Saturday, November 14th, 2009 • 9 Comments on More Thoughts on Editing
Have I mentioned how happy I am with the lineup for Fairy Tale Lust? I’m so in love with this book and I’m anxiously awaiting the final version of the cover so I can show it off. The stories are clever, witty, sexy, mysterious, sensuous, lovely, sweet, nasty, fun, hot and imaginative. Those aren’t my words—that was some of the feedback I received from Cleis Press when I submitted the manuscript. I couldn’t be more proud if I had written every story myself.
It was difficult to narrow the final table of contents to 20 stories because I received so many great fairy tales. For every story I accepted, I had to write six—
—rejection letters. For one reason or another, some wonderful fairy tales didn’t make it into the book. I am hoping Fairy Tale Lust will do so well that I’ll be editing a second collection and can include some of those stories that I’m still thinking about.
Here were the most frequent reasons I rejected good stories. (Rejecting the other stories—some that I couldn’t make heads or tails of, which made me question whether they were written in English—is an entirely different blog post.)
—Stories that weren’t fairy tales.
I took a looser interpretation of “fairy tale” than my publisher did, but there were still some stories that weren’t even in the ballpark. No matter how well-written and entertaining, f I couldn’t make some connection to the fairy tale genre, I had to reject it. If I had to guess, I’d say these were stories that had been written for other anthologies and recycled. It’s fine to “regift” a story, especially if it’s one you really love—I’ve done it myself—but it’s important to tweak that story to fit the guidelines. In a couple of cases, no manner of tweaking would have made these stories even vaguely fairy tale-like.
—Stories that weren’t women-centered.
There were a handful of stories that were clever and compelling but didn’t quite hit the mark when it came to being women-centered. Either the story was told entirely from the male protagonist’s viewpoint and we never got a sense of the female character(s) or the story was too focused on male sexuality to the exclusion of female pleasure. It’s interesting to note that not all of these male-driven stories were written by male authors.
—Stories that simply weren’t erotic.
There are a couple of stories in Fairy Tale Lust that are on the softer side of erotica and a couple that push the boundaries of hardcore, as well as all the shades of passion in between. But a story must have some sensual or sexual elements, no matter how subtle, in order to be considered erotic. I received three or four amazing fairy tales that would have made the Grimm Brothers weep, but they were not erotic. I know that my call for submissions found its way onto a few “literary” websites, often without the full guidelines, so it’s possible some writers didn’t know the stories should be sexy. (Though I’d think the subtitle “Erotic Bedtime Stories for Women” would be a big hint.) On the other hand, I think some writers are so intent on publishing that they ignore the guidelines. One author graciously responded to my rejection and admitted an unfamiliarity and discomfort with writing about sex, but was a fan of fairy tales. I hope there is an editor out there somewhere collecting “literary” fairy tales because there are certainly writers who want to write them.
—Stories that were either too short or too long.
The guidelines called for stories between 1500 and 4000 words. That is a pretty flexible word count and I even went high or low by up to 10% in a couple of cases. And still there were a couple of stories that I just couldn’t include because they would have thrown off the balance of the collection. One was little more than a flash fiction piece of 500 words, the other bordered on novella-length at 7500 words. Great pieces both, but not for this collection.
There was one story in particular that I loved from the first reading. It came in early, so I read it several times. I even had it in the lineup for a while, but it never quite “fit” the book. I lost sleep over this story and even asked the author to send me something else because I was so captivated by the writing style, but the second story didn’t have the magic of the first and felt stilted and forced. (I’ve already shared this with the author, so there won’t be any hurt feelings.) For three months, I went back and forth over whether to include this story in Fairy Tale Lust. In the end, I just couldn’t do it. No matter how much it appealed to me, it did not fit the anthology and would have stuck out like a sore thumb. Maybe readers would have been as forgiving as I was—it’s just that good—but I couldn’t in good conscience include it.
In the end, I suggested a different market for the story—a market that I knew was a perfect match for this author’s voice—and the author followed my advice. A couple of weeks ago, I received a note of the story’s sale to the market I suggested and thanks from the author for the recommendation. For me, that was as gratifying as being able to write the acceptance letters for the stories that I did include. The moral to this story is, of course, that a rejection doesn’t count for much. It simply means that a particular story is not right for a particular market at a particular time. It’s a good reminder because I’m as guilty as every other writer of wailing over rejections and not putting them in perspective. It’s hard to be rejected (and now that my first anthology is behind me, I can say it’s also hard to be the one doing the rejecting), but in the end it’s just one person’s opinion. In this case, mine. How much I loved a story had to take a backseat to the the big picture—the theme and readership of this particular book.
I hope those stories I’m still thinking about will find their way into other anthologies and publications. I’ll be first in line to buy them.