Getting It Right The First Time


TWWW finalI spent the last few days reading submissions for our upcoming anthology, The Weird Wild West.  I’m nowhere near finished, of course – we had a marvelous response to our call, so there are a lot of stories to work through.  This is a new experience for me, editing.  I’ve edited my own work, of course, but choosing stories for an anthology that will have my name on it – this is an entirely different activity.  I’ve asked Emily (who has more experience at this sort of thing) a ton of questions.  We don’t want anything but the best in this book, and we expect the submissions to be the absolute best the writers could possibly achieve.

I want to repeat something you regular readers of Magical Words have heard all of us say at least a thousand times.  Editors are looking for a reason to say “No, thank you.”  It’s not that we’re horrible people sitting behind our monitors rubbing our hands together and cackling as we crush writers’ dreams (how’s that for a visual?)  No, the trouble is that we have 6 available spots for the book, and 130 submissions vying for those spots.  When a story gives any of us a good reason to turn it down, we will.

Sometimes those reasons are story-related.  The story doesn’t start until page 8, for example. Readers aren’t committing to the same amount of story-telling in a short story that they are in a novel, and taking too long to get the action cranked up and rolling means that you risk the reader turning to the next story in line.

Maybe you feel that it’s important to set a stage, to create an atmosphere prior to the action.  So you spend three pages describing the haunting howl of the wind whipping through the deserted streets of the little town.  Or you think it’s vital that the reader know your character has unearthly lavender eyes that captured the attention of every man in the saloon.  In short fiction, there’s only a brief window of time to get your story moving.  Don’t waste it.

Then there are the authors who are so impressed with all the research they did for the story that they make absolutely sure to mention every word of what they learned.  Again, there just isn’t time for all that.  When a writer dumps a metric-ton of mildly interesting but ultimately unnecessary information in the confines of a short story, I guarantee most readers will skim the page to see where the action picks up again.

What breaks my heart, though, are the writers who make mistakes that would have been simple to avoid.  I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve run across so far that aren’t in proper manuscript format.  I’m not particularly demanding about that, but I do insist that indentation and paragraphs exist.  I’m also pretty fond of punctuation – commas, quotation marks, all of those adorable little symbols that make reading simpler.  If you’ve chosen to write in some experimental form, decrying the use of punctuation and line spaces, well, good luck to you, but don’t act shocked if I stop reading your giant block of unbroken words in a desperate attempt to rescue myself from the eyestrain headache that’s threatening to blow my head wide open and make an unpleasant mess all over my floor.

When we say we want the finished manuscript, we’re not kidding.  Sending us your story with all the changes still marked in different colors?  Instant nope.  I’m nice, but not nice enough to write you back and ask you to send us a clean copy.  You should have done that the first time.

According to our guidelines, we wanted “stories of the Wild West in all its glory but with that delicious left turn into weirdness. The stories must be related to, inspired by, or set in a Western setting, whether on Earth, in a fantasy world, or on another planet.”  Pretty clear, wouldn’t you say?  And yet, we’ve received more than one story that had no weirdness whatsoever, and one poem (which might have been considered, I suppose, if it had been anywhere near the minimum word count.)  Read the guidelines, folks.  They matter.

I know most of you have heard these same grim warnings loving suggestions many times before.  They’re worth hearing again.  And again.  Until the day comes when every story is gold and saying “No” becomes a near-impossibility…how cool will that be?



5 comments to Getting It Right The First Time

  • I’m still bummed that I didn’t get my ‘Cathouse Curse’ short finished in time to submit for this anthology, but I’d rather be late and have to send it around for submission elsewhere than send you an incomplete or unpolished story!

    Good luck, intrepid editors! I can’t wait to see the finished book. 🙂

  • Rachel, if you don’t find a home for it between now and this time next year, we are planning a second volume of stories. We’d love you to submit it then!

  • Follow the directions, folks. FOLLOW the DIRECTIONS. One thing I learned as a writer is that formatting and other “nit-picky” things take a lot longer than I think they will. Every single time – cleaning up the manuscript for submission, checking off all the items even on a simple set of submission guidelines takes actual time and effort. Following directions accurately is a skill and it takes time to perform.

  • Sarah, it amazes me how hard people will work to NOT follow directions. And not just when submitting to editors, but in every aspect of life. Getting a library card, for example…we require a state-issued ID or driver’s license to create a library account. It’s not that hard, but instead of bringing one of those items, people bring in their SS cards, their credit cards, their concealed carry permits, sometimes even their relatives. “Just ask her, she’ll tell you who I am.”