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Editing Report #5

Tomorrow is the end of the 2nd month since we opened Hardboiled Horror for submissions.

Stats are as follows:

  • 227 =  submissions
  • 33 =  stories being held for further consideration (15-18 stories will probably get in)
  • 2 = requested rewrites
  • 11 = most stories submitted by one author
  • 187 = authors
  • 480 = fewest number of words in a story
  • 13,908 = most number of words in a story
  • 10% = stories that I thought were just truly awful--the rest are interesting on some level.  This surprised me, by the way.  I thought 90% would be awful. 

Mentally I've settled into a nice groove.  When I started, having any unread stories made me anxious (I was afraid I might just slack off until there were such a huge number of unread pieces that it would be too intimidating to tackle), but now I know that I can open the folder any time I have a few minutes to read a manuscript or two.  I think the longest anyone has had to wait to find out if they made the hold folder or if they were rejected was six days, and that was while I was on vacation.  Many of the manuscripts I turn around in under 24 hours.

The "hold" folder is something I learned from advising our high school literary magazine.  The committee of kids would read each submission, and then, after discussion, vote on whether to print it or reject it.  However, I made it a rule that if just one kid voted to publish a manuscript, we would not reject it.  It would go into a "hold" folder where we would discuss it the next meeting.  Many of the works that made it into the magazine started off in the "hold" folder.  The beauty of the idea is that it gave manuscripts time to grow on the committee.  I found that initially the really original stuff almost always put off more than half the group.  Maybe it was just that the manuscript defied expectations in some way.  I don't know, but eventually some of the manuscripts that started with only one kid liking it managed to win over a majority and make it into the magazine.  So, for me the "hold" folder allows me the time to mull over stories and not have to always go thumbs up or thumbs down.

I will start culling the hold folder in mid September, returning the stories that have either lost their charm for me or are weaker echoes of other work that is stronger in the folder.  I know there will be tough decisions at the end.  I can see me begging the publisher, Doug Wood, to go for a bigger book.

I have some random observations too:

  • -  Clearly unprofessional cover letters (so far) have accompanied the weakest stories.  Unprofessional includes the following: almost any kind of synopsis of the story, lists of publishing credits with more than five venues (and the folks who list a lot almost always have publications I've never heard of), mini resumes of the writer's employment history, recitations of how much their writing group liked the story,and  mentions of professional level magazines that have already rejected the piece.
  • -  For some people, horror means really, really twisted sexuality.
  • -  I predisposed to like a story if in the first paragraph either the setting is unusual, the situation is odd, or the language does something cool, like a neat simile or an unusual juxtaposition of words.  What this means is that a lot of the stories have none of those three items.*
  • *  The note here is that I'm pretty sure that most of the writers sending me stuff believe that their setting, situation and/or language are unusual.  The problem for me is the same as when I was grading Advance Placement papers for the College Boards: when I read a ton of essays answering the same prompt, I started to be able to classify the student's approach (i.e. this is the autobiographical approach, this is the start-with-a-quote approach, etc.).  Unfortunately, a lot of writers who are trying to sound unique and creative all choose the same way to do it.  The truly different are a rare breed.

The anthology is open for submissions until the end of September.  I'm enjoying the reading.  If the antho looks interesting to you, there's still plenty of time to compose a story for it.  I want to read good stuff!  Send it my way.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 13th, 2007 06:28 am (UTC)
Fun to see some stats, and that does sound a bit interesting.
Aug. 13th, 2007 06:30 pm (UTC)
I'm surprised only ten percent was quite awful. That's really a quite amazing percentage! That's really not bad at all...how does it jibe with other anthologies or magazines, I wonder?
Aug. 13th, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
I think that "quite awful" is a very relative term. For example, if I read a bunch of manuscripts in a row, there seem to be a lot more that are terrible when I get close to the end of the stack, when I'm tired. Mediocre, then, becomes the new awful.

By really awful I mean a manuscript that is poorly proofread and all the elements of story telling are mangled. Most of the stories are at least competently told. They are clearly stories.
Aug. 14th, 2007 09:26 pm (UTC)
Interesting stats, Jim.

Also interesting to see what looks like writers trying too hard.
Aug. 14th, 2007 09:39 pm (UTC)
Do you mean the writer who sent in 11 stories?

I picture the author scrambling through every unsold piece that even remotely looked like it dealt with horror or mystery.

When editors talk about not accepting e-mail submissions, they are probably thinking of situations like this. For me, I'm glad to have a chance to look at the work. The author's job is to write. Mine is to evaluate.
Aug. 15th, 2007 12:18 am (UTC)
Do you mean the writer who sent in 11 stories?

No - that's selling too hard (and not discriminating). I was thinking of the writers who are trying for innovative hooks and just rehashing old turf.
Aug. 15th, 2007 04:45 pm (UTC)
>> I know there will be tough decisions at the end.
>> I can see me begging the publisher, Doug Wood,
>> to go for a bigger book.

How about a sequel in a year or so? It would be halfway finished by the time the next round of submissions is posted.

Doug Wood, publisher of Notorious Press,
who is *SO* glad to get an editor like Jim for
this first anthology from a new small press.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )