"Would Manners Kill You?!?"

Commentary by Cherie Jung

(6 June, 2014)

It's nearly summer. I'm hot. (As in, the daily temperatures are up in the 70s and 80s, not sexy.) And I'm heading into my really cranky period. (Hint: I'm a snow and winter kind of gal!)

In the past, I've moaned about a lot of things, including the declining state of the mystery genre. I'm good at complaining about things.

I recall once complaining about new writers relying too heavily on mysteries they'd seen on television when we received 12 stories in one week where a rattlesnake was the killer; after said killer had featured prominently on a popular TV show. (Hint: I sometimes watch TV, too.)

I've complained about people who refuse to read or pay attention to our writers' guidelines. Two biggies: Query first and 4,000 words max. Yes, I know that we occasionally have longer stories, but only from writers who are known to us (as in, we've published their work before and we know they can write) but here's the important bit. They queried about the longer story before sending it in.

I consider myself a writer-friendly editor. I let some things slide. For instance, I've been called Cheri, Sherri, Shari, and Charles. My name is "Cherie" but it's no big deal. If you are polite, follow the writers' guidelines, etc. — you can call me Charlie. However, "no" is "no." If you want to send me an 8,000 word story about two rattlesnakes who kill a corrupt politician but the guy's wife is the prime suspect, I will tell you no. And I mean it. It does no good to badger me about it. One guy even went so far recently as to inform me that I would be doing myself and my magazine a huge favor if I printed his story because "some big name publication is going to see the story and want to reprint it" and I could then say we published it before the author was famous. Uh, do me a favor. Send it directly to the big name publication. We'll pass, thank you, and take our chances of regretting it later.

I've said this before, too. I used to teach a 3-hour class at our community center for wanna-be writers called, "How Not to Get Published." During the session we discussed things that really annoy editors; things likely to make the editor not only reject a manuscript but add the writer's name to a list of people they never want to see another manuscript from, ever. (I may not keep a written list — I can't say about all of the other editors but some of my editor friends do keep lists — but I have a good memory for names. If you annoy me greatly, I will remember you. That's not a threat. That's a fact.)

When I first started writing (several decades ago), it was customary among my writer friends as well as myself to "do our homework" by studying the markets. I never, ever, sent a martial arts story to Alfred Hitchcock Magazine. I submitted plenty of mystery stories to AHM which were all rejected but fortunately for me, they eventually found other markets and were published. We studied well-known writers who had published books on writing or given talks at conventions. We tried to learn our craft and to be as professional as possible.

I know, the older generation always thinks the next generation will be the end of civilization as we know it, and it usually isn't so, but...I can hardly believe what I'm seeing as submissions these days. It's disheartening. I partially blame the writers who keep saying "anyone can write." Yes, anyone can write but it doesn't mean they should. Or the variation, "Anyone can write a novel if they write one page per day. At the end of the year they'll have a novel." No, they won't. They'll have 365 pages of something. Not necessarily a viable, polished novel. I think some editing might be in order, don't you?

But back to my short story pet peeves. Why submit a story with no title, or no author's name? Out of every 20 submissions we receive, at least one or two will arrive without the author's name on it. Hint: receiving an email from "hotchicky36@hotmail" with a manuscript attached does little in the way of qualifying as a submission in my eyes. Just supposing I wanted to buy said manuscript, would I make the check out to "hotchicky36" — really? By the way, since "hotchicky36" has gone to the trouble of submitting a short story (with or without the query first) would it surprise you to learn that he/she either has an email inbox that is full which bounces any responses from our editorial staff or their email is blocked except for personal friends who have been pre-approved? Uh, hello? You sent me a submission but I'm not special enough to be allowed to send you an email? Don't make me laugh!

One last complaint — I have a million of them — then I'll say something nice, I promise. We occasionally get requests from writers, and I use the term "writers" loosely, who want to do reviews for us. They send along samples. First, again, no name or indication who wrote the thing. Second. If you have misspelled the book author's name, or not gotten the title correct — there is a difference between "A Killer Goat," "The Killer Goat," and "Killer Goat," you know — or if you've called the protagonist Jimmy when her name is Ginny...No, you can't write reviews for us! Does no one proofread anymore?

And now for something nice. We've had 6 or 8 new authors submit stories over the past three years whose names will forever have a place of honor in my brain. Why? They were polite. I mean really polite. One apologized for not submitting his story formatted to our "house style" and sent along a "corrected" version. No need for that. It brought tears to my eyes that he even knew we had a house style! I was quite happy with his story which had a title and an author's name. Another who writes stories longer than our stated maximum has queried each and every time to get permission to submit a longer story. He doesn't just send in an 8,000 word story with a note that I'd be doing myself a favor if I published it.

If you've been reading our fiction section, you may have noticed quite a few writers' names re-appearing. It is a pleasure to work with these writers. They act professionally. They submit manuscripts with all of the basics — title, author's name, word count, spelling, grammar, and punctuation — in place. They don't expect me to do their job for them.

I'm sad to say so many manuscripts arriving these days are so poorly written, both in content and style, that I can only assume the authors are delusional and really believed what they were told. "Anyone can write."


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