my writing into odd corners and haunts. I get to meet interesting people and their books. I get to dissect old tales and new. It’s a lot of fun.
I would love to take the moments that most fascinate me and turn them into entertaining reading. There will be books in those moments, because there always are books in my life. I can write pretentious twaddle (have PhD, will twaddle) but I’d really rather not. I’d rather explore genre and Australian writing or the relationship between place and books or between books and food or explore the seamier side of Indigenous Australian copyright. That’s just this week. I don’t know what I’ll encounter next week or the week after, but I know it will be fascinating and that I would dearly love to share it.
When I finished laughing—“have PhD, will twaddle”—I e-mailed Nicki, then, faster than the proverbial speeding bullet, we told Gillian we wanted her.
It’s easy to see why editors can become grumpy. When queries come in that are inappropriate—for god’s sake, I sometimes want to shout, read the submission guidelines we took the time to write out and post for your convenience!—or even illiterate we try our best to maintain a respectful correspondence. But when we regularly see queries that read like (freshman) high school book reports, or beginner blog posts, or that make claims they cannot verify, the process becomes annoying.
Then along comes the next one and . . . suddenly there it is! The query that makes us sit up. Take notice. Smile broadly. And say “Yes!” Honestly, finding one of those is like coming upon a gorgeous waterfall in a fern-laden forest clearing. Picture it: you step into this gorgeous space, strip off your hot, sweaty cynicism, and dive into the cool, clear waters of excellent writing. When you surface you shake your head, letting the words and emotions spin off you as you revel in the sensual feeling of being surrounded by something wonderful. It’s such a joy that it has the ability to wipe away all the grubbiness you accumulated during your slogs through the slush pile.
I know rejections are hard for writers to receive. Even jaded editors know how painful they feel to the writer. To be honest they are hard to write. I hate turning people down when they put themselves out there on offer. But our obligation is to BiblioBuffet’s readers. And we simply cannot accept less than the best.
In the last month, we have had four worthwhile writers appear. In January we will begin the process of working with them. We don’t yet know if they will all work out but we are excited. What we do know, however, is that we would probably not have had the opportunity to find out about them were we still grumpy about the other ones.
Folks, there’s a reason we all have “pearly whites” beyond needing them to chew food. Use ‘em, and smile. The next great query is out there. It’s always out there. And we at BiblioBuffet have no intention of scaring it away.