Today I attended the Locus Awards event, and am pleased to report that Ursula Le Guin's Cheek by Jowl won in the Best Non-fiction/Art category. (I thought I'd be able to post a picture of the winners, but I'm afraid my sleeplessness sabotaged my photos: they are all of them blurry.) Ursula was there to accept in person. (She also accepted an award for Peter Beagle.) Aqueduct Press was given a "publisher's scroll" for having published the book, which I accepted. Five Aqueductistas besides Ursula and me attended-- Nicola Griffith, whose "It Takes Two" was on the ballot, Kelley Eskridge, Maureen McHugh (whose "Useless Things" was on the ballot), Eileen Gunn, and Nisi Shawl. (That's seven of us, all told! Imagine that.) Plus Aqueduct blog member Cat Rambo.
You can find the full list of winners here.
I arrived near the end of the first panel, "The Research Behind the Fiction," entering the room just as Nancy Kress was speaking the words "exposition is inherently distancing." But though I can't tell you much about that panel, I can tell you a bit about the second panel, "10 Don'ts for Writers," which featured Gardner Dozois, Eileen Gunn, Beth Meacham, Jeremy Lassen, and Gary K Wolfe. It began, of course, with a few minutes of jokes by the panelists. And then Beth Meacham got serious, beginning with "Don't quit your day job after signing your first multi-book contract."
JL: Don't phone your editor to ask if they've considered your ms yet. If you do, be prepared to have the editor reject your ms in a spot decision, ms unread. (He apparently has done this, and he commented that he's always happy for the opportunity to lighten the load of submissions he's burdened with.)
EG Don't email your editor 3 weeks after submitting a story and say that if the editor doesn't get to it immediately, you'll never submit another story to her again (unless, of course, you're happy to carry through on your threat).
JL Don't send an electronic file in a format the editor hasn't requested-- use rtf as the default format unless the editor tells you otherwise.
GD: Don't typewrite your story and submit it without electronic capability. (He followed this up with comments about his having had to practically retype Howard Waldrop and Tanith Lee's stories because they always sent him typescripts too marked up to be scanned.)
EG Scanning doesn't always work.
EG Don't assume that editors are looking for the best story ever and that your story fits that description. Editors often are looking for a story that fits unstated parameters that the editor might not be able to articulate. (Quality is not always the issue.)
BM Don't blow your deadlines.
JL Don't read your Amazon reviews or keep track of your Amazon sales rank. Both are meaningless. [Note from me: I track the sales of Aqueduct Press books on Amazon day by day and have repeatedly noticed that a book's sales rank seldom bears any relation to its actual sales.]
GD Don't respond to killer reviews. It only makes you look bad.
EG Don't send your story to the editor you think will be desperate enough to buy it.
GD Yeah. Start at the top.
GD Don't write a furious letter of outrage to the editor who has rejected your ms. (GD then told a few anecdotes about writers who insulted the editor in their submission cover letters-- trying to "take their revenge in advance.")
BM 30 years ago both short fiction and novel editors got continually recurring submissions of "The Milky Way Man Story." Each time it would arrive by special messenger, in a box covered with aluminum foil, accompanied by a Visible Man spray-painted silver, nested in polystyrene foam. The ms itself was terrible. BM received it 4 times. Other colleagues at Tor received it multiple times too. Even GD got it a few times. He wondered whether it was ever submitted to the New Yorker and said that he thought the mental age of the writer was about 5 years.
GD Back in the days when people made physical submissions, I sometimes received audio tapes with cues for playing the music on the tapes at specific points in the ms. (He doesn't recommend that writers do this.)
JL I don't open mail from people I don't know. (He has an intern do that.)
BM Since 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, Tor accepts only electronic submissions.
GD Don't hire an ad agency.
GD Don't include a synopsis of a short story in your cover letter. But do write cover letters. A submission without a cover letter feels cold.
BM Don't tell me what your novel is about, let me read it; later, after I've read it, if I like your novel I'll want to have the synopsis. (She elaborated: writers should submit 3 chapters and a synopsis.)
BM Don't submit a query letter for a novel.
JL I prefer to get the whole ms.
GD To the Clarion West students present: Don't write a novel until you've practiced your craft and sold some short stories. Most first novels are awful.
EG I disagree. Short stories and novels are different kinds of writing (involving different kinds of craft). (She then told the story of a writer in her Clarion West class who had written 8 novels before attending; and her novels were better than her short fiction.)
EG If the editor sends you a suggestion: thank the editor whether you use it or not. Suggests are extra work for the editor.
GD Don't slavishly adopt the editor's suggestion-- only take the suggesiton i it rings true to you.
GD Don't rush to get your first novel into print-- you only get one or two shots. If your first or first two books don't sell, you won't get another chance with a stronger novel. (GD also talked about how infuriating it was to have writers use his suggestions and then turn around and submit the rewrite to another editor. BM said this had happened to her, too. There was general agreement among the panelists that this was because writers (especially new ones) often don't know how to read rejection letters.)
The panel wound down then (with more jokes, of course). I've left a bit out of my account, by the way, for instance the discussion of cover letters and how not many people, as EG & GD both pointed out, are able to carry off humor with someone they've never met. The discussion made me feel a bit like a tennis ball being batted around (though maybe that was due to sleep deprivation)-- sometimes I'd be receiving the panelists contributions from the point of view of a writer, sometimes from the point of view of an editor, back and forth, back and forth, as anecdotes or description of writers behavior resonated with my own experience.