I love Miss Snark. Love love love. Only someone who has spent a good deal of time in the publishing industry and seen all the boneheaded things writers do to try to get attention for their work would be so amusingly bitter. The best part is that she really does dispense good advice from an agent/editor's point of view. For example, using only ONE email address when corresponding with agents/editors. And a professional email address at that. Churlita has posted several interesting email addresses she's received at her job--the kind of place you really don't want to be responding to an email address such as babymamadramaorama @ something dot com or anything with the word "reefer" in it.
And this brings me back--way, way back--to the days when I was a lowly editorial assistant reading mss. by the earnest and hopeful and often clueless. I was astonished at how often the letters were pathetic, the mss. completely unreadable, the mistakes laughable. I began to realize it's no wonder that many editors and agents are so bitter about writers. And I resolved never, ever to make the mistakes I saw so regularly.
In the spirit of my salad days, I bring you:
The Ten Terrors of the Slush Pile
1. The Threatener
This person is clearly frustrated with his lot in life. His letters often include terrifying statements such as, "This is the eighth submission I've sent you this year, and if I don't get an acceptance soon, I will be forced to submit my work elsewhere." Shiver.
2. The Whiner
This person is convinced that you will not read his query/submission. Often the same person who will place a hair someplace in the back of his mss. and check to see if it's missing when the mss. comes back, this writer spends too much time listening to internet conspiracy theories against the publishing industry. His letters often start with sentences like, "I'm just a measly guy with a wonderful idea. Please don't crumple me up."
3. The Obvious First-Timer
This person makes the kinds of colossal mistakes that force lowly editorial assistants, who cannot afford liquor, to drink heavily. They send in handwritten mss., queries with no explanation of what the story is about, newspaper "clips" from papers so small their publishers haven't even heard of them, and letters to the editor as "samples" of their writing.
This person may also write in asking how to write a query so it won't be
dismissed out of hand for not knowing the proper procedure or send a phone number instead of an SASE in hopes of getting a call instead of a
letter rejection slip.
4. The Future Hemingway
This person will ignore instructions to send a query and send the whole mss. or an excerpt "because a query won't do it justice." Also the type who proposes a magazine piece of 25,000 words that can run as a serial.
This category also includes the Family Talent: "My high school English teacher/mom/dad/husband/kids/iguana loved this story, and I'm sure you'll agree." Or not.
5. The Conference Attendee
This is the person who cornered you for an hour at the Major Writing Conference, causing you to miss lunch while chewing your ear off about what's wrong with your magazine/publishing house, and now she's wondering why you don't give her any assignments.
6. The Pen Pal
You once gave her a break and sent her a letter delineating why you rejected her mss., and now you'll be plagued by her letters until you decide they're not paying you enough for this and do something less exhausting, like leading mountain-climbing expeditions up Denali.
7. The Philanthropist
This writer says to donate the money from the article/book to charity.
8. The Artist
This person likes to decorate her mss. with fancy fonts, drawings, and neon colors.
9. The Pseudonym User
This person has a carefully crafted alter ego that makes her sound like a bad romance author, something like "Autumn Summer," which was probably refined lovingly on the backs of school notebooks over many years.
10. The Utterly Clueless
This person makes a mistake so colossal that you keep a copy of the letter just to make yourself laugh after you receive your next 3% pay raise. He addresses letters to women's magazines with the heading "Gentlemen," puts the competing magazine's name in the cover letter, lists credits with the National Library of Poetry, sends in his master's thesis as a sample of his work, or sends in unattributed clips and tells you he has "outgrown" a byline.
For example, in really real life, I once received, at Woman's Day magazine of all places, a mss. entitled "An Analysis on Hitler's Brain." Oh, yes, I did.
Did we buy it? No, we did not. But I remember it. Even more than ten years later, I remember it vividly.