Best of British Brackets

A state of the punctuation union

We're now one month out from the submissions deadline for the Best of British Fantasy. Which makes for a good time to do a state of the submissions union. Or, in this case, a state of the submitting process union.

As of this morning, I've received 185 short stories to read. I've also built my own list of 75 different publishers, blogs, magazines and websites that publish short fiction. Plus over 50 anthologies, collections and individual authors, recommended to me by readers like you. 

That's a lot of reading! It is a little daunting, but I've been trying to keep on top of it as I go, and there's a process in place that helps me.

In the Best of British Fantasy instructions, there's a simple test - which is, in fact, clearly stated as a simple test. I ask people to put [BOBF] in the subject line of the email. Slightly over 40% of my submissions have not done this. I suspect most of this is because of admissions information being passed from person to person - writers' group to writers' group - with the details fading off like a bad photocopy. And some of it is simply people putting their own touch on things. 

The thing is about this 'test'... I don't build hoops for the sake of jumping. Instead, I had the foresight to imagine 185-odd submissions and developed an email rule. [BOBF] submissions get tagged BOBF and automatically filed. I then have fixed time set aside so I can read and respond in an easy, orderly, prompt fashion. Everything not [BOBF] goes swimming amongst the flotsam and jetsam of internet life, alongside offers of gold, review requests, Facebook birthday reminders, and actual urgent stuff. A [BOBF] email is read when I'm in the mental space designated for reading [BOBF] emails. A non-BOBF email is getting in the way of something else.

[BOBF] is the most common submissions 'bug'. It isn't a big deal, except when you think of it on aggregate: that's 90ish stories that aren't going where they're supposed to. 90 'exceptions' to the rule. There are other bugs as well. For example, almost a third of the stories don't have their files named in a logical way. This wasn't in the instructions, but, still... I have over a dozen downloaded attachments all with the name of "British Fantasy", and a half dozen more called "Final".  I'm wasting my story-reading time in busywork: correlating the story to the original email to the author and the spreadsheet. That's time I should be concentrating on the story

Here's the thing: I'm loving [BOBF] and I've read some brilliant stories. Some of which, I hasten to add, did not follow the process in ways noted above. But [BOBF] is also just about the lowest-stakes, lowest-risk submissions process that I could imagine, and, as far as editors go, I'm on the fairly chilled side. For everyone involved - writers, me - it is a chance to practice what 'right' looks like. Because other, higher-stakes environments won't be as forgiving. 

Last Saturday I heard two editors and two agents talk about the submissions process. They were delightfully open and honest, and I think it was some of the best publishing advice I've heard. I captured a lot of it here, and recommend that any writer has a read.

The point they made - repeatedly - is that you want your reader (in this case, the editor or agent) to focus on the story. The submissions process makes things standardised, so it is as seamless as possible. This means the editor/agent can concentrate on the novel itself. On the broadest level, this is your audience giving you audience insight on a platter: don't second-guess it. Agents and editors are juggling hundreds - if not thousands - of submissions every week. Even if each one comes with a single minute of inessential admin, that's losing days of reading time.

The process, they emphasised, is not the opportunity to be creative. The process exists to make sure your creative work gets the best opportunity to succeed. 

Also, you have one month left to get me your stories!

Get: Hopeful creatives
To: Respect the little things
By: Showing how they increase your chance of success

An international conversation about women on boards will be taking place on Thursday 15th November 2018. Started by a not for profit organisation in the United States (@2020WOB) this year for the first time Women on Boards 2020 will be extending their activities to the UK. Women on Boards 2020 is collaborating with The 30% Club (@30percentclub) here in London, to host an event focused on getting more women into the talent pipeline, and keeping them there.
The free, two-hour, morning event will be held at The Shard, thanks to the generosity of hosts Warwick Business School. It will include inspiring short presentations from people who are already in, or on their way to, Exec or Board roles. This will be followed by speed mentoring where women interested in applying for these roles have the chance to ask questions and gain insight from mentors – both male and female – who have Exec or Board responsibilities and champion diversity. With incredible mentors from a range of sectors already signed up to attend, and an opening address from Brenda Trenowden CBE, this promises to be a purposeful, practical and engaging morning for rising women.
The event starts with registration at 8.45am and will wrap up at 11am. Numbers are limited and admittance can only be gained by registering your interest to attend. Please contact directly to secure your place.