So yesterday I was bitching about writers, editor’s hat firmly planted on my head. But don’t think for a second I had any illusions in regards to how screwed up the other end of this equation can be. We’re not even talking about the Big Six right now. They exist in their own little alternate reality. No, I’m talking about the hundreds of small presses, micro presses, boutique presses, and really-a-self-publisher-disguised-as-a-publisher outfits that solicit work from writers and artists. These folks actually make up the bulk of the industry, even if the big six make up the bulk of the book sales. But for most writers, it is the smaller outfits that they will be dealing with. And these are the things those outfits do that annoy the bejeesus out of writers.
1. You don’t return messages or emails. I understand you have deadlines. I appreciate the fact that I am one of a hundred submissions you have. But if I email you for a status update, is it too much to ask for a reply in 48 hours? Even if that reply is, “Sorry, we have not gotten to your story yet.” That would be acceptable. At least then I know it is still under consideration and hasn’t just been forgotten or ignored. And no, your autoresponder is not the same thing. Having a bot send an automated email that says “Your email has been received” doesn’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Your autoresponder can’t tell me if my story was accepted, or if my comp copy has been mailed out, or if you received the changes you requested from me, or any other question I may have.
Believe it or not, I can be reasonable. If you are pushing me off because something went wrong, just tell me that. If someone dropped the ball and forgot to mail my copy, just say that and let me know when it will be mailed. If your assistant took an unscheduled vacation and you are two weeks behind on submissions, tell me that. It’s cool. But if you don’t respond to me, you leave it to my imagination. I’m a creative writer. My imagination is a dangerous thing.
2. You try to pay me in exposure. Dear editor, how many times have you bought a story based on some writer’s long laundry list of obscure, unpaid publishing credits? Are you impressed at all by our publishing credits with ezines that you never heard of, or magazines that ran for two issues and then shut down because the publisher had no clue what he was doing?
Stop being a cheapskate and start paying me. If you can’t afford to cough up one or two cents a word to pay for my story, how the heck are you going to afford to get me any “exposure” in the marketplace? What is your marketing plan, to spam the Amazon forums? And you know damn well your peers don’t give a crap about free publishing credits. You expect me to believe Apex Magazine is going to show more interest in my future stories if I let you publish one for free in your unknown ezine? The author guilds don’t even consider unpaid credits when I apply for membership. And as far as reader exposure, who are you exposing me to, the fifty people who download the anthology for 99 cents when you upload it to Amazon?
I’m not a greedy person. I know you have business expenses. I know the industry is competitive. But at least demonstrate you value my work as an author by paying me SOMETHING other than a smile and a byline.
3. You expect me to do your work for you. If you buy my story, I am going to sing about it on the virtual mountaintops. I’m going to tweet about the sale and Like your publisher page on Facebook. And I’ll tell all of my writer friends about how great you are for buying my story. But what I am not going to do is invest enormous amounts of my time playing the role of your PR and Advertising department, particularly because the only way I am going to see any money is if you sell copies of the book. If your business plan is dependent on me A. working for free and B. Doing your promotion for you before you share any profits with me, then you suck as a publisher and should close your virtual shop now.
And this isn’t even limited to marketing your book for you. Now you have gotten into the habit of expecting me to make sure all copy editing is complete before publication. You are the publisher. Isn’t that your job? Sure, I shouldn’t turn in a story that reads like it was written by an illiterate. I get that. I proof my work and all. But insofar as professional editing and proofreading? That is your job as the publisher. There are publishers out there that produce anthologies in which they reproduce the submissions exactly as they were submitted, formatting and all. So one story will be single-spaced. The next story is double-spaced. Some have jagged margins and others have justified margins. In some cases, you have different fonts from one story to the next because you don’t even bother to standardize the files!
What benefit am I getting out of allowing you to publish my story again? How does it benefit me as a writer if my work is published in something that looks like it was slapped together by a bunch of teenagers on a Saturday afternoon?
4. Your submission guidelines are as clear as mud. Don’t tell me you publish all forms of fiction because we both know that isn’t true. At least, it isn’t true if you have half a clue about what you are doing. Do you really expect me to believe your magazine includes young adult adventures, Christian sci-fi, and hardcore erotica? No? Then you aren’t accepting all forms of fiction, are you?
Is it too much to ask for you to provide some idea of the type of story you are looking for so that we don’t waste each other’s time? And no, saying “We are looking for great stories” does not count as providing guidelines. I don’t know any publishers who are specifically looking for terrible stories, after all. Do you prefer narrative-driven or character-driven stories? Do you have a preference for first or third person? Are their taboo subjects you won’t consider at all?
5. You forget who actually owns the story. I agree to let you publish my story. I accept your payment. I fully expect you to make some editorial decisions about the content. I realize you are going to maybe clean up some continuity issues or correct my grammar or fix some typos. But before you start giving my story full plastic surgery and transforming it into something else, talk to me. I granted you the right to publish the story. I don’t recall granting you the right to rewrite it and make it something else. Don’t turn my human male protagonist into a female vampire because those types of stories are hot right now. Don’t rewrite the ending of my story into a “happily ever after” and try to market it as a romance because that market is bigger. Don’t add or subtract characters because some focus group said so.
It is MY name on that story. I expect to be notified and consulted before major changes are made to my plot and characters. When you send your kid to school, you expect him to come home better educated, not completely different. You wouldn’t expect the school to dye his hair, pierce his ears, give him a tattoo, and change his wardrobe before sending him home. I trust you to return my story to me in a better state, not an unrecognizable one.
Tomorrow, how artists annoy, well, just about everyone.