Tag Archives: guidelines

How to Piss Off an Editor

I’m cleaning out my email files and getting back on track, so in the near future you’ll see some posts here about other than writing. I’m no longer slush reading for Chizine Publications but this one email was memorable. We asked for sample chapters for the first read-through. I received a manuscript that was so full of slang and vernacular as to be incomprehensible. I didn’t think I could give a constructive comment so I opted for diplomacy. Remember, editors are extremely busy people and they rarely will give comments. I’ve always tried to say something because it also hones why I’m rejecting a story.

Whenever I’ve received comments back on a story rejection I’ve found them at least steering me toward what didn’t work. That’s most of the time, not always. Sometimes editors might just be off their rockers or so bent on their own agendas that they make little sense themselves. I’ve had a magazine tell me they didn’t do religious stories because I sent a tale of Garuda (the Hindu god who is part man, part bird) and a lover. Hardly religious but well…they saw it that way. I’ve had rejection letters that are framed as breakup letters, which are annoying and immature, but I’ve never written them back to say so.

So, with that being said, here’s a short lesson in how to get yourself blacklisted from a publisher. This guy didn’t follow the guidelines and probably didn’t read them, so he was lucky that we even bothered to read the piece. Oh, and CZP is a Canadian publisher, and I’m Canadian with a BFA.

Dear X,

Thank you for the opportunity to consider your manuscript for publication by ChiZine Publications.  We enjoyed reading your novel, but, after careful consideration, we regretfully advise that we are unable to accept it for publication.

Please make sure you follow the guidelines in the future. Also submitting manuscripts in a standard submission format is much easier on the editors’ eyes.

You had some very interesting descriptive phrases but I did not find that the story grabbed me. Best of luck elsewhere with this.

Your interest in our press is genuinely appreciated, and we wish you the best for your ongoing writing endeavours.

Sincerely,

Colleen Anderson

Didn’t “grab” you – what exactly does that mean? Push the limits of form & vernacular and this is response you get. Jesus.

Don’t take it personally, Colleen. I’m sure you’re a victim of your own particular MFA program. Obviously Americans are too stupid generally. I’ll send it to Germany. Or Congo.

Dear X,

Editors have many manuscripts to go through and we don’t always have time to go into detail. And sometimes we don’t like something well enough to say what’s wrong with it. Doesn’t grab me is a polite way of saying it didn’t seem to go anywhere. The vernacular was heavyhanded and overdone. That’s not edgy; that’s going to be a book that won’t sell. But don’t take it personally. I’m sure you’re just a victim of your generation that doesn’t read more than the first paragraph, so why would you think we want to read the rest of your book? You did not even follow the submission guidelines or standard submission format. They’re there for a reason. And while some Americans may be stupid, calling most or all stupid and assuming you even know what nationality I am smacks of bigotry and your own stupidity.

Please, go bother Germany, the Congo and any other publisher you wish. Your submissions are no longer welcome at CZP.

Colleen Anderson

And really, unless you’ve been an asshat, don’t take it personally when you’ve been rejected. It’s about the piece, not the person.

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Writing: The Life of a Writer

I try once a week to take my laptop and go off to a local cafe/restaurant, have a couple of drinks and work on a novel. If I don’t do this, I tend to get distracted with many other writing projects.

I’m not writing any poetry at the moment but rewriting a bit, trying to redo a story for one anthology, finish a new story for another, and work on my novel. Sometimes ideas flow and sometimes it’s stop and start, the idea complex, the world taking some thinking. How much to put in of the world without veering too far from the story becomes a balancing act. It’s almost time to go through my bookmarked literary and speculative markets again, tossing the broken links and moving the ones that take online subs into a separate folder. I’m behind on submitting because of some freelance work and the writing.

An example of a submission night: I sit down at 8:00 pm and start going through the markets, continuing from where I left off the last night. By 11:30 I’ve weeded through the markets and sent out poems to about four magazines. That’s about four poems per magazine and they’re already written. I also submit two stories to two other magazines. But just doing that, searching through, finding the right poems, reading through them, making a few changes, reading other guidelines took three and a half hours.

When I submit stories/poetry in paper format it takes even longer because I must take the template letter, fill in the titles on each one, print the poems and letters off, match them up, fill out envelopes, make up SASEs, put stamps on, put the material inside, seal them up and take them to the post office. Usually I’ll do a batch of about ten magazines at once and it will take me three solid nights to get everything sorted.

Although I could keep track of where my stories and poems go on an Excel spreadsheet I find that I need a tactile, visual aid. I still use index cards. For the markets I have a 5X7  index card and I write the editor, magazine name, address, pay and type of writing that they accept at the top. Then I write the title of the pieces I’m sending and the date I sent them, usually just the month and year: 03/09. When the story/poem comes back I write the return date. If they’ve accepted a piece I put a circled P beside the piece and the date.

I have a separate 3X5 card for every poem and story. I have categorized these cards by color: pink for erotica and mainstream, green for fantasy, yellow for SF, blue for dark fantasy. That’s for stories. For poems I have them on white cards or green for the speculative poems. I put the title and the length at the top of the card and then list the market and date sent on each one as I send them out. When I have sent to the market, I put the market card at the back of my large index box. When I have submitted a story/poem I put that card to the back of the story/poem box behind a paper-clipped card. I have one box for poems (I have that many) and one for fiction. One larger box holds the markets. If a story/poem has been out too long I will send a query and I mark that with a Q and the date. If I hear nothing after a couple of months, I put the card back into the submission flow again.

I confess to not having a card for every market. If they’re fairly new or a one-of anthology, I sometimes don’t make a card. I’ll wait to see if they continue and if I submit more than once. But I do have one for every piece I’ve written. It lets me see how often I’ve sent a piece out, where I’ve sent it and which ones are becoming trunk stories; the ones that keep going out again and again and again.

I tried computerized index systems before but I found that if I wanted to find a poem about deadly flowers for market X that was doing a theme issue, and SF stories dealing with a dark future for market Y, that it was easier to sort the cards back and forth and match them up to the best market. Say that I have one futuristic SF story and there are three markets. I look at the story, make sure I haven’t sent it to the markets and then will try to match it to the highest paying one first. But if I have a secondary story, SF but Utopian and only one magazine likes that type then I may switch them about. To me, this is far easier with the cards than by clicking through various screens.

Writing is about 40% creation (breaking that down to 15% writing and 25% rewriting) and 60% perseverance. It’s true that if you persevere long enough, you will get items published. Some stories have sat for years and then ended up at the right market at the right time. But it also means you must be willing to rewrite and drop your favored line or character. Some editors will give a short statement of what worked or didn’t. You can get contradictory statements so take them with a grain of salt, but if you’re saying the editor was out to lunch for every rejection, then you’ll probably continue to get a lot of rejections.

The advent of computers meant suddenly that everyone could write. But not everyone can write well. It takes practice, and magazines are inundated with good works as well as bad. The more polished a piece, the better the chance of acceptance. Continuing to submit and not give up is half the battle.

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Writing Antithesis: Shine and Catastrophia

There are always anthologies coming and going. Unlike a magazine that comes out regularly, an anthology is a collection of stories by different authors often with a theme. They’re usually in book format as opposed to a paper magazine or an e-zine format, and they are one ofs.

This is much easier to do than deal with a magazine, continuous sales and subscriptions. Both types have their place of course. It’s something I want to do, some day edit an anthology. But until I can convince a publisher of the idea or get a bigger name, I think it’s going to have to wait. The problem with anthologies published in Canada is, that unless they’re distributed in the US, we just don’t have the population basis to sell enough. For that reason, most publishers shy from anthologies.
Two interesting anthologies coming up in Europe (though anyone can submit to them) actually are the antithesis of each other.

Dutch writer and editor Jetse de Vries will be editing Shine, an anthology due out in 2010 by Solaris Books. He’s not accepting submissions until May but that gives plenty of time to write a story specific to the theme. Shine is about shiny futures, the realm of optimistic SF. Often stories dealing with new technologies in the future end up with dire consequences. Shine is to be convincing and optimistic and of the near future (within the next 50 years).

There has of late been a movement in SF to write realistic near-future works, something that could or will possibly happen. No alien invasions, no faster than light travel, no transporters, but more of perhaps setting up a colony on the moon and the research required, or missions to Mars. These are aspects of space travel that NASA is seriously working on (as well as other space agencies) and they hope to have a manned Mars mission by 2030.

The name for this type of science fiction (which my brain can never seem to remember) is mundane SF. I guess it’s because I have connotations of mundane as being boring but there are two definitions:

1. everyday, ordinary, and therefore not very interesting
2. relating to the world or worldly matters

Obviously it is the second meaning that refers to the anthology and to the subgenre of mundane SF. I tried writing one story and I did find it hard, partly because I tend to write dark fantasy more often than SF. But then I realized I just finished a novelette that is in fact mundane SF. I don’t know if it will be shiny enough for Jetse but I’ll have to work on it and polish it and see how bright it looks. For full information on Shine, go to: http://shineanthology.wordpress.com/category/guidelines/

PS Publishing, out of England will be publishing Catastrophia. Edited by Allen Ashley, this anthology centers around post-apocalyptic fiction, disasters and catastrophes. Although hope and light can also come of such tropes in horror and SF, it’s not always as likely. If anything though, these tales start in a darker place.

Whereas Jetse isn’t accepting submissions until May, Allen is accepting now with a closing date of May or when full, whichever comes first. The theme of mundane SF could also be applied to this anthology since the aspects of disasters pertain to life on Earth, and that Allen Ashley wants them to be treated in a “modern manner.” No historical pieces here though modern or slightly futuristic will work. Of course, it’s possible he’d look at a futuristic post-apocalyptic world and the societies and cultures that would develop then. Full guidelines can be found here: http://news.pspublishing.co.uk/2008/09/09/catastrophia-anthology-call-for-submissions/

Between Shine and Catastrophia, there is something for everyone: the optimistic and the fatalistic, or perhaps fatalism with an uplifting end. Many anthologies don’t pay much. Pay could be a cent a word, fifty bucks, a share of royalties should the anthology actually sell. Catastrophia and Shine will both be paying professional rates.

I’ll probably give both of these a try. A themed anthology is always a good way to push the envelope and write something new. Like that one mundane SF I wrote about a mission to Mars; it was a challenge. I had to do a fair amount of research and extrapolating. But it was fun too and though I think that I hit both meanings of mundane, I did finish the story. But I need to do something else to it first to give it a bit more vim. And I’ll start thinking of something for Shine and Catastrophia.

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Writing: Cover Letters

I’ve written far more cover letters than I’ve seen, and various publications and/or editors do have their particular whims. Some want no cover letter. Some want them, listing publishing credits and some don’t care either way because they never read them. As an editor, I tend to read the cover letters after I read the story because I don’t want to be influenced by fame or credentials but hope that the story will merit its own attention. This will differ depending on editors.

Still, there are a few rules that hold true for writing a cover letter and for any genre. They’re simple. First, check out the publisher’s guidelines and follow them. There’s no faster way to annoy an editor and not have your piece read than to go against their rules.

Second, get the address and the editor’s name correct. If you don’t know the editor’s name or there are multiple editors, then just say “Dear Editor(s).” No one will get in a tizzy over that.

You want to then tell them what you’re sending. This does not, emphatically does not, mean recapping the whole story. That’s what your story is for. We don’t want you to tell us anything about it except if it’s racy and you’re not sure the magazine accepts erotic elements. I usually put something brief ; I can remove the explicit sexual elements if needed (but it’s rare that I need to specify). Writing, “I’m submitting ‘Hatchet Job,’ a 1400 word piece, for consideration in Real Life Tales” will suffice.

Oh, and you never need to say, “My name is Joe Smith.” After all, you’re signing your cover letter, right? And you’re putting your name on your manuscript, right? So why tell me your name in the beginning? That already will make me think you might have a tendency toward redundancy in your story.

You should include a short paragraph of your most pertinent publications. If you’re submitting to a children’s market, don’t list your published erotic stories. If that’s the only thing you have published, make it less specific as in, “I have published several stories in the Cleis Books anthologies.” That will indicate that you have publishing credits but not emphasize erotic.

You want to put that you have published in, say, “Weird Tales, October Country, and Wild Wombats Unleashed, with new work coming out in New Cthulhu and Snickers From the Timestream. It’s best to put publications related to the genre you’re sending to if you can, and you can mention any recent awards or honorable mentions. You don’t need to list the titles of your stories, nor dates and volume numbers. If an editor really wants to hunt down your work they’ll do so by your name and the magazine you’ve mentioned. Many editors are well aware of other publications and authors already.

Don’t list everything you’ve ever published. Five is usually plenty. You can list if you’re a member of any pertinent associations. For speculative works, SFWA, HWA, SF Canada are a few, as well as workshops attended: Clarion, Odyssey, CSSF, Fairwood…there are many. This may not mean a jot to some editors but if you’re a new writer with no publishing credits, do list them. It shows you’re serious about your craft. I usually just put SFWA on my manuscripts and leave it at that.

You don’t want to demand that the editor read your piece or tell them that they will like it or find it wonderful. They’ll decide that for themselves. You can always say you hope they enjoy it and thank them for their time. Last, let them know if your manuscript is disposable, if you’ve supplied a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) or if you’d like an email response (if their guidelines say they will do this), and sign off.

There are variations on this and some editors are way more touchy about letters than others. Some might tell you that listing three publication credits is enough. Some won’t even care. The best advice: keep it short. Editors receive hundreds of letters and don’t have time to do more than read a short paragraph.

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