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Monday, March 01, 2010

Guest Post: 100 Stories for Haiti - a Personal View

I'm delighted to share with you today a guest post by author Greg McQueen.

Greg is the co-ordinator (and originator) of 100 Stories for Haiti, a fundraising project I wrote about a few weeks ago in this post (and contributed to as a volunteer editor myself).

In his post today, Greg talks about the experience of soliciting short stories for the 100 Stories for Haiti book/ebook, and the insights this gave him into working on "the other side of the curtain".

Take it away, Greg...

* * *

Okay. Before I start today's post, let me warn you it might seem as though I am ranting. I'm not. In the spirit of sharing the whole experience of making 100 Stories for Haiti, I am about to tell you some of the negative things about the submissions process. Producing this book has been a wonderful experience. But like all wonderful experiences there's a flip side ...

Since starting the 100 Stories for Haiti project, I have had an unexpected peek behind that magical, and sometimes impenetrable, curtain between writers and publishers.

So what have I learned?

It's hard to quantify. The experience of producing a book, the responsibility of handling work by other writers, choosing who makes it to print and who doesn't ... I've enjoyed the challenge immensely. But the responsibility of making a book is tough.

It's certainly something I'll take with me when sending out my own work for submission. Often I hear writers say, "I sent my manuscript and they didn't get back to me for months!" Or, "They sent me this standard letter, nothing about my manuscript, just a bland brush-off." Or, as is usually the case, "I sent my story and never heard back from them."

If I had sent a personal email to the 320 authors who didn't make it into the anthology, I'd still be writing to them today. Instead, I chose to post a list of the authors who made it into the book on the project's website. Yet, I still get emails from writers asking whether they've made it into the book.

I am grateful that so many people sent their stories in such a short space of time. But I admit that I feel disappointed when I get emails asking, "When will I hear from you?" Frankly, I think it's impolite. Honestly, I expected writers to be more engaged with the project. Meaning that I expected them to check the website to see what was happening. Most do. But many don't, and I find that a bit ... I am not sure what word to use, but the first one that comes to mind is, careless.

If you send a story to a competition, magazine, or anthology, do so with care. Send it because you want to and because you have a keen interest in that particular project. Bookmark that website. Check it regularly. Heck, check it before sending an email asking whether they accepted your story. Chances are the information you want is there. Sending that email without checking wastes people's time and shows that you probably sent your story for the wrong reasons - more interested in simply being published than becoming part of what the publication stands for.

Another area where I found people a bit careless was with email attachments. Following that first announcement about the 100 Stories for Haiti project, I admit that the submissions guidelines were a little vague. But I believe they were clear enough for people to understand that they should send NO ATTACHMENTS. The amount of writers who ignored this simple instruction was quite astounding. The amount that ignored it after I'd posted the clear and precise submission guidelines on the website a few days later, utterly shocking.

Failing to obey submissions guidelines shows carelessness on the part of the writer. It also creates a lot of work for the people reading those submissions. For 100 Stories for Haiti we read every submission. In fact, I had to cut & paste each story into an online forum for the readers and editors. Having to deal with attachments I didn't ask for really slowed that process down.

Another thing that slowed us down was re-submissions. A couple of people sent their stories several times. I don't know why. I guess to make sure I got them. Other people sent different versions of the same story, "Oh, I am sending this again because I fiddled with the ending," or, "I found a typo, sorry, here it is again." I guess I can't accuse the several-times-writer of carelessness. Submissions with typos? Perhaps. I have sent stuff out that I later realised had typos. It happens. The thing to do is let it go. Writing an email to draw attention to the fact that you submitted a story with typos ... Let's just call it careless, shall we, and leave it at that.

As I said at the start of this post, I am not ranting. I am sharing a little bit of experience from the other side of the curtain. Submissions guidelines aren't posted because people are fussy. They're posted because they need writers to follow them. They want to read and consider a story thoroughly, under optimal conditions, and with a great deal of care. Of course, it becomes much harder to do that if the writer carelessly ignores them.

100 Stories for Haiti comes out on the 4th March, 2010, as an ebook and paperback. You can pre-order the paperback edition here.

I want to thank Nick for allowing me to post on his site. And on a personal note, I also want to thank him for his valuable contribution to the editorial work on 100 Stories for Haiti - the book would not exist without the dozens of volunteers who rolled up their sleeves to help make the book happen!

Please support the 100 Stories for Haiti Book Project! Pre-order your copy NOW:

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Blogger Gill James said...

This sounds very familiar a writer-publisher.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous institute of lraqi scholars & academician said...

thank you very much

2:44 PM  
Blogger Julia Bohanna said...

I am ashamed. I re-submitted - not because there were typos - but because the story was not formatted correctly. I had taken the rules from another website, where those rules were vague. I then saw the exact formatting requirements and so I resubmitted.

Hang my head in shame.

But good points. We should all be working toward being professionals and yes, there is an element of being lazy in simply emailing to check a comp entry, rather than looking at the website. Personally, I never do it.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Teresa Ashby said...

I do think that editors take a lot of stick they don't deserve. Maybe all writers should be required to wear an editor's shoes now and again to see what life is like on the other side.

10:16 AM  

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