We’re three months into TLR’s free Feedback Option for fiction and flash fiction, where if a submitter chooses, I offer my editorial opinion about the story. I’m happy to report I’ve received no hate mail so far, although I can’t vouch for what people think when they receive my comments.
Kidding aside, I’ve received quite a few thank you notes from submitters. Some appreciate the suggestions I’ve offered, and others note how rare it is for an editor to comment at all on a submission, let alone to go into any detail. Even several of the writers I’ve criticized rather strongly have taken the notes as the constructive help they are intended to be. As one recently wrote to me, “Thank you for the advice, for the guidance, and for telling me the truth.”
Makes me think we’re on to something. Writers and editors sharing respect? What a concept.
Rather than offer a reader’s or writer’s opinion, my goal is to provide an editor’s perspective, to explain what aspects of a submission work or don’t work within the parameters of choosing fiction for TLR’s aesthetic and audience. Sometimes this may tell a writer what tweaks are needed to get a story out of the slush pile and into the later rounds of deliberation. Just as importantly it may say to a writer that maybe TLR isn’t the best place for the style or topic that the writer prefers (after all, we can’t put every possibility into the guidelines). And to be honest, a few times my criticism sounds like Creative Writing 101, offering basic but detailed advice to writers who are clearly just starting out in fiction.
For me, of course, it’s extra work. I’m not complaining, though. About 95% of submitters choose the Feedback Option. But I feel it helps justify our higher submission fee (which also goes to pay the writers whose work appears in our journal).
The most interesting aspect of this editorial experiment has been the feeling of kinship I get when I read a submission and begin to write my comments. I’ll admit that in the past—in writers’ groups and MFA settings—I have often been a tough, sometimes unforgiving critic. But I knew when I started the Feedback Option that I would have to be more constructive. TLR’s reputation depended on it. We wouldn’t want to become known as the journal that ripped everyone’s writing. Although I must remain objective and make my decisions based primarily on TLR’s needs, I am still compelled to read and try to understand the writer’s skills and goals, and to not make a snap judgment about a story because of time, workload or personal pressures. So I often feel as though I’m talking to a writer I know, and can perhaps help, not just reject.
It’s still early in the Feedback Option’s tenure, but I can’t help wondering what the writing community would be like if more editors chose to communicate directly with submitters. Maybe time will tell.