Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fear & Expectations Part II

Fear & Expectations
Sucker Volume 2
~a work in progress~

Before I swing from high bars…

Throughout making Sucker volume 1, I was also going though the process of signing with an agent and revising my own manuscript. Not only was I no longer out there, but now I was on the other side. For the first time in my writing life, I was not fielding rejection letters for myself. I was in a place of YES to get all self-helpy here for a minute. YES to submissions that were rolling in, YES from an agent. YES YES YES! Even when I was rejecting a submission, it was from a place of YES. Not to mention that the rejecting process was kind of warm and fuzzy. I made those rejections submissions have a name and a face. I told writers here’s what didn’t work, but hey if you fix it, you can try again!  Also, this process of Sucker was a new literary endeavor and as I said in yesterday’s part 1, it wasn’t ripe with expectation. It was all fun.

But then came the process of Sucker volume II, ripe, brimming with all kinds of expectations. High bar set. Now I had to grab it and go…but because I am a worrier by nature, I had to pause a little and…worry.
About a month ago, as I was reading submissions and making decisions about them for the upcoming volume 2, that worry was very focused on the process of saying yes and no to writers. The idea of rejecting a writer made my heart hurt. My empathy crossed the line into a neurotic mother.  

Not to mention that the process of rejecting submissions has been rather, well, complicated. My original vision: “Publish the best in edgy, emerging YA literary fiction and provide all submitters with feedback that would not crush their hearts. Creating a supportive environment, even among those we had to reject, was tantamount to the desire to publish stellar fiction.” This made for a lengthy response process.  And it wasn’t like other lit mags. Usually submissions come in, are read and put into piles of yes, no, and maybe. The “no” subs just get simple form letters, while the “maybes” might get a line or two of feedback and a request to resubmit but this is very rare, and the accepted ones, of course, get the coveted YESSSSSS!!! Our first issue took the process a step further by providing all submitters with the feedback sheet from our readers.

The second issue was supposed to be that easy, just that extra step of forwarding the feedback sheet. Nope. I was terrified now. Terrified and worried about how that rejected writer might feel. This time around submission came in, I read the cover letter, and if I was intrigued, I put the submission in my pile, if I wasn’t, I handed it to one of our  11 readers. However, I made a lot of exceptions to this rule since now I knew a lot of our submitters through Twitter followers, Facebook fans, MFA folks, etc.  There were writers from the first issue and friends of writers from the first issue who had been sending encouraging and supportive messages to me. I really couldn’t just hand those stories over to my readers. I worried about how the feedback for them would go. Like a mother worries about sending her kid off to school the first day. What if the kids aren’t nice to her? What is she feels lonely?

However, as I began that process of personally responding to those submitters who I knew, I realized that this would take way too much time. So, I reached out to the staff and sent them some reminders about being kind in their feedback.
I doled out samples of what was good and what was bad. I re-instructed everyone to choose kindness over harshness. I had to hand over most of the submissions to readers and let them get the pile down a bit before I could realistically be able to tackle the ones that would possibly make it to publication.

As feedback sheets came back to me, I read them. The mentor and acceptance feedback sheets didn’t cause heart palpitations to happen, and I so enjoyed writing the emails to those folks inviting them to be in the magazine or have a chance to revise with us. But the rejections, well, I would glance at the feedback sheet, see “reject” at the bottom and… just put them off in another pile. I felt a compulsion to rewrite ALL of the feedback sheets because I worried we might hurt someone’s feelings. I found myself editing every feedback sheet.

I had to stop. It was taking too much time. So I just let them sit (again) for a bit.  

When I finally went back to that pile, I began with the rejections that were easy. The pieces that weren’t really editorially right for the mag and that were really adult or middle grade, rather than YA. Those didn’t get feedback sheets but instead a letter saying that it wasn’t YA. After those were done, in another effort to narrow things down a bit, I posted a message on the FB page that said if you are dying to know about the status of your submission and haven’t received a response yet, DM me. Then I edited those feedback sheets and sent them off, accordingly.

But then came the pile of about 70 stories that I just had to really bite the bullet and say no. 70 feedback sheets I needed to read and make sure no one was unkind. I saw some that needed little tweaks here and there, but I didn’t notice anything glaring. I began to relax like when one day I dropped my daughter off at school and watched her, seeing that she actually was choosing to go off alone and play on the monkey bars and didn’t seem that sad.

However, lingering around me still was a fear of what ifwhat if we do hurt someone’s feelings? What if I think I am checking these sheets carefully, but I’m not…

In this moment I felt that I could not quite grab that high bar I had set for myself this time around, the second guessing and anxiety way bigger than anything else. I couldn’t even envision this next issue because I was really consumed with this fear of hurting someone’s feelings.

So, guess what happens next?

Stay tuned for tomorrow, the conclusion to Fear & Expectations.

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