Usually when I submit an essay or short story for publication to a literary magazine or anthology, and it’s accepted, I only hear from the editor with an acceptance email and a permission to publish form attached. But when I submitted the essay, “The World I Didn’t Know Existed” to Inspire Press for the publisher’s Inspire Forgiveness anthology a few years ago, I got something entirely different. I got a live, lengthy conversation.
The editor, Susan Sage, emailed me that she wanted to set up a time for an over-the-phone editing session. We agreed on a time and date. I’m glad I blocked out 2 ½ hours.
I’d written the essay about my first encounter with prejudice when I was a child. It happened at my Lutheran elementary school when I was in the 3rd grade. I started the essay of with the recollection of my mother walking me into the small brick building where the school was housed and down the hall to my classroom.
Susan stopped me at this point. She was determined to get more out of me. “How did your mother dress you that first day of school?” she asked. And “What was her facial expression like as she pulled up your knee socks and buckled your Buster Brown shoes?”
Susan had me close my eyes and “go back” to my Kindergarten self. She drew a lot of great description from me over the next couple of hours. I felt like I had undergone a type of hypnosis to jog my memory. Every writer has their own idiosyncrasies, cares, and concerns. Every writer has different needs. And one thing always remained the same: at some point, every writer will experience the resistance of letting go of their manuscript to a complete stranger. But writers need to be prepared for edits to their essay, short story, full-length manuscript. No manuscript reaches publication exactly the way it was submitted. There’s always work to be done on it. A good editor will be invested in the writing project and work to bring out its brilliance.
That’s the sign of a very good editor, someone who will enhance your work, keep your voice, and make the work sparkle.
My essay had “legs” for some time. A shorter version appeared in WBUR’s Cognoscenti. I had it republished a few years after the Inspire Forgiveness publication in the anthology Black Lives Have Always Mattered.
Many thanks to the skilled editors involved.
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