Sunday, June 22, 2008

No time to read the guidelines?

As the editor of an ezine that publishes crime fiction, as well as the owner of a small-press publishing company, I'm constantly getting queries and submissions from people who would like to have their story or book published.

Of course, I WANT submissions!  I'm a publisher, after all.  There have been a couple of occasions when submissions were thin on the ground, and I despaired of having enough stories for an issue of the ezine.

But recently I received an email submission for the ezine from someone and I was puzzled.  The email had two flash pieces in it, both in a single attached document.  The writer had not included in the email:
  • a cover note of any kind
  • the author's name
  • the titles of the story
  • any prior publishing credits
  • any idea of what the stories were about
  • an indication of which issue the stories were for (as each issue is themed, I need to know this as it is not always obvious and it helps me to read with an eye toward the theme)
ALL those things are stated clearly in the Submission Guidelines, as being required for a submission. I read the stories anyway, as they were flash and therefore short.  They had absolutely no relevance to my ezine at all, much less to any theme.

So, I wrote back to the individual about the stories.  In my email, I asked if the writer had read the guidelines as to how to submit and what was required in the submission.  I also had the temerity to ask him if he had even read one issue of the ezine, to see what the contents are like.

Here is his unedited response: 

"Thanks for looking Tony, this is my first adventure into the world of flash fiction and such and I'm getting battered around a bit. It seems editors in fiction are a different breed. I run 4 publisher sites so I know some of what you go through. But working full time self employed, writing, publishing others doesn't allow for a word to word reading of all guidelines-if I did-I'd go broke since seldom do writers get paid."

Now, this individual claims to run four "publisher sites." What that means, I'm not sure, unless he has some sort of business where he publishes work for others, apparently non-fiction since we fiction editors "are a different breed." I wrote non-fiction for years, and you know, non-fiction editors want you to follow the guidelines, too. In fact, most are notably pickier than fiction editors!

But he doesn't want to read the guidelines and submit according to them. If he didn't have time to read the guidelines, I can almost guarantee that he didn't read any of the sample copies that are available. Of course, without reading the guidelines, his statement about writers seldom getting paid is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, isn't it?  I mean, if you submit and don't follow the guidelines, you probably won't get accepted and therefore won't get paid.

What makes people think that they can throw work out there into the world of editors, willy-nilly and without paying attention to guidelines, and survive as a writer? Sure, someone will accept the work on occasion, but isn't it much more intelligent and efficient to target things appropriately? Sure, you can cast your bread upon the waters. But you better be willing to waste a lot of loaves if you do it that way.

Honestly, it just seems stupid to do things the way this person did. If you disagree, please let me know! I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Paying to Be (not See) the Show

On an online discussion group I frequent, there has been some discussion about the relative value (to authors) of attending conferences and conventions. I like them, and I attend them when I can, but the cost of transportation,and the rising cost of attendance at such events has greatly curtailed my attendance for the near future.

One person in the group, who is both an author and a minister, said he was disturbed by the idea of being invited to be a presenter or on a panel at such a gathering, and then being told, "Oh, by the way, you have to pay registration just like everyone else." He compared it to being a visiting or stand-in minister at another church, and not being reimbursed for his expenses, or perhaps even being asked to pay to be there.

In my mind, it's a reasonable statement and I hear you, Reverend! 

I was invited to moderate a panel at a particular crime fiction con last year and was excited about it even though it was going to cost me airfare, hotel and incidentals. I was discussing this with someone else who had attended, and presented, at that conference before, and she asked me about my registration fee. I was surprised, as I thought, as a part of the "attractions" as it were, I wouldn't need to pay a registration fee.  SURPRISE! I was wrong.

I opted not to moderate that panel nor to attend the con.  The registration would have added about $150 to my cost of attendance, but that was not really the point. In large part it was the idea that I had not been told up front that I had to pay registration, even though I was going to be a presenter.  The person to whom I spoke at the con (the organizer) was surprised at my reaction, as though that was the way it is all over.

It's NOT that way all over, and it shouldn't be that way at any con that is well established.  Sure, I understand small cons can't afford to pay the expenses of their presenters or panelists, nor sometimes even their registration fees. (Though why this should be a problem, I'm not sure. A registration fee at a small con usually doesn't purchase any tangibles, so there is no loss as far as I can see.) But large cons such as BoucherCon or LCC are large enough, and cost enough, that they should be able to pay their presenters' registration fees, if not also an honorarium of some sort.  If they can't, maybe they should reexamine whether or not they are popular enough to even continue.

Yes, go ahead and splutter your outrage.  It's alright with me.  It's amazing how often I hear the phrase, "The money must always flow TO the writer," as though it were directly from some sacred tome, yet these cons (who usually disdainfully sneer at authors who stoop to self- or subsidy publish because of the direction of cash flow), don't see it that way when the money is flowing FROM them and TO the writers who are part of the attraction of the con in the first place.

I mean, think about it: if it's a fan convention, the reason the fans are there is to meet, hear, schmooze with and otherwise interact with authors.  If there were no authors present, there would be no fans attending.

If it's a writer's conference, the attendees are there to learn something FROM the authors, editors and agents who are there presenting and on panels.  Again, if those presenters weren't there, the attendees would not swarm the place simply because it's being held in a nice hotel.

In either case, the attraction is primarily because of the presenters.  Why, then, should they have to pay for the privilege of attracting attendees to pay to hear and meet them?  I'm really puzzled by the economics of this!

I haven't seen any sort of event where, with a substantial audience, the entertainers pay to be part of the show (well, unless they have a chance at winning a sizable jackpot, as in a rodeo!)

Someone objected to my statements by saying that "No cons of any kind pay registration fees or expenses for presenters!"

I beg to differ—in the last couple of years I have presented at seven different cons.  Three were for fans, and in no case did I have to pay a registration fee.  Instead, I received free registration and free meals during my attendance.  I had to pay my own transportation  costs, but at least part of the cost was covered.

Four of them were cons for writers, and at two (within driving distance) I had my parking fees reimbursed and did not have to pay registration.  The other two paid my registration, provided me with a nice hotel room and meals and paid a nice stipend to pay for transportation and incidentals.

So, I KNOW it happens.  And it's funny that it doesn't happen with mystery cons, because when I was in a different line of work (computer software) I attended cons quite often, both as an ordinary attendee and as a speaker/presenter.  NEVER when I was a presenter or speaker did I have to pay my registration fee, and most of the time I had my transportation covered.  I certainly don't expect all this generosity from every writing con (for writers or fans) but I don't expect the other extreme, either.

What do you think? Is the laborer worthy of his (or her) hire?