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No Experience Required

2009 Anna Furtado

Sometimes we learn by other people's mistakes. This month, I thought I'd let my imaginary friend, Susie Ahmateur, tell you about how she submits her writing. (Folks, don't try this at home!)

I'm a writer. My name is Susie Ahmateur. Of course, I've never had anything published, but I know it's going to happen anytime now. I can feel it. Soon, I'll be rich. The royalty checks will be rolling in. I'll be able to quit my day job and write full time. It's a passion of mine, you know.

I'm waiting to hear about my last submitted work entitled What a Lovely Way to Spend My Spare Time-a Writer's Memoir on Living, Writing, and Telling Friends You Can't Go Out for Drinks Because You Have to Stay Home and Write or Turn in Your Professional Writers' Card. I submitted it two weeks ago, but haven't heard anything. The Call for Submissions said the piece should be 12,000 words (8,000 preferred), but I figured a 20,000-word piece would be even better. I'll bet it'll "wow" them. And I know even though they were looking for mystery stories, they'll just eat my memoir up.

If the unthinkable happens and they reject it, there's another Call for Submissions I saw yesterday. They were looking for Westerns. I could always submit my memoir there. After all, I live in Western Nevada-that has to count for something! Still, I may not need to do that since I also submitted my memoir to someone else at the same time I sent it to the first place. They said no simultaneous submissions, but I know they'll be so happy with my story that it won't matter. Besides, it'll just be first come, first served and the other place will never know.

If I don't hear back in a couple of days, I'm going to send the editor an e-mail. I found a contact e-mail address online. I know it works because that's how I sent my original submission to them. They said they wanted it mailed by snail mail, but nobody uses that any more and e-mail is so much quicker and more convenient. The Call for Submissions says the acceptance process takes eight to twelve weeks, but I'm of the opinion the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so I'll be sending them an e-mail every day until I hear back. That should push my story to the top of the pile.

Another reason I sent them 20,000 words is because they said they'd pay $1 - 3 per word, so that could mean a nice little nest egg for me. If I only submitted 6,000 words, I wouldn't get nearly the payment I was hoping for. I'm sure they'll appreciate the fact that I'm innovative in getting the price I want for my writing.

Just to make sure my writing was the best it could be, I took an excerpt from one of my favorite writers and wove it into my story. She's an amazing writer-her books always go to the top of the New York Times Best Seller List. That should cinch an acceptance. If my writing is identical to someone who sold millions of books and has been on the New York Times Best Seller List, how could they refuse? So, I've got my plan in place and I'm actively pursuing my goal of becoming a published author. I'm sure it won't be long until I get that acceptance phone call. I can't wait.

That groaning sound you hear is coming from me. Don't try this at home is right! Susie's enthusiasm is offset only by her inexperience and lack of knowledge. Every writer should study submissions processes in which they plan to participate and follow the rules exactly as written if they hope to be considered for publication. Susie, bless her little imaginary heart, broke all the rules.

When the publisher said she wanted 12,000 words (8,000 preferred), Susie should have been clued in to the fact that 12,000 words is the maximum, but they preferred something around 8,000 words ideally. In order for the publisher to give a 12,000-word submission fair consideration, Susie would have to grab their attention with the first sentence and sustain it through the first paragraph, then the next, and the next, and keep the reader's attention through all 12,000 words. However, 20,000 words may well have given her a free ticket to a fast sail into the electronic trashcan. Of course, it would go into the electronic trashcan, because she submitted it in a format other than the stated one in the Call. If they ask for hard copy by snail mail, it should be sent using that medium and no other.

And don't harass the publisher. Although some follow-up at some time may be completely appropriate, read the submission guidelines and wait until a reasonable time has passed. If they say it will take 6 months to send acceptance notifications, don't bug them two weeks after you've submitted. It may only serve to annoy the bear. In addition to not submitting in the required format, Susie submitted to multiple publishers-another no-no. No simultaneous submissions means just that-one publisher at a time. You must wait for a response-or at a minimum you must retract your submission before offering it to another publisher.

Everything Susie has done pales in comparison to her last admission. She has plagiarized the work of another author, inserting it into her own piece. There is no reason to take someone else's work and put your own name on it-ever. That applies to an entire book or portions of writings. This is not only unethical-it's illegal. It's especially difficult to keep from writing the words someone else has already written when they have been used as a research resource. Lesbian literature has had its own plagiarism scandals, but a more recent story comes from an incident of a heterosexual bodice-ripper including what comes off as very bad dialog when Paul Tolme's non-fiction article on prairie dogs was lifted by the author and put into the mouths of her two main characters-word for word. The author of the romance novel pled ignorance. Mr. Tolme is a victim of that ignorance and of plagiarism of his work.

It's tricky. Ideas are not subject to copyright, but once words are written and attributed to an author, they cannot be inserted into, and claimed as, another's personal creation. At the very least, there must be an acknowledgment of the work as belonging to another writer and permission must be obtained.

But let's get back to Susie. Even if she got a read from the publisher, I doubt she'd get any serious consideration. In the unlikely event she did get published, she'd be in serious violation of copyright laws if the plagiarized section was left in her work. An author should never consider compromising her own work in this way.

Let's hope Susie learns her lessons about how to submit work to a publisher-and to everyone else out there, read the submissions guidelines and follow the instructions to the letter. That way, you'll increase your chances for consideration and may find yourself accepted for publication.

Keep writing (and submitting)!
Anna Furtado is the author of The Heart's Desire—Book One of The Briarcrest Chronicles (a Golden Crown Literary Society Award finalist) and The Heart's Strength—Book Two of the Briarcrest Chronicles. Anna is also a featured columnist at Just About Write and contributes book reviews to JAW, as well as at the L-Word fan site in the literature section.
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