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Adventures at the Literary Festival

September 26, 2010

My hometown’s annual literary festival was today. Every year, tents for authors and lecturers take over a large park downtown, while booksellers’ booths colonize the roads surrounding it. You can get books, information from various publishers/writing groups, and listen to seminars and workshops.

I spent a very pleasant afternoon there. One booth was selling bags of science fiction and fantasy: ten books for five dollars. The bags were pre-wrapped, so I ended up with a few books I’m not certain about, but there were some gems, too. The festival also coincided with one of the second-hand book sales I discussed earlier, where I found stacks of back issues of Analog, Asimov’s, and Astounding Stories for ridiculously low prices. My bookshelves are now stuffed with books that I should finish reading by around 2016.

In addition to the books, I also hit the talks. I managed to make it to two; one in which two publishers discussed their pet peeves about submissions, and one where an editor and writing teacher analyzed anonymously submitted first pages of manuscripts.

I found the first one particularly pertinent. Actually, from the description in the booklet I got, I expected it to be more about writing clichés than submission dos and don’ts. The information given was basically common sense, but here are the highlights:

  • Do some homework beforehand, and know the name of the editor/publisher to whom you are submitting. 
  • Don’t submit fiction to nonfiction houses, and vice versa.
  • Do print your manuscript on white paper in clear, black ink.
  • Don’t send food of any kind with your manuscript, especially home-cooked food. Apparently, it creeps them out.
  • Do include a well-crafted, thoughtful cover letter.
  • Don’t tell them how your book is a guaranteed million-copy bestseller. You’re not Nostradamus.
  • Do tell them if another author or editor has looked at your work.
  • Don’t lie. They all know each other in this business, and they will check your references.
  • Do include a Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope (with the correct amount of postage).
  • Don’t phone the publishing house. If you do, your message will likely be saved and played for amusement at Christmas parties.

And most importantly:

When they say “No Unsolicited Manuscripts,” they mean it.

The second seminar I attended was interesting, too. Entitled “How am I doing so far?” it involved first pages of manuscripts being chosen at random, read aloud, and then dissected by an editor and a writing teacher. The first one was pretty good. Then it started to go downhill. To their credit, the judges were fairly gentle, more so than I expected given the “this is a business, we’re discussing your writing, not you” preamble. For my part, I found the range of topics fascinating. From fables, to war stories, to family dramas, the few selections we heard pretty well spanned the gamut of genres.

And how were they doing? I feel a little awkward passing judgement myself, since I’m just starting out too. Some obviously needed more work- they jumped around in time and space, one was unbearably pretentious and contradicted itself multiple times. Others needed tightening, and a good “find and delete” for certain verbal tics. If nothing else, it was instructive, and made me eager to run home and edit W.

So a good afternoon, overall. One more book sale next month, and with any luck, I’ll be heading to my first Con in November. Life is moving. Now, if only I could spend all my time doing this!

Edits await!

-Arvik

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4 comments

  1. When I wrote my recent post about How To Sell Your Story, it never even occured to me to include:

    “Don’t send food of any kind with your manuscript, especially home-cooked food. Apparently, it creeps them out.”

    I laughed out loud when I got to this sentence in your post.

    Thanks! Glad you enjoyed your day.


    • You’d think it would be common sense, but apparently it does happen.
      I forgot to mention- not only does food unnerve the editors, it also makes your manuscript greasy. Yet another good reason to follow the guidelines!


  2. […] Related post:  Adventures at the Literary Festival […]


  3. Sounds like an awesome event. Wish they had such a thing in my town. I guess I’ll have to stop inserting oreos in my submission envelopes…



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