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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Pretentious Guidelines

   
Author Topic: Pretentious Guidelines
steffenwolf
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On the subject of trunk stories (divergent from the Redstone thread):
I've always thought the explicit prohibition of "trunk" stories in guidelines was more than a bit pretentious. As if an editor can tell the difference between a "trunked" story and another.

I mean, yes, the author should be sending work that they're proud of, not tired old dogs of stories that are not representative of the writer's current quality. But putting that explicitly in the guidelines accomplishes nothing but getting me annoyed with the editors before I've even corresponded with them.

The same thing goes for when guidelines say things to the like of "Only submit stories if your writing is of professional quality." What a pretentious waste of text to put that in the guidelines. I mean, obviously, any magazine is going to want to publish the best stories they can find. You notice there don't seem to be any markets asking for "unprofessional quality", so it should be implicit. But, at the same time, an author isn't a good judge of the "professional quality" of their own work. So there's not much for the writer to do but submit the best story they can create and then let the editor be the judge. And "professional" is such a subjective phrase anyway, when applied to writing. I've read a lot of stories by career writers that put me to sleep or made me pull my hair in frustration that a Big Name can get away publishing that kind of crud simply because they are a Big Name. Likewise, I've critiqued a lot of stories by unpublished or newly published writers that are just amazing for their originality or quality. They're not "professional" because they haven't broken out yet, but their stories kick butt, regardless if they have been recognized in "official" channels as kicking butt.


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genevive42
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I've never seen mention of 'no trunk stories' in the guidelines I've read.

And I've seen plenty that say 'send us your best', but I haven't seen 'only send if you write at a pro level'. I can see them asking for a 'professional-looking' manuscript but that's so it's neat and easy to read.

What publications are you seeing these things in?


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steffenwolf
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By the way, the original post wasn't intended as a dig against Mr. Ray. Redstone's guidelines do not prohibit trunk stories, which is what I'm going on about.

I just think that the designation of "trunk story" only makes sense from the perspective of the writer who wrote the story, as in "wow, this story is lame compared my newly honed talents. I'd better just stop submitting it to avoid embarrassing myself. Oh look, a new market, I'll just send it there instead!"

From an editor's perspective, sure, you can tell that the story is low quality, for some definition of "low quality". But how do you know it's a trunk story, as opposed to being a brand new story that just happens to not be very good (by some yardstick).


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steffenwolf
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Clarkesworld for instance, lists "trunk stories" as one of the areas they're unlikely to be interested in. I'm fairly certain there are others, but maybe I've just gone over their guidelines too many times.
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/submissions/

As far as asking for Professional Writing, Cosmos is a good example of that. This section bugs me every time I refresh my memory of their guidelines:
"Our standards are high, so we’re only interested in seeing the best. Unless you’re convinced your work is top-shelf, it’s probably best not to bother."

I mean, yes, their standards are high, as well they should be, but putting that in the guidelines accomplishes nothing.


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JamieFord
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That's kind of funny, I've never heard of that. But I can understand the reaction and frustration of editors.

I have a friend whose mantra is "Finish everything you begin, and send out everything you finish." Which in general, is a pretty good mantra.

But it doesn't hurt to have a little clarity and realize that some stuff should just be considered practice. It has its place and that's not on the desk of some editor. I don't think there's a home for every story ever written, but some writers disagree, or don't have the emotional distance from their writing to know otherwise.

[This message has been edited by JamieFord (edited April 21, 2010).]


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axeminister
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My 101 English teacher says to us on the first day. "I will not be giving out A's because none of you are professional level writers."

She was right, none of us were, we were college students...

I got a B.

Thanks for the hit to my GPA...

Axe


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steffenwolf
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JamieFord--But the thing is, writers are often terrible judges of their own work. I wrote a story a while back that I doubted would be sellable. But it was a fun idea, and easy to write in flash form, so I pounded it out in about an hour. I figured "what the hell" and submitted it. It got rejected on its first submission, but was accepted on the 2nd submission. That market only asked for non-exclusive rights, so I submitted it as a reprint to a 3rd market, which also accepted it. And yet another market has solicited me for reprint rights on it.

So if I'd listened to my instincts and kept it to myself, none of that would've happened. Maybe it's more popular than my typical stories because I was less self-conscious about it. I was writing it for Me, not for Them, and so it came out better in the end?


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Robert Nowall
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I'm thinking what you send to market is up to you...whether it's brand new or fifty years old. The editor can accept or reject, but not limit what you send in. It's up to you, after examining the market and seeing what type of story they'll buy...if you've got one that seems right up their alley, you send it in, whether it's old or new.

Me? After a certain point I'm not interested in exhuming something...besides, if I limited myself to what they say they want or what they seem to publish, I might never send them anything at all. Accept or reject.


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rich
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I'm with Steffenwolf on this. I've seen a lot of publications that go out of their way to make their particular formatting guidelines almost incomprehensible, and plenty who have speficially requested "no trunk stories".

Now I don't find it too pretentious, but I do find it irritating. I'm also assuming the editors of said mags deliberately do that to weed out the half-assers.

Having said all of the above, I am of the firm opinion that a writer should follow the guidelines, no matter how asinine the writer thinks the guidelines are. Except for the "trunk stories" thing. No one's going to know if it's a "trunk story" or not, except you. And you ain't tellin'.


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JSchuler
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I would say that such guidelines are meaningless, as there is nothing that the publisher can do to ensure compliance, or rather nothing that he could do that would distinguish said publisher from any other publisher out there.

Sure, saying "professional quality work only" may seem like something enforceable, but the result isn't going to be any different than the practice of only accepting the best-quality work in the slush pile to fill a limited number of slots.

With trunk stories, as pointed out above, who's going to know? And if they did find out, but your story was still one of the top five in their pile, would they really reject you in favor of a lesser story?


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tchernabyelo
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I've often, in my more paranoid moments, wondered if editors, in receipt of electronic documents, look at the meta-information in those documents. It's entirely possible that people are sending out .doc files they last edited in 2005 - and it's entirely possible editors WILL check that information.

"Prohibitions" on trunk stories are obviously unenforceable, but I can't see the point in getting riled by such stipulations on the part of editors. The intent behind it is quite clear - if the only reason you're sending this is because it has been rejected by every other market out there, then you're just wasting our time. Perfectly reasonable, but I have no doubt many writers will pay no heed whatsoever in the eternal quest for sales. I certainly send stories with a lot of rejections out to new markets. Are those "trunk" stories? Maybe. Some days I have no faith in them, some days I do. On the days I do, they get subbed.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Well, all those stories about how many rejections this or that best-selling story had before someone bought it certainly encourage authors to keep submitting.

Poor editors. They just can't win.


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JamieFord
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By referring to "trunk stories," I think editors are just being snarky. But I'm sure they do see a ton of dreadful stuff.

The ironic thing is, writers can be so insecure about their work that they don't submit anything--which is tragic. While others just...can't...let...go...of that book they've been working on since they were in the 8th grade.

I'm guessing the reference to "trunk" stuff is about those types of stories.


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Robert Nowall
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Say an editor likes something you write---maybe enough to buy it, maybe not---but he does ask to see something else by you. Where else are you to go for that but your trunk stories?
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tchernabyelo
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Well, you could write a new story and send it there.

And there is a difference between "a story that's currently doing the rounds so I will send it market X when it comes back from market Y" and a "trunk story". I think the most rejections I've had before a sale is 8 but I know of people who've collected more than that, and I still have a couple of stories circulating after 15 or so rejections. Are they "trunk" stories? They're probably getting close, and I may indeed have to retire them completely. There are other stories I have retired after only two or three rejections; in some cases simply ecause they have a very narrow genre fit, in others because I lose faith in the stories.


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Robert Nowall
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Ya gotta strike while the editor is hot---unless you can turn out something competent within the week (beyond my abilities, these days), your trunk is still the place to go.

Come to think of it, I don't have much of a trunk. My most recent stuff is up at my website...I can go beyond that timeframe but the stories seem lousier. I could dive into my files and polish up something I've left in rough draft---but most of them are left that way for good reason...


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WraithOfBlake
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Submitting mss is like being set up on a blind date. It could be thought tacky--or else, endearing--for a person to say, before getting to know someone else, "I hope you're not a dweeb" [or "overconfident jerk," or whatever the person's tastes]. Still, the truth of the matter is there will always be a lot of would-be suitors in proportion to those we mutually hit it off with.

(I guess those in England who carefully place prepositions in their speech might say, "There are not many with whom we would it off-with hit," lol.)

[This message has been edited by WraithOfBlake (edited April 22, 2010).]


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tchernabyelo
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Wraith, a lot of adverts (both personals and others) include some note like "no time-wasters, please", which is arguably the same as an editor saying "no trunk stories, please".

Robert, I don't agree that you have to send such an editor something immediately. You may want to include a cover note with the next sub referring to the "please send something else", but it doesn't have to be immediate (unless, of course, it's for something with a hard submission deadline, which is often the case with anthologies).


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