Editing Tips #2, hmm, Maybe They're General Tips

October 1, 2016

 

I’ve touched on some of this before. On those bits, I’m expanding. Other bits are new, things I hadn’t really considered before reading submissions. Reading cover letters and submissions is kind of like reading dating profiles (I imagine), people show much of what they’ve got or what to present, got it or not.

Cover Letters:

A bio is nice.

A brief publication history is nice as well.

I like to read what you consider valuable to your work, your education, your experience, your marital status. Though these attributes on their own mean little to the end result.

Where you live or lived is also interesting if it has to do with your story (especially for translation).

If the line this will be a perfect fit, or something along those lines, is in your cover, please back it up (pointing to something read, maybe even in the Unnecessary Reading section, as there are tips here and lots of direction).

Your sexual orientation is not a commodity or a hindrance. I’m interested in quality writing and engaging stories, not collecting types of people like tokens. If your differences make for endearing tales, I’ll see that.

If you’re taking a birdshot/grenade/water balloon approach, please make sure your cover letter matches, at least mostly, Unnerving Magazine. If you don’t care enough to cater your submission intro to the magazine, then it’s unlikely I’ll accept your story (though accidents do happen, noting dear so-and-so who is not me is quite easy to overlook). If it’s loud or is outrageous stacked next to Unnerving, I might even (keeping it anonymous, of course) make a joke on social media.

Onto two submission points:

Far and away the majority of the submissions that came in are longer short stories (3,500+ words). As horror lovers, many of us have or will eventually read a collection by a favorite author, for the ease of point making, let’s call the collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. Now, Mr. Stephen King has a name. He’s earned that name. He’s put in effort and his talent was, and will continue to be, rewarded. He has acquired leeway. If you pick-up a 6,000 word short by Mr. King, you’re finishing it, doesn’t matter if the first 3,000 words seemed as if they’re going nowhere. By the end, maybe you’re in love.

In fact, you love it as you do so many other shorts by famous authors and you have it in your head that building quality short fiction is done in with a method permitting infinite patience because that’s what you’ve read.

Now, imagine that 6,000 word short within The Bazaar of Bad Dreams was by someone you hadn’t heard of, someone without equal skill (let’s face it, Mr. King has a fairly befitting surname when it comes down to his skill level), but someone who still sees it necessary to craft stories with a similar slow method of building. Patience is no longer infinite.

I would guess that all but five or six of the 150+ stories of 3,500 words or longer had a truly befitting word count. Most could stand to shave 10%-50% of the story. Much of it is stating things easily shown, obvious descriptors and rehashing. Off the tippy-top of my head I’ll try to offer an example:

 

Roger was a short, chubby boy. Growing up in a small town made existence doubly difficult and why, because he was short, chubby and smart. Spelling bee champion three years running before heading to high school. It isn’t often a boy like this is a captain of the hockey team, no, not even a captain of the debate team, thanks to a voice matching the confidence offered by being both short and chubby in a backwater locale.

At the only stoplight in town, Roger awaited the amber hand to switch into a little walking man when the starting line-up of the Cougars basketball ball team rushed across the street, despite the amber hand, and began their ritual harassment of the short, chubby loser named Roger.

“Leave me alone,” Roger mumbled, tugging at his shirt bottom as Chucky Brown slapped a palm against Roger’s suddenly revealed mid-section. -146 words

 

Or

 

At the only stoplight of the backwater town, Roger –short, chubby, former spelling bee champion and hapless loner- awaited the amber hand to switch into a little walking man when the starting line-up of the Cougars basketball ball team rushed across the street, despite the amber hand, and began their ritual harassment of the boy named Roger.

Deportment befitting his size, shape and social standing, Roger mumbled, “Leave me alone,” while tugging at his shirt bottom as Chucky Brown slapped a palm against Roger’s suddenly revealed mid-section. -87 words

 

This kind of thing is regular and I understand adding color and poetry to prose, but when you’re not famous, words are pennies on the tab and each has to prove its value.

Now, the second point is more of a pet peeve and if I were to gamble on it, I’d bet most guilty of this one do not read as much as they ought to read if they are looking to excel at writing (though there’s always someone who bucks the odds). I would almost bet that they watch a ton of movies and read only a handful of books a year.

Oh but sir, dear sir, Netflix is a calling and now I, said writer, am inspired…

Describing something horrid, a dastardly scene, a ghastly face, a terrifying whispery scratch, alongside an innocent, a child, a teenage virgin, a luckless man… this is not scary.

Details, atmosphere and character traits are weightless without a sympathetic foundation. Humanity is the key to horror, people, the places they live, the stories they have that are oh so common. A reader’s developed relationship is what makes something scary.

Leatherface tapping on a stranger’s window is not scary.

Leatherface tapping on my window is scary.

Seeping guts do not curdle the blood if their source and location are meaningless.

Even the notion of impending gut seepage curdles the blood when I know the place and relate the source to the general human existence.

Get it? Sometimes it takes many words to build a feel, but not usually. Humanity as a lot is fairly egocentric. We ache to make the things we read, consciously or unconsciously, somehow about us. Don’t be lazy, this is the gravy of most great horror stories.

Eventually, I’ll have no more secrets and all submissions will be the collective spawn of observed editorial/writing/submission tips… Not likely, but you’ll have a leg up if you give a shit and try to understand what I want and how I come to decisions.

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Unnerving 
Powell River, British Columbia, Canada
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