Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Getting Out of the Slush Pile

I to discuss an article in Baen's Universe by writer/editor Mike Resnick about Slush Piles. He, after all, probably knows as much as there is to know about them. He got out of them; he used to read them; and he now has minions who read them on his behalf. So when he talks about the slush pile, a wise writer listens--although perhaps reluctantly.

Respecting his copyright, I'm not going to quote what he says beyond a reference sentence or two, but I do want to discuss some of the tips he gives.

After spending some time emphasizing the difficulty, if not improbability, of getting out of the slush pile faced with competition for a limited number of slots from very big names, he addresses the question that faces most of us.

How do we do it?

And he gives a list of tips. The first one is pretty simple. Mr. Resnick says:

"The first is: learn how to format a story, whether on paper or in phosphors. You wouldn’t believe how many stories are left at the starting gate just over that."

Now you wouldn't believe the number of arguments I've seen on forums and blogs on the subject of formatting. You'd think we'd get emotional over plot or characterization, but, no. It's formatting that makes the fur fly. I've seen writers insist that there is no standard on how to format and that you should do it however you please. Really. I have. And the war of words between the Times New Roman people and the Courier people is never-ending. One day blood will flow on this subject.

Huh. Well. So I'm going to take Mr. Resnick's word that formatting matters.

But is there a standard? SFWA seems to think so. It's pretty simple really. Courier (yeah, I'm a courier girl) unless the editor says otherwise. 12 pt. Double spaced. Indented paragraphs. 1 inch margins. If it's printed, one side of the page. Header with your name, title and page number in the upper right. But Vonda McIntyre (nominated for a Nebula this year and congrats to her) has a PDF on the SFWA website illustrating how to do it.

The only complication really is what to do with those publications that say to paste it into an email. In that case, because I have never found an absolute standard for that, I always hope the publication has given a hint what they want. Because I don't care what the "standard" is, if the publisher wants something different, I give it to them.

That's pretty much it. If you do that, it gets you past the first obstacle. In a couple of days, I'll discuss Mr. Resnick's next point.

PS. By the way, Baen's Universe where Mike Resnick and Eric Flint are Senior Editors is one heck of a good publication. If you like science fiction/fantasy, you might want to take a look.

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