Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hard Reality? More Like Hard Realities

I've read a lot of submission guidelines lately. They contradict each other, of course. The default is always to follow the preferences and guidelines of the exact publisher or agent you submit to. Deviate at your peril. Second default position is to follow the guidelines for the genre for which you specifically write, especially if they're guidelines posted on a major organization for that genre such as RRA or SFWA. Seeing the variations can be instructive. Or it may send you screaming to the bedroom to hide under the covers where you can sob over the hopelessness of it all in that black space where the boogeyman editor can't get to you. Here are some gems:

Brutal but true: Kent Brewster confirms our worst nightmares. You're wonderful Kent please don't hurt my ms! Sweeping Back the Slushpile by Kent Brewster

I love you, Murderati. In my fantasy life, INK becomes similar to Murderati. Anyway, this is both a demonstration of individual genres having their own set of 'absolute' or macro-rules that you can generally follow and be safe and also that no matter what you do, you'll be hitting someone's pet peeve so just try not to make yourself too crazy and make your ms as professional as you can before you send it out. I think it also helps to be cool, like the murderati:
Things Your Creative Writing Instructor Never Told You by Gordon Aalborg

For our entertainment: Because we need a break from the insanity to laugh at the stupidity of others. Please, muse, don't let me get this messed up about my rejections. Let me continue celebrating their collection and to view a hand-written note as a priceless artifact painstakingly dug out from the ruins of my manuscript! Slushkiller by Teresa Nielson Hayden

Not only do we have to worry about how to publish, but of course where. Sad to say, I would be enthused to get a short published on toilet paper as long as it counted as a real publication. I hope that someday toilet paper won't seem nearly as appealing. Trying to Get Published on Toilet Paper by the Fine Folks at

The last word, though, is always this. The story has to be good, or the formatting doesn't matter. Reversely, if the story is really good, the small details (what font, how many spaces after a period) won't matter. Rachel Funari in her article Escaping the Slushpile put it well:
The stories that were sent to my office were mainly about the same one-dimensional characters: the abused wife obsessed with cleaning, the husband who kills his wife because she’s gone to fat, the stereotypical mobster, and let’s not forget the drunk, fat, ex-policeman, snidely-comic private detective who has to figure out the illegal mess the husband of a beautiful, blond, buxom woman has gotten into. All of these characters are boring because they aren’t real people. Successful stories are about the same types of characters, but they are people with compulsions and neuroses and subtleties and contradictions. They are caught in worlds they don’t understand, forced into situations they have no answers for, made desperate by people they love, made obsessive by people that have no room for them. No matter whether your story is about an ordinary person or an extraordinary one, your voice needs to be unique, your character whole and full, your storytelling revelatory and involved, your reason for telling this story clear and revealed. Otherwise, why should I read it? When you sit down to write, you should ask yourself, Why must I tell this story? Why must my character be the hero or anti-hero of this story? What do I have to say about this story, or this life, or this world that needs me to write it? What is my point? If you can’t answer these questions, then you shouldn’t be writing the story. And if this is the case, then all above advice is moot.

1 comment:

Carissa said...

Thanks for the links! Very instructional (and fun reads)!