Friday, February 19, 2010

in which Executive Ed plays mind games

So about a week ago, INTERN read a manuscript that blew her away. After sleeping on it for several nights, after which the manuscript still had not lost any of its power, INTERN put the ms in Executive Ed's inbox, as per Assistant Ed's instructions.

This morning:

Executive Ed (holding astonishing manuscript): Why was this in my inbox?

INTERN The writing is incredible, and the author won a MacArthur grant—

Executive Ed (throws manuscript into recycle with such force that the pages explode free of their clip): Do you know how many f&#^ing MacArthur grants I have sitting in my inbox right now? I don't have time for this shit!

(glares at INTERN and storms back into office)



A little while later, one of the Stepford Interns (who are all actually very nice and smart) explained to INTERN that Executive Ed's performance was actually a kind of test: Executive Ed will only read a manuscript if it's so good that someone will a) spend an hour fishing the pages out of the recycle and reassembling them and b) risk life and limb and the wrath of ten thousand polecats putting them back in his inbox after being savagely warned off.

INTERN is not sure if this kind of demand for ultimate passion and blood sacrifice makes Executive Ed a genius or some kind of deranged dictator.

Either way, things have been awfully dramatic around here.


  1. And begs the question did you pass or fail?

  2. "...Stepford Interns (who are all actually very nice and smart)..."

    Look at yourself closely in the mirror. Are you perhaps looking a bit more Stepford-like than usual?

    Also, if this is the standard method, how do ANY books get published? Is there some way to by-pass this abuse? And I don't ask this as someone looking to submit, since, let's be honest, that possibility isn't a possibility at the moment. I'm just asking out of sheer bewilderment.

  3. Once the secret of the test is out, doesn't it lose it's effectiveness?

  4. I would not trust the Stepford Intern. INTERN has no way of knowing if she's being wily and trying to get INTERN rent limb from limb by Executive Ed.

    I would also be wary of the recycling bin. While it's admirable that ExEd recycles, exploding manuscripts could lead to death by a thousand paper cuts and impaling on stray paper clips.


    INTERN should wear body armor.

  5. I offer another, more sinister posibility. Stepford Interns are setting you up.

    It doesn't make you wrong, though.

    I recommend starting a spreadsheet. MSs you felt drawn to. Follow their success. McPublisher might not want them but that doesn't mean no one else will. Some day, you will be able to produce documentation that when XYZ phenom crossed your desk, you recognized the genius when those around you scoffed. And HUZZAH! You get hired for a real job. With benefits and stuff.

  6. I've just started following this blog and I'd like to say I love it. It's funny and informative.

    In regards to this post: I hope things get better at work for you soon. It's amazing how every boss has their quirks and you have to learn how to work with them, or work them, depending on the situation. Stick to your guns Intern, and don't let Executive Ed paper cut you too deep.

  7. C.J. Cherryh's _Cuckoo's Egg_ portrays several fictional mind game tests. An unlocked waiting room test, a symbolic minefield test, a questionably feigned dramatic overreaction test, and a combined final initiation test. A successful examinee figures out the underlying premises of the tests and succeeds by demonstrating full awareness of the tests' purposes and completing the tests based on that awareness.

    The waiting room test, when to not sit still for overlords' monkeyshines, when to question authority, when to acquiesce to another's authority over oneself.

    The symbolic minefield test, to always be conscious of unseen and unremarked hazards, especially those that seem too easy as they're probably intended to direct one into real hazards. The feigned overreaction test, to not needlessly or embarrassingly escalate hostilities.

    Tendencies for assigning blame externally seems one of the underlying executive editor's tests. Ability to handle irrational emotional outbursts seems another. Raising self-doubts over potentially premature convictions and how that's handled seems another.

    What's the point of mind games? An executive's technique for persuading underlings to think critically for themselves so the executive doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting, so the executive has a fall guy when things go horribly wrong.

    The higher up in any hierarchy one brings applications, the more likely a first reponse will be outright denial. Government bureaucracies depend on denials to winnow out the chaff. Wasn't Cleopatra the Queen of de Nile?

    Right off the top, I'd say executive editor's comment that he's got a full inbox of award winners means he's got a lot of golden material and limited resources limiting his choices.

    It seems to me there's no right choice for how to proceed. Acquiecence demonstrates weakness. Bucking the chain rocks the boat. A well-reasoned and well-thought out response might be to find credible points in the manuscript for agreement with the executive editor's viewpoint and let him know he was right. Or the more daring and risky approach with greater reward or greater loss potential, take a favoring stand, make strong and credible points, and substantiate them.

  8. The guy sounds like a complete jerk. No job is worth putting up with such childish, bullying, abusive nonsense.

  9. If Stepford Intern is lying, then following their advice will get you trouble. If Stepford Intern is telling the truth, your boss is crazy. Lose-lose situation here.

  10. Elsewhere (in our DOUCHE OF THE WEEK feature for February 8-12), we allude to "the rather common knowledge among publishers that this title [executive editor] is often conferred on disruptive but well-connected incompetents who ought to have been fired long ago but instead must be kicked upstairs for political reasons." Is that the situation at the THE INTERN's gig?

  11. That's a tricky one. I wouldn't like to work for a boss like that, no matter what his motivation is.

  12. Did you go back and fish it out of the trash then?

  13. Another example of how screwed up Big Publishing is. What other __competitive and reputable__ industry would act in such a manner?

    Self publish. It is the only sane choice left to us authors.

  14. Sorry--that kind of behavior is uncalled for. Did you write a reader's report for the ms? When I worked in publishing, we had to write a report about why the ms was great in order to entice an editor to read it. But I never dealt a nasty editor like that. Maybe give the ms to an editor much lower on the totem pole.

  15. Maybe make several copies and keep putting the same MS on his/her desk or inbox, which in turn makes editor question his sanity.

  16. Were you raised by ten thousand polecats? Or do they pay you for endorsements? lol!

    all I can think is poor author. :(

  17. The ploy used by ExecEd is very straightforward: if you don't feel strongly enough to put yourself on the chopping block, the manuscript can't be all that good. And, yes -- once the meaning of the tirade is out, it loses force so you'll probably only experience it once. As to the conspiracy theorists (set up by Stepford interns), sometimes a cigar is only a cigar.

  18. Ouch sounds like ExecEd has anger management issues. Now it really comes down to how much did that book speak to you for where you'll proceed next (personally, I'd try to confirm Stepford intern's theory before going with that option).

  19. Ex-Ed is really Ex-dickhEaD. As he proves, no one is totally worthless; one can always serve as a poor example. You, IINTERNchild, are kind and sensitive, and totally undeserving of such pique. Later, when you are a titan in the industry, you can mention this cretin by name and use his obnoxious behavior as entertainment for your own internchildren.

  20. EX ED sounds charming. I mean, if a big boss takes the time to approach you just to throw something away in your presence, there's gotta be some magic happening there. You should totally fish 'em out. Maybe you'll get promoted to head intern or get your own bobble head or something.

  21. Are you sure you put it in the right Inbox? Sounds like you mixed up the Executive Editor with the Executive Ass.

    But really – if that’s the way he treats people, litmus test or not, he doesn’t deserve to have such a book handed to him.

    I’d say take the first five pages out of the trash, jot down the date and what was said, and then mail it to him a couple years from now when he’s wishing that book had crossed his desk.

  22. IMHO, the ExEd has both a) too much to do, and b) a fear that you are impressed by awards rather than literary merit. So wait a week, think some more, and if you really think it's that brilliant, write him a short memo on why. Mention the woman who went over her boss's head to champion Anne Frank's Diary, which was originally rejected because everyone was sick of the war and no one was interested in foreigners and dull young girl diaries. The rest is history.

  23. Lol, always with the self-publishing lines. :D

    Beyond that, I don’t think it’s a straightforward technique at all. People should be more willing to say what they mean. If the author’s chances rely on an intern standing up to the Big Boss, there’s really something wrong with the system. No offense to Intern.

  24. Did you fish or risk life and limb or realise Stepford intern is trying to lead you to the gallows?

  25. I liked your other internship better. This one doesn't sound worth the aggro.

    Yeah, Other Intern might be right. I've known people that have tests that other people have to pass to win their approval-- if they choose to. In my experience such people's approval isn't worth it.

    Perhaps someone less cranky will offer for that author's manuscript. I hope so.

  26. Years ago I worked in publishing and as I read this, I found myself thinking, "I'm not surprised."

  27. That sounds terrifying. I love the people I'm with right now. I'll be sad to leave them when my internship is over. MEEP.

  28. I love Mary's idea except go one step further and replace all his manuscripts except the 1st page in his inbox with the trashed one.

    Oh. Well. Unless you want to keep working there then that might be a bad idea. But a darn funny one. Maybe on your last day?

  29. Come on, people! There has to be SOME way for us to pick amongst the MacArthur grant winners. Publishing is not for the faint of heart.

  30. I'm not sure if I could work with that behaviour, but hey, be brave. Storm into his office and throw it at him. Maybe?

  31. Intern, just had to say I'm sorry you had to deal with that. With my temper I'd have either blown up at the Ex Ed (unlikely) or burst into tears. Mind games. Just what publishing needs...

  32. I don't do well around explosive people... hugs to Intern, and hopefully the others aren't messing with you as well.

  33. Holy crap! Can you dig it out and send it to some friendly publishing folk somewhere else - anonymously? Just for spite?

    And also...when this internship is up, you WILL be dropping the names of this place, right?

  34. OMG!!!
    There is a MOVIE in this!
    And Meryl Streep will die to do it!

  35. PS
    Intern should run, not walk to Sonia Sale at H&M BTW.
    Everthing would fit you like a dream and prices are cheeeeeeeeeep
    And you need them when you take a meeting at that joint.

  36. PSS
    I worked in Fashion and they pull the same s**t everywhere.
    It's a test to see how ballsy you are IMHO
    Shove it back I say and steel yrself for whatever comes. It will be interesting.
    Don't be a mouse and hide for Gawd's sake!

  37. Ok, go and find a copy of the book, The Peter Principal, and put it in the a-hole's inbox. If he has any idea of what that book is about he will rage around that someone had the gall to call him on his undeserved rise in the industry.

    (Quick describe...The Peter Principal is about how incompetant people rise up through the ranks of their career, even though THEY SUCK AT THEIR JOB)

    Also, please tell me you fished that thing out of the bucket with the quickness! Be brave dear intern, be brave. (Humming the tune of the cartoon "Underdog" while you do it should throw off interupptions)

    And finally, please tell me you are gathering all this horrific behavior up and writing your very own, very awesome, screenplay about the crap you are putting up with.


  38. We have to know what happens! :D We're behind you, INTERN! (and not just using you as a human shield, we swear!)

  39. This just cinched it, I will try my darndest and rewrite every query letter to get an agent!

    In the meantime dear Intern, I would wear very noticable earmuffs as a deterrent to listening to such abusive language. Maybe he'll notice them or not. Since he thinks only he matters.

  40. I really hate it when people feel the need to play games. And I don't care how high up on the food chain *they think* they are. I vote for "deranged."

    I mean, haven't we as a society risen above that sort of behavior, or do they still teach how to play head games in MBA school? LOL

    The jack@$$ needs to be scrubbing toilets and taking his anger out on the plumbing which will in turn give him the response he needs.

    Having dealt with such childishness in the industry in which I work, I feel for you, INTERN.