Guidelines: An Editorial Nightmare

Being a writer who wants to be published in a legit publication, I have always spent a considerable amount of time mulling over the guidelines of a magazine I want to submit to. There are a lot of obvious reasons for doing this, but the most important reason, for me, is to make sure that my submission is properly formatted, is submitted correctly, and fits into the magazine or anthology's theme or editorial direction--maybe those are the only real reasons for reading guidelines.
But now that I'm editing a magazine--well, it's turning out to be more of a journal than a magazine, to be honest--I've discovered that I must be a minority among writers. I don't know what it is, but since opening up submissions to the general public we've been hit with a series of submissions that simply weren't correct. One submission was from a 45-year-old woman from Argentina who wanted payment through Western Union. The problem? SBS Magazine only accepts submissions from writers under the age of 25 (and we're a tad lenient on that age, but not lenient enough to add a year to it). To top it off, we specifically stated in our very organized guidelines that payment is made through Paypal. Another fellow submitted to the wrong email address while responding to an ad that I had put up. I emailed him back and told him to read the guidelines to figure out where to submit to.
And this has made me want to give a little advice to folks out there wanting to submit to a magazine or journal somewhere:
  • Read the guidelines. They're not put there to be pretty. Editors want you to read them and submit properly for a lot of reasons.
  • Don't assume that your submission that doesn't follow the guidelines will be so good that the editors will ignore that you've not followed guidelines and publish it anyway. In fact, of the submissions that have been sent to us that didn't follow guidelines, we rejected them without reading them, and other editors do this too--and we're pretty lenient. True, SBS Magazine isn't Analog or F&SF, and we don't have thousands of submissions a month, but the guidelines aren't that hard to read and there are certain things we're not willing to be lenient on--like age. But editors at bigger magazines won't read your submission at all if it's off target--say submitting a poem to a magazine that only publishes fiction. They don't have the time or patience for you if you can't even read the guidelines.
  • Editors aren't trying to be mean an anal when they reject your manuscript because it doesn't follow guidelines. Most, if not all, magazine editors have a certain direction they want the magazine to go. Analog only publishes hard SF and nonfiction essays on certain aspects of science that might be of interest to readers of the magazine. Other magazines have a wider audience, or at least have no genre specifications, but look for certain types of writing as opposed to any type. So, if your submission doesn't fit what they're trying to publish, you're actually wasting the editor's time, and they don't like that one bit. It's not a matter of being the cranky old editor. Some of the more popular magazines get hundreds, if not thousands of submissions every month. They have to reply to each of them--usually with a form rejection. Can you imagine going through a few hundred manuscripts every month?
  • Don't be an ass. If the editor rejects your manuscript, don't do any of the following:
    • Write back explaining why your manuscript wasn't up to par.
    • Write back arguing with the editor over their choice to reject you.
    • Write back with some sort of snarky remark, such as "I guess your magazine doesn't publish highly metaphorical literary fiction."
    • Flame the editor for rejecting you on your blog. If you want to be taken seriously, act professional. Unless an editor has done something morally objectionable, leave it be.
    • Send the editor a mean letter.
Hopefully that all makes sense. The biggest thing is to read the guidelines. Seriously.

Final Critique Group Update

Officially we are not doing it through CC anymore because I'm not going to ask Andrew or anyone else to subscribe to the premium account there. It's not fair to you, especially since this is just starting up and there isn't a definitive guarantee it will last for a year or forever for that matter.

However, I did a little research and found that we can do critiques in MS Word without a problem. It takes a minute to set up some quick keys for the two commands we'll likely be using--strike through and comment. So, for those that were interested (Andrew for example) send me a direct email so I can tell you how to do these quick keys. And then we'll start doing it via email and just send each other documents. Would anyone be opposed to having a mailing list that makes discussing stories easy amongst one another? A very low key list. Just something that only the members would send to one another. Not advertised so there would be no spam.

So please email me in regards to the critique group.

And another post will go up later this evening on the evil semicolon--which I am quite fond of but people tend to use incorrectly on a consistent basis.

CC Updates

I have just discovered that the premium membership at CC only allows me to start a private queue for all of you to use who don't have premium memberships that will only let me post to the group and not you. This defeats the entire purpose of the group obviously. So I'm wondering now a few things. The reason I really enjoy CC is because of the 'inline critique' template, which makes critiquing super easy online. I don't think it fair to ask people who don't use CC to go off and pay for a membership, but at the same time I don't know of any place that offers an easy way to critique. The only thing I can think of is sending things to one another via snail mail, but I completely understand why nobody wants to do that. There isn't any way I can think of to snail mail without giving away addresses. I don't have a P.O. box, but I'm also completely unworried about anyone knowing where I live really, at least in regards to a critique group. But, again, I understand if nobody else likes this method.
So here are the options I have right now:
1) Everyone who wants in gets a premium membership ($34 dollars for a full year, $24 for six months) . It isn't really a lot of money, but for some of you who are full time students it is. It's a commitment that I can't ask any of you to make. That would be unfair.
2) We say "screw CC" and go elsewhere. I don't know where to go that will give us at least some way to organize our critiques, nor where we can get that 'inline critique'.
3) Someone tell me or teach me how the heck they can easily do critiques in word with whatever crazy feature they use. (Someone mentioned this to me. This would mean we could just send MS word docs, or RTF files to one another and do it that way. Perhaps start some sort of mailing list or whatever for it. This would mean not using CC of course, but I probably could utilize my premium membership for doing a real good run through of WISB since I am considering publishing it). And there has to be some sort of quick key for this otherwise it will make clicking around take way too much time.
4) Someone give me another idea of what the heck to do about this. I'm a little lost here.

So, does anyone have any ideas?

Critique Group! In Motion!

This is a short email to let everyone know that I have paid for the premium service on CC and as soon as they update my account I will be starting up the critique group.

Now for further discussion and some questions that need answering from those that were interested.

What is a reasonable frequency of new material to there? (my thoughts are at least once a month, not more than once a week)

What should we call it? (the queue needs a name, so figure I would ask. I'm impartial.)

Should we put some sort of limit on people? (I mean, if they don't do anything for 6 months and are perfectly healthy should we not allow them to be a part? I want this to be a serious writers group with the intention of getting things to a good publishable level. I want people to get published from this. So, people who aren't wanting to take part might not be useful to the group anyway).

Anything else that might be of concern to anyone?

Critique Groups…part two…

First things first: Thanks to everyone who has posted such nice comments about WISB. I really do appreciate them. There's really nothing that can make a writer feel better than to know he or she has fans, regardless of the medium. Just knowing that there area few of you out there that are completely hooked is enough to make me giggle with joy inside. So, thank you very much. I appreciate all comments on all subjects, but those few on the chapters and such really hit home.

Next: I've sold five of my books from my little Amazon 'get rid of old books' thing. As of now I haven't put up anything that wasn't related to school at some point, but I'm thinking of trying to sell off my R. L. Stine collection on there, perhaps. I don't know yet.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I am going to do part two of this critique groups thing.

I want to start a critique group. Nothing big, nothing super or amazing like the Inklings (you know, Tolkien's little group with C.S. Lewis and what not). I would just like to have a small group of say 3 or 4 people who all write and read in the same general genre (so SF/F and maybe some more fantastical H provided it's like really wicked stuff and not your typical crazy guy with the knife thing). The number is of course extremely flexible.

So, first, would anyone be interested in such a thing?Now, here is some more things on this idea. First, I can't provide or critique stuff every week simply because I work full time and go to college full time right now. I think doing once a month would be sufficient enough in my opinion.
Also there are two ways I'd like to try to do such a group. One is by mail, which I understand pretty much nobody is going to go for, for very obvious reasons. My reasoning for liking the mail idea is that I critique and work a million times better by hand. Plus, I like seeing my work with red pen marks on it...I dunno why, but makes me happy or something. I'm sadistic, I know.
The other way was to use Critique Circle and create a small group through it. I don't know at this moment if it costs anything to do such a thing, and if so I can likely just cover it if it's not excessive in cost--but donations...*wink wink*...would be most welcome. I like CC as I said before because of the in-line critique form.

So, who's interested?

Critique Groups…part one…

I've always loved critique groups. After all, without them many writers would likely never have been published. Think of Tolkien and the Inklings. Would Tolkien have published The Hobbit and ultimately The Lord of the Rings? You could argue that he would have without being part of the Inklings, but then you could also argue that the friendships he developed with those men and those in groups he was a part of before compelled him to write LOTR.
I'm also a fan of online critique groups. Critique Circle has one of the best crit systems I have ever seen. They have several forms, but I am quite fond of the "In-line" form, which allows you to click on each paragraph that you want to comment on to make commments, and when you send the critique the author sees those comments below said paragraphs. It makes online critting so easy because you can actually do something constructive without a lot of clicking and fiddling. Let's face it, critiquing via MS Word or whatever program you use is no easy picnic, even with that handy highlight feature--and honestly I haven't a clue how to highlight and don't intend to learn.There are a lot of other critique groups out there, obviously, some free, some not. There is Critters Writers' Workshop, which I found to be rather interesting as it puts its focus in SF/F/H work--seeing how the former vice president of SFWA--Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer's of America, Inc.--runs it. I personally cannot say whether Critters is any good as I am not a part of it. I am a part of Critique Circle, and would definitely recommend that. If anyone is a part of Critters, please leave a comment. Tell us what it's like to be a part of it.
And what about all your critique groups out there? Or do you not have one? Granted, sites like Critters or Critique Circle aren't really critique groups in the traditional sense. Unless you develop a relationship with certain individuals on there you'll likely only receive comments from the same person on rare occasion. But, you do tend to get valuable feedback nonetheless. Here are some things I've learned about being involved in face to face, online, and other (the other being some critiques I received from editors on short story submissions):

1. Remember that any feedback you give should be constructive. Never bat down a writer by telling them their work is dreadfully horrible and that they will never amount to anything. There are only two outcomes in that situation: the writer will be severely hurt, hate you, and maybe stop writing altogether or flame you unmercifully or cease to be a good constructive critter for you, or they will break away from you entirely and end up being published while you're not. You don't want either of those. Well, that's not entirely true. The idea behind critique groups is to help each other become published, but still, nobody likes a 'revenge publishing'.
2. Don't do anything to the writers work that they didn't ask for. If they don't want red pen, or they don't want you to judge the grammar, then don't. Unless the writing is so abysmally bad that you can't help but make a few grammatical changes then don't do anything at all. Actually, if the writing is so bad that you can't help yourself then maybe that person needs to pick up Strunk & White's book The Elements of Style, a sort of mini-Bible for any writer. And suggesting taking some basic english classes at a community college would help...
3. Make yourself as clear as possible. Don't say something that is so vague. Saying "something about this felt wrong" doesn't give the writer anything to go on. What was wrong about it? Did it seem grammatically weak, or what? I've given my fair share of vague comments, and I try my best not to give them. It's hard, I know. But you have to be strong my young padawan's. Strong...
4. You don't know everything. Even if you think you do, you don't. Sorry, plain and simple. Not even the most successful writers know everything. It's best to be humble. Sure, give your opinion, thoughts, etc., but don't pretend like you know it all. This is especially bad when someone who has not been published yet tries to give you worldly advice on getting published. Anyone else see a problem with such advice?

I'm sure I've learned some other things, but I can't quite put my finger on them right now. For a later post of course. The same goes for much of the other things I wanted to discuss on such groups. So, next week or later there will be a part two. Anything you might have learned?