Piercing the Veil

The query process is pretty important to professional submissions but it is something of a mystery to many starting (and veteran) writers.  So I always enjoy getting feedback on what the agents and publishers themselves see and – well, what they endure.

Fellow author Erik Larsen (his blog here) provided a link to a blurb by Carlie Webber of CK Webber Associates.  She reviewed 60 submissions in 60 minutes and provided feedback on each one.  I guess what shocked me about this is the sheer number of submissions that:

– did not meet the agency's genre interests
– were riddled with poor grammar
– did not describe anything about their story

Maybe a full third of the submissions never even got their sample pages read because of a very poor query letter.  That's unforgivable – not on the part of the agent but on the author.

Best efforts, people, every time.

(Muse:  That means you too, you know.)

Yes it does.

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I Miss the Slush

I wrote some time ago about being a slush reader and how much I enjoyed it.  I also am on the mailing list for Daily Science Fiction and in today's entry, it turns out they are looking for some low-level slush readers.

Man, I would love to sign up.  I miss being a slush reader.  But right this second, I just can't dedicate that kind of time.  In a year, it would be easy.  Arrghh.  Timing is everything in this business.

Next time!

And by the way, DSF is a great mailing list to be on.  A new story delivered to your inbox every weekday?  Awesome stuff.

PIle of …. something

So ….

I've written about slush piles before.  As a reminder:  essentially, that's where a submitted work goes when sent to a publisher/editor; picture a big pile of manuscripts, loosely stacked and falling over, for the editor to dig through.  That's the slush pile.  Some might randomly pluck one to read at a time, some employ the computer "FIFO" method (first in, first out).  But they all use some variation of it.  I was a slush pile reader once and enjoyed it.

It's oft said that one can learn from our mistakes as much as our successes.  I think that applies to other people's mistakes, if we let ourselves do so.  In that vein, I have spent some time reading around the blogs of slush pile editors, divining some of the stupid shit we, as authors, collectively do in the course of our submissions. 

One example:  this here is a query letter, sent from a prospective author to an editor, with the editor's notes in red.  Jesus Christ, I've done some stupid writing before, but dang….  I pray to to various deities that I never send anything this bad to anyone, ever.

Or of course, you could just read Slush Pile Hell or Slush Pile Horrors.  Yikes, to the n-th degree.

There are repeated mistake through many of these vignettes but the common themes seem to be the lack of professionalism, on behalf of the writers.  If nothing else, these stories serve as grim reminders to me that being a writer is a job (not a hobby), that it does take work and dedication, and above all, you have to think like a professional and behave as such.  That doesn't guarantee success but it does cultivate the ground.  I used this analogy in the past but it's still pertinent.  In the movie Bull Durham, Kevin Costner's character says to the young punk pitcher, "You have fungus on your shower shoes.  That's disgusting.  If you make it to [The Major Leagues of Baseball] and win twenty games, you can have mold on your shower shoes and the press will say you're colorful.  Until then, it just means you're a slob."

What does that mean?  Well, Stephen King, James Patterson, or J.K. Rowling can probably send their editor their book in whatever the hell format they want, or send it piecemeal, or write it on a bar napkin in crayon, if they want.  But unless you have that kind of success, you must behave a like a pro.  At all times.  Read through the slush pile tales.  No matter how great their writing, the world will probably never know about it.

Because they were slobs.

(Muse:  If you want some semi-decent slush advice, try here or here, since Mr. Snooty here decided not post about the positive.)

I was getting there, you stupid #&%.  The first blog has some decent advice overall, apart from that particular post – and the second is tailored to screenplays but the advice is general enough to be good for all writing.  Good luck!

Random Blurbs of Stuff

I had thought to post a long-drawn out post about the nature of romance in spec fiction, or the persistence of dragons as a story mechanism.  Between you and me, I just don’t have the endurance right now.  I am only posting this to take a few moments of break time from editing my novel.  So here is some random stuff I came across this week:

– First things first:  I’m about halfway through the editing process on Omega Mage.  I’ve added over 5K words and cleaned up a bunch of inconsistencies and streamlined my character pool.  One was deleted outright, two others merged.  I think that tightened up the interactions.

– Interesting read here from a member of the slush pile at Shimmer.  Decent information; remember, dear friends, we all have to get through the slush pile in some way, shape or form.

– I was a slush reader once, for Absolute X-Press publishing.  I tried to be one at Fantasy Magazine but didn’t make the grade.  I would love to do it again, for any spec fiction venture, large or small.  I’ve been keeping my eyes open but no new opportunities have cropped up yet.  If anyone sees one….  Also, I recommend that anyone have the chance to do it, do so  (that is, after you’ve hooked me up!).  Very educational. 

– I saw over at Neil Gaiman’s blog that this years marks the tenth anniversary since American Gods released.  A decade.  That floored me.  It doesn’t seem as though I have really been writing all that long but this fall marks six straight years.  Given that time span, my production has been absolutely pathetic.  Time indeed flies on unrecoverable wings, and I need to spend it better.  But read AG if you haven’t:  it’s worthwhile for *your* time.

– I’m still stuck on a concept from many, many speculative publications.  In submission instructions, they say, "Speculative elements need to be integral to the story.  If the speculative elements can be removed without altering the story in a significant way, it’s not speculative."  Or some variant thereof.  I bring this up because I see more and more what I see labeled as "spec fiction" going against this grain.  Case in point.  A few weeks back over at Strange Horizons, a story was posted called, "The Holder’s Black-Haired Daughter." (Story here.)  While I enjoyed the story, I think it could have been placed in our British India or late seventeenth-century Caribbean with nothing more than a title swap – i.e., changing a few names and descriptions out.  I guess the editors didn’t want to pass on a good story and I don’t blame them for that.   I just wonder what spec fiction story got left off to make room for it.

– If you have ever played an MMO before (If you don’t know what "MMO" means, then you haven’t), you should check out the web-comic The N00b.  It’s cute, clever, and the material is instantly relate-able to online gamers.  With the episode list on the left side of the page, you can go to any of the past comics and instantly resume exactly where you left off, vice paging past a bunch you had already seen (Girl Genius, I am looking in your direction!).

– I have another entry coming that I promised long ago.  I got very sidetracked and never finished, had to start over, and never finished the second attempt.  Third time is a charm.  It’s coming.  Based on last fall’s response, should be fun.

That’s it for now.  Back to work.  ‘Til next time, friends.

Daily Update #8

So…..

In the last few days, I:

– Sent out five submissions, including stories I had not sent out before.  I also inquired on a couple still pending.  Please cross your fingers, toes, eyes, breasts – whatever you can cross for me.
– Wrote a few reviews for various websites.
– Logged about 3K words on my latest novel effort.

I was mildly productive.  I think I have an apartment scoped so once I get settled I’ll get a good writing rhythm down.

Ah, check this out:  the magazine Shock Totem, while young, is developing a strong reputation for publishing good horror.  The current issue has a story published by a friend.  Leslianne Wilder wrote the story Sweepers, and it is quite good (check this review).  I had a chance to read Sweepers way back when (long before publishing) and offer some feedback to Lesli.  She is a talented writer and so very modest that you alternately want to hug her and slap some sense into her.  Anyway, if you like horror, support Shock Totem.  They haven’t accepted a story by me yet but I keep trying.

Oh yeah.  Did I mention that my slush pile gig got put on hiatus?  The submissions editor at the company resigned so everything went to standby.  I was just getting into to it, too … you know, the power that came with crushing dreams of fledgling writers.  No, I kid, I kid.  But being part of a greater effort was fun.  I’m looking for another gig doing the same thing.  As I did, I started looking at the bios of slush readers for other publications.  All of them were published themselves, and multiple award winners.

Hmmm.  This put me in mind of reading the classifieds.  For example:  "Plumber wanted desperately.  Must have five years experience."  It’s the same Catch-22:  you need experience to get the job – but need the job to get the experience.  Well, I have a little experience now.  Maybe I can move on up.

I have an idea for my next blog entry but I’m afraid it will come across as whining.  So I’ll have to see….

Daily Update #6

So….

…..

Okay, I got nothing.  Been a slow week.  I did a little bit:

– Two pieces were declined this week.  One was a Pyrrhic victory, in that the editor praised my strong writing and asked to see more from me – but what’s another name for a regretful note with lots of positives?  Rejection.  I haven’t been sending out a lot, since work is in a flux state and I am trying to buy a house right now, so I think I now have just four pieces out for consideration.  Maybe I’ll get lucky.

– I did start work on four new tales this week.  Yeah, I know I should concentrate on one at a time.  Meh.  Inspiration comes from the oddest places; one of the stories is a reconstruction of a piece I lost when my hard drive crashed but the other three all came to me in a random moment of "what if?"

– Have I mentioned that I hate people?  The house I’m trying to buy is out in the middle of the countryside on 20 acres.  No neighbors nearby.  I bow to Rat as my inspiration (right here); he has the right idea.  Well-written comic strip.

– I gotta say, I am really digging my slush pile gig.  It’s a lot of fun and I am getting to read a lot of fiction.  Some is good, some … not so much.  Nice to see what the competition looks lie.

– And on a non-writing note, I gotta say Sandra Bullock is a class act.  Despite the chaos of her personal life, she still had the class to show up at the Spike TV Guy’s Choice Awards to accept an award for Troops’ Choice.  She offered some kind words to our soldiers, sailors, and airmen.  As a veteran, I appreciate that.

‘Til next time.

Daily Update #5

Ugh.  Busy week.  But a few updates here:

– I completed a draft story today that I have tentatively titled, "Scintillation."  It’s not finished by any means and though I think the thrust is excellent, getting the execution right is going to take some more work.  Thus far, word count is about 3500, but I have a feeling it is going to balloon.

– I got a couple critiques in to Critters.  Gotta keep that percentage up!

– My first slush project came in email the other day.  I got through the first 20K words today.  It’s … weird; thus far, I’m not quite sure where it’s going.  But I’ll stick with it, for a while longer anyway.  Our guidelines don’t require us to read the whole manuscript, if it is badly written.  This one isn’t badly written but it is awfully disjointed.

– I checked on a couple of my submissions.  I realized I have several that have been out for more than four months.  I previously had one submission that was out for fourteen months.  That’s …. pretty piss poor, if you want my opinion.  For novel length submissions, I fully understand a long turn.  But seriously, for short stories – especially if you throw up a 5K word limit or something similarly thin – having a story for that long is inexcusably rude.  I also understand that events occur outside our control but a little research shows that certain publications do this routinely.  Reading a 5K story for the first cut should take no more than 1/2 hour.  If an editor is sorting through 200 submissions a month, they should hire five volunteers as slush readers and give instructions as to what they want.  A good slush pile can cut an editor’s primary load by 80%.  There’s no reason for a fourteen month turn time on a short story.  But I will try to be patient with my current submissions.

Meh.  Okay, enough from me.