How To Be An Editor's Dream

I took in the 2010 Ad Astra Science Fiction Convention in Toronto. Yes, it can be a circus, watching stormtroopers and Jedi knights mingle with zombies and characters from “Dr. Who”. But there were also some good sessions, including one about how to get on a book or magazine editor’s good side. Four editors revealed what they like and don’t like.

  • The first thing is to do your homework: read an issue of their magazine or some books they’ve published so you don’t send them material they don’t publish. That just wastes everyone’s time. Pick a publisher who puts out work you like. Then read the submission guidelines and follow them. Every publisher who accepts unsolicited manuscripts will have guidelines for authors. Not following them just looks unprofessional.

  • Your query letter is your first impression. Show professionalism in every aspect. Don’t give away the story’s ending. Don’t claim your work is the next Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter series, although more realistic (ie. less arrogant) comparisons can be helpful (particularly in an elevator pitch). Just don’t make any claims you can’t live up to. Only include the best of your credits, and only personal info that’s relevant to the work.

  • Don’t feel entitled, as if you’re shopping for someone good enough to handle your masterpiece. You’re asking someone to invest in you.

  • Have a good attitude: positive, open-minded, willing to accept hard criticism. Because editors really do want to work with great writing and great writers—harsh criticism means you’re going to get somewhere in the end.

  • Never ever badmouth an editor at a convention, online (it stays in cyberspace forever), or anywhere else. They have long memories.

  • Bottom line: be totally professional and make their job easier, not harder. As one of the editors put it, 90% of his experiences with writers are positive…because he never works with problem writers a second time.

Ad Astra

Ad Astra was the first SF convention I’ve attended, but only the first of many to come. It could have started better—the first person I met at the hotel was well-known anthologist John Robert Colombo, only to learn that neither of two stories I’d submitted for Tesseracts 14 had made the cut! I also met his co-editor Brett Alexander Savory later, but the rest of the weekend had more than compensated for the initial blow to my ego.

An SF convention can be a little strange at times (or maybe I just have to get in touch with my inner Klingon), but whether you’re a fan or a writer of SF—and writers are among the biggest fans—it’s a great way to learn about the genre and learn about the craft. I got a kick out of panel sessions like “Putting the Science in Science Fiction” (how much technical info do you really need?) and “Genre Crossing” (the perils and pluses of a romance novel in an SF setting, or an SF mystery). I also got practical knowledge from “How To Get An Agent” and “An Editor’s Dream”. But the biggest draw is being able to meet the best authors in the biz. I’ve met and interviewed Robert J. Sawyer a number of times, and Canada’s most successful SF writer is just as great a guy as you hope he’ll be. I also had a chance to snag a few minutes with Peter Watts, James Alan Gardner, Karl Schroeder, David Nickle, Douglas Smith, Adrienne Kress, Ian Donald Keeling, and Dan Falk. You really don’t get opportunities like that anywhere but a convention, and the registration fee is dirt cheap. So if you’re a convention novice like I was, Google the dates of the next con anywhere near you and take that step. You’ll be hooked.