Saturday, August 16, 2008

"My Granddaughter Will be Crushed if You Don't Buy This Story!"

Back when I was Associate Editor of Baen Books' New Destinies, I waded through hundreds of pounds of slush. Some were notably bad. Most were unmemorable. But a few I sent on to the top for final consideration, along with recommendations--"buy this," "needs rewitten--the dialogue is aswfull," and so forth.

It's been a long enough time that I really don't recall much about the stories. But some of the cover letters acommpanying submissions really stand out in memory. The letter from the grandmother of a 13 year-old, for example: "Please take a careful look at the enclosed short story by my grandaughter. She is only 13, but her English said this is the best writing she has ever seen, even from much older students. My grandaughter will be crushed if you don't buy this story! " And so on.

The manuscript read well--proper grammar and spelling--but neither the writing style nor the characters were mature, which is to say the story was typical of what a 13 year-old might write. I returned it to the author with a list of books she might read to help her improve her writing.

The funny thing about this was that another editor told me I would get this letter. Not from this particular woman, but he told me that, sooner or later, I would a "grandmother letter." He'd seen a bunch of them--sometimes it was a mother or father or aunt, but more often than not it was a grandmother.

Consider this a cautionary tale; don't let anyone get between your work and an editor. For that matter, don't get in the way of your work, yourself. How could you do that? One (bad) approach is to try to sell the story with a cover letter. Every fiction editor suffers submissions in which the author tries to describe why the story is great and must be published. That's more than useless, and annoying; like poetry, a short story has to stand on its own.
(To be continued)

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