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Night Shade Message Boards » Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction » Submissions/Cover Letters » Best Cover Letter? Worst Cover Letter Cliches? « Previous Next »

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Claudia O'Keefe
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 02:15 pm:   

I'd be interested in hearing opinions on what constitutes the best cover letter for short fiction and, conversely, which phrases are so cliche you'd like to shred them forever.

I've read some clunkers, and have my own simple format when submitting, but am wondering about other people's pet peeves.
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 02:54 pm:   

One phrase that I find annoying and cliche is "I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it."

Other than that, just keep it businesslike and to the point. Tell us the name of the story and the word count. Include a (brief) list of your publishing credits. Don't summarize the plot. Don't tell us how much your mother liked it.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 06:07 pm:   

Claudia---

Nice to see you show up here---it has been a while.

I started to answer your question with anecdotes from St. Martin's, then I noticed your question specifically concerns short fiction. I think we had a discussion of this subject in another thread, but my short answer to your question is that with short stories, the only point to a cover letter is to cite the author's credits or any matters concerning publication of the story at hand.

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Thomas R
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 08:23 pm:   

I'm not sure about worst cover letters. It seems like I was at a site where someone quoted their cover letter which went something like this.

"I am an award winning and respected writer in real literary circles. So I know you will accept this, because you could not do otherwise."

And that was Margaret Atwood to Omni(Of course I'm joking, no need to bring Ellen Datlow in or anything)

Still I've heard of editors who admitted they got cover letters that were bizarre, insulting, or even a bit scary. I'm not sure anyone outright threatened someone in their cover letter, but a few editors who I knew had controversial opinions received some rather intense hate mail. Others report bribes, people claiming to be aliens, etc. In FSF's 50 year history they likely got someone whose cover letter was bizarre in one of these ways, but I don't know if that's happened in recent years.
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Claudia O'Keefe
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 08:25 pm:   

Hey, Gordon--

Congrats on the magazine! I enjoyed your interview, too, which was part of the reason I ended up on this board. I was really frustrated with publishing for a while, book publishing in general, not magazines. Finally feeling ready to start writing again, more short fiction this time, which was the reason for the question above.

Anecdotes from St. Martin's, huh? ;-)
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Claudia O'Keefe
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 08:29 pm:   

Thomas R--

"I am an award winning and respected writer in real literary circles. So I know you will accept this, because you could not do otherwise."

LOL. Well, I guess you have to give them an "A" for self-confidence. This has to be a literary urban legend, right? No one could send a cover letter that out there.
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Thomas R
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 08:43 pm:   

Maybe they didn't put it in the cover letter, but at the Asimov's board this guy went on and on about how brilliant he was. That he had waited over a month and he did not have to put up with that from the likes of some pulp hack like Dozois. I think he did say that in his cover letter he told Dozois that he was brilliant and that his genius must be celebrated.

At the very least I'm pretty sure it happens. I know cover letters of people claiming to be extraterrestrials has happened. Shaver is a famous case of a man claiming his psychotic delusions were actual events and had them published as articles. I think in the pulp days a few editors claimed they were aliens or had psionic powers.
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E Thomas
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 08:58 pm:   

I took a class in which we shadowed the editors of our local literary journal. This is of course only my personal opinion, but what follows is a list of some actual cover letter statements that I thought were a BAD idea.

1) Randomly annoucing "By the way, I have a Ph.D." when it has nothing to do with anything. At all. Especially when you have not mentioned anything else about your background.
2) Saying you graduated from an MFA program but misspelling several things and making huge grammatical errors in the cover letter.
3)I thought it was pretty tacky to point out you are ALSO an editor of a magazine and might be interested in looking at the editors' fiction/poems for your magazine.
4) Turning in a short story where you synopsize the whole story. "It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out." This format is for novels, people, not short stories. We read the short stories. We'll find out what they are about.
5) Fiction magazines probably do not have trouble with this, but when someone submits a "piece" to a journal that could either be fiction or an essay, and it isn't made clear in the cover letter.
6) Anything in which the writer says that their friends or relatives liked the story.

To be more positive, actual statements that were GOOD ideas in my opinion.

1) Stating the name and word count of the story.
2) Thanking the editor for his/her time.
3) Mentioning a background studying autism when the story contains an autistic character.
3) Reminding the editor that this was a rewrite request.
4) Taking the time to look up the appropriate editor's name and sending it to them (with the name spelled correctly).
5) Keeping the letter short and only containing the necessary information.
6) Using a standard, readable format--font, paper color, etcetera.

Most of these were pretty much covered by F & SF's editors, but those are some specific examples I have personally seen.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 09:29 pm:   

There was a cover letter that hung on the bulletin board at St. Martin's that read "Dear Editor, Please accept my apologies in advance for sending a manuscript apt to invoke litigation." The letter went on to describe the writer's love affair with a pet dog. That one always stands out in my mind as how _not_ to write a cover letter.

The example I usually cite of a good query letter went something like this: "Dear Mr. Van Gelder: I saw that Michael Weldon thanked you in the PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO GUIDE as his editor. I'm working on a book entitled GRINDHOUSE: THE FORBIDDEN WORLD OF ADULTS-ONLY FILMMAKING and I'm wondering if you might be interested in looking at it." That one stands out because (a) it indicated that the author had done some market research and (b) it strongly implied that the author had actually read a book, which set him apart from much of the pack.

Ah, I did think of a useful lesson for short-fiction cover letters. When I taught Clarion West in '99, I couldn't stand the thought of teaching a whole class on how to write a cover letter, so I brought three dozen examples of slush and let everyone see for themselves what it's like to read a day's worth of submissions.

I didn't pay much attention to the slush stories themselves but afterwards some of the students offered what seems like a valuable lesson in cover letters: Don't scan a photo of yourself sitting in front of your computer, smoking a pipe, into your computer and then print it out and use it as your cover letter.
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Jim Bailey
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 11:52 pm:   

"Include a (brief) list of your publishing credits."

My favorite along that line so far was a cover letter that had 7 long paragraphs of listed credits. The first was appropriate, the second less so... When it got to paragraph 7, the author was listing printed letters to the editor in the local penny shopper.

Since this was e-mail, I copied the cover letter into the word processor and ran a word count. 700 words and change. The story was 1200 words.
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TCO
Posted on Saturday, May 01, 2004 - 05:19 pm:   

1. Is a cover letter required?
2. Does submission of the manuscript imply that the editor may run it or is it required that you come to agreement on the payment and rights?
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Patrick Samphire
Posted on Tuesday, May 04, 2004 - 06:38 am:   

Cover letters are sometimes required, sometimes not. If it matters, the guidelines will say so. If they don't mention it, you get to choose.

Theoretically, submission doesn't mean you're agreeing to let the editor run it. You are making an offer by sending your script. They make a counter offer (often in the form of a contract). You then decide to accept it or not. That's the theory. In practice, you won't publish many stories before you find one of your submissions has been published before you've actually agreed or seen a contract, let alone payment. At that stage, it's up to you what happens. In theory, you could take legal action, if you wanted to spend a lot of money and make a name as an awkward writer. Or you could just accept it, knowing that a contract and payment will probably eventually follow.
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Iron James
Posted on Tuesday, May 04, 2004 - 12:18 pm:   

I've had a number of stories published before I knew they had been accepted. But I know what a magazine pays, and what rights they want, before I submit anything. If I didn't want a story published by a particular magazine, and didn;t think pay/rights were acceptable, I wouldn't submit a story there in the first place.
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Patrick Samphire
Posted on Wednesday, May 05, 2004 - 01:57 am:   

There's a certain truth to that, Iron James, and that's what I tend to do, too. But I've heard of cases where magazines drop pay rates or don't advertise certain clauses in contracts, so it isn't quite that clear cut.
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TCO
Posted on Wednesday, May 05, 2004 - 10:55 am:   

Do any of the big mags do this practice? Publishing without permission? Which ones?
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jack skillingstead
Posted on Wednesday, May 05, 2004 - 11:31 am:   

TCO, I doubt any of the major mags do that. I've had some difficulties with the small press, however. Probably it's more common there.
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TCO
Posted on Wednesday, May 05, 2004 - 03:11 pm:   

This could really be funny if a simsubber got published two places. It wouldn't be his fault. Of course that is a purely academic question. I would never simsub...or speed in my car. *nose grows*
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Patrick Samphire
Posted on Thursday, May 06, 2004 - 06:23 am:   

I've only been published by one big mag: Realms of Fantasy, and they didn't do it. Can't speak for the others, but it doesn't seem likely. The pros really are pros. The semipros and amateurs vary incredibly widely from ones who act totally professionally to those I wouldn't go near.
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Candy Tutt
Posted on Thursday, May 06, 2004 - 01:00 pm:   

Every time I've had a story accepted I was notified by letter --plus, I was sent a copy of the payment agreement to sign and return.
Oh yes- cover letters...1) read the publication's guidelines, and 2)follow them.
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Jeffrey J. Lyons
Posted on Friday, June 18, 2004 - 11:59 am:   

About E Thomas's April 26, 2004 posting listing the 6 Positive things:

I would disagree with this one: 3) Mentioning a background studying autism when the story contains an autistic character.

I am not sure if that adds any more credibility or not. I think short and simple says it all. A cover letter should be about 3-4 sentences long.

Here's my story. Here's the word count. Tell them if it's been submitted elsewhere. Maybe (but probably not necessary) mention a few publishing credits. Thank them for their time.
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ET
Posted on Friday, June 18, 2004 - 02:34 pm:   

Jeffrey, mentioning relevant background is useful because often things that the writer knows aren't necessarily common knowledge, and might even sound illogical, and it's useful to let the editor know that the writer knows what she's talking about. So it's not always necessary to mention such experience, but it can be useful at times.

As for your own advice, what do you mean "it's been submitted elsewhere"? Hopefully you're not talking about sim-subbing, which means that you're talking about previous submissions. Editors already know that stories rejected at one mag go to another, saying specifically "my story is crap and ten editors have already decided to reject it" doesn't seem to me like it has a place in a cover letter.

Also, while mentioning a few credits isn't necessary, it can help, which is certainly more than can be said for mentioning previous rejections.
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John Thiel
Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 07:40 am:   

Who, You?
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Jeffrey J Lyons
Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 12:07 pm:   

What I meant by "submitted elsewhere" was to inform the editor if this is a simultaneous submission. Some publishers don't except simultaneous submissions.
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John Klima
Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 12:38 pm:   

Most publishers don't accept simultaneous submissions.

JK
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TCO
Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 05:17 pm:   

What they don't know...
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George H Scithers
Posted on Friday, October 01, 2004 - 06:55 pm:   

The worst three cover letters I have seen in my 45 years of editing:

"I have had my story notarized, so that if you try to steal it . . . "

"My story is not science fiction; it is about truth and beauty, but you will like it anyway."

I have been knighted by Queen Elizabeth I and have received the United Nations Congressional Medal of Honor."
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Matthew
Posted on Friday, October 01, 2004 - 07:21 pm:   

I have been knighted by Queen Elizabeth I ...

Immortals walk among us!
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des
Posted on Saturday, October 02, 2004 - 12:48 am:   

I got a lot of complaints about my covering material when I used to submit years ago!
George's name above reminded me. ;-)

df lewis
http://www.nemonymous.com
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George H Scithers
Posted on Saturday, October 02, 2004 - 06:33 am:   

The chap who claimed to have been knighted by Queen Elizabeth I refused to recant when we pointed out that the lady in question had been dead for some 400 years -- seems he's confusing the currently reigning queen of England, who knighted people, and the recently deceased Queen Mother Elizabeth, who didn't; and he still claims to have been knighted by the latter.

There are some authors one simply does not want to deal with -- ever -- and their cover letters inadvertantly make this clear.
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TCO
Posted on Tuesday, October 05, 2004 - 12:13 pm:   

So just buy the story if its good and don't engage in any discussion with the authors. IF they cause problems drop the story and let them know why.
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George H Scithers
Posted on Tuesday, October 05, 2004 - 03:47 pm:   

I've never had an author complain about details after I offer to buy a story. It's the ones who make it clear they will be difficult even before I **get* to the story that I avoid.
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TCO
Posted on Tuesday, October 05, 2004 - 07:58 pm:   

If you try to unscrew that snailshell of an argument, it still leads to "buy the best stuff regardless". It actually supports it, since any writer will be nice if you buy it. And jerks will be jerks. And fragile wannabes will be Marians
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gary gibson
Posted on Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - 02:33 am:   

I remember speaking years ago to another Scottish writer, Jim Steel, about how he never managed to get a story in the British semipro magazine Back Brain Recluse; but the editor liked his cover letters so much, he published one of *those* in the magazine instead ...
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Marian
Posted on Saturday, November 06, 2004 - 10:34 pm:   

TCO said "And fragile wannabes will be Marians..."

Huh? Definitely you're halfdrunk, TCO. Why don't you go away, finish getting drunk and then come back when you're coherent.
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TCO
Posted on Sunday, November 07, 2004 - 12:00 am:   

Look at the date, Maid...
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George H Scithers
Posted on Sunday, November 07, 2004 - 06:53 pm:   

. . . and the best cover letter I got was the one with the name "Arthur C. Clarke" signed at at the bottom.

General advice: list only those publishing credits for publications as prestigious or more prestigious than the one you are submitting to, or which are really relevant to the subject your story is about. Mention selling an article to the "Aardvark-Keeper's Gazette" only if your story is about aardvarks.
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des
Posted on Monday, November 08, 2004 - 10:11 am:   

Do considerations regarding cover letters differ when the submission is by paper or by email?

And why does an editor need to know publishing credits? Surely, the story is the end-all consideration.
des
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Dave
Posted on Monday, November 08, 2004 - 12:29 pm:   

In other threads I believe that Gordon and/or Ellen have agreed that the quality of the story is the only important consideration when deciding whether to buy it. The value of seeing publishing credits, or Clarion workshop attendance (for some editors) is that it might cause your story to skip over the first reader and go straight to the editor for their consideration.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Monday, November 08, 2004 - 01:30 pm:   

Exactly.

<<<In other threads I believe that Gordon and/or Ellen have agreed that the quality of the story is the only important consideration when deciding whether to buy it. The value of seeing publishing credits, or Clarion workshop attendance (for some editors) is that it might cause your story to skip over the first reader and go straight to the editor for their consideration.

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des
Posted on Monday, November 08, 2004 - 02:21 pm:   

That's the best argument I've heard for knowing the publishing credits or even who the writer *is* - but surely an editor should read all submissions and this entails all 'readers' being editors, too - ie. a decision-making comittee. This could be a 'committee' of one, as long as that is the only decision-making reader involved with a particular publication.

What stories are being missed by less experienced 'first readers' which the editors proper would think better than those being pushed through (leapfrogging the first readers) - pushed through because these are stories written by those with publishing credits?

And if a decision-making committee (of one or of many) exists, then why not the tabula rasa of that committee knowing nothing about the writers but everything about the stories?
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Monday, November 08, 2004 - 10:23 pm:   

Des,
Most editors of professional magazines don't have the time to read all the mss that come in--that's why we have readers--hopefully someone we can trust. My reader passed on a story that I subsequently bought and I've just bought the writer's second story.

In a perfect world I'd be cloned and could do everything I/we wanted to do and have a life as well.

Personally, I don't believe in editing by committee. I think that dilutes the voice of most magazines.
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des
Posted on Monday, November 08, 2004 - 10:38 pm:   

Well, Ellen, as I say, re the dilution point, the committee could be of one or of many ... as long as the complete decision-maker(s) read(s) all the submissions. That only seems logical and fair to me and should be strived for.

And I am still not convinced that such a 'committee' needs to know the publishing credits etc. But every editor to their own.
des
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TCO
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 07:15 am:   

Editors should buy stories preferentially from "name authors". It's a business, not an essay test exam.
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Celia Marsh
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 07:52 am:   

Des, I think what you're saying is that someone should read all stories, right? Someone does. Stories don't get rejected solely on the basis of their publishing credentials or lack there of. Now, if you mean the same someone should read all stories, that's not always true. It depends on the setup of the editorial structure. For example, if you sub to the Fortean Bureau, Jer passes out the slush to me, Hannah, and John. We read them, pass up the good ones, and reject the rest. Jer also pulls some people out of the slush directly (most commonly, people who have already sold a story to us), and he reads all of those, along with our pass-ups. So every story gets read by at least one person.

What others are talking about is that the reason why writers put credentials on their subs is that some editors like reading all stories from Clarion graduates, for example, so the first reader will automatically pass them up without having to pass judgement on their quality first. The first reader, of course, will also pass up all other stories that they think are good, regardless of if this is the first or 500th time they've seen the name.

The Name-blind method that you mention is practiced by at least one magazine that I can think of--Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine strips all personal data from their submissions before giving the stories to their first reader.
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des
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 08:28 am:   

TCO says: Editors should buy stories preferentially from "name authors". It's a business, not an essay test exam.

**********
I agree with the last bit, TCO.
I also say 'fair enough' to your first sentence. Sad, but true. Name writers should however be able to penetrate any reading system, I guess, because they *are* name writers and they are Name writers, presumably because they write great stories.

Celia, what's this Clarion thing?
All I was saying, in a nutshell, was that 'first readers' have the power to categorically reject a story (unseen by the editor) and I feel this is the editor's job, or editors. I recognise the difficulties of this - but I think one should always at least strive for the logical and fair in any system.
And the system I use, you don't need to know publishing credits. Indeed, my opinion is that publishing credits and other info about the writer can muddy the water.

des
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JJA
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 09:19 am:   

I don't understand the distinction you're making between first readers and editors. First readers *are* editors. They're not the editors-in-chief, obviously, but they're editors nonetheless.

I mean, if you were saying that you believe no one but the editor-in-chief should have the power to reject a story, I would disagree with that, but at least I would understand what you're trying to say. But since you seem to be okay with a panel of editors, I'm not sure what the issue is.
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des
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 10:13 am:   

But since you seem to be okay with a panel of editors, I'm not sure what the issue is.
**********

The difference is that those who have power to reject have no power to accept. An editor or editors have both within their remit.

The power to reject is perhaps more powerful and certainly more responsible than the power to accept.
However, I see where you're coming from, JJA.
This discussion stems from my question - why do covering letters need publishing credits? I think they don't need them. Why are they there? To gain more influence for the story, giving it an edge (sometimes undeserved) over other stories. I'd also go further to say that they confuse the issues of the whole algorithm of considering the story.

Market and profit considerations from 'Names' are another debate.
des

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Dawn B.
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 10:40 am:   

I think that slush readers are a valuble thing. Whether they are editors in name or "first readers" or whatever. No editor in cheif of a large magazine has the time to read every single submission. They are busy doing other things an editor in cheif has to do.

As for being able to reject without being able to accept: Meh. 90% of the slush is stuff that the EiC would reject anyhow, so why not let someone else do that first? I have heard of only one or two instances in about 10 years of following the markets where a first reader has rejected something the EiC would have liked to see without allowing leap-frogging. So leap-frogging is in place as an earned right. Everyone else needs to earn their way past a slush reader.

As for allowing the leap-frogging: It makes sense. It saves the slush reader time [one less story for them to read of the hundreds they receive per month]. It is also an earned place. The EiC is more likely to accept a story from someone who has already proven they can write. Not because of "getting an edge" but because those who have already been published are more likely to have the skills to write another publishable story. Therefore, a business savvy writer who has been published lists credits. They are selling a story, and that story is potentialy more valuable than other stories because the author has a history of saleable products.
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des
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 11:24 am:   

Yes, Dawn, all what you say are givens in the tradition of publishing fiction, from Small Press to Professional. I'm just trying to give a new slant - and if it's discarded, then, well, so be it.

It still doesn't make sense to me that someone given a lower pecking order by a publication has the power to reject a story. With the added human implications that go with a rejection. That's what I mean by being a more reponsible decision than that of acceptance.

My feeling is that someone shouldn't start a publication unless they are able and willing to read all submissions. Or at least give equal powers to those they trust to fire and hire stories as part of a committee (the interactive mechanics (or otherwise) of which are clearly settled).


This is in many ways a tangent (which I am feeling my way on) from my main point which is... Publishing credits divert. They are so undependable they are a menace. They don't prove anything. The story itself (uncluttered by biographical context) is everything. IMHO.



des





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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 04:36 pm:   

Please Des, Now you are getting into the ridiculous.The longer a magazine or editor is in the biz, the more material comes in and the less time the editor has to read it. That's life. Over 25 years I pick out more mss from the envelopes I open because over the years I've met more and more young writers, more writers are attending Clarion and other writer workshops, etc. That means the pile of what I regularly do read has gotten exponentially larger annually.

Editors not only reject but edit. A more valuable use of my time is to read what I think may be a possibility and to edit.

If I miss a brilliant story from the slush pile (I don't believe I will because I trust my reader) so be it.

Publishing credits do not divert --in fact they do the opposite--they point the way to what is likely better written than no credits at all. If I see publishing credits from venues I respect the stories are usually better than those I see from venues I don't respect.

Des, you're talking amateur hour, not professional publishing.

<<<<My feeling is that someone shouldn't start a publication unless they are able and willing to read all submissions. Or at least give equal powers to those they trust to fire and hire stories as part of a committee (the interactive mechanics (or otherwise) of which are clearly settled).

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Byron Bailey
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 05:15 pm:   

"It still doesn't make sense to me that someone given a lower pecking order by a publication has the power to reject a story. With the added human implications that go with a rejection. That's what I mean by being a more reponsible decision than that of acceptance."

It's a business. To a business, acceptance is where the greater responsibility lies because that's what costs the publisher money.

"If I miss a brilliant story from the slush pile (I don't believe I will because I trust my reader) so be it."

But what about my brilliant hard science fiction story "The Naked Elf Queen Dragon Quest Sword of Mars," which has been so sadly rejected? Then there was my brilliant, hard science fiction story about this wonderful new science I've just heard about called "alchemy." Did you know that it's possible to turn lead into gold? But that one got rejected, too. But not to worry . My brilliance cannot be stifled by unimaginative first readers. I'm now working on a new hard science fiction story that combines astrology (it's so hard keeping up on the advancements within this particular field) coupled with the new science of "phrenology."

Hmmmmm. Maybe Des makes a point.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 07:39 pm:   

Looking forward to it, Byron :-)
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des
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 10:52 pm:   

As I said earlier, every editor to their own - and may it work well for both business, readers and writers. Brushing with the 'ridiculous' can give some surprisingly constructive thoughts .... sometimes. :-)

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but from reading posts on the TTA Boards, I get the impression that the editor of TTA/Interzone reads all submissions and sifts them for second opinions elsewhere. This seem the more logcal, more sensible way round.

And I shall always believe that publishing credits (even with experience and instinct as to their various worths) are nothing to do with the story itself. I can judge a story better, I feel, without knowing its background. The story actually 'reads' different and is a most exciting experience when I open up a literally unknown writers's story for editorial consideration. Nothing beats it.

des
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - 08:10 am:   

The impression I've gotten is that the editor at TTA/Interzone has several readers.

Des, you're a hobbyist, and receive relatively few submissions. That makes a big difference.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - 08:24 am:   

Des, if you had no choice but to read a submission with full knowledge of the past work the writer has done, both good and bad, do you think you would be hampered in making a fair decision about the manuscript? Perhaps some editors would, but I'm not sure that's the case with most long-standing professionals. I think that's what Ellen's getting at, though I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth.

It seems years of contact with the works of even the most sure-fire writers would break an editor of the presumption that good writers only ever write good stories. And vice versa: once a writer is done with his or her juvenilia and has moved into a journeywork stage, I'd guess an experienced editor could recognize that, even if that writer had previously submitted great piles of crap. At least I hope this is true, for my sake.

Likewise, I think there may be merit in letting publication credits influence how much time and energy an editor puts into reading a mss. All venues are not created equal, and some do nothing to develop a writer's abilities, while others can shape a writer up rather rigorously through the application of exacting standards. So publishing five shorts in Joe's Big Rag O' Scaries doesn't necessarily rank a person above the amateur with no professional credits, while publishing two shorts in F&SF might just do that. I think it's a stretch to say that publishing in a bad zine poisons a writer's work for good and all (and I know no one's said this), but then maybe the overconfidence of knowing he or she can be published in a sloppy venue might make a writer resistant to improvement. And then, of course, I'm sure no writer would ever cop to having his or her style altered by editorial advice and grooming. Nah, that could never happen. :-)

Of course, I've never been published and I've never edited on a professional basis (just culled boxes of mss for literary contests), so what do I know?
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des
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - 08:42 am:   

Ellen, I may be wrong but I believe TTA/Interzone editor has three readers who read a later sift as a second opinion.
I don't think I'm hobbyist or activate 'amateur hours', but hobbyism lies behind my role as a publisher/editor (and writer) - feeding into it a new dynamic hopefully.

Neal, one of the main points (irrespective of possibly being prejudiced for or against certain stories because what I know about the author), is that by-lineless stories actually 'read' differently in themselves. They read better, I maintain. I'm not sure how this works or what other blessings such an anonymous system gives (as yet undetected), but this effect has been confirmed (unsolicited) by several other people when commenting on 'Nemonymous'. (I can't of course be certain, because I never read these stories *with* a by-line, so as to compare).


And all this is on this thread because I opined that publishing credits of the author are not needed (in fact *can* be detrimental (for and against the story) to a clear appraisal) in a covering letter to a submission! Please forgive me. des
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des
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - 08:46 am:   

...because I never read these stories *with* a by-line, so as to compare).

Sorry that should read:
...because I never first read these stories with a by-line, so as to compare.
des

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TCO
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - 02:59 pm:   

You guys are insane. This is not creative writing class. The teacher is not here to pat you on the head. It's a sales process. Dig it.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - 04:58 pm:   

Des, you may very well be correct. I was going back over Andy's posts on the TTA BB and it sounds like he does a first pass.
And by "hobbyist" or "amateur" I mean you're not a professional editor in that you do not support yourself by your fiction editing. (as far as I know).

<<Ellen, I may be wrong but I believe TTA/Interzone editor has three readers who read a later sift as a second opinion.
I don't think I'm hobbyist or activate 'amateur hours', but hobbyism lies behind my role as a publisher/editor (and writer) - feeding into it a new dynamic hopefully. >>>



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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - 04:59 pm:   

Neal,
You've hit the nail on the head.

Thank you.
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Dawn B
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - 05:05 pm:   

Des, you are mentioning something akin to what SH does from my understanding.

The submissions are spilit between 3 editors. All 3 have the power to reject. All 3 have the power to retain a story. But a story must be agreed upon by all 3 editors (or heavily lobbied by two) in order to be accepted. Which works okay for them, as far as I know, but does create a very different voice than a magazine edited chiefly by one person.

But, IIRC, they still do look at publishing credits at some point. Where's Jed when I need him...
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des
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - 10:43 pm:   

TCO: This is not creative writing class. The teacher is not here to pat you on the head. It's a sales process. Dig it.
*************

TCO, I believe - at some stage - that my theories (hypotheses that I've actually *begun* to put in practice) will produce a more saleable product of literary writing (as well as all the other more philosophical advantages).

Ellen, you're right. Like a lot of (most?) people who are in the creative writing field, I do not (am never likely to) support myself financially through these activities.
Keeps me sane however! ;-)

des


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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 03:58 am:   

Speaking as a writer who hopes one day to be published, I think I've found this thread the most professionally helpful thing I've read on Night Shade in a long time. My first few cover letters displayed the kinds of gross errors in judgment mentioned by JJA, Ellen, and others. I think my anxiety to put something on the page, and having no relevant creds to fill space, betrayed me into synopsizing stories and, worse, wishing the editor as much fun reading as I had writing the story. Live and learn. I guess I'll have to be satisfied for now with "Here's my latest story, X. It's N words long. Thanks." (Of course, I'm eager for that day when I'll have to edit my credits strategically to keep the cover letter succinct.)
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TCO
Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 06:00 am:   

des, you're a dreamer. You have no right to say that you can change the market/business model/winning product unless you truly understand and have succeeded in doing it the "old way". People like you are a dime a dozen. I saw them on civ sites all the time starting up "projects" to make new games that would be so much better than what commercial gamers made. These amateurs all had "theories" that they could change the pattern. All failed. Most didn't even learn from the failure.
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des
Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 07:38 am:   

Well, I'm not sure what that tirade's about, TCO. Anyway, coincidentally, a new review of 'Nemonymous' has just this minute come out here:
http://www.laurahird.com/newreview/nemonymous4.html
And using the word 'foolhardy' about Nemonymous, it sort of agrees with what I think lies behind your post. You're stressing the 'fool' half. So be it. I would like to stress the 'hardy' half.

I only suggested that publishing credits should not be in a covering letter :-(
des
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Susan Marie Groppi
Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 02:35 pm:   

Dawn-- we don't really look at publishing credits at Strange Horizons. I mean, if they're there in the cover letter we sometimes can't avoid seeing them, but they don't actually count for anything. (except in the rare case where a person includes a list of thirty-some-odd publications I've never heard of, in which case I think the author is probably a bit of a wanker, but I still try to not let that affect my reading of the story.)

For what it's worth, we're also very aware of the dangers of "editing by committee" and the possibility that it results in a bland, lowest-common-denominator kind of result. I like to think that we've avoided that trap, and that we do have a distinct editorial voice, even if it's a different one than any of the three of us would have individually.
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Dawn B
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 11:01 am:   

I wasn't trying to say you had a diluted voice and I am sorry if that is the impression I gave. I do think SH has a relatively distinct voice [with occasionally off-the-wall pieces due to single editor campaign]. I just believe it is very different than you or Jed or Karen would have alone.

And thanks for the note about credits. Is there a reason why you tend not to look or just because there is no first reader to jump?
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Susan Marie Groppi
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 11:22 am:   

Oh, no, sorry, I didn't think you were saying that (about the voice), I was responding more generally to that criticism of multi-editor publications.

As to the credits... I actually try to avoid reading cover letters at all, if I can help it, because cover letters are much more likely to bias me against the story than to make me feel good about it. There's very little an author could do in a cover letter to make me like the story more, and any number of things that will irritate me, so the story is more likely to get a fair read if I don't read the cover letter.
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des
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 01:09 pm:   

I'd go along with that 2nd para, completely.
Best just to have an anonymous email saying: here it is!
des

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