Speed Dating with Editors
September 11, 2019 § 16 Comments
By Diane Reukauf
I am not of the speed-dating generation (and feel lucky in that), but I am intrigued to see that the annual day-long Barrelhouse Conference, Conversations and Connections, in Arlington VA, includes Speed Dating with Editors.
I’d like a chance to meet even briefly with an editor, a professional who can read fast and speedily tell me what my work needs and where to submit it. The rules warn of a strictly-enforced ten minutes with an editor who will spend some of those minutes reading my writing, so I choose two short, related nonfiction pieces from a larger work.
A ticket for the event was included with my registration fee, but attendees can buy additional tickets for $5. I buy a second ticket, a chance for a second opinion. Waiting for my turn in the long line with other writers, I feel some anxiety, although not the kind of anxiety my younger self would have experienced in a real dating situation: Do I look good? Did I wear the right thing? Is my hair too frizzy? No, I today am worried about being inarticulate in responding to an editor’s questions. I am worried that I will come across as too immature to be speed-dating nonfiction editors.
When it’s my turn, I walk across the wide gym floor to the young editor assigned to me. I sit across the table from him, hand over my pages, and feel awkward while he reads my words. When he finally looks up, he asks a few questions, encourages me to cut some lines, and identifies two sections that he says have “power.” He asks if I can envision writing a series of brief scenes like those. “I see a collection of short pieces,” he says.
“That’s exactly what I have in mind,” I tell him. Perfect, I think.
I leave the gym and immediately walk to the back of the now even longer line with my second ticket. When I sit down with the next editor I do not feel awkward. I feel like a speed-dating pro. This woman reads quickly and is encouraging. She asks me where I am going with my story, what I want to say in the larger telling. She makes concrete recommendations to expand and link the scenes. “Can you see how that would improve things?” she asks.
“Yes, I think so,” I say with only slight hesitation.
She tells me that she can envision the fuller story and explains that what I am writing is ideally suited for a single long-form nonfiction piece. Hmm.
A collection of discrete, short scenes or one integrated long-form piece? I leave that session and immediately head to the registration desk where I buy a third ticket. I want one more opinion, a tie-breaker. I feel a rush as I hand over my five-dollar bill and am given another speed-dating pass, convinced I have in my hand a winning ticket. I get back in line, wondering if this is what it feels like to be in a Las Vegas casino.
I look forward to the third professional who will settle the issue and tell me for sure what I should do. This editor makes marks on my pages as he reads. He notes the same two “powerful” passages as the first editor, and then he asks if I consider the two linked pieces to be two individual chapters.
“Yes, I do.”
“They’re awfully short,” he says.
“Yes,” I said. “That’s intentional.”
He explains that he hates that style. “I just hate it!” he repeats with some passion. “But you should ignore me,” he says. “That’s simply a personal preference, a stylistic thing.”
He then asks useful questions about my story and leads me to more fully describe scenes. “Write that down!” he says a few times. We talk about other parts of the story and he has ideas for expanding those sections. He is clear about his vision. He tells me he sees this narrative as a traditional book, a collection of long chapters. Again, Hmm.
As I leave the room after that last encounter, I feel a speed-dating buzz. Instead of feeling disappointed because I haven’t been shown the one sure path to publication, I feel grateful that three editors paid attention to my writing. I also feel energized, ready to take on the task of crafting my work into a collection of longer, more fully-developed chapters.
Or possibly a single long-form piece.
Or maybe a series of short scenes.
Hard to know. Harder still to know what a fourth editor might tell me! Here’s the thing, though. I have been reminded of something I know but routinely forget. Editors can disagree about what makes for a good read. Whatever format I eventually choose, it will likely not suit the majority of editors out there, but it might have a shot at appealing to one of them. I’m okay with that. It’s enough to keep me going for now.
Diane Reukauf is co-author of The Father Book: Pregnancy and Beyond and Commonsense Breastfeeding, and her essays have appeared in print versions of Skirt! Magazine, Parenting and online at Women on Writing. She has conducted expressive writing sessions for pediatric oncology nurses at a cancer center and for international students at a community college. After a considerable hiatus, she has returned to her own writing and is currently working on a collection of pieces about loss and grief.