More Contributor Birthings

Last week I talked about an e-mail fluke that resulted in our newest contributor, Carl Rollyson. More commonly, though, we hear from writers who find our website through various means. Some are referred by current writers. Others appear to stumble across it. These are mostly single applicants. But when it is listed on a writers’ blog or website as a paying market we tend to get a slew of applicants all at once. That happened about three weeks ago.

It must have been posted in the evening because I received two interested queries that night. The next day brought about a dozen  more. And the day after that another dozen or so.

When we receive a number of applicants at once, the winnowing down is a multi-step process. In this case, I sent responses to almost everyone requesting more time though I did quickly review the submissions. The level of writing from five applicants was not even close to what we require; they received a form rejection immediately.

This still left me with more than twenty queries for one or at most two openings for regular columnists. About a week later, I read the remaining queries more carefully, separating the applicants into three folders: Yes, Maybe, and No. I then let myself think about my decisions for a couple of days. The rejected applicants in the No category received semi-personalized rejections.  Another seven eliminated.

The third step was breaking apart the maybe category into Yes and No folders. This is where the real difficulty began. “With sufficient editing . . .” I’d hear in my head as I read a piece, so  I had to repeatedly remind myself that I already had more than enough strong applicants, and that we didn’t want to take on applicants who would need a lot of editing. Out of necessity most of them received rejections. End result: one Yes folder, five semi-finalists.

So last night Nicki and I had a phone meeting to discuss the candidates. It was a long conversation but not because we disagreed. We rarely do. But we had reasons and expectations—not just of the candidates but of ourselves and of BiblioBuffet—to discuss.

Even though we pay relatively little, we offer our writers some things they have difficulty finding elsewhere. A “writer’s playground,” as Pete Croatto once phrased it, is one because the columnists have the right, indeed, the obligation, to write what they want, how they want, and when they want. As long as they say it well, we will run it. It’s a heady freedom for most of them, but for us, it’s simple common sense. Hire the best and then get out of their way. And at BiblioBuffet we do get out of their way.

Of course, that doesn’t mean a lack of editing. On the contrary, we are committed to excellent editing, which means that we, Nicki in particular, help the writers find their best writing while keeping our voices (and opinions) out of their work.

Our newest potential contributors haven’t experienced that yet. They are going to be providing individual pieces to BibliOpinions, our guest section for a while. This gives us a chance to see how they write, how much editing they need, and how they meet deadlines. It also gives them an opportunity to learn what it is to work with us and to see if they like it.

While I am always honored to hear from writers who wish to write for BiblioBuffet, it has its difficult moments. I hate sending rejections, especially to those who might make it with more experience. But because it is the readers who come to BiblioBuffet with high expectations—we do promise “writing worth reading, reading worth writing about”—we must adhere to our own standards much as we expect the writers to meet them.

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