Tag Archives: editors

Make my day: Feedback

Writers and editors put a lot of information out into the universe each day and never quite know how and where it sticks. So feedback, both positive and negative, is what we live for. It tells us people are paying attention.

The following message came from Melanie Rogers, who wrote our April issue story, “The Kid’s Speech: Finding Support for a Child who Stutters.”

I had a stack of mail to go through last week, and didn’t realize the magazine was out until I received a wonderful email from someone I know who saw it. I quickly went through my mail and am so pleased with the fantastic job your editors and art [director] did with the story. Nate was thrilled to see his picture in your magazine, and I am so glad to get the word out about stuttering support.

Thank you so much for allowing me in your magazine. It’s been a favorite for years, and I’m tickled pink that I had an article published by you.

Giving positive feedback, I’ve discovered, is just as satisfying as receiving it. So I wrote back:

Glad you liked the spread, Melanie. It was nice of you to write to say so! I thought the article (which came out just after “The King’s Speech” won the Academy Award) was very timely and full of helpful information for parents. I also really enjoyed watching the video you and Nate put together…what a great thing you are doing by empowering your son to educate others about his stutter.

The video I’m referring to appears on the home page of the National Stuttering Association:

The agony of uncertainty

I get it now. I understand what I’m doing to people when I dawdle and drag my feet and wring my hands and don’t get to it. When the pile is too high or the queue is too long or I’m just not sure what I want to do.

When I procrastinate, avoid making decisions, delay responding and keep other people in limbo because I’m overwhelmed, distracted, tired or uncertain. When the effort to make a decision — and communicate that decision to someone who’s waiting with bated breath — just seems like more than I can manage.

Now I know what it feels like to be on the other side of the writer/editor equation. To be the person who’s not in charge of the decision but the one who offers herself up to be judged. To be the person who carefully does the research, learns everything she can about a magazine, reads the writer’s guidelines, spends a full day writing a query letter and offers up her story idea for publication.

And then waits. And waits. And waits some more. With nary a “we are in receipt of …” message in return. To wonder if it’s okay to write again (perhaps the email didn’t make it through?) or if that will be perceived as pushy. To take a deep breath, wait a month, write again and still hear nothing back. To repeat that process two more times.

To give up. To wonder why she tried in the first place. To question her goals, her ability, her basic worth as a human being.

Sometimes editors ignore writers because the writers aren’t very good — or have so blatantly failed to respect published guidelines for submission that the editor feels no sense of obligation to respond.

But sometimes, sometimes…editors are just busy.

And finally, five months later, the writer gets a message saying, “We want to publish your story.” And the floodgates of doubt fling open, completely overrun by the sheer joy of affirmation.

Wielding the unwelcome power to wound

Empathy is the ability to understand what someone else is feeling — to take a few steps in their shoes. I have a lot of empathy for writers lately.

As I enter Day 6 in the WordPress Post-a-Day Challenge, I am plagued by a gnawing anxiety. It goes way beyond “What should I write about today?” It speaks more to “Who the heck do you think you are? What makes your words so important? Why should anyone care?”

In the verdant field of joyful creativity, such doubts are land mines.

If doubt is a writer’s worst enemy, editors certainly come next. I should know; I play both roles. I despise the power I have as “the decider” when it comes to the dozens of queries and freelance submissions I receive each week. I abhore the license it gives me to bruise egos, albeit unintentionally.

I tend to respond quickly to queries that are fresh and exciting, relevant to our mission and described in full sentences with proper spelling and grammar. Dispatching the others is excruciating. I waffle and delay and wring my hands about how to respond. Sometimes, when I can’t think of anything encouraging to say, or when I am simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of queries, I don’t respond at all.

There is no easy way to let someone down. And no easy way to be the person who does it.

Tomorrow: The definition of a terrible story pitch.