I reminisce about my first writer’s conference and the contained excitement I felt sitting down to have the first chapter of my newly minted manuscript critiqued by an authentic editor. She pulled my sheets off her tipping, lopsided, toppling stack. In her fingers was my opus.
A massacre had taken place on the first page. It was dripping blood red ink. She stared hard at my scribbled nametag and then back at the byline of that annotated page and with a half -smile, smug and pitying simultaneously, she asked “Air-REEK-ah?”
“Erika,” I replied.
“E-R-I-K-A,” I spelled.
When she mispronounced it a third time, I grinned obsequiously and nodded.
“Today I’ve read some heart-breaking, gorgeous prose,” she began. I sat up straighter. “Words that made me cry.” She pulled her upper lip down the way a lady might do if getting it waxed. “And, I have to tell those writers,” she continued, as she glimpsed the forlorn pile, “that they most likely don’t have a prayer of being published.” At this point, I thought she might break down and weep. She grabbed her forehead with her hand. “The market is just that tough!” She narrowed her eyes at me the way I imagine a rattlesnake does before it strikes. “Impossible to break into these days!” I stroked my chin and nodded in agreement, waiting. Then, she tapped her editor pen on top of my manuscript. Hard taps. “What I’m trying to tell you, Air-reeek-ah, is that REALLY good writers can’t get published in today’s market, so yours…well, yours,” and she glanced at my submission as if it were a decomposing mouse. “Yours is not well written.”
A PHD in body language couldn’t have read me. I was a stony gargoyle. I was etherized. Numb.
“So, you’re saying my writing doesn’t have a prayer?” I asked.
She looked past me at the clock. “Not without an awful lot of work.” She shook her head dolefully. I started to inquire whether there was anything salvageable, but she reminded me my fifteen minutes were up. The next hapless lamb to the throat-slashing was in the queue. As I rose, she offhandedly pushed her business card at me, which stated that she was some sort of word guru who edited manuscripts for a living.
So what did I do? I stumbled into the hotel’s lobby, like Saint Sebastian after being shot by a hundred arrows. I mumbled to my megalomaniac self that this hired hand didn’t know a thing about what works and what doesn’t. Later I saw her chain smoking in the open atrium which jelled my impression of her as a jaded editor in a stereotypic drama. I stuffed my mangled monster in my Barnes & Noble sack, and that night I ate anything I felt like eating.
Back home, I pulled from my bag my crumpled “oeuvre” and studied her crimson suggestions for my first page. I changed some things she’d hemorrhaged over. I continued to work on my novel. A year later, the plotted thing, much tilled and hoed, was accepted for publication by a small traditional press.
Is there a moral in this “passion play?” You betcha. Listen to your critics! A chestnut of wisdom hides among the barbs. Pluck out the rose and avoid the thorns! Although you might mend what needs mending according to the red ink savages, never let the Doubting Thomases of the publishing world overcome your will. To tell the truth, I can’t recall this woman’s name today six years later. All I can resurrect is that deep furrow between her eyebrows as she pursed her lips and then coughed before she crushed my hopes.
There’s a simple thing that a know–it- all freelancing evaluator could do to make the encounter kinder and gentler and less devastating for the novice writer who’s baring her soul and her talent or lack thereof! It’s this: She can poison herself! BOTOX that decimating crease between those two judging eyes! If the evaluator has taken a little of her own toxic medicine, it’ll make your swallowing the bitter pill of an unfavorable critique go down a smidgen smoother.
copyright © 2011
Reprinted from 7/10/11 Funds for Writers by Hope Clark
Erika Hoffman’s humorous, non-fiction stories often appear in magazines like Sasee of Myrtle Beach or in nationally known anthologies like Chicken Soup for the Soul and Not Your Mother’s Book, but what she enjoys penning are mysteries; some have been published in Deadly Ink Anthologies, 2009 and 2010 and in Tough Lit Mag ( II, IV, V).