Sunday, May 27, 2007

First Impressions

Just had a story bounced from an anthology I was trying to get into. Kind of pissed off about it -- I could really do with some good news right now -- but not entirely surprised.

I only found out about the anthology at the last minute and then wasted a few days researching an idea which I ended up abandoning as I couldn't get certain historical facts to tie up with the story. Then it took a couple of days research before I could start work on my new idea. Add in a few other factors reducing my recent writing time and before I know it the day of the deadline has arrived and I still haven't finished the story. Worse, I need to be at work in a couple of hours.

So I knock out the last part of the story, type it up, and then print it out. Okay, couple of characters still don't have names, I'll just have to make something up off the top of my head. And there's some clumsy phrasing here and there, best cut that out. Aaarghh, and I still haven't established an important prop that ties into the story's climax, so I need to shoehorn an extra bit of description into the opening scene.

I check my watch. Only minutes to go before I have to leave for work. I start writing out the email that's going to accompany my submission whilst simultaneously proofreading the manuscript. I'm only four pages into the story when time runs out, if I don't leave now I'm going to miss the beginning of my shift. Praying that somehow the rest of the manuscript doesn't contain similar mistakes to the ones I've just corrected I click my mouse, submitting the story literally seconds before I run out the door.

So I know this isn't the slickest story I've ever written. I didn't finish polishing it up, I didn't have time to insert a couple of ideas I had to increase the dramatic tension, and the bit where I tried to sound really clever and profound got cut out because the language was too clumsy and imprecise to convey even the slightest sense of what I was trying to get across. Plus, those last minute character names I came up with? Really bad.

Still, I tried to be optimistic. Maybe if the editor liked the story enough he would ignore its rough edges. He might even let me tidy it up before publication.

But then, a couple of hours into my shift, I realised I had made a big mistake. I hadn't put any headers on the manuscript. No page numbers. No title. No author's name. Yeah, okay, I had the title and author's name on the front page but after that, nothing. The kind of mistake that most editors jump on as it gives them an excuse to reduce their slushpile. "This moron doesn't even know enough to put headers on his manuscripts, how can he possibly have written a decent story??????"

The annoying thing is that every submission I've ever made has carried headers. It's the last thing I do before submitting a story, the thing that lets me know that a story is ready for an editor's perusal. But in the rush to meet the deadline I completely and utterly forgot.

Admittedly, that may not have been the reason the story got rejected. Like I said the story wasn't the finest tale I've ever penned. But in his email the editor said he'd been forced to switch to form rejections due to the amount of submisions he received. That means a big slushpile. That means an editor stops looking for reasons to publish your story and starts looking for reasons not to publish it.

And under those cirumstances first impressions count.

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