I once had a short and sporadic run of volunteering for Leading Edge, BYU’s science fiction periodical. I had heard good things about the publication, and I really needed to get rid of my naivete when it came to the publishing process.
Now, Leading Edge is not Random House. It meets in a few rooms in the Jesse Knight Building on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. But one thing they do have is a slush pile.
That’s how I learned to love editors: by going through a slush pile.
Not this slush pile:
But one a lot like it.
And the staff of Leading Edge has instituted a rule. A very nasty, very foolish rule: every submitted manuscript must be read in its entirety before it can be rejected.
Now, there are a lot of aspiring authors out there. And a lot of them, for some reason, hate editors. They see editors as people who act completely out of bias, rejecting the writer’s brilliant, peerless manuscript simply because they are too stupid to understand the genius that is [insert your name here].
Others see the publishing industry as a kind of Illuminati-esque conspiracy. They honestly believe (and I am not exaggerating) that publishers actively try to quash up and coming authors, for the sake of people who are already published. And once again, it’s the evil in-house editors who just don’t understand true art, who throw out a manuscript after reading only one page, who are to blame.
My friends, I have read slush-pile manuscripts. And I have been compelled, by the aforementioned rule, to read the whole manuscript, even when the first page is so bad that it makes me cry and puke at the same time. And of course there are some stories in the slush pile that deserve publication. There are emeralds scattered in the clay. But let me make one thing clear: in every single case, the first page is a reliable gauge for the rest of the manuscript.
Now, you can’t always make an up or down rejection until you read the entire manuscript, yes. But if the first page is unbearable, then the whole story will be as well.
So I don’t get mad at acquisitions editors for judging books by their first page. I love editors for even deigning to read that first page. And you should love them, too. If they didn’t exist, then reading books would be torture, and no one would do it.
Granted, editors are imperfect people. They often reject books that later go on to commercial success. You’ve heard this story before, many, many times. A bestselling author reveals that her acclaimed first book was rejected twenty times. Fifty times. Even seventy times. But the story also usually ends with an eventual acceptance. Because a truly excellent story will find the right editor eventually. And success is only guaranteed by perseverence.
So be nice to editors, even the bad ones. It’s their job to be tough, and they can’t force you to make any changes you don’t want to make. Perhaps I should emphasize that again: No editor, even one with whom you have a contract, can force you to carry out his suggested changes. You really should consider what he has to say, but remember he is not on a quest to lock you out of the industry. And you always have alternatives to working with editors who don’t understand your book.