Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Following Directions

All over the web, you can find advice for writers who are looking for their first publication. Some of it is advice about the writing itself, and some of it is advice on how to find a publisher that's a good match with your work, and some of it is advice on how to actually perform that submission so that your work will stand out and be noticed in the slush pile along with all the... well... slush.

In that last category of advice (and often in the other categories as well) you will see this invaluable bit of advice: Check and follow the submission guidelines. ALL OF THEM.

Torquere's submission guidelines are at JMS's guidelines are at Nearly every publisher -- even the big ones -- have submission guidelines linked to their front pages (even if those guidelines are "we are not accepting submissions at this time" -- don't ignore this, or you may have made a name for yourself as someone who doesn't know how to follow directions by the time they are accepting submissions again).

Now... I've never thrown out a slush manuscript for failing to meet the formatting guidelines, or for using British English instead of American. (I even accepted a story once that was a downright formatting nightmare, because the writing was strong and the story was sweet and hot.) When I reject a story from the slush pile, it's generally because the writing is still too rough for publication, or because Torquere (I don't read slush for JMS) isn't the right audience for the story (straight-up nonromantic erotica, for example, or stories with tragic, non-HFN endings).

But some of those guidelines have more to them than simply making things easier on us to edit.

Recently, an author sent us a whole collection of short stories. The writing was good -- really good -- and so we took them. The plan was to publish each story separately, and if they did reasonably well, to bind them together into a collection. So I started in on the pile. I edited the first story, went through the edits with the author, and then sent the file on to my proofreader...

...who sent it back and said, "Were you aware this is fan-fiction?"

Well, no, I hadn't been aware of that. The show it was based on isn't one I've ever seen. Ditto for the editor who'd first picked the collection out of the slush pile.

Right there in Torquere's guidelines, it says:
...We will also reject stories that are clearly a copyright infringement, including any that have been converted from fan fiction or that are based on TV shows, movies, or literary characters.
JMS has a similar notation. In fact, pretty much every publisher says this. It's one reason Fifty Shades of Grey got such a bad rap, because it was pretty well an open secret that it had started out as a Twilight fan-fic. It had been sufficiently altered so that its origins were no longer obvious, which is how it managed to skate through to publication.

I sent the information and the tags and tells the proofreader had marked on to Torquere's management, who spoke to the author about it. The author admitted that every story in the collection was, in fact, a fan-fic. Now, I can't swear as to the wording of that author's contract, but Torquere uses mostly boilerplate contracts, and my latest contract with them reads, in part:
The Author certifies that this is his/her original work, and that he/she maintains the rights to this material. The Author certifies that this work is not based upon another entity’s copyrighted work.
Standard boilerplate stuff, mind you. Which means that the author was in breach of contract. Sigh. So now there are ten stories that we thought we were going to publish which are now off the schedule.

I don't have anything against fan-fic. Some of it is horrible, of course, but some of it is really good. This story was really good, and I'm both sad and angry that it turned out to have been fan-fic, because it would have made a great addition to Torquere's offerings.

But the author didn't read the submission guidelines carefully enough. Or did and thought that maybe we wouldn't notice. Or that this rule didn't apply to them. Or whatever.

Well, whatever, indeed: Read the damn directions. Especially the stuff that looks like it might have legal implications, folks. Write all the fan fiction you want; there are hundreds, if not thousands, of forums out there in which you can share your writing with thousands, if not millions, of appreciative fans. Go for it. But if you want to get paid for your writing, if you want to be a professional writer? You have to follow the professional rules.

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