Random thoughts - editors, titles and writers

It always surprises me how little writers know, or bother to find out, about the process of short story publication. When they send their stories out, they seem to lose all interest in what happens. So let me tell you ...

Most editors - say over 80% of editors - are people like me. They don't get paid for the job. Okay, the editors at New Yorker go out for power lunches and wear Prada, but the rest of us sit at computers or tables, in our jeans, giving up our time for free to read your work. At college-based journals, the editor (or intern, as is increasingly the case) who reads your story may be younger than you, with less writing experience and fewer publication credits.

Sometimes, like now, we're reading your work while we have deadlines of our own to meet, lives to lead, bills to pay. Sometimes, like now, we have stinking colds that make us ache in every bone and give us Belisha-red noses and barbed-wire throats. Sometimes, like now, we got a rejection of our own in the post this morning. Even so, we try to put all that aside and give your work the attention we hope to get for our own.

Often, when we pick up a story we sigh. We sigh for different reasons, and these are mine:

1 You don't know the difference between 'I couldn't care less' and 'I could care less'
2 You can't spell accommodation but you've used it several times
3 The story title is a girl's name
4 Your cover letter tells me I'm not capable of understanding your work
5 You list everywhere this story has been rejected from, with commentary on the shortsightedness of the editors who rejected it
6 There's no return address on your letter
7 You've sent science fiction to a magazine that doesn't accept genre writing
8 You didn't include an SASE
9 You sent me this story three months ago and I rejected it then
10 It's another dead dog story.

I read as an editor, and I read slush and contest fiction. I don't get paid for the former but I do for the latter. Sometimes I receive 100 stories to work through in ten days because the person who agreed to read for the contest had cried off (you'd be amazed how often that happens!) and that means reading ten stories a day, with care and attention, and shortlisting maybe sixteen, maybe ten, maybe only four.

It's a big responsibility.

You, dear writer, could help me more than you do.

Please don't call your story 'Laura', 'Sinead' or 'Carla'. It tells me nothing about the story and gives me no hooks to remember your work. Of course if you've written a brilliant love story I'll shortlist it, but I'll probably be talking about it as 'that brilliant love story' because your title won't have stuck with me.

See if the 'The' at the beginning of your title can be removed. 'The Lucky Number Slevin' or 'Lucky Number Slevin' - 'The Death in the Afternoon' or 'Death in the Afternoon'? Makes a small but significant difference in this reader's opinion.

Check your title before you send your story - often you've just bunged something up there because you have to, and yet when we editors TALK about your stories when we're DECIDING whether to accept them or not, it's the TITLE that we use, or forget to use, over and over again. So a weak title may injure your chances of getting a publication slot.

Okay, my cold and I are going to do some slush pile reading now ...