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…