Russian Roulette or Author Guidelines

The last month has seen me increasingly busy over at Speculative Realm (which has now moved to its own website). The submissions are pouring in, which is great, but I’m seeing a pattern with the submissions which concerns me…yet also gives me (as a writer) hope.

I’m noticing that quite a few of the authors who have submitted have not read the guidelines. It’s frustrating for me and the other staff, as we are wasting time on stories that don’t even fit the theme. It doesn’t matter how great the story is, it has to be rejected because it’s not what we are looking for. The guidelines are not that long and would take only a few minutes to read, yet the author can’t be bothered and submits anyway. No wonder so many rejections are being sent out (I’ve calculated it to be 95%).

Not all rejections have been for that reason, of course, but I’d have to say at least 50% of them have been and that’s way too many. Every website that offers writing tips will clearly state “read the guidelines”. This is important and I would have thought it was common sense to do so. Obviously, I’m wrong.

Honestly, to ignore the guidelines is like playing Russian roulette. You are taking a huge chance with your manuscript; not to mention the time you are wasting while the manuscript is tied up with a publisher that may not even want that type of story. Editors receive so many submissions that they can be ridiculously horrid in the way they sift through the pile. For example, they can think to themselves “I don’t like green, so all manuscripts bound in anything remotely green will be rejected instantly” or “all emailed submissions received on an odd numbered day will be rejected”. You should be doing all you can to improve your chances.

I have received submissions with no cover letter too – not even a “here’s my submission”. Two submissions have been blank emails with an attachment. I feel that’s not professional and actually thought about rejecting both on the spot…but didn’t. However, I really do feel that sending in a submission like this is not good enough and will reject future submissions for that reason alone.

As a writer I have visited many published authors’ websites and have been told over and over again, that if you want to stand out from the crowd then you must treat your submission like you would treat any business transaction. Being naïve, I assumed everyone did this already, so how would that make my submission stand out from the rest of the slush pile. Now I know that a high percentage of submissions are done unprofessionally and that my manuscript would shine next to them. That gives me hope.

If you write and you want to be published, then take this one piece of advice and remember it always. Read the submission guidelines and give the editor what they want. The editor might be fussy, but that doesn’t matter. Do what they want. They will see that you’ve taken the time to read their guidelines and that might convince them to take the time to read your manuscript.

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Publishing with Lulu

Lulu is a self-publishing company. Anyone can use this service and this is where I have a problem with self-publishing. If anyone can use it, then there are bound to be badly written books out there. Let’s be honest, it’s a fact that there are.

But…if a book is badly written, or if there is no storyline, or if the characters are two dimensional, then readers will quickly avoid anything else written by that author. They would have wasted precious money on buying the book, and most people don’t like that. Even if a real gem, written by that author, is released many years down the track it can easily be swept aside and ignored (even if it is published by a mainstream publisher). Once bitten, twice shy. This is a risk writers face when self-publishing.

On the other hand, good writers have been noticed through self-publishing. Some writers have made a name for themselves and sold thousands of books. They are often approached by a main stream publisher for publication of the second or third print.

And let’s face it, just because a book is published through main stream doesn’t automatically make it a good book. How many books have you bought that you thought were a waste of money? It happens far too often.

For me, as a writer, I dream of being contacted by a publisher who is excited about my writing, and wants to publish the book. That would be the ultimate moment for me, followed closely by the first time I walk into a book store and see my book on the shelf.

*Day dreams for a few minutes.*

As writers we think all that needs to be done is to write the story, but there is so much more to do. So many other decisions to be made. Writing is NOT easy, no matter what the woman next door thinks, or what your parents/partner might say.

I’ve always believed that for me the only way to go is main stream. I still believe this to a large degree, although I do think that things in the publishing industry will change in the future. However, I’ve recently found myself wanting to know more about self-publishing, wanting to experience it. How can I run something down that I’ve never tried?

And it is for this reason that I’m considering a new project for Scribe’s next year. The anthologies of past did not work out the way I had planned. That’s fine, I learned a lot from those projects. It’s just a pity that I couldn’t manage to get the stories published. Next year, the anthology will be different – completely different – but I’ll share that news at the appropriate time.

For now, if you have thought about self-publishing, but know nothing about it. Deborah Woehr is writing posts on her experience with publishing with Lulu. The first post, Self-Publishing through Lulu: The First Step in Creating Your Book gives tips on getting started. This post is followed by many others. I’m positive you’ll find the series interesting to read.

First Rights

This is a promise the manuscript has not previously been published anywhere, through any media. Often this might read First Australian Rights, or First UK Rights and so on, which means that the work has not been published within the specified country or area before. Once you have sold a manuscript’s first rights in one location it is possible to go on and sell them to other areas, but not in the same area again.

Manuscript Format

Benjamin Solah brought this website to my attention. It’s called William Shunn : Manuscript Format : Short Story and is naturally telling us how to format our manuscripts.

I’ve read through the page and agree totally with what he says. Do yourself a favour, if you want to be a professional, learn to set out your manuscript correctly from the beginning. This site will tell you how, and show you how, so you have no excuses. To do anything different to what is said, is only tossing chances away.

Set Out Your Manuscript Correctly

Thanks goes to Yzabel for sharing a link to Joe Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. Although the other posts are informative too, the post I’ve link to struck a cord.

Unlike Joe, I have never tried to work my way through 2000+ short stories trying to find “winners” (the mere thought makes me shudder), but I have judged 25 or so stories twice. The numbers do not compare, but it made me see that people do not follow simple instructions and are not professional in their submissions.

I did read the stories from first word to last, but some of them really got my blood boiling. One even made me want to turn violent and through something against the wall, it was so drawn out and boring.

It’s because of this that I can agree 100% with what Joe has said. Put in the same situation – remember, editors received hundreds of submissions a week – wouldn’t you find quick ways to get through the pile? I guarantee that you would.

No, it’s not entirely fair, because one of those stories might be a gem. That’s a shame, but the author of that story will hopefully learn the correct way to set out their manuscript. Being professional at all times is a must. Without it, you’ll never find your way off the dung heap.

The Rule of 12

This is something I’m seeing more and more – the rule of 12. In the last week, I’ve seen words to this effect on several websites, and once in a book I picked up at the library, and now I’m going to put them here.

Serious writers will have several submissions out at all times. This sounds really difficult but it means that you have to keep writing. Don’t write one manuscript only and think that’s enough and wait for something to happen with it before doing anything else. Keep writing. Work on the next idea, and the next, and the next. Once you’ve got a number of submissions out, then you must keep proper track of them and if you do receive a rejection, ensure you already have another publisher/agent lined up so that there’s a 24 to 48 hour turnaround getting another submission out again.

Get the manuscripts out there but be sure to study the market and only send them to places that are looking for material along the lines of what you’ve written. Don’t waste your time or theirs by sending a fantasy story to a publisher who only wants horror.

Pen Names

When I first started writing, I was determined to use a pen name. There were three reasons for this 1) I didn’t want to use my married name because I’m divorced (but kept the name for my children’s sake), 2) I lacked self-confidence, and 3) I didn’t want the people close to me knowing that I’d written a book.

The first two reasons speak for themselves but the last reason is a bit strange. Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about this even more.

When I delve into the reasoning, I have to admit that I was scared. First and foremost, I was scared that they would hate the book, which relates back to the lack of self-confidence. I really didn’t care what other people thought but I didn’t think I could handle my own family giving me that “it’s awful” look. Secondly, I was scared that they might see too much of me in the main character because the main character was me but with a different name. I didn’t want my family and friends finding out all the secrets I’d manage to keep in the closet all those years.

Hence, I chose a pen name. A name I could hide behind.

However, years have passed since then and my view on this topic has changed, and the confidence I have in myself has grown. Suddenly, I no longer care what anyone thinks and I no longer want to use the pen name. In fact, I stopped using the pen name almost a year ago, but I never really felt completely happy with that decision until recently. The manuscript starring me is no longer looking for a publisher either and I believe that plays a large role in all this.

Whether we use a pen name or not isn’t really an issue, but I believe the reason you chose to use a different name should be thought through carefully. For instance, an author who dabbles in many genres might want to use many names – that’s an acceptable practice in the publishing industry. An author with a name that is really hard to say or spell might consider using something that is easier to remember – this is a good marketing ploy. An author with a surname that starts with “W” might use a surname that is between the letters “D” and “L” so that their books are placed at eye level, instead of at the readers feet. However, an author who uses a pen name solely because they don’t want people pointing at them and whispering, should probably admit that they aren’t ready to be published yet.

I won’t use my real name, my married name, because I don’t want to but I’m proud to use my birth name – Karen Lee Field. What name will you use?

Writing a Good Query Letter

Following a recent rejection I received on behalf of the 2004 Anthology stories, it’s time to hit the query stage again. However, I want to revise the query letter I was using so I’ve been looking around for some hints on letter writing.

Most of the following is common sense, but I’m going to make a small list as a reminder to anyone who has to write a query letter:

1. Be professional. If you look like an amateur you’ll find your manuscript in the slush pile.

2. If you email a query, it doesn’t mean you can be any less professional. If you are then you are wasting your time because you will be rejected.

3. A query letter should be no longer than one page. Get to the point quickly and clearly. Never waffle on.

4. This is your only chance to make an impression, don’t blow it. Proofread your letter until you know it’s 100% correct.

5. Always ensure you include your address, phone number and email address because if you don’t, how are they going to contact you? Sounds stupid really, but from what I’ve read some people forget these essential things and then wonder why they never get a reply. You should include these things when doing email queries too because some publishers will not reply in the form of an email, they only send out letters.

6. Never beg or try to make deals in your letter, and never ask for comments. You’ll be rejected faster than you can ever imagine.

7. Never use coloured paper or fancy scripts. This is a sign of an amateur.

8. Always address the letter to the right person – use their name but make sure you spell it right. One thing that gets up people’s noses is seeing their name spelt wrong.

9. Know your market. Don’t send a fantasy story to a publisher who’s only interested in horror. You’re wasting everyone’s time and making yourself look foolish.

10. Make your letter stand out from the rest. Publishers and agents receive thousands of letters a year, so you have to show them that you’ve got spark…writing ability…professionalism.

Oh, did you catch on by now that you must be professional at all times? Those who are not, will remain in the slush pile.

Following the Guidelines

Do people read the rules when they join an online community? I don’t think so because if they did I wouldn’t have to waste my time explaining why I’ve just denied their submission to join a private forum the day after they join the message board (which I no longer do because if they can’t be bothered doing the right thing then why should I be bothered).

This makes me wonder if people actually read the guidelines, given by an editor or publisher, before they submit their manuscript.

It’s important to remember that the guidelines are there for a reason and if we (in our wisdom) decide that we’re going to ignore them, then it’s a sure way to receive a rejection letter. That’s fine if your goal is to receive the most rejection letters in writing history but if that’s not the case then you’re simply wasting your time and money on countless submission that will never be read, let alone be accepted.

Most publishing houses receive dozens, if not hundreds, of submissions in a month and it would be annoying to see that their guidelines are constantly ignored. That alone would see your work returned unread. What’s more, and this is the most important part, if an author can’t be bothered following simple instructions before they are represented then how can the publisher be sure that they would follow editing instructions afterwards. That might be a risk they are not willing to take.

A serious writer will follow the guidelines. It will show that you’re a professional, that you know what is expected and this might get your manuscript off the slush pile into the editor’s hands.

What happens then will depend on your writing, but that’s a different post.

Word Count

This is an issue that haunts most aspiring writers. Most word processors are equipped with a word count feature, but this is NOT the way to do it. Even though using this feature will give you the actual word count used, the printing industry works it out differently.

If you look at any two pages in a novel and then counted the actual words on those pages, you’d get a varying answer. It stands to reason that most pages will be different so the printing industry uses a formula to work out the average word count per page.

There are many formulas to be found but I’m only going to mention two. These are the two I’ve seen used the most and once you decide which formula you are going to use, whether it is one of the following or another, stick to it and stop worrying about word count.

Before I go into the formulas themselves, the page setup is an important factor. Most editors want us to use a standard size paper: in USA this would be 8 1/2 inch x 11 inch; in other parts of the world it is 210mm x 297mm (commonly known as A4). We should also use a non proportional type face such as courier new in size 12 font, as it’s easier on the eyes when reading. The margins should be at least 1 inch on all sides.

I actually used both of these methods on my own work and was amazed that they gave me the same answer, so I can safely say that I write 450 words per page (single spaced) but remember to change your manuscript to double spacing before you send it out.

Formula 1
Take a sheet from your manuscript that is quite full of typing. Don’t use a sheet with a lot of dialogue. Count the number of letters, including spaces and any punctuation marks, across one line of text. Say you get 60. Divide this by 6 and the answer is the number of words per line, which is 10 in this case.

Now count the number of lines that can be typed on down the page. Remember to count the blank line between paragraphs. Say you get 45 lines for single spacing. You multiply 45 by 10 and this gives you the number of words per page (in this instance 450 words).

Then you multiply the words per page (450) by the number of pages for the whole manuscript and this is our total word count.

So if I have 250 pages to my manuscript, this means that my total word count is 112,500 words.

Formula 2
The other method is to count the number of words in 10 lines (say you get 100) and divide the total number of words by 10, which means you have a line word count of 10.

Count the lines on an average page (again, say you get 45). Multiply the total number of lines (45) for the sample full page by the approximate word count for one line (10). This gives you the word count for one page, which in this instance is 450.

Then multiply this total count for the words on one page (450) by the total number of pages (our example is 250) in your manuscript. This is the total length of your manuscript in words would then be 112,500.

Summary

  • Always use single spacing to work out your word count but remember to change to double spacing before sending your manuscript to an editor.
  • Even if there is only three lines of type on a page, the page is still considered to have a word count of 450 words because in the printing industry the area used is what matters not the actual number of words.
  • Be sure to check with the editor or on their website, before sending your manuscript to them, to find out if they have a preferred method of working out the word count because some publishers do.