EVERY now and then a frustrated author sidles into these offices, digs a jocular knuckle into the ribs of the handiest assistant editor, and booms:
"Come on now! Do you people read all the stuff that’s submitted to your magazine?”
Before answering in detail, we’d like to say that we’re in complete sympathy with the pangs and morbid doubts behind this oldest of all the writer’s tribal cries. Most of the people who work here cut their editorial fangs on rejection slips themselves, and once shared the widespread suspicion that the acceptance or rejection of any given manuscript by any given magazine hinges largely on astrology. Guija boards and the color of the paper on which it is typed.
So far as Maclean’s is concerned, this is untrue. We do read every manuscript that is submitted here, provided only that it is written legibly and in English.
We receive several hundred manuscripts each month, about half fiction and half nonfiction. Reading them is the largest single charge against our budget of manhours.
On arrival every manuscript is given a number and entered in a logbook by a handsome young woman (blonde, name of Eleanor). Then Eleanor shoots it down the hall.
Nonfiction stories go to one desk and fiction stories to another. Nonfiction stories are given an initial screening by a first reader, who rejects only those which, in his opinion, fall far below our standards or current requirements. If he thinks there’s the least room for argument, the first reader passes the story along the line. Before doing so, he attaches an orange slip on which he has written briefly his own reaction and his recommendation whether we ought to buy it or not.
From that point on, the drill is less formal. If the second reader is really enthusiastic, he may send the article straight on to the editor, where the final decision is made. Gr he may pass it around to as many as five other people, each of whom wall add another orange slip, with another opinion on the manuscript’s usability. The yeas and nays
don’t count in the parliamentary sense. Two strong recommendations will sometimes outweigh three hesitant blackballs.
Fiction stories all go, initially, to the fiction editor. The fiction editor skims lightly through each one himself, and then passes it on to one of three fict ion readers.
These fiction readers send each story back to the fiction editor again with detailed reports appended. The report begins with a 50or 100-word synopsis of the story. The synopsis is followed by the reader’s brief comments under five main headings: General reaction, characterization, dialogue, plot, conclusion. Here’s a sample:
"General Reaction: Some
fresh and amusing writing in the first half, but it tails off rather badly.
Main character is convincing but the rest are overdrawn.
"Dialogue: Excellent, but
repetitious in a few spots.
"Plot: Nicely built up, but
the pay-off is disappointingly weak.
A first reader’s "no” doesn’t automatically disqualify a fiction piece any more than it automatically disqualifies an article. If the report suggests to the fiction editor that the story’s defects are minor or that—even though major they can be corrected, he reads it thoroughly himself. If this leaves him neither very strongly for nor very strongly against the story, he may hold his recommendation to the editor in abeyance until he’s asked one or more of his fellow workers to read it too.
All of which adds up to the melancholy truth that when we throw back a piece of prose at an aspiring author it probably hurts us worse than it hurts him. The boss loses another night’s sleep over that unfilled gap in the issue-schedule after next, the assignment desk starts biting its fingernails, and the copy desk asks itself bitterly why it ever left the newspaper business. And Eleanor’s big blue eyes fill up with tears.
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