Speed Dating with Editors

September 11, 2019 § 16 Comments


Diane ReukaufBy 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.
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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.

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§ 16 Responses to Speed Dating with Editors

  • Shirley J Harshenin says:

    Thank you for this. Great reminder. 😁💐

  • floatinggold says:

    I was hoping that 1 ticket would get you multiple editors. It’s such a fun concept. Like you, I would probably end up going back for more. How many editors were there? What if you got the same one the third time you went?

    What a great conclusion. It’s depressing and motivating. We will not appeal to everyone, but we will always appeal to someone. We just have to find them.

    • dianemr says:

      There were over two dozen editors that year. The next year I attended, on my second round of speed dating, I was directed to the same person I had just met. I could have requested a different editor, but I found her responses so valuable on the first go-round, that I happily returned to her table and gave her a second piece I had brought with me. (That year I did not buy a third ticket!)

      • floatinggold says:

        Good to know. Do they not mind that you “shop”? Especially if she got to see you a second time?

      • dianemr says:

        No. You don’t get to choose the editor. It just happened that she was the only nonfiction editor remaining at the time and I “agreed” to sit with her again instead of waiting for someone else.

      • floatinggold says:

        That’s not what I meant. My apologies. I was wondering if they don’t frown on “second opinions”. Do they not mind that you buy a second ticket after meeting with them? I guess I’m asking about the personality of an editor. I have this image in my head that they consider themselves THE editor.

  • “I am worried that I will come across as too immature to be speed-dating nonfiction editors.” I smiled at that line and appreciate you color throughout this piece. Thank you!

  • I was at the same conference and enjoyed it. I actually used my speed-dating ticket to speak with an editor about next steps with regards to my “career” as a fiction writer/ongoing agent querier for a novel: to chapbook or to wait, write, and compile a short story collection down the road. Editor said chapbook (why not?), panel author said wait (what’s the hurry?). Clearly, I should have bought another speed-dating ticket for the tie-breaking answer. But really, what writers can glean from all of this kind of advice is that there are no right or wrong answer, only different directions.

  • Joanne says:

    Loved this–your humor shines through (“too immature to be speed-dating editors”) and I thank you for your nugget of wisdom at the end. A perspective I need to remember 🙂

  • mimijo3795 says:

    Hi, Diane! Mimi Hedwig here. Loved your piece; it brought back memories of a recent writers’ conf. I attended where I speed dated 5 literary agents. Much nervousness; one possible match — time will tell. Hope you and the family are well and that our paths will cross sometime soon.

  • Sandra says:

    This is a good read and a great reminder that we can’t please everyone. Instead, we have to figure out what the story wants to be.

  • ascreamin says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience Diane-I think I’ve only done speed dating once – and it was a long time ago and for “real” dating. Not such a fun experience. I also agree w/ Sandra above – your experience is a great reminder that we can’t please everyone.

  • d.p. Benjamin says:

    What a great recollection of an author’s dilemma in processing feedback. I’m fresh from three 10-minute pitches at the annual Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Conference in Denver. All three were helpful but the one with a so-called ‘pitching coach’ was terrific. If a fellow author ever has a chance to meet with a similar coach where the pressure to perform is less and the tips are utilitarian, I highly recommend it. Good luck with your project!

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