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2 July 2002
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Ralan's SpecFic & Humor Webstravaganza

Part 6: LOOSE ENDS: or How To Keep the Virtual Prunes From Cramping You
by Ralan

Okay your ready to submit, but in the guidelines it says, "…electronic submissions only as a RTF file." If you know what that is, you're one up already and can skip the next paragraph.

RTF stands for Rich Text Format. Basically it's a lot like what you get if you use Window's standard "Write" text program. It's a little more than plain ASCII (or DOS) text, but not as complicated as Word or WordPerfect. You can include tabs and different font types (like italic, bold, and underlined), but nothing fancy like tables, graphs, and charts. Since fiction manuscripts don't usually have those, RTF is becoming the format of choice for those submissions. The reason for this is twofold. First: it's fairly universal, almost any word processing programs can understand it. Second: it doesn't contain any macros (simple interior programs), so it can't carry viruses.

To convert your manuscript to RTF, open the file in whatever word processing program you use and click on "Save As." In the resulting popup window they'll be two multiple-choice boxes called something like "File Name" and "File Type." In the "File Type" box you'll find one of the choices is Rich Text Format (RTF), or a name similar to that. Choose it and click okay. Normally the program will automatically keep the first part of your file name and change the last part to "rtf" (MyStory.doc becomes MyStory.rtf). After that just make sure you attach the RTF file to your e-mail cover letter, not the original DOC.

Now, let's say your story has been out to SF TALES OF THE CUSPIDOR magazine for five weeks. Their guidelines state they normally respond in one month. Why those dirty bas--! You open your e-mail program and prepare to write a scathing query. Where is my story, you…

Hold on there, locust-breath! You have to take those response times with some latitude. Patience is a writer's best virtue. An early inquiry CAN shake loose a story, but usually with a big fat "No" scribbled on it.

So, when can you safely query? Well, there are lots of opinions on this. In time you'll form your own, I'm sure. As you gain experience and dutifully log all your submissions carefully, you'll begin to get a feel for how long various editors take -- which many times has little in common with their stated RTs. You can also check my "Response Times" page -- it contains almost nine years of my own RTs for over 125 different publications. There's also "Submitting to the Black Hole" a web site where you can check on, and log your own times, at http://critters.critique.org/blackholes.

My rule of thumb when dealing with a new or unknown market is to double the stated response time before querying. And my first query is always VERY polite. Also, don't make with the cutesy stuff -- like opening with, "Knock, knock … Who's there? … Harlan … Harlan who? Harlan you going to keep me waiting for a reply?"

While we're on the subject of cutesy -- try not to use cute stuff in your subject headers in any of your dealings with editors. Remember, no matter how much fun this is (what?), writing IS a business. Try to be a little serious out there -- at least about the business

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