CanCon 2015, day 2: Getting noticed (in a good way) in the novel and short story slush pile

Yesterday ran away with me, so I’m a bit late.

Panellists: Mike Rimar (co-owner Bundoran Press), Gabrielle Harbowy (managing editor, Dragon Moon Press), and Elizabeth Hirst (editor, Pop Seagull)


MR: What do you want to see?

GH: Electronic submissions simplify the process. You want to submit your absolute best work. Follow the submission guidelines.

EH: When something works well in the submission, it stands out.

MR: When it comes to a query, I need to see three things: word count, genre, pitch.

EH: I like a little personality.

Q: Do you always reply?

GH: When submissions are open, yes. When they’re not, all bets are off.

MR: Usually, we reply within three months. If someone has taken the time to query, we will reply. Nothing’s worse than being left hanging.

GH: Wait 1.5 times what the submission guidelines say, just to give everyone a buffer. I will always respond when we have an open submission period.

MR: Asimov’s can be up to six months.

GH: Lightspeed will reject you before you can hit send. It might be a cliché, but eleven lines is all an editor needs to tell if the submission is for them.

EH: I think that’s true, but I keep readings until I know for sure whether it’s a pass or a request for full.

MR: For the Second Contact anthology, I gave people more of a chance to impress me. Two to three pages.

GH: If I’m suitably impressed, I might check out chapter two.

Q: Can you share some statistics?

EH: We had 70 submissions for the Robotica anthology. We took 18. I found more that I liked, but we couldn’t take them. Love, Time, Sex, Magic was different.

MR: It’s sad when you read a really good story that doesn’t fit.

Q: Will you respond with a ‘please send something else’?

MR: No. If I reject a story, I don’t want to invite further interaction.

GH: I’ll respond with a request for further material if I like what I’ve read.

MR: If we meet face to face, I’ll tell you directly.

Q: Do you respond if someone submits repeatedly?

MR: It hasn’t happened yet.

GH: It’s happened to me. They’re probably not paying attention. I keep a maybe file. It’s about 10% of submissions. 2% receive further consideration and 1% might get published.

MR: What are the technical no-no’s you watch out for?

GH: Not fitting with the publication, not following the submission guidelines. Stupid, nervous mistakes are forgivable.

MR: Keep your queries polite and to the point.

GH: In fiction, it has to be complete. Make sure you include your contact information.

MR: Are you as forgiving with paper submissions?

GH: It’s been ten years and I’ve never received one.

MR: Tricks just make me mad.

Q: Is theft a problem?

MR: Not at all.

GH: If I like it, I’ll buy it.

MR: People can have similar ideas. It’s not copyright infringement.

GH: I choose the one that executes the best.

More great advice from professional editors. I’ll be back on track next week, when we’ll be moving on to day three and speculating sex and sexuality.

CanCon 2015 day 1: How to pitch

Panellists: Hayden Trenholm, Gabrielle Harbowy, Robert Runte, Elizabeth Hirst, Marie Bilodeau


Q: What do you want to see/hear in a pitch?

EH: Enthusiasm. If the author loves their book and believes in it, that’s a good sign. Make sure the book you pitch is finished.

HT: Don’t lie. If the book isn’t finished, be up front about it. If the finished book comes in nine months later, that ship has sailed, though.

GH: First impressions count. Don’t ignore the guidelines. One guy wiped his nose before he shook my hand. It didn’t matter what he did after that.

EH: Presentation is key.

HT: I have to know I can send you to a high-end book store. Publishers don’t buy books. We buy authors.

RR: Different editors look for different things. You want to get rejected as quickly as possible. If you’re not a fit for the editor, you have to feel good about that and move on. You’ll find the editor who’s as passionate about your work as you are. I polled my SF Canada colleagues and asked them, ‘what’s the longest you’ve waited for a response?’ Eight years was the longest. That’s a huge chunk of your life.

HT: Pitching is like a job interview. Treat it like that.

EH: I wish the authors well. If it’s not for me, I might suggest someone else.

GH: Don’t argue. All decisions are final.

HT: Some people try to tell me why I’m wrong. It’s like asking for a second date after a failed first one.

EH: You should ask as many questions as they ask you.

HT: You have to make sure it’s the right fit.

EH: I might recommend self-publishing to some pitchers.

GH: But I can’t take a book that’s already been published.

RR: You have to make sure you match your capabilities. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver.

HT: We don’t know everything. We all do what we can. Self-published books are a tough sell. 55% of Americans won’t read an ebook. Think about what you want. Your expectations should be clear. A bestseller in Canada is about 5000 books. When you choose a small publisher, you have a personal relationship. Our goal is to make the best book we can. If that’s what you want, pitch to a small press.

GH: Bigger presses look at Dragon Moon’s catalogue. We’re happy to send authors on to bigger and better things.

RR: If you’re asked for a synopsis, it’s a blow by blow of everything that happens in the novel, including the end. I need to know the ending. You have to tell me what your book is about.

EH: The ending is not as important to me as the main conflict. What’s interesting about the book? What’s the intrigue? That’s the reason people read.

GH: Premise and plot are not the same thing, though.

HT: People think the book has to be perfect. No. The book has to be interesting. If the book is a shambles in terms of spelling and grammar, we can fix it.

RR: I have to love your book to put the four- to five hundred comments on it that I do on most books. I’ve been giving these talks forever, but I finished my first book and went to pitch it . . . and blew it.

HT: The last person who knows what the book is about is the author.

Q&A ensued.

And that’s the end of day 1. Between Nina’s workshop and this panel, the opening ceremonies took place and after this panel, I went to the Bundoran Press book launch and SF Canada party, where I got to hear GoH Ed Willett read from his latest novel and network with my writerly peeps.

So that was all I did on Friday.

Next week: Asteroids.

Note: I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post on Saturday or if it will have to be pushed to Sunday. Family shenanigans. You know the holiday drill 🙂