Programming Note: This entry originally appeared on my old LiveJournal, and was ported over when I cranked up this happenin’ new pad.
I got an interesting e-Mail today. A reader of this here LJ asked me to dig up and provide for her a post I made some time ago whereby I answered the “request” of an aspiring Star Trek author to help him get his book(s) published. It took some extra jogging on said reader’s part to remind me of the post in question, after which I had to go digging in the archive to find it for her. I originally posted this back in April of 2008.
Having read it again, and while I don’t apologize for what it says, I did fail to make one important point the first time around: This ain’t how I typically reply to people who ask me about writing, be it Star Trek or anything else. I think my record on how I usually tackle such queries speaks for itself.
That said, the FuckMuppet(tm) who sent the query to which I responded with the following screed was altogether a different variety of arrogant, insulting, delusional “fan,” possessing an overdeveloped sense of entitlement wrapped around an alarming lack of interpersonal skills. It demanded a proportional response.
So, from the vaults, I once again offer up “(Hopefully) Helpful advice for aspiring Star Trek writers,” as originally posted:
Came home this evening to an amusing message in my e-Mail box. Without going into specifics, let’s just say that the sender of this particular missive is a passionate Star Trek fan, which in and of itself ain’t really a bad thing.
However, our messenger friend fancies himself a writer. Not only that, he wants to be a Star Trek writer because, damn it, he’s got the cure for all that ails the Star Trek franchise these days.
(Since first writing this entry, I’ve learned that several Trek authors also received the same e-Mail, outlining our hopeful writer-to-be’s plan to submit his work to Pocket for consideration.)
He’s pursued his goal with verve. He’s visited the Pocket Books website. He’s read the submission guidelines for Star Trek fiction, and has come away unsatisfied with what he’s found. Of course, he’s made the mistake committed by a goodly number of aspiring writers, in that he’s either failed to comprehend what he’s read, or else has ignored those things which are not in line with what he wants to hear in order to pound his chest and continue his crusade.
Because of that, he now appears to be fueled by a host of misconceptions which, if he’s actually followed through with what he says he plans to do (assuming he’s serious and this wasn’t some elaborate practical joke), will result in his Star Trek opus, along with all of its unrealized potential, being sent to the trash.
So, in the unlikely event he’s reading this (I suppose it’s possible, as he got my e-Mail address from somewhere and may well know about my website), I’m posting the following bits of (hopefully) helpful advice, for him as well as anyone else who might harbor similar ambitions and perceptions:
1. The submission guidelines for Star Trek fiction at Pocket’s website are there for a reason. Yes, they apply to you. You, too, so put your hand down. One of the most common complaints I hear is that the guidelines are restrictive; they choke the life out of what Star Trek represents, blah, blah, blah. Well, no, they really don’t. READ THE GUIDELINES AGAIN, particularly this part:
“The submission guidelines don’t reflect an editorial philosophy toward Star Trek fiction. They’re a challenge to first-time authors to impress us with their seriousness, their professionalism, and their creativity. We set it up this way to maximize the chances that authors with talent, passion for the craft, and passion for Star Trek will submit stories, because they’re the ones most likely to put in the extra effort.”
2. The first sentence alone, when read with knowledge of the types of books being produced by the more experienced writers in Pocket’s stable, is enough to tell you what you should already know if you’re serious about this stuff: The guidelines are a test; they’re a job interview. You walk in the door thinking they don’t apply to you, or that you’re better than what they’re trying to accomplish, then you’ve already failed the interview.
Editors don’t want to work with writers who can’t follow simple instructions, because it’s when the instructions become more complicated and intertwined with those given to other authors whom the editors are overseeing that things get really interesting. There are plenty of other hopeful writers out there who can follow editorial direction, so don’t blow your chances before you even get to put something on the editor’s desk, okay?
3. Don’t start out your cover letter by insulting the very people you hope will one day pay you to write your epic Star Trek novel. Don’t tell them they lack vision or that they don’t understand what they’re doing, and that you’re their savior. I know of no instance where such a sales pitch has proven successful. You have no new twist on the notion which guarantees victory on your part.
Let’s put this another way: If you want to bang that chick at the club, you don’t slide up to her and inform her that — based on what you’ve heard elsewhere — her fellatio technique needs work, and you’re just the guy to set her straight. Brad Pitt couldn’t score with that line; you’ve got about as much chance as a blind monkey trying to hump a football.
4. Don’t make up words to put in your cover letters. The dictionary is chock full of real, honest-to-goodness words which will do a far better job of helping you communicate your ideas than the apparently random assemblages of letters you’ve elected to pull from your ass.
5. It’s been a few bullet points, so I figure it’s time to reiterate this: READ THE GUIDELINES. HEED THE GUIDELINES. THIS MEANS YOU.
6. Don’t try to dazzle the editor/whoever with the long list of self-published books you’ve written, or had published through the small press that you happen to own, and attempt to pass these off as writing credentials. Editors at the big-city publishing houses are interested in the credits you have where you connived some other publisher to pay you for your work. Paying to have your own work published doesn’t impress anyone who actually does this stuff for a living. To use a somewhat different analogy, I bought a first aid kit for my truck, and I’ve even learned how to use everything in it. Doesn’t make me a fucking doctor, okay?
(EDIT: 4/8/2014: The preceeding paragraph no longer really applies, does it? The world of publishing has evolved in the years since this missive/rant was first posted, and the generalities it posits with respect to self-publishing are no longer (entirely) valid. While perhaps not a magic bullet for every aspiring wordsmith, self-publishing certainly can work if you’re willing to put in the time, energy and passion required to make it work. Carry on, boys and girls.)
7. If you’re going to present yourself as The Guy to reinvent a sagging franchise with a work of fiction that shatters the genre, don’t offer up as your idea one of those hackneyed fanboy plots we all write when we’re Trekkies just starting out. I have one or two of those myself, hidden away in a deep, dark recess of Newbie Writer Hell, from which they hopefully will never escape. In fact, if they do manage to find their way to daylight, I’m going to beat the shit out of them, kick them back into their hole, and drive a stake through their evil, undead hearts.
8. Know who and what you’re insulting. If you’re going to lambaste people for their alleged inabilities to keep the Trek Fires burning now that Gene Roddenberry has shuffled off this mortal coil, get the names and titles right. The guy you’re bitching about has never been involved with Star Trek before the movie that’s now in development. Nobody knows what rabbit — if any — he may pull out of his hat, so dismissing his work sight unseen in favor of your own “unique vision” puts you on the same level as the drooling idiots crowding message boards all over the Internet. This isn’t a club where your membership looks cool on a resume, all right?
The books you dismiss as being utterly disappointing have — admittedly — received a variety of reactions from glowing praise to utter contempt. Hey, everybody’s got different tastes. However, the objective measure is that all of the books to which you refer are in multiple printings, and a few of them even ended up on best seller lists. Therefore, anecdotal evidence suggests that our mothers can’t be the only ones buying these frikkin’ things. Despite this, you still managed to get the books’ umbrella title wrong. Guess what? The editors with whom you hope to build a long and prosperous career know the correct titles. They even edited some of them. They’re liable to be a bit peeved at this lack of basic research on your part.
(And on a personal note…since I was involved with some of the books you’re dissing, I’m not sure how you think this translates into me being eager to help you. Just sayin’.)
9. Lastly, READ THE GUIDELINES. Yes, I know. READ THEM AGAIN.
My work here is done. I’ll be here all week. Be sure to try the veal, and remember to tip your servers.
And there you go. The original post, and the responses from readers that it generated, can be found here.