The Plight of the Harried Anthology Editor

Oh no, not another one!

Read my lips. Or should I say, READ MY SPECS. I guess it was a matter of time before I had to let loose with a tirade about writers who just can’t follow directions. Aside from being a writer myself, I’ve edited a number of anthologies, so I have some experience seeing things from the editor’s seat.

It isn’t what you’re likely thinking, ie having to sift through dire pieces of fiction to unearth the jewels. No. It’s receiving submission after submission that bear not the slightest resemblance to the detailed specs I set out in my calls for short stories. Frankly, I don’t understand it. The entire point of listing these specifications (aka “submission guidelines”) is for writers to understand what it is I’m asking for, with the goal being to inspire them to write something that might fit the bill. It’s a proven method and generally works. Most of the time.

Or make that some of the time.

Or make that less and less of the time.

All I can think of is that some of these writers must have been clearing out their knicker drawers (or, in this case, their short story drawers) and said, “Oh, here’s a story I wrote about an auto mechanic and a duck living on a desert island. I’ll send it over to Mitzi for her sexy epic-fantasy anthology, Thrones of Desire. After all, she doesn’t have anything else to do!”

Err… think again, mate.

As an editor, I always try to be polite when rejecting a story. I know how tough and heartbreaking this business is, and I likewise know that the people who work in it often don’t give writers the time of day, let alone a polite note of rejection (or any kind of note even acknowledging their existence on this planet). But it’s getting harder and harder to be polite, especially when many of the submissions that show up in my inbox are so far removed from what I’ve asked for that the chances of my accepting the work (even with a LOT of revising and editing) is as likely as former Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi returning from the dead to lap dance in a Texas truck-stop strip joint.

Why do writers do this? They are not ingratiating themselves in the minds and hearts of editors by sending over completely inappropriate material. Heck, we’re not even talking about the quality of the story, but the fact that the story is just plain WRONG. I compose detailed guidelines so that writers will know exactly what I’m looking for and, even more importantly, what I’m NOT looking for. It’s supposed to save time – both my time and the writer’s time. But far too many people are not paying attention.

There are a lot of anthologies out there and a lot of editors. However, each anthology is different and each editor is different – that’s why we put together these writers’ guidelines! They’re there to help and guide writers and give them a fighting chance to compete in the submission process. It’s no wonder that so many publishers have slammed their doors on writers, electing literary agents to be the gatekeepers of what comes through the door rather than leaving that task to editors.

I don’t understand what’s so difficult about following directions, especially when they’ve been clearly laid out and are accessible from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Is it just a sign of the times? – a general sloppiness and laziness combined with an increasingly poor work ethic? Because I doubt this occurred to such a level in Dickens’ day. Heck, I’ve lectured in creative writing at several universities and I didn’t have this much trouble getting my students to follow directions! Maybe it is a sign of the times, as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get anyone to do any job right, let alone do the job at all.

I’m certain many writers who have appeared in my anthologies will tell you that I offer a lot of encouragement, support and sage editorial advice on their work, so it’s not a matter of “grumpy editor.” I work hard to put out a quality project, and I expect a modicum of attention paid to the submission guidelines by those who aspire to be in it. And that includes appropriate formatting, and attention paid to grammar, spelling and punctuation. I’ll remember a writer with more fondness who can’t write his or her way out of a paper bag, but who sends me a properly formatted and tidy story that at least tries to fit what I’m asking for. Writers can always improve their writing. But sloppiness? There’s no excuse for it. Nor is there any excuse to send me a story that has nothing to do with the theme of my book.

I can only assume that the acceptance of electronic submissions is adding to the problem; after all, it’s free to send material by email, so writers can send anything willy-nilly without having to pay for it. Perhaps they might think twice if they have to make a trip to the post office and open up their wallets, especially if the cost involves international postage.

If my blog post has ruffled a few feathers, so be it. After all, I’m the author of Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts, so a few ruffled feathers are water off the author’s back. Nevertheless, if you’re a writer and can see your reflection in the mirror of my words (how’s that for literary?), then maybe it’s time to do something about it. You are not serving your best interests by sending an editor inappropriate work. It’s pointless, it’s annoying, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

Time is money. And most of us don’t have enough of either.

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11 Responses to “The Plight of the Harried Anthology Editor”

  1. Tahira Iqbal Says:

    Sticking to the guidelines gives your story a fighting chance – the editor needs to see the writing not the formatting mistakes. I always stick to the guidelines – if you can follow them, then you can follow editorial advice, should you get over the first hurdle. Mitzi – you are a fab editor, and lazy writers are missing out working with you.

  2. Kimber Vale Says:

    I bet you are right about electronic submissions greasing the path to laziness. I write specifically for targeted submission calls and have even refrained from sending something that I thought didn’t quite fit the guidelines after I finished it.

    How about requiring a 200 word synopsis so you can weed out the garbage quicker? That, or bill people for your wasted time… 🙂

  3. mitzi Says:

    Oh, I’d be a wealthy woman if I billed people for wasting my time! I provide my email in these sub calls, so people can ask questions if they are uncertain. A synopsis can help, but why not just send something that vaguely resembles what I’m asking for? 🙂

  4. Jo Says:

    “…the chances of my accepting the work (even with a LOT of revising and editing) is as likely as former Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi returning from the dead to lap dance in a Texas truck-stop strip joint.”

    I have to say, this made me laugh hard XD

  5. Brenda Says:

    I wanted to comment on your blog tonight as possibly one of the offending authors. I submitted to you and apparently it was so bad I didn’t warrent even a “No thanks”. I am new to the writing world and was leary of submitting to you because I am not published yet. I had no intention of wasting your time. I just have not learned all the ropes yet, and you can’t learn these ropes without swinging on them. My story was about the Sacrifice of a Virgin (to a shape shifting Dragon). My first attempt at erotica. I realized it was on the shy side but that was becasue the entire piece was her POV, shy and inexperienced. I thought that might be okay because your call said the pieces didn’t have to be rough to be considered erotic. Although I was not sure if my work fit in, I felt like that was an open invitation to give it a try. I truly hope I did not waste your time. If I did, I am sorry. Time is short and most valuable.

  6. mitzi Says:

    I haven’t read all the submissions yet, nor have I had a chance to reply to everyone with an answer. So if you haven’t heard from me, you will, one way or the other. I always respond to every author who submits material, whether I am interested in it or not. I suspect your story is not one of the major offenders, however. Believe me, I had in some seriously off the wall stuff that must have been intended for someone else’s book. Your story at least sounds like it was intended for mine!

  7. mitzi Says:

    I actually did just check – I’ve not made a decision on your story yet, so that’s why you’ve not heard from me.

  8. Marian Crane Says:

    Mitzi, I thought your guidelines were pretty clear when I read them this summer. I had plenty of time to come up with several concepts, and ended up choosing to write the one that spoke most to my heart. Whether it works in your anthology or not, I’ve at least got it written for other venues. At any rate, the ‘Kingdoms of Desire’ concept sounds like a blast. I’m looking forward to buying the anthology.

  9. mitzi Says:

    Thanks, Marian!

  10. Magda Knight Says:

    I have to say I was so grateful and impressed by the depth and precision of the submission guidelines. I’ve seen a few, and yours was like a breath of fresh air. I suspect one man’s meat is another man’s pudding (for instance, I still feel really hesitant about including a tiny bit with machines in my submission, which I would personally still consider to be fantasy… but you did clearly specify no sci-fi and I was worried I might be wasting your time). Still, I found your call for submissions so inspiring that I decided to try my hand for the very first time at erotica. A big, huge thank you for giving me that opportunity, and also for taking the time to read all our submissions. Especially over the Christmas period, which really ought to be filled with gluhwine and tasty nibbles not editing galore!

  11. mitzi Says:

    Glad you found the specs to be clear! As for spending Xmas reading submissions, I’m afraid the New Year holiday and days following will be spent likewise! And I have to finish my own story too! 😀

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