Horror Stories, Theirs and Mine


AKA Don’t Try This at Home, at Work, at Conventions, or Any Other Freakin’ Place

Let’s start at World Fantasy Con in Austin TX four years ago. It’s the first day of the con and I’ve just told a friend that someone had slipped a few manuscripts under my hotel-room door, when my darling friend Alethea Kontis, who’s standing by my side, helpfully points out that I TOLD the author to slide those manuscripts under my door. This was, in fact, true. However, the author in question approached me with his manuscripts while I was in the elevator, so what was I supposed to do? I certainly didn’t feel like carrying them around with me all day.

Bottom line? I won’t go so far as to say “don’t bring manuscripts to conventions,” but I will say that there are better ways to approach someone, and cornering them on the elevator isn’t one of the most highly recommended approaches.

Speaking of hotel elevators and WFC, that same convention in Texas was the place where I met Gordon Van Gelder (distinguished editor of The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy) for the first time. It was a surreal sort of experience because we actually met in the men’s restroom. We were at the sinks washing our hands and he recognized me and struck up a conversation. The conversation continued as we went back to the bar and I invited Gordon to join me and a few friends for a drink. Now you have to understand, I had been editing IGMS for less than six months at this point, so as much as I was working to keep a cool outer demeanor, inside I was jumping up and down like a kid who just had Santa Claus come up to talk to him and then agree to hang out for a while. When Gordon eventually moved on, I went to the elevator to go upstairs to a party and ran into another friend of mine, Eric James Stone (who is now an assistant editor at IGMS)…

Okay, push the pause button for a minute.

You have to understand that I knew convention etiquette says ‘don’t follow the big-name guests into the rest rooms,’ just as well as I knew that you don’t corner editors on elevators with manuscripts in your hands. But I hadn’t gone into the restroom following Gordon, and he had initiated the conversation, not me, and I was excited, and what I meant to say was, “Hey Eric, I just met Gordon Van Gelder in the restroom and I know you’re not supposed to stalk the guests, but he actually came over and talked to our group of friends and you should have been there

However, what blurted out of my excited mouth was, “Hey Eric, I grabbed Gordon Van Gelder in the men’s room—”

Imagine, if you will, thirty people jammed into an already overcrowded elevator, their eyes growing wide as they collectively recoil in horror… before bursting out in laughter that seemed to last for days. Yeah, I heard about that one for a year or more.

Moving right along…

About two or three years ago I found a story in the slush pile that was good but not great, but I thought it was worth working with the author to improve it. He had submitted a number of stories previously that showed promise and I wanted to help him along. So I spent quite a lot of time editing the story, both on the line-by-line level as well as on the larger, structural level. I then sent him his story along with my notes, and told him to review them and get back to me.

Now, you have to understand that one of the things I always do when I send a story back to an author with notes is to make a point of telling them that this is their story, not mine, and that while I view my job as editor as one of helping the author polish their story to it’s best shine, I want them to feel free to push back on any point(s) that they strongly disagree with. And I mean it. What I didn’t expect – ever, in a million years – was to get the story back from the author with ten single-spaced pages of notes, addressing my notes on an item-by-item basis and refuting 90% of my edits, all the while lecturing me about the proper use of commas. Yeah, you heard that right: ten single-spaced pages. Lecturing me about commas.

So long; thanks for playing along at home; don’t call us, we’ll call you. ‘Nuff said.

One more and I’ll wrap this up.

A couple of days ago I got a query from an author who opened his email with the words, “I know it hasn’t been 90 days yet, but I thought I’d query about the status of my story anyway because…” Blah blah blah…

I don’t care what your reason are; starting your query with an acknowledgement that you’re ignoring standard guidelines doesn’t exactly set a tone that’s going to get you on an editor’s good side.

However, one of my biggest character flaws is that I am a ridiculously nice guy, so I followed up with my managing editor to see if she knew anything about this particular story, because I didn’t have it in my files. She told me that yes, in fact, we had received a story from that author, by the title in question, but she had set it aside instead of forwarding it to the team of assistant editors who do the first reading. Why?

Because there was no contact information on the story. None of any kind.

Yes, the story was emailed to us, and yes, sometimes my managing editor notices that a story has no contact info and grabs it off the original email before she deletes it. But that’s not her job. It’s the author’s job. Our staff is a virtual one, spread all over the country, and stories are sent around in batches, with our emails and notes, not the authors’ emails.

The worst part was this wasn’t even the first time this author had failed to do so. For crying out loud, how hard is it to put your own information on your own stories? You’d like to sell it wouldn’t you? And assuming you sell it, you’d like to actually receive your payment, wouldn’t you?

As much as I wish I could say this author was the worst offender, I’ve actually had stories  submitted that didn’t even have the author’s name on it. Actually, I don’t complain about those. I like those. They only occupy four seconds of my time before I delete them and move on to the next one.

It’s okay to laugh. Really. Point, chuckle, whatever. You can do that, because I know you would never make such a silly mistake, right?

Of course, I say that as the man who proclaimed to a crowded elevator that I had just grabbed Gordon Van Gelder in the men’s room…


17 comments to Horror Stories, Theirs and Mine

  • Many thanks for giving us a look at your Van Gelder story, but we’ll pass on this one. I’m afraid this story didn’t quite hold us, alas. Best of luck to you with this one, and thanks again for giving us a chance to read it.


    Thanks for the laugh, Ed. I just wanted to return the favor. Okay, that and it was weirdly fun to dig up an old Van Gelder rejection for that little bit.

  • Tom G

    This brings back a painful memory. I sent my very first novel to DAW way back in the early 90s. I’ve partially blocked it, due to humiliation, but I sent it either certified or registered. Can’t recall which. It was rejected, of course. It was also my first novel, so you can imagine what a piece of work that was, so that was two strikes against me. LOL

    Lucky me, I sent it to Peter Stampfel, and he is still the submissions editor. I’m sure there is a REJECT IMMEDIATELY notice in the mail room with my name on it after that.

  • Tom G

    I just looked the correspondance up on my PC (yes, I keep everything). It was Dec 4, 1990. Rejected Jan 8, 1991, AFTER he wrote me about not having return postage. Yikes.

    Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a teetotaler. I really need to get drunk after recalling that.

  • Young_Writer

    I’m going to stick with sending my first presentable novel in the generally accepted way, thank you very much.

  • Well, Stuart, you know the old saying, “If you’re going to say something stupid, make sure it’s REALLY stupid and you say it front of as many people as possible.”

    Tom, Editors may have long memories for some things, but sending a MS certified or registered mail hardly merits that kind of attention. I’m sure he’s seen so many of those that he can’t distinguish one from another.

  • Good plan, YW. You’re smart to start studying young; it will save you a lot of grief later on.

  • Many thanks for the laugh, my friend. That Van Gelder story is wonderful (as is Stuart’s send up of one of GVG’s rejections, of which I’ve received several).

  • I think a GVG rejection is required for membership in the SFWA. I don’t know a serious writer who doesn’t have at least one.

  • (giggling) Thanks, Edmund, this was fun, and it actually made me feel better about my own *oopses*. For me, being a writer is an exercise in how many times I’ll step on my own tongue. (It has calluses and skid marks.)

    I’ll add one to the list of stupid things *not* to do. (Not one of my own mistakes, thank God.) The mistake — drinking more than one small drink at a con. This was a situation that started small and rolled entirely out of control, all because of one good ol boy with one drink too many.

    I was standing with an attractive female editor at a con when a man came up to us and cornered her with his belly, while trying to make a pass at her. He was a writer. He was … um … not entirely sober. She was gay and he seemed to think that made him more attractive to her. He went over the line in his come-on, and frightened her a lot. I helped her to get away (okay, I shoved his belly hard enough to move his mass and grabbed har arm and pulled her to safety) and called security and reported him to a con person in charge. He convinced security that he was okay and had done nothing wrong. The con person reported to did not kick him out, and did not send it up the chain of Con command. (Which was a huge mistake. We had witnesses.)

    Then this idiot had the gall to try to sit at the dinner table with the same frightened editor, and, when she again left his presence, he then tried to sit with the other attractive agents and editors. I am sure he thought he was networking. It actually got worse after that, but I’ll stop here.
    Don’t drink and Con.

  • Faith, all I can say is thanks for not blowing my cover… oops, I mean, that writer’s cover. That would have been hugely embarassing. 😉

  • Sarah

    As a young writer (okay amateur writer who’s approaching middle age) who has made mistakes in submission I’d like to protest that editors make too big a deal out of these things. BUT I’m also a teacher who just wrote “you must cite your sources” on the five millionth student paper so I completely sympathize with submission guidelines.

  • HarryMarkov

    If it’s on the guidelines, no matter how much you groan to do it, you do it. Simple as that. It would occupy say 10 minutes to include all the things an editor wants and double check them. I mean considering that you spent 10+ hours [varies with length] on your own story, it’s not that much of a bother.

  • Sarah, I’m not making a big deal out of anything. It is what it is. A good idea is a good idea. A bad idea is a bad idea. A story that has no contact information on it gets no reply, etc etc. It’s all very matter-of-fact. I just think it helps to know the facts, so I repeat them here for your benefit.

    Harry, That’s good math.

  • I can only imagine that while the total number of submissions have gone up with the advent of the internet, so to must the basic quality, in terms of adhering to submission guidelines. Without the internet I’d have had no chance of submitting let alone following guidelines. Way out here in Australia we have a grand total of 2 agents who work in sf/f (maybe a couple more, but you get the point) and trying to find out about writer’s markets and what not on my own… well I don’t know how people used to do it.
    I’ve been to various sci-fi and gaming cons to have a fair idea of the broad cross section of attendees and I’m glad I’ve not been in any position where some of the more ‘colourful’ have wanted to corner me. Heck some of my flat mates would fall into the classification of ‘colourful’ so I know what I’m talking about. 🙂

  • Dear Ed,
    I would have put my name and address on that story I sent you, but I’m currently in witnes protection. I will be putting 10 pages of single spaced comments to the notes I imagine you wanted to send under the mailbox at the corner of Lexington and 4th at 6.43 a.m. tomorrow.

  • Ed,
    Glad to hear you and Gordon both washed your hands. I’ll gladly shake your hand when we meet. (I almost wrote ‘I’ll gladly shake yours when we meet,’ but realized it might be prudent to clarify).

    In a way, I pity agents and editors for grief that writers put them through. It seems a writer who follows guidelines and doesn’t come across as a stalker rises up out of the sludge.

    *rushes off to make sure his subs all have personal information*

  • You laugh, AJ, but I recenty had someone in the San Quentin pennitentiary write and ask for permission to submit a story through snail mail (it’s the only way the prison will let him send anything). But at least he had the good sense to ask first. Of course, we had him mail it to the IGMS post office box. No one was going to give out their home address either…

    NGD, The problem with the little things I listed (and they are, relatively speaking, little things) is just that when you mulitply them over the hundreds of submissions that can come in on a weekly basis, it becomes the straw that broke the camel’s back. It works both ways, though. Be nice and intelligent and not needy and I’ll hang out with new writers a con for hours. I once invited one new writer to join me for dinner with Rob Sawyer and a few others. It does happen; writers just need to be… well, not weird, for starters.