Detail from Don Marquis Chapters for the OrthodoxSeventeen Ways to Annoy an Editor

Jessica Amanda Salmonson

As an editor & anthologist of many years in both major & small presses, I'd like to think that the only things that influence me as regards a manuscript are its quality & suitability. Yet there are many good manuscripts that must be returned even if they are well done. Suppose, for example, that an anthologist has room for two more stories, at which point the book is full. But sitting on her desk are five stories she has been reluctant to reject, for each has merit. Three will simply have to be returned.

Even an editor may not know all the things that go against one manuscript in favor of another. It may well be that the minutiae of submission protocol becomes the deciding factor in many of these scale-balanced "near misses." A story sent single-spaced, for instance, quite obviously has a large strike against it before it has been read. But not everything is so conspicuous. And many an author may have had the scale tipped against a story due to something so small that it shouldn't have been an issue.

Authors do lose sales due to trivial blunders. The reasons aren't always entirely fair, but there they are. Happily, most of these blunders are easily avoided once they're understood. Here, then, is a list of little grievances which burden me as an editor to greater & lesser degrees on a daily or weekly basis:

1) Manuscripts that are insured, registered, certified, & requiring my signature. These may well cause me to stand in a long post office line to sign for a submission, leaving me less than delighted to have received it. A magazine editor once told me that it was his opinion that anyone who registers manuscripts is a paranoid who will end up accusing someone of stealing his cliches, so it is a good plan never to open such a submission. Many editors have a standing policy to scrawl "refused" on envelopes for which they're asked to sign. I share that policy.

2) Postage-due submissions. This, too, may cause me to stand in a line merely to pay some unknown author's postage. Even if it is only two cents, it is two cents worth of ill-will. Again, most editors' perfectly proper response is to write "refused" on any envelope for which they're asked to pay.

3) One of the "secret golden rules" among editors is this: Anyone who sends ten manuscripts at a time, asking an editor to "take your pick," will prove to be constitutionally incapable of submitting anything of merit.

4) Foreign submissions with a single international reply coupon, from people expecting their entire manuscript to be returned. A single coupon is sufficient to receive only the first page of the manuscript along with a rejection notice.

5) In the "old days" before word-processors, editors hated to receive typewritten manuscripts for which the ribbon was so faded the pages appeared nearly blank. Today, many editors have the same response to dot-matrix submissions & will not read them, as they cause eye strain if many of them are perused. Personally, I will read them, for I am sympathetic to the fact that not everyone can afford a laser printer, & I lament the days when all one required to be a writer was an antique typewriter & a ream of cheap paper. But I won't read them if the dot-printer's ribbon is faded & worn out! To be safe, I'm sad to say, a writer should really spring for a laser printer to insure a good first impression of a manuscript.

6) Fat manuscripts accompanied by a #9 return envelop with 32 stamp affixed, from authors who afterward query to find out why I didn't return more than the first page of their rejected manuscript, of which they did not keep a copy. I do feel anguish for them, but wonder at the IQ of someone who thought an entire manuscript could be crammed into tiny return envelopes. In this age of easy copymaking or fresh print-outs, many authors prefer rejected manuscripts be discarded. For those who fail to keep copies, doom awaits.

7) Queries without SASE, with angry follow-up queries demanding to know why I did not reply.

8) Writers who beg for feedback & promise to do revisions if I will tell them how. There is not enough time in a day to critique rejected manuscripts. The few times I've bothered, the writers have rarely been happy to learn the precise reasons why I & other editors keep rejecting their tales. Also, I read most submissions with my short-term memory functioning. If I offer a hasty opinion, the recipient is free to ignore it or disagree; but it is useless to write to me with a multi-page defense. I won't remember the story by then.

9) People who submit willy-nilly to scores of magazines they've never seen, wasting their postage & the editors' time with wildly inappropriate stories.

10) Stamps loose somewhere in the packet rather than affixed to return envelopes.

11) Submissions sealed on all four sides with unbreakable glass reinforced tape. (Have you heard about the novel submitted in a small locked safe, with the combination to the lock under separate cover?)

12) Submissions without cover letters. I like to know who people are, what they're doing. Yet cover letters that just say, "This is the story I wrote & I hope you'll publish it" make bad impressions.

13) Manuscripts influenced chiefly by television, comics, & cinema. These are the works of what the late great anthologist Terry Carr used to call "functional literates." Obviously they have a few practical reading skills, but no writing skills, as they have not been inspired by books. No editor likes to receive stories from people who rarely read anything beyond cereal boxes, traffic signs, & short story market reports.

14) Liars & flatterers. I have received cover letters praising (in generic terms) works of mine pending release, which my friendly critic could not have seen outside an advance trade ad. Any kind of buttering up tends to miss its mark.

15) The "ream of blank verse" submissions. These should be submitted on toilet paper, for then they might be of some use.

16) Rapid-fire one-submission-per-week from budding hacks. They make me wish there were some very kind & polite way to say, "Please never send me anything ever again for as long as we both shall live."

17) Bad stories. That is, the unmitigated rubbish that makes up the majority of the manuscripts received. After twenty-odd years of reading submissions, I am still in awe of how truly devoid of talent someone can be, yet retain an irrational belief that his or her stories are worth sending. Authors who've put in volunteer hours as "first readers" for editors are usually delighted to realize there really isn't very much competition for a good writer!

So there you are -- seventeen editors' complaints that, with a minimum of forethought, need never inhibit your chances of selling stories.

"How to Annoy an Editor" appeared in a writers' magazine but damned if I can remember which one.




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