Showing posts with label slush pile. Show all posts
Showing posts with label slush pile. Show all posts

10 December 2019

Pull on Your Galoshes, We’re Headed into the Slush Pile


Earlier this year I joined Black Cat Mystery Magazine as co-editor, replacing the irreplaceable Carla Coupe. Unlike Carla, who performed multiple duties for Wildside Press prior to her retirement, my primary responsibility as the junior co-editor is to read and assess submissions.

This isn’t new territory for me—I’ve edited six published anthologies, including, most recently, The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down & Out Books), and another (Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir) that’s scheduled for publication next year. I also co-created and co-edit (with Trey R. Barker) the invitation-only serial novella anthology series Gun + Tacos, and I’m currently reading submissions for Mickey Finn 2 and the second season of Guns + Tacos, and I’ve begun work on yet another anthology to be named later.

There is a distinct difference between reading slush for my own anthologies and reading slush for Black Cat Mystery Magazine. The most obvious distinction is the type of stories appropriate for each. My anthologies have all been themed, and most have favored hardboiled, noir, and/or private eye stories. The stories in BCMM are more representative of the many subgenres of mystery.

The second distinction is the decision-making process. With my anthologies I make the final decisions and the anthologies succeed or fail due to those decisions. BCMM, on the other hand, has two decision makers. Though John Betancourt, as publisher and senior co-editor makes final decisions, the co-editorship is structured such that every accepted story has been approved by both editors.

Though there’s not yet any interesting statistical information to report on my most recent editorial efforts, the seventy-four stories in my first five anthologies earned seven award nominations (Anthony, Derringer, Edgar, Shamus, etc.) and four “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories” or “Honorable Mentions” in annual best-of-year anthologies.

BONA FIDES

All of the above is to establish my bona fides before this:

Editors often discuss the “indefinable something” that separates an accepted submission from a rejected submission. We sit on panels and discuss plot and setting and characterization. We debate whether certain words—such as Dumpster/dumpster—have lost their trademark status and can now be rendered all lowercase. We arm wrestle over the use or non-use of the Oxford comma. We do all of these things when talking to writers and amongst ourselves, but we never seem to mention aloud one of the most telling signs that a manuscript will be rejected.

The manuscript itself.

Sure, we often tell writers to follow Shunn or some similar format, but the appearance of a manuscript when printed on paper isn’t all that we see. With the vast majority of manuscripts now submitted as Word documents, I’ve discovered how little many writers know about using one of the primary tools of their trade.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, the writers least familiar with Word also seem to be the writers most likely to have their submissions rejected.

If I open a file and discover a return at the end of every line as if the story were written on a typewriter, or if I see the title centered on the page through the use of a zillion spaces, or if I see any of several other signs that the writer has not mastered the fundamentals of Word, I’m already negatively predisposed toward the manuscript.

Why?

Because the writing often displays the same inattention to detail.

I read anyhow because I am sometimes surprised. Sometimes.

KING OF THE WORLD

If I were king of the world, the czar of publishing, or in some other authoritarian position to impose my will upon writers, I would do the following: Make it mandatory for every writer to master the basics of Word.

Perhaps we could start by having every creative writing program offer a mandatory class in the use of Word as part of the degree plan. Perhaps we could have every writing conference offer a mandatory seminar in the use of Word. Perhaps we could have every critique group treat themselves to an annual refresher course from their most experienced tech-savvy member (or from someone outside the group, if appropriate).

Perhaps, and this may be a radical thought, we could suggest that writers and would-be writers read the instruction manual, use the help menu, or use a search engine to find instructions on the internet for how to do things such as indent a paragraph, center a line of text, insert an em-dash, insert headers and automatically number pages, and do any of a number of other things that should already be part of a writer’s skill set.

Love it or hate it, Word is the de facto word processing program, and it is a fundamental tool of the trade. If you don’t know how to use the tools of your trade, you hobble yourself. Sure, a brain surgeon might be able to repair your aneurysm with a pipe wrench, but how confident would you feel on that operating room table when he opened up his toolbox?

So, before I’ve even read a word of your manuscript, show me that you know how to use the tools of your trade. Then show me you can write.


Recently published stories include: “The Town Where Money Grew on Trees” in Tough, November 5, 2019, “The Show Must Go On” in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #5, “Who Done It” in Seascape: The Best New England Crime Stories 2019 (Level Best Books), and “Love, or Something Like it” in Crime Travel (Wildside Press).

Earlier this month subscribers to Guns + Tacos received episode 6 of the first season, “A Beretta, Burritos and Bears” by James A. Hearn. Subscribers also received a bonus story that I wrote, “Plantanos con Lechera and a Snub-Nosed .38.” If you want to read all six episodes and the bonus story, there’s still time to subscribe!

12 March 2019

It Isn’t You


by Michael Bracken

There’s a fiction writers tell one another, though the advice is aimed squarely at newcomers: Editors aren’t rejecting you, they’re rejecting your manuscript.

The editor's toolkit.
While mostly true, it isn’t the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Sometimes editors are rejecting you, but they aren’t likely to admit it.

I’ve edited a handful of crime fiction anthologies, a consumer magazine, a tabloid newspaper, and several newsletters, and I’ve held various non-editorial positions in book publishing companies.

So, I have my personal list of writers I’m likely to reject even if they send me brilliant manuscripts that exactly match my calls for submissions or publications’ guidelines, and I’ve overheard a bit of behind-the-scenes gossip as well.

WELL, MAYBE IT IS YOU

Several years ago, I caught a writer plagiarizing. When confronted, the writer provided several excuses but no apology. Had I heard, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I’ll be more careful in the future,” I might have given that writer a second chance. I heard no apology and sensed no remorse, so that writer’s work will never again appear in anything I edit.

Many writers serve double-duty as editors. A few years ago an editor included one of my stories in an anthology and, despite a contract and the knowledge that the publisher paid the editor (side note to new writers: sometimes the publisher pays writers directly for anthology contributions; sometimes publishers pay the editors and the editors pay the writers), neither I nor other contributors of my acquaintance were ever paid. If I ever receive a submission from that editor/writer, I’ll boomerang it back.

Ready? Go.
Writing may be a solitary act, but publishing is a group effort. There are writers I’ll likely not work with again because they lack professionalism. The process—revisions, copyediting, etc.— was a colossal fustercluck, and timely responses at each step of the process were nonexistent, causing me to work harder than should be necessary. I’m an editor, not a babysitter, and I’ve no desire to again babysit these writers.

There are other reasons writers get on editors’ shit lists, but among the most common seems to be inappropriate behavior. Writers who trash editors in public forums, especially those who identify editors by name or by easily identifiable traits, burn bridges at an alarming rate. Even if those writers never say an unkind word about me, I wonder what will happen when their attention turns my direction, and I’d rather not find myself in their crosshairs.

(Note: If you think you’re one of the writers alluded to above, you’re likely not. The fact that you think you might be, though, is a sure sign you should reevaluate your professional relationships.)

YOU, I WANT YOU

Another fiction writers tell one another, and again this is aimed at new writers more than the rest of us, is that good work will always rise to the top of the slush pile.

What's that word?
While mostly true, it isn’t the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Sometimes the best manuscripts don’t have a chance because editors develop stables, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The more time I spend on the editorial side of the desk, the more I appreciate writers who deliver manuscripts on time and on subject, and the more I appreciate writers who respond promptly and professionally.

If I’m assigning work or if I’m editing an invitation-only project, there are a handful of writers who will always be at the top of my list. These writers have proven themselves time and again. Not only will they deliver what I need when I need it, they are also sufficiently self-aware of their skill and their commitments to decline opportunities outside their comfort zone or which conflict with other projects.

When I’m editing an open-call anthology, I want to discover new writers, so I try not to rely on my unofficial stable. Everything else being equal, though, there’s less risk selecting work by writers with whom I have developed strong working relationships than selecting work by writers with whom I’ve never worked. So, new writers must be just a little bit better, a little bit more imaginative, and a little bit more professional than the writers with whom I’m already familiar. New writers must give me a reason to want to work with them.

OK, LET’S BE HONEST. IT ISN’T YOU, IT’S ME

I know what I want, and the editor side of me puts the writer side of me at the top of the list of writers in my unofficial stable. But the editor side of me is a heartless bastard. I’ve twice rejected my own work for open-call anthologies because it wasn’t as good as what I found in the slush piles.

The bottle was full when I started.
The writer side of me has some choice words to say about the editor side of me, and this is the perfect forum to tell everyone what a tasteless, good-for-nothing, S.O.—

Wait. What? Did I just trash an editor in a public forum?

I guess I’ll never work with me again.

And that’s a fiction none of us can believe.

During the first half of my writing career, I wrote a great deal of erotic fiction—erotic crime fiction, erotic science fiction, erotic horror, and regular erotica—and recently some of those stories have resurfaced as audiobooks. Andrews UK/House of Erotica has released 14 of them since late 2018 and several more are in the pipeline for 2019. I won’t list titles, but if you’re interested, they aren’t difficult to find.