Don’t Prejudge Editorial Taste

One bit of advice I think beginning writers sometimes need to hear is that it’s easy to fall into a pattern of trying to predict what an editor will like or not like, based not on the substance of a magazine or anthology’s guidelines but by wanting to read between the lines to gain an advantage. Guidelines are among the roughest and least precise of god’s creatures. They’re usually there simply to ward off the most inappropriate of submissions—for example, children’s stories about ponies to a magazine of dark horror or a novella to a market that only takes stories up to 4,000 words.

The editor behind those guidelines is generally much more complex and nuanced, and, while maintaining a main focus for their publication or book project, may also be inclined to mix in some more esoteric material, or material that doesn’t hit the center of their brief. Further, it makes sense from a proactive point of view to send in even stories that you think for some reason may not appeal to an editor from a political or social point of view. You might be surprised, you might realize that you’ve pegged an editor incorrectly based on a very small sample of interviews or back issues. Editors’ tastes also change over time, and they react to new directions in whatever general area of fiction they’re involved with.

So, as long as your story doesn’t violate a prime commandment of the guidelines, it’s generally not a good idea to otherwise presume to guess an editor’s tastes—or to try to parse subtext out of the way guidelines are written. Even back issues of a magazine may not fully illuminate for a writer the editor’s tastes because the editor may not have received a good example of a particular type of story and therefore hasn’t yet published that type or that particular approach.

Editors, like all human beings, are complex organisms and should be treated as such.

3 thoughts on “Don’t Prejudge Editorial Taste

  1. Very true. I couldn't agree more. Things are always more complex, more nuanced than they might appear from afar.

  2. Definitely. When a friend sold their first story, they were told, "we don't usually buy this sort of thing, but it made us laugh so much!"

  3. Pingback: Personal space « occasional fish

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