As an author who writes, and submits, short fiction, I’ve been exposed to a variety of different publishers and editors. Some have been a pleasure to work with. Some have been the exact opposite. I thought I’d talk a little bit about what to do when a publisher is a dick to you.
Somehow, someway, you came across a call for submissions. If you’re interested, you probably do some digging about the publisher/editor. The thing is, no publisher/editor advertises that they’re jerks. Now what do I mean when I say *jerk*? Taking, and publishing your work without your consent, editing your work without your knowledge, not providing agreed upon author’s copies, not paying their authors (or are extremely late paying), and, even being downright insulting, among others.
It’s usually easy to spot the bad publishers/editors. Sometimes, however, you won’t know until it’s too late and you either already submitted, or your story was accepted. Here’s the thing…you have every right to pull your story, especially if you haven’t signed a contract yet. It’s your work. If you don’t like the publisher/editor, take your story and run. You don’t owe them anything.
The need for authors to have thick skin doesn’t just apply to critiques from other authors. Working authors must be their own champion in all phases, even when dealing with publishers/editors. Not every publisher/editor has your best intentions in mind. Some want to get the most out of you for as little as possible. Remember, they’re running a business. Profits can do crazy things to people.
NOTE: I don’t want to go into detail here, so I’m intentionally being vague.
I subbed a short story (which had previously been shortlisted for a different anthology, but was ultimately passed on) to a publication. Shortly after I subbed, the editor parted ways with their publisher. If you’re re-launching a storied publication, you probably want to make sure all your ducks are in a row before opening to submissions. I saw the warning sign but decided to see what happened next. (Always listen your gut! If something seems fishy, it probably is.)
It’s also telling when this editor admits that prospective publishers suggested they needed a more professional marketing plan. Yes, social media works two ways. It was clear to me that something fishy was going on with this editor. Yet, somehow, the editor found a new publisher.
But the best part was when the editor contacted me to suggest changes to my story. Keep in mind this editor never accepted my story. They sent me links to various internet stories so I would see the validity of their point. The fact of the matter is, that was their opinion. My story works as is. So, I sent the editor an email stating why I wrote my story the way I did (which I really shouldn’t have to do). I was promptly made to feel like I didn’t know what I was doing and made to feel like this editor was right and I should re-write my entire story if I wanted to be shortlisted. Don’t adjust your eyes. Yes, my story still wasn’t accepted, yet this editor was trying to change it. This editor proceeded to suggest their way was more “logical” and that as an author it was my job to make stories that were more plausible. The best part was the editor went on to suggest how the story should read, how they would have written it. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist. Basically, I’m a no name nobody who should just bow down and do what everyone else suggests because they’re more experienced than me. Um, no. First of all, they don’t know who I am, or what experiences I’ve had. Second of all, to assume they can push authors around because of their false sense of power is flat out wrong. In my experience, this isn’t how editors treat authors they want to work with.
It’s sad when I have to take the high road and be the professional one. My response was to suggest that if the editor didn’t like the direction of my story they should have simply rejected it. Trying to make an author feel like they don’t know what they’re doing and making them feel like they have to defend their choices is the opposite of professional, especially since my story was never accepted in the first place. The lesson is don’t let anyone try and strong arm you into doing anything you’re not comfortable doing. Know your rights. That’s your story, and until you sign a contract, it’ll remain your story. What did I do? I promptly pulled it from consideration. I don’t need that headache. Nobody does.
If I had been a newer writer, I may have fallen victim to those belligerent tactics. Just because someone is editing a publication doesn’t give them licence to be a jerk, or reason to look down on you from their perceived seat of power. There are plenty of other publications out there. They are one among many. I think they forget that they need us authors just as much as we need them. Without our stories there would be no publication.
What can you do when an editor treats you like dirt?
1. Know your rights. If you haven’t signed a contract, they have no power over you. Politely tell them to take their publication and shove it. Go over every detail of any contract before signing. If you aren’t sure, ask someone you trust with more experience or hire a lawyer.
2. Be informed. Anyone can call themselves an editor. Check up on them. See what qualifications they have. They may have less experience than you. Check out the editor/press on social media to see how they interact. You can usually tell a lot about someone by their online actions. They may even give you some inside information without even realizing what they’re doing. A word of caution, this works both ways. Publishers can also check up on you the same way.
3. Know what you want beforehand. We all know how we’d like to be treated. If you aren’t being treated fairly, or an editor proves to be unprofessional, you have every right to speak up for yourself. If the editor refuses to acknowledge your complaint, you shouldn’t work with them. Nobody deserves to be treated poorly. Just like anything else in life, a little common courtesy goes a long way.
4. Don’t be afraid to walk away. If you discover an editor behaves in a way you aren’t comfortable with, pull your story from consideration. There are plenty of other publication opportunities out there. You don’t need them.
5. Stick to your guns. Don’t let anyone force you into doing something you don’t want to do. If the editor, or deal, seems shady, walk away. Why should you change your story simply for an opportunity to be published by one publisher? You shouldn’t. If they wanted your story, they would have accepted it.
6. Ask for help. If you do sign a contract and things turn to shit, you can always report the editor, or press, to places like Predators and Editors, or organizations like the HWA or SFWA (if you’re a member). Ask some of your writing friends if they’ve had any negative experiences with the editor/press in question. You may find out others have had some of the same experiences. Their insight may help you with your situation.
Even negative experiences can be learning experiences. The bottom line is you have rights. Don’t let anyone walk all over you. Stand up for yourself. Never let anyone push you around. If they do, you can always write them into your next story. 😉