When It Works!

Last week I talked about submissions that don’t meet our standard of “writing worth reading.” This week, I get to talk about those that do. This also has a continuum that is not quite as extensive but is more detailed.

How’s that?

Submissions that are in the running range from “definitely!” to “let’s see if we can get this to work.” The problem with those who fit closer to the bottom part of the range is that we may simply not have the time to work with the writer on improving the piece, however interesting we find it. I dislike rejecting those more than any other because the possibility is there. That “almost” sense feels as if it has a physical grasp on me. I have to pry it off to send it, regretfully, on its way. Sometimes those are rejections without a rewrite request; at other times, they are a revision that didn’t quite make it either. And I can’t take the time to go yet another round because I am not sure that a second revision will be publishable either.

Moving up the ladder are the ones that have potential but need some work. Sometimes I can tell it will work out. But not always. I will offer editorial suggestions and see how the writer does. In one case not long ago, I made those suggestions. The piece would have been publishable if the writer had been able to put himself into the piece and taken it from a bland report (built on an intriguing idea) to an intimate essay. Alas, he could not.

Compare that to a submission I received last week that started out the same way—a largely unoriginal take on subject that has been covered numerous times. There was, however, a spark, a tiny, unique thought that caught my attention. I wrote back pointing out that most of what he said had been said before but that this one idea was worth focusing on. I suggested he use that one point and build his essay aound it. Four days later the essay was returned. And I am pleased to say that we will be publishing it in our BibliOpinions section in the next issue.

What was important about these two essays and writers was that one could not understand what I needed and the other could. It’s not that one was bad and the other good. Rather, I believe there’s a certain level of experience that allows writers who have reached it to grasp editorial direction and incorporate it into their own voice. And that’s important. After all, it’s not the editors’ work that BiblioBuffet’s readers want to read. It’s the writers. Our job is simply to help them make the best of what they do. I’ve said several times here that “keep your fingers to yourself” is a good motto. Usually I am referring to online comments, but I often say it to myself when working with the writers. Make editorial suggestions, Lauren, but keep your voice and your fingers on your own column.

Works for me. I think it works for our writers too.

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