Saturday, November 1, 2014

Guidelines And M&Ms.

Before I submit a story, I research the market. I like to determine the kinds of stories the editor likes, word length, sub-genre and so on. I read through the guidelines and do everything I can to comply. I have, on occasion gotten it wrong, like the time I sent a story as a DOC rather than a RTF file. They still read my story, but made a comment that I should have sent the correct format. I had actually prepared a RTF but simply attached the wrong document when I was writing the email.

But a couple of weeks ago I made a bigger mistake. I read the guidelines several times, as I do, and missed one word, one simple word that would have changed the way I would have written the story. I'm not going to go into details at this point because, surprisingly, the story is still at the market. I've seen evidence that other writers have already had their stories rejected. Of course this could simply mean the editor has yet to read my story or, and I am quite optimistic, it's sitting in a 'hold pile', having been read and passed the first round of reading.

I'll have a better idea when I receive the email that accepts or rejects the story.

But I am frustrated at myself for not having read the guidelines closely enough to have picked up that one, small, game changing word.

Sometimes I read the guidelines and see requests for stories to be submitted in only one particular font, or with particular spacings, or selected words in the heading. I shrug, comply, and then wonder whether the editor is being a bit rock star - you know, all those demands rock stars make? Van Halen are infamous for their contract demand that a bowl of M&Ms be backstage, but with all the brown ones removed.

Many times the request is simply to make the editor's life easier. For example, it saves them reformatting the many stories they receive to suit their particular reader. And I can think of a bunch of other reasons why they request particular formats in the emails, cover letters and manuscript.

Or maybe it's to simply weed out those who haven't actually read the guidelines.

Van Halen's request is not as ego-based as it first appears. Their contracts include a lot of technical and safety requirements, and generally run to something like 150 pages. Hidden in the middle of all this is the M&M clause. And should they arrive at a venue and find a bowl of M&Ms with brown ones included, then they know immediately the contracts haven't been read, which could lead to safety issues.

I know the judges at Writers of the Future, a speculative fiction contest and publication, receive manuscripts of all sorts. Everything from romance, to memoirs and even recipe books. Seriously.

Too many writers, particularly 'newbies', send their story to every single market without researching properly. Perhaps some of those submission guidelines are the editor's brown M&Ms.

The wrong heading might mean they don't even bother reading it.

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