HANK: So you send your wonderful story or novel to an editor or to a contest--you hit "send" and cross your fingers. The person on the other end is about to click the "open" button, start to read your words, and make a decision.
Is there nothing scarier? But today we get an up close and personal glimpse behind the scenes at that process. The Guppies--yay, Guppies!--(Are you a member? See below for why it's exactly the right spot for anyone interested in writing a mystery!) have put together the second in their "fishy" short story anthologies.
The Guppies worked together on Fish Tales--writing, selecting, editing, organizing and finding a publisher. And then sharing the fun of seeing the sales go up!
(She's not as "early" as she looks in this photo...she works as an historical interpreter at two living history museums in the Mid-Atlantic. She uses this hands-on experience to improve her historical short stories. She has milled corn using water power, cooked in a wood fired oven, driven oxen, and she tends a flock of heritage sheep. But at home, she uses a computer. I think...)
KB INGLEE: Writers don’t usually get a peek behind the curtain to see what editors are thinking, why they chose the manuscripts they do, why they reject the ones they do, or even why certain authors drive them crazy.
The two publications Fish Tales and Fish Nets, both short story anthologies, came about precisely to give writers that glimpse. The Sisters in Crime chapter, The Guppies decided to use the process of putting together an anthology as an education for members. The call went out for short story manuscripts with a fishy theme.
Since short stories are my love, I offered to field the manuscripts and act as liaison between the authors and the professional editor we hired.
HANK: So how'd you do it? It'd be difficult to choose stories from friends and people you know and love.
KB: We hired a professional editor, Ramona Long. Each author was to score three other stories and the top scorers would make it into the anthology. My job was to field the stories and send them out to be scored. When the scores came back, I pulled out the high scorers and sent them to Ramona. She read them and sent them back to me with comments which I forwarded to the authors. After two rounds of this, Ramona and I compiled the whole manuscript added the table of contents and the introduction by Chris Roerden. At that point I handed it off to others who found the publisher.
KB: When I took on the job I made two resolutions, I would not take anything anyone did personally and I would finish what I had contracted to do.
Every step of the way, authors were kept posted as to the progress and problems. Each author received a copy of their scores and comments by the readers. Each time I hit a snag, I alerted the whole group.
The biggest problem I had was the impatience of the authors. When I opened my email at 5 AM, there would be a story waiting. If I had not downloaded the story and responded to the author by noon, I could expect a “did you get my story?” email. I contacted all the authors to let them know they had to be patient, and not keep emailing, that if they did that they would get the reputation of being hard to work with.
HANK: SO funny! Was it a learning process for you? Did people do what they were told?
KB: Most everyone met the deadlines; two authors submitted their stories with the name attached for a blind read. This didn’t seem like much of a stumbling block since the readers didn’t know the authors. They got points off for not following orders, but the manuscripts were not rejected.
Those involved learned how subjective the process was. Both as readers and writers we were of all different skill levels. Had I sent any story to a different reader the score could have been different. One story that didn’t make the cut, showed up later in one of the prominent mystery magazines.
As an author, this was a mind expanding exercise. I now write the best story I can, have someone else read it to fix any errors, follow the submission guidelines like my life depended on it, send it out and then go on to write something else. I do not email magazines to ask if they have received it or when they are going to do this or that. The chances are good it will be rejected, or that I will never hear anything, but every now and then I have a story accepted somewhere.
Fish Tales came out in March and is a volume to be proud of, with 22 excellent short stories of murder and fish. Well worth the read. We hope it will be followed soon by Fish Nets.
HANK: Can we get a sneak peek?
KB: Sure! Here's a sampler of first lines:
***From Thicker than Blood by Leslie Budewitz:
From the shore, the setting sun looked like it had been pierced by two burnt lodge pole pines still standing on a distant ridge. Not even last summer, when the fires raged for months, had she ever seen the sun so red.
And her hands. Nothing more red than fresh blood.***From Feeding Frenzy by Patricia Winton:
One rarely thinks of fish as a murder weapon, and Caroline Woodlock certainly didn’t have murder on her mind as she surveyed the vast piscine assortment spread out at the market near Piazza Vittorio in Rome.
*** From The Turkey Hill Affair by Warren Bull:
Turkey Hill, Iowa, was a big disappointment until I bumped into Bennie as he was robbing the Farm and Business Bank.
***From Amazing Grace by Betsy Bitner:
I have been planning my husband’s funeral for twelve years. No, he doesn’t have a slow-acting terminal illness. And he’s not some bigwig requiring a send-off befitting his stature in the community. It’s just that, like the Scouts say, you’ve got to be prepared. Everyone has to go sooner or later and, with any luck, my husband’s time will come sooner. Call me an optimist.
HANK: Sounds great! And congratulations to all. ****We at the Guppies are always looking for good fishy titles--any ideas? Let's see--Calling All Cods? No. To Tell the Trout? Come on, you guys can do better than that.****
Fish Tales is available at this address! And make sure you put #guppies on your tweets!
The GUPPIES--for Great Unpublished--is an incredibly active, friendly, educational and always-inspirational on-line chapter of Sisters in Crime. For more info, click here!
And don't forget to comment--you'll be entered to win a signed first editon of LIVE WIRE by Harlan Coben!