I’m now almost halfway into the second month of reading for Silent Screams, with a month-and-a-half or so to go. I’ve actually done a good job so far of keeping up with the reading as stories come in. It’s slow going, but some progress is taking place. Here’s a quick rundown of statistics for you number-crunching types:
SUBMISSIONS SO FAR- 70
EARLY ACCEPTANCES- 6
So far the anthology is about one quarter full, as far as my vision for it goes (I’m hoping for around 100,000 words, all said and done– about 20-25 stories). A quick glance at this list shows that, thus far, I’ve accepted less than one in ten of the stories I’ve read. It’s no fun to send out rejections, but I knew getting into this that it would be part of the deal. As I hoped when beginning this project, I’m learning a lot by simply doing it, and I’ve gained a lot of sympathy for others who edit anthologies and magazines. Rejections, I’ve found, can be for any number of reasons– sometimes for bad writing, of course, but more often the reasons are more subtle. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of deciding whether or not a story fits my vision for the book, and doesn’t have a lot to do with the quality of the story itself. Here are two major instructions, though, that I feel will apply to anyone submitting stories, regardless of the market he or she is submitting to. They ought to go without saying, but after reading through a lot of stories and seeing them ignored on multiple occasions, I’ll repeat them here:
1. READ THE GUIDELINES, PEOPLE
Sometimes folks send in things that offer a different interpretation on my theme than I initially had in mind. I have no problem with this– sometimes the story doesn’t fit at all with my vision, and I have to send a rejection, but on a couple of occasions I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the nuance of their work, and the different perspective they bring. Even if I ultimately can’t accept their story, I appreciate the thought they put into their submission. It shows respect for me and my time.
However, I’ve been made teeth-grittingly frustrated by a couple of authors who have no regard at all for my guidelines. These are folks that I think are simply carpet-bombing publications, hoping to get lucky. I understand this approach, but it only goes so far– at the end of the day, if your story is so far outside the realm of what I’m looking for, you’re just wasting your time, as well as mine. The worst of it is that I’ve gotten a couple of pretty cool stories this way, read all the way through them, and then realized at the end that they had nothing at all to do with my anthology.
Here’s the deal: If your story has nothing to do with the theme an editor is working with, it doesn’t matter how cool your story is. Don’t waste editors’ time with stories that aren’t what they’re looking for.
2. THE BASICS MATTER
I hate to be a stickler, but when I receive a story and it’s improperly formatted or there are basic grammar errors in the first paragraph, I’m not really inclined to think favorably of it from the start. In all honesty, I’ll probably continue reading at least a little (I’d hate to miss a gem on account of a technicality) but, depending on my mood or how tired I am after work that day, I may not.
Here’s the deal. SFWA format exists for a reason– it’s a comforting thing for editors to open a document and see all the proper information in place where they expect it to be. Authors who care enough to put their manuscripts into proper SFWA format also can often be better trusted to be decent writers, to pay attention to guidelines (see above), and all that other good stuff. To ignore the little things like proper formatting and basic grammar just makes a writer look incompetent, uncaring, and sloppy.
Editing a book is tough. I now understand why a pile of unread submissions is typically referred to as “slush.” Choosing stories sometimes feels like digging through a mountain of poo in search of gold nuggets. But oh, those gold nuggets– how they sparkle. Those can make the rest of the struggle worth it. I have a few that I already can’t wait to share with you guys.
So please, writers, keep sending me your stories. This prospector ain’t finished yet. There’s a little more than a month and a half to go– plenty of time to submit. I can’t wait to see what new chunks of gold the rest of this submission period brings my way.