Let's Talk: Writer Beware by Susan Tepper

Let’s Talk: Writer Beware by Susan Tepper

Editor’s Note: Susan’s column this month is a cautionary tale for writers. Our best advice for avoiding a similar fate is: when an editor solicits your work for publication, always check Preditors & Editors and similar sites, to see if anything comes up, and then go with your gut. It’s not foolproof, but we hate to hear tales of writers being taken advantage of by unscrupulous editors, particularly when it comes to behind-closed-doors solicitations.

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March has rolled around once again, and we have survived another Ides of March.

Or, have we? Julius Caesar isn’t the only one who was speared on March 15, or thereabouts…

For the sake of universality, “The Writer” shall henceforth simply be called “You,” because this could happen to You. It could happen to any writer. It has, and it will again. Unfortunately, treachery plays its role in every art form – and in every form of life.

Let me begin by stating the obvious: decent fair-minded writers abound, as do decent fair-minded editors. But then there are people in this business who will spear You without so much as a blink.

Herein you will find a short, modern-day Ides of March tale:

You, The Writer, have written a compelling story that is published online to much acclaim. Lots of people seem to love your story. It receives many post shares and a great number of comments and “likes.” You are feeling the rains of heaven pouring down. But, wait! I did say rains, and rain can be a cold thing, as well as the warm shower You are experiencing…

Shortly thereafter, You are approached via email by a self-proclaimed Prominent Editor. (Caesar didn’t have email, but the flap in the Roman loggia was basically one and the same routine).

Prominent Editor solicits you for said editor’s Prominent Magazine. You, being a writer who has had her fair share of rejection, as well as considerable success, are nonetheless flattered by editor’s stated wish to have You and one of Your Stories in Prominent Magazine. Well!

You are then instructed, step-by-step, about how to proceed in this matter. You are also cautioned that this solicitation must be kept “secret.”

Ah, Caesar, you most surely can relate to secrecy and all its myriad consequences.

“The die is cast.” – Julius Caesar

Next, You are instructed to have your editors forward some of your published stories to Prominent Editor. You make sure that your well-lauded story is part of the material Prominent Editor receives. After all, that was the story that caught the eye of Prominent Editor in the first place, right? P.E. confirms receipt of your materials (but in secret, of course).

Prominent Editor then instructs you to post online that you are officially entered in Prominent Magazine!!! The buzz, the buzz! Hail Caesar!

And (like the good little ferret you have transformed into practically overnight) you abide by said Editor’s wishes. You put up the photo of Prominent Magazine and many people rally around your post! Excitement is building! Your expectations have become your new reality.

“Which death is preferable to every other? The unexpected.”

Of course, Prominent Editor is nobody’s fool. The postings You made have raised the status of Prominent Editor and Prominent Editor’s book to the level of Super-Prominent. All in the blink of an eye.

“I came, I saw, I conquered.”

P.E. next instructs you to write a review of Prominent Magazine – an issue from the prior year. Good little ferret, you pen feverishly, extolling on the virtues of said magazine and singling out specific stories you especially like.

More contact ensues with P. E. who (via email) pats You on the back: Good little ferret. You can’t help feeling content.

"Rikki posing" image by Flickr user novocainstain

“Rikki posing” image by Flickr user novocainstain

Time passes. You are expectant. Why wouldn’t You be? P.E. has made You feel like a little ferret star.

March rolls in. March, unpredictable March. The results roll in. You are nowhere. Not in the book. Not on the short list. Not on the long list. As if You have vanished this earth.

“The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks.”

You politely approach the Prominent Editor (via email). You are chastised for this act of hubris. How dare you contact me! scolds Prominent Editor.

You think: But you wanted me. It was expressly stated in round one.

You think: What has happened over the course of one short winter?

“No one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected.”

You are brave. You have been around the block in this business. You have been screwed by bigger people than Prominent Editor. You will go on with your life and work. Yet still it stings. This treachery has left its wound.

When You touch your hand to your chest, your heart now beats a little more wildly. You find yourself looking around corners, waiting for the next spear to fall.


susan (2)Susan Tepper has been a writer for twenty years. Her recent title, dear Petrov (Pure Slush Books, Australia), is a novella set in late 19th century Russia during a time of war. An award-winning author, Tepper has also been nominated nine times for the Pushcart, and once for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for her novel, What May Have Been. “Let’s Talk,” her monthly column, features here at Black Heart Magazine. She is also founder/host of FIZZ a reading series at KGB Bar in NYC, ongoing sporadically these past eight years. Read more at SusanTepper.com.