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Friday, November 12, 2010


Our Book Club Friday guest today is non-fiction author Chris Roerden. Chris is a career editor and writing instructor whose DON’T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY won the Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction Book, became a finalist for the Anthony and Macavity awards, and is a selection of the Writer’s Digest Book Club. DON’T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION is its all-genre edition. Both books offer hundreds of examples to illustrate a writer’s many choices in technique. Authors Chris has edited are published by St. Martin’s Press, Berkley Prime Crime, Midnight Ink, Perseverance Press, Intrigue, Rodale, Viking, Walker & Co., and many others. You can read more about her at her website.

Chris has generously offered a copy of DON’T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION to one of our readers who posts a comment to the blog this week. Also, for all of you aspiring authors, Chris has some information about a great writing scholarship. Read on. -- AP

If Success is 90% Showing Up, Failure is 50% Lack of Awareness

As you clean out your spam folder, aren’t you continually amazed by the lack of awareness of so many spammers? (Or should I say ignorance?) One subject line I regularly see reads: “Dear Beloved.” The few incredibly special people in my life who’d comprise my own beloved list would never address me as such. Would yours?

“You won!” is another quick clue, especially when the sender bears no resemblance to any contest I might have entered. As for my own recent titles, they won their honors not more than one year after publication (2007 and 2009), and the emailers’ affiliations had always been clear.

My favorite stupid spam subject remains: “2nd Notice Again.” Meaning what? This is my third notice? Or I’m in for a series of the same? The number of spammers with blinders on their brains is awesome, surpassed only by the number of email owners who open this stuff. (Kind of like some unenlightened voters and their uninformed candidates‑‑but this is not the place for politics.)

Are manuscript submissions like spam?

My job as an editor is to help improve an author’s writing and submission skills, and‑‑by extension‑‑enable more readers to enjoy more well-written books. And that brings me to the big R that concerns most writers: rejection. Although I believe that most spam is rejected‑‑at least I hope it is‑‑I know that most manuscripts are.

In publishing, instant rejection is the common fate of the writer whose lack of awareness (or ignorance, or whatever you want to call it) keeps him or her from discovering the simple procedures for preventing a manuscript’s immediate burial in an agent’s or editor’s “no” pile. “Immediate” means not even read. This kind of instant rejection is no different from the tons of unopened spam deleted based solely on a stupid subject line or an unknown “from” name.

The number of writers who spend five years developing one magnum opus but zero minutes researching submission guidelines is staggering. You name it, we’ve received it: single-spacing, all caps, pink paper, and either bulky binders that place three holes precisely where we might be inclined to jot a helpful note to the author‑‑or 500 loose sheets swimming inside a huge box that’s been mummified with so much tape it’s impossible to open, yet sent express.

These and every other basic submission no-no have been written about ad infinitum and made available to any writer who thinks to look for them. The catch is that a hopeful writer would have to think to look.

Are contest entries like spam?

Two years ago I had the honor of serving as a judge on the McCloy-Mystery Writers of America Scholarship Committee under the direction of Erin Hart, author of False Mermaid. The following year I had the additional honor of succeeding Erin when she was ready to hand off the role of committee chair that she’d filled so ably for four years. That’s when I saw the kinds of questions that potential scholarship applicants had been asking. It’s when I saw the kinds of answers Erin had been providing, year after year, with considerable gentleness, patience, and encouragement.

A few of those inquiries were astute and sometimes led to tweaking the application’s wording for greater clarification. For most inquiries, however, the answers were self-evident from a careful reading of the scholarship application form and rules. The catch, of course, is that a hopeful scholarship applicant would have to read all the requirements carefully.

If you’re interested in seeing the frequently asked questions and answers, I compiled these from the files, eliminated many duplicates, and now make them available to all who contact mccloy-mwa@lycos.com with a question about the scholarship. (I also posted the FAQs on my website until I can find a more permanent location for them: http://writersinfo.info. Click “call for submissions.”) No inquirer is identified.

To see the scholarship rules themselves, plus the official application form, please visit http://mysterywriters.org/?q=AwardsPrograms-McCloy. Each year, two scholarships of up to $500 each are awarded to promising mystery writers who wish to enroll in specific classes or workshops to advance their writing ability.

For the past two years that I’ve been committee chair, whenever the annual February 28 deadline approaches and the large packages of submissions begin overflowing the scholarship’s dedicated P.O. box, my first step is to confirm that each submission is complete and accurate.

Sadly, some entries ignore one or more of the published contest rules. And some writing samples are not remotely mystery-related. Not one of these ineligible entries can be seen by our panel of judges.

The only difference between spam and a disqualified scholarship application is that its applicant receives my personal letter of explanation. One reason I chose to write today’s blog on this subject is that I’m saddened by having observed, throughout a 45-year career as an editor and writing instructor, that a good deal of writing is rejected without being read‑‑not because it’s not worthy, but because its hopeful writer has overlooked or ignored the basics.

My second reason is to urge all lovers of mystery to please, please spread the word about the annual McCloy-MWA Scholarship Program, and send serious writers to http://mysterywriters.org/?q=AwardsPrograms-McCloy.

Thanks so much, Chris! I’m sure some of our readers will be interested in applying for the scholarship and after reading your post will be super diligent about following the rules. Remember, readers, if you want a chance to win a copy of DON’T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION, be sure to leave a comment and check back Sunday to see if you’re the lucky winner. -- AP


Carol-Lynn Rossel said...


Lynn Cahoon said...

Chris, Great post. I find myself pouring over the contest rules especially since I ignored the formating requirements once and got my entry rejected.

Now I know 1.5 inch margins are NOT the same as 1 inch.

I sent your contest information to my writer friends already this morning.

Chris Redding said...

Great post. I am usually not top of things as I read directions three and four times. The one oops I made was submitting to an agent then going to her website to find out she was closed for submission. She ended up asking for a partial anyway. I've never made that mistake since.

Anne K. Albert said...

Terrific post, and bang on. I've overheard many grumbles from unpubbed writers on how much time it would take to complete a query or submission IF they actually followed every agent/editor's submission guidelines. And then, when they receive yet another rejection, they wonder why.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anastasia and Chris,
This interview is jam packed with information, resources and humor.
As an unpubbed writer, I learned to follow individual guideline(s). My light bulb moment occured after coordinating a contest. Hearbreaking for everyone to have to eliminate a submission for neglecting contest rules.
I must confess, I clicked to the McCloy Award site. The About Helen McCloy section hit home for me. She seemed like a vivacious, intelligent trailblazer. I imagine she and my grandmothers sipping tea (or blackberry brandy) somewhere in the time-space continuum.
I will pass along the McCloy Award/Scholarship Application site to mystery writers.
Thank you for bringing your expertise, a wonderful program and Helen McCloy to us.

Deborah Blake said...

It is amazing how many people ignore the basic rules of publishing and then complain that they can't understand why they haven't succeeded. Following the rules is no guarantee of success, of course, but NOT following them can pretty much guarantee you won't suceed.

Thanks for the great post.

Caridad Pineiro said...

Terrific post. Thanks for all the tips on what not to do. I have to confess, I'm not normally a read-the-directions kind of person. Except when it comes to submissions, etc. Good luck with the scholarship program.

Unknown said...

A great post. I tend to be obsessive about reading instructions. It never ceases to amaze me how some people either won't read instructions all the way through, or think, for some reason, they don't apply to them. Thanks for reminding me how important it is to pay attention.

ElaineCharton said...

Terrific post! I'm always amazed that people don't even read directions once, I tend to be a tad ocd and read and reread and reread a third time. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post -- the spam clues were also interesting & informative. I once misread some contest instructions so now I tend to be obsessive about reading instructions more carefully. I'll pass on info about the scholorship program.
Anna Phegley

Cricket McRae said...

Great post, Chris, and spot on! Thanks for the many details. I'll pass along the scholarship opportunity to others, too.
Hearth Cricket

Kari Wainwright said...

I, too, will pass along the scholarship information and will also encourage any entrants to read the rules carefully.

gkw9000 at gmail.com

Unknown said...

I always make sure I read guidelines and recheck them again before I hit SEND. Thank-you for the advice.


Thank you all for stopping by today. I wanted to let those of you who posted comments know that Chris was having some Internet problems today and hasn't been able to access the comments section of the blog. However, I have copied and forwarded them to her.

Be sure to check back on Sunday to find out who wins the copy of DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION.

Chris Roerden said...

Finally I'm able to access your wonderful comments--14 so far! My apologies for technical troubles.
Thank you all for your sharp comments. You got it! I'd like to attribute the widespread lack of careful reading to the "scroll resistance" that email has fostered, but I suspect it's more the lack of awareness of the volume of submissions that must compete with so many others for attention. I do believe that once the lower levels of guideline eligibility have been met, well-written commercially viable manuscripts will get a fair reading. Hang in there, writers. As for all of us who are readers, I celebrate the enormous variety of material that IS published for our never-ending enjoyment.

Jenny Milchman said...

I hope you're right, Chris! Thanks for an interesting look into what can wrong.