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May 18, 2004

Bad advice on cover letters
Posted by Teresa at 02:01 PM *

One of the pitfalls of the writing trade is that anyone who has basic writing chops can spout authoritative-sounding advice about the biz, even if he doesn’t know a bare pope from a hole full of shinola. The latest specimen I’ve run across is the Cover Letter Tips page. It’s the work of one Todd James Pierce, a grad student in the Creative Writing department at Florida State University. The following may or may not be true of Mr. Pierce:

Presently I am the Assistant to the Director of Creative Writing at Florida State University, where, next year, I will graduate with a Ph.D. I also hold an MFA (UC Irvine) and an MA (Oregon State). My stories have been published in about 15 journals, the most recent being American Short Fiction, The Literary Review, and The Greensboro Review. This year, I will have stories in The South Dakota Review, The South Carolina Review, Speak, and again in The Literary Review (a novella this time). Earlier this year I won the Charles Angoff Award for Literary Excellence, and in previous years I received an IAP award and a Humanities Grant. I’ve had non-fiction anthologized in a number of books, including Southern Studies, Australia Literature, the textbook Rethinking How We Teach Creative Writing, and Salon’s Guide to Contemporary Authors (Viking/Penguin, 1999).
Why the doubt? Read on. Mr. Pierce preaches the doctrine of the short three-paragraph cover letter. That’s not a bad idea in its own right. Cover letters say too much far more often than they say too little. It’s his list of eleven sure-fire tips that made me yelp out loud. Naturally, I immediately forwarded the URL to Patrick via Instant Message:
teresanh: You have to see this.
patricknh: waiting
(tnh sends URL)
patricknh: WHAAAAAAAT?
patricknh: This is a joke, right?
teresanh: It’s serious.
patricknh: This is stupid. I now have stupid all over me.
He’s right. Here goes:
11 Cover Letter Tips

Tip One: Wait until your work is absolutely finished before submitting. You rarely get a second chance with a good editor or agent.

Rejected is forgotten, and second and third chances are common. If you resubmit the same work it’ll very likely be recognized, at which point the slush reader will think you’re clueless and lame; but if the version you’re submitting has been substantially rewritten, just say “You may recall an earlier version of this book, which I submitted to your house [however long ago it was]. Since then it has been substantially rewritten and is, I believe, a much stronger work.”
Tip Two: Find the right agent or editor. Find novels which are like your manuscript, then find out their agent and editor. How? Simple, call the publishers. Most are very willing to offer this information.
Some are happier than others, but most are willing.
Tip Three: Worried about Paragraph Two, the personal history? Have nothing to say? Be imaginative. Why are you the best person to have written this novel? How has your personal experience prepared you for it?
I have to wonder whether he got that advice from an article about how to submit work to a nonfiction publisher, where the quality of the information and the credibility or celebrity of the author are so much more important. A novelist’s primary credentials are his novels, with his sales figures coming in a close second. Prestigious awards and prior publications are nice, and will get his manuscript read with more patience than you’d give a book out of nowhere. But beyond that, great credentials only help if they’re attached to a good book.

A while back a friend at another house was sent a financial thriller written by a former financial officer of a formerly high-flying company that had taken a huge and highly-publicized fall. He was certainly qualified to write that book—but alas, his credentials were much better than his novel. The proof’s in the reading. The only real answer to “Why are you the best person to have written this novel?” is, “I wrote it, and no one else did.”

Moving on now to the tip that made Patrick hit his “caps lock” key:
Tip Four: Still worried? Never published anything? Lie a little. Yes, lie. A cover letter is a persuasive document designed to do one thing: entice an editor or agent to read your manuscript. Say whatever you have to, within reason, to accomplish this. No publication credits? Write the words “West Coast Fiction Review” on a piece of paper, staple it to one of your stories, and boom, you’ve just been published in West Coast Fiction Review. Is there such a publication? Not that I know of, but it sure sounds impressive. No awards? Ask your best friend—let’s say her name is Martha Green—to give you the 1999 Martha Green Award for Outstanding Achievement in Fiction. What’s the Martha Green Award worth? Not much, unless it entices an editor or agent to read your work.
DON’T EVER DO THIS. First, an editor is not going to be impressed by a bunch of awards and publications they’ve never heard of. An author with no publishing credits might turn out to be interesting. Getting in at one or two small-time publications means you can write readable prose. But a long string of penny-ante credits means you’ve been scraping bottom for a long time, and chances are this submission is more of the same.

Second, if your manuscript is sufficiently interesting to make me want to know more about you, or if I catch a whiff of BS while reading your letter, it’s the work of a moment to type “Martha Green Award” or “West Coast Fiction Review” into Google. Real awards and publications will turn up dozens or hundreds or thousands of hits. If I don’t see that evidence, my willingness to have anything to do with you or your manuscript will plummet. I’ll cease to believe without hard documentary proof that any of your other claims are legit, including your claim to have written the work in hand. Unless you’ve written a book so awesome that its manuscript glows in the dark, you are now more trouble than you’re worth. Furthermore, your name will be remembered.

Third, and speaking of plummeting credibility, shouldn’t someone mention this interesting theory to Mr. Pierce’s department at FSU? I should think that at minimum they’d want him to take it off the university’s website ASAFP; and if I were his department, I’d find or make time to do a close audit of his academic career to date. One instance of falsifying data might be aberrant behavior, but when someone’s publicly advocating the practice, you have to figure it’s a habit, possibly a lifestyle.
Tip Five: Don’t take this too far. You can get away with some small lies. It’s best not to say you’ve been published in, say, The New Yorker, if you haven’t. Editors and Agents may ask about that.
Not “may”. Try “will”. We may not even have to ask. For instance, I automatically doubt any claims of publication that don’t mention the title and publisher. There may exist an author who thinks those aren’t relevant or interesting details, but I have yet to meet one. In general, it’s best to just tell the truth. Cover letters only matter a little. Manuscripts matter a lot.
Tip Six: Never, never, never list the word count. Not even on short stories. It’s says, HACK, in bold letters. It is a lie perpetuated by Writer’s Digest Books. No one cares about the exact word count. Editors and agents can see that a 300 page manuscript is, well, a 300 page manuscript.
Is he insane? Of course you should mention the wordcount. Three hundred manuscript pages from Darren Rhett Bird, who uses proportionally spaced type in a small point size, and scants his margins and leading, contain between two and two and a half times as many words as the same number of manuscript pages from Joan Skriftlode, who prints out her pages using twelve-point Courier in a canonical manuscript format. This variability undoubtedly accounts for our otherwise inexplicable habit of saying WE WANT TO KNOW THE WORDCOUNT.
Tip Seven: If you talk about your own life, make sure it is related to your manuscript. No one will care if you’re a Tennis Pro and Mother of Three, unless your novel is also about these things.
True. Mostly true. One or two sentences can’t hurt. Don’t get cute about it, unless you’re really good at cute.
Tip Eight: Call. That’s right, Call. Introduce yourself. Be confident. Let them know your work is coming. It’s the surest way to get out of that slush pile and on to a desk. Too afraid to call? Write out what you want to say, call AFTER HOURS, leave a voice message. It’s not as good talking to a real person, but hey, it’s better than nothing.
The surest way? Say what? Calling in advance is an irritating waste of the editorial department’s time, and will do nothing to get you out of a trade publishing slushpile. Leaving a message after hours is even more clueless. I can’t imagine where Mr. Pierce got this idea, unless he’s been taking advice from someone who secretly hates him. There is one significant effect this might have. Because you’ve phoned to say something about a submission, someone may write down your name and the title of your book, and pass the note on to the slush readers. They’ll be puzzled—why did you say you were phoning again?—and will stick the note up on their bulletin board. When your manuscript crosses their desk, they may remember that there was something-or-other they were supposed to remember or do about it, and will set your manuscript on the Inscrutable Problems stack for later diagnosis. Some slow afternoon—of which there aren’t many—they’ll have a go at the Inscrutable Problems stack, and will look at your manuscript again. They won’t be able to tell what the problem was. They’ll set the manuscript aside for later. After several cycles, they’ll either figure that any manuscript that’s been around this long should be returned to its author on general principles, or they’ll move on to another job and the new slush reader will run your manuscript through several more Inscrutable Problems cycles before it gets so old that they return it to you on general principles.
Tip Nine: Do not—I repeat—Do not include postage for the return of your whole manuscript. A large, SASE with five bucks of stamps on it says, Shove it back in here right now. Instead, enclose a letter sized stamped envelope suitable for a letter only. This encourages the editor or agent to at least write to you. (But, as always, really good news comes with phone calls! Letters, for the most part, mean bad news.)
Only a grass-green newbie would think we need any encouragement to send back your manuscript. The pertinent phrase here is “default option”. A large SASE with full postage means you get your manuscript back. A letter-size SASE means you get a standard rejection letter and we throw your manuscript into the recycling bin. Neither option increases your chances of getting a personal letter.
Tip Ten: Mention only one or two manuscripts, at most, to any editor or agent. If you say, I’ve got seven more novels just like this, it tells the editor or agent, Hey, no one’s wanted the other seven.
It depends on the manuscript and the author.
My Last Tip: Send a whole lot of letters out. Cast a big net. Expect rejection. Don’t worry when you get it. Keep sending out more letters. …
This sounds like advice for sending out query letters. Cover letters are sent out with manuscripts. If he doesn’t know the difference, he doesn’t know how to submit his own work, much less advise others on how they should submit theirs.
If you have a friend who has an agent, ask that person to recommend you to their agent. That’s the shortest way to the front of the line. If you don’t have such a friend—or let’s say that agent nixed you, too—consider attending a Writers Conference which agents and editors will attend. That’s another short way to the front of the line. Be persistent. Be prepared to shell out a lot of bucks at the post office. …
If he’s sending out cover letters and manuscripts this indiscriminately, he may need to read up on simultaneous submissions.
I can think of no one—and, to be honest, I know a LOT of writers—who has found a book contract after only a few months of submitting.
I can think of quite a few, though it’s not the way to bet. It’s a frustratingly slow process, and we ought to speed it up. But trust me: these tips Will Not Help.

You know what’s really scary? A half-hour’s plonking around on the web would probably net me four or five pages of advice that are at least this bad. Let the writer beware.

Comments on Bad advice on cover letters:
#1 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 05:35 PM:

"DON‘T EVER DO THIS. First, an editor is not going to be impressed by a bunch of awards and publications they’ve never heard of"

What if I have a friend named Hugo? Can I do it then?


#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 05:36 PM:

It's one of those little Eastern European cars, right?

#3 ::: Barbara ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 05:41 PM:

Everyone has Googled all of his credentials, right?

#4 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 06:05 PM:

Most of it is sort of OK if somewhat misguided, but the LIE part is just plain astonishingly bad advice; the kind of advice that suggests the author has tried it and thinks he's had some success with it. Not only does it mean no second chances if you get caught; it also sets editorial assistants and agent's assistants to gossiping among themselves, which can get you rejected all over the place. It's much worse than, say, writing a submission letter so bad that it makes a publishing company bulliten board.

I'm amazed that an author would post that sort of advice under his own name on the Internet. T: What would you think if you got a promising first novel manuscript from this guy, and you were thinking about publishing and you looked him up on Google to find out more about him? If it were me, I would probably reject him based on his suggestions that authors lie to publishers.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

#5 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 06:19 PM:

"Todd James Pierce" ... sounds like a pseudonym to me. Are you sure he isn't One Of Us, secretly just doing his bit to nobble the Competition?

(Hint: insert fnords to taste.)

#6 ::: Christina Schulman ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 06:19 PM:

Maybe it's an attempt to put the competition at a disadvantage. The gullible competition, anyway.

#7 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 06:26 PM:
Third, and speaking of plummeting credibility, shouldn’t someone mention this interesting theory to Mr. Pierce’s department at FSU? I should think that at minimum they’d want him to take it off the university’s website ASAFP; and if I were his department, I’d find or make time to do a close audit of his academic career to date.

He's no longer at FSU - he's completed his PhD and is now teaching at Clemson.

The suspicious analyst part of my brain is wondering why none of his sites list where he got his bachelor's degree, although it's possible that the first master's program he entered didn't require one.

#8 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 06:39 PM:

If anyone wants to survey the rest of Mr. Pierce's professional writing advice, most of it seems to be on, which he appears to maintain.

#9 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 06:47 PM:

Thank you again for reading my work. Please, feel free to call me at home: (123) 456-7890. I look forward to hearing from you.

That's an interesting typo that he's got there for his phone number. At least he's honest about it in his domain registration for

Registrant Name:TODD PIERCE
Registrant Organization:GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS
Registrant Street1:3362 AVENIDA NIEVE
Registrant City:CARLSBAD
Registrant State/Province:CA
Registrant Postal Code:92009
Registrant Country:US
Registrant Phone:+1.8509424075

... but either way - that domain just points to fsu, again - and you'd hope that they knew about it. Pthek.

#10 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 06:47 PM:

T, I'm with you on the shinola (boot polish, right?), but what do people in the business use bare popes for?

#11 ::: Scott Edelman ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 06:50 PM:

I find his recommendation that a writer pick up the phone and bug the editor the most wrongheaded of them all. I once had a writer call to tell me that he'd written a story that had a scene set inside a helicopter, only he'd never been inside a helicopter, and he wanted to know if I minded if he left blanks in the manuscript at that point. If I bought the story, he promised that he would then go look at the inside of the helicopter and get the correct information, but he didn't want to take the trouble to do so without a guaranteed sale.

As you might anticipate, not only was I unable to convince this writer that doing this was a bad idea, I couldn't convince him that calling me about it was itself a bad idea either.

Perhaps this is just another example of Darwinism in action, so that editors can compile lists of the those following such advice when they call and anticipate the arrival of wretched manuscripts.

#12 ::: Marsha ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 06:52 PM:

I usually don't give advice on Writer.Net or any kind of advice board, because I don't consider myself an expert on anything, and bad advice is worse than no advise at all. This is my first post anywhere in a long time and it's to say that the tips are HILARIOUS.

#13 ::: teep ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 06:54 PM:

And, as with our good friend and author of Night Travels of the Elven Vampire, Mr. Todd James Pierce has an online sample of his published writing which interested parties can go read for free. It is located at

Do go have a look-see. It's not quite to the level of Night Travels... but it's still not prose I'd lay down money for. In particular, I kept wanting to "buy a verb" when I hit the elliptical sentence construction in the second paragraph. I mean, okay, so you can do that. Whoopie! Neat trick. Fine. Now put it away. No, it's not stylish that you do it three times running. Not. Look, I've seen your amusing root vegetable. I smiled weakly, once, which is as much as I'm going to do for any parsnip, no matter HOW amusing it is. Now PUT IT AWAY. *ahem* Sorry. I'll shut up now.

#14 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 06:54 PM:

Out of misdirected curiousity, are his Nine Tips for Finding a Literary Agent similarly full of character? A casual search on "SD Writers Monthly (June, 2000)", where he claims that it was published didn't bring up any matches - but I'll admit that I didn't look very hard.

#15 ::: James McGirk ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 06:58 PM:

Speaking of dubious advice to budding novelists, I wanted to ask somebody about this:

A well-respected and best-selling fiction teacher suggested sending the first chapter of an unfinished novel to an agent.

I can't imagine that this would do anything other than waste the agent's time and irritate them, but I'd be curious as to what you, Mr. and Ms. Nielsen-Hayden, would have to say about it.

#16 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 07:04 PM:

... but either way - that domain just points to fsu, again - and you'd hope that they knew about it. Pthek.

Especially with that Amazon-based tip jar to "underwrite the costs" of the site...

#17 ::: Dawn Burnell ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 07:24 PM:

Ugh... I'm a newbie writer who hasn't been published yet but even I can tell that this is bad advice.

NEVER call the editor [waste of their time]
NEVER lie [sets a bad expectation]


#18 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 07:37 PM:

Tip #8: "Call. That’s right, Call. Introduce yourself." is right out of the Job Seekers Networking Group ($25 per weekly meeting) Guidelines for the Unemployed, and works just as well there as Teresa says it works in publishing submissions.

#19 ::: Phill ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 07:48 PM:

Think that bad? I work for a security company. We buy another security company, guy working at company we just bought starts telling me about his tax fiddle.

Of course this might just be deliberately bad advice on the theory that his chances go up if he can persuade others to self destruct. Kind of like the advice that the plotters give to Malvolio in Twelth Night to wear his stockings cross gartered, a style that my lady hates.

Odd that this comes out of FSU, I had some strange things happen out of FSU a long time back. Seems to me to be the type of place where they don't exactly care about what their faculty get up to, so why would they care about mere employees?

#20 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 08:06 PM:

His snippet sitting on the FSU server is priceless if you happen to be a fourth grader. Stilted doesn't begin to describe it.

Then ...

"My grandmother descended from convicts."

I hope she didn't hurt herself in the fall.

#21 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 08:08 PM:

No, FSU is not the most respected> school.

Oh. And posting aimids open on the web is not the best idea. Bad actors have discovered aim and are automating.

#22 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 08:24 PM:

BSD, Teresa is not so naive as to post their real AIM IDs in her blog.

#23 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 08:33 PM:

Maybe it's an attempt to put the competition at a disadvantage.

That was my first thought, too. There's a class of person who delights in putting out wrongheaded advice in order to trip up the inexperienced, becaues it makes them feel powerful.

"IAP Award for Fiction," one of his listed credentials, Googles only to his own web pages or information about him.

Wonder if he got his job with similar "creative" tips.

#24 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 08:34 PM:

That snippet. Has me wanting to write strangely strangled descriptive prose. With blunt interjections; reminiscences of my distant relatives, flawed humans though they may be. Statements of fact. Further descriptions, oddly terse.

#25 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 08:41 PM:

So, uh, what did he spend his education money on learning? I hope that's not what they taught him. Otherwise, it means there are more just like him out there.

#26 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 09:09 PM:

This is stupid. I now have stupid all over me would make a great mug;.maybe even a tshirt.

#27 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 09:22 PM:

Lies, and the unfortunate Australian connection remind me of an interesting literary scandal we had out here some years ago:

A 'Helen Demidenko' wrote a novel, _The Hand That Signed The Paper_ which was a fictionalised version of her family's history in the Ukraine. Some people accused it of anti-semitism, and she defended with the ultimate argument - this is the truth. This is what happened to me and mine.

Except... her name is really Helen Darville, and she's of English extraction. This came out after she'd been busy turning up to press conferences in Ukranian peasant blouses to show off her 'heritage'. Tut tut...

To make the story a bit juicier, there were also allegations of plagiarism - and from the passages I saw printed side by side at the time, I'd say they were well founded.

Perhaps she was an early practitioner of the Todd James Pierce school of literary endeavours.

Actually, I've just had a good Google on the subject to refresh my memory, and it's made me quite angry to see how little some people care about the fact that she was lying - there are various academic research projects which use the case to probe the interface between fiction and reality and between the author and characters, to examine the concept of 'author' and discuss what it really means, yadda yadda.. To my eyes they seem to be neglecting a simple rule: It's ok to make things up in books, but in real life it's naughty. Now is that so hard?

#28 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 09:27 PM:

"He died in bed, June 14, 1972, his hands folded neatly across his chest, his eyes already closed, his liver no longer able to support a man of his habits."

How long could a man could live, supported by his liver?

#29 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 10:02 PM:

Ok, this is rather awkward:

My mother fell in love slowly. She was wooed by his large gesturing hands, by the way he said, "complements of the house," and by how he looked at her when he thought she wouldn’t notice.

First of all, wrong vocabulary, should be "compliments" not "complements." And that whole "wooed by his large gesturing hands" is creepy in a Kafkaesque way if taken literally.


#30 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 10:04 PM:

11 Tips On How To Live, Supported By Your Liver:

1) If your liver decides to become a writer, make sure it keeps its day job. And beware of bad writer advice, particularly from spleens.
2) Many livers, if they catch you drinking, will throw you out on your a**. The best tactic is to lie: "But it wasn't really a beer! It was just bad lemonade!"
3) When falling from an airplane, careful cutting and folding can turn your liver into a handy meat parachute. Be sure to face it membrane-side down, for reasons of cleanliness.
4) Although livers float, they do attract sharks. If you are in open water with sharks about, it is far better to float on your skull, which, being full of air, should also bob quite nicely.
5) When your liver fails to be supportive of your own aspirations, remind it that your pancreas has been much nicer to you, and is better looking and younger.
6) Livers are not wide enough, on their own, to replace missing planks in the rope bridge that the cannibals are chasing you across. But they are very stretchy, and if sufficiently molded and hardened in advance they will hold you up for the few minutes necessary to complete your crossing.
7) When going out on a first date, be sure to show your liver off, and list its accomplishments and credentials (make some up, if need be). Girls are impressed by a man who knows his own organs.

That's as far as I can get.

#31 ::: Ilona ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 10:14 PM:


Ugh. I wouldn't be caught dead in a Ukranian peasant blouse, and I actually have the "heritage" to wear one. And I've never seen a Ukranian in a traditional blouse, unless she was folk-dancing for the glory of the Socialist State or for the tips from the foreign tourists. Where do people get this idea that wearing an antique garment reinforces their heritage, real or pretended?

#32 ::: karen ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 10:15 PM:

"How long could a man could live, supported by his liver?"

Answer 1: "I say, that's a rather personal question!"

Answer 2: Depends - is it a love-in liver?

Serious comment: Has anyone checked the story on some plagiarism checker website (do academic ones work for fiction too?) For that matter. do any of you writing-teaching types want a job? Looks like Clemson may have an opening...

#33 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 10:22 PM:

Thanks for passing that along. Knowing what NOT to do is as important as knowing what to do, and that can only advance the day I finish The Greatest Piece of Slush Ever Written and send it to you.


#34 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 10:25 PM:

I'm rather fond of wearing antique garments, in context - but I do agree that it's a rather ham-handed way of attempting to claim heritage at a press-conference that has nothing to do with folk dancing.

#35 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 10:26 PM:

Illona writes:

> Ugh. I wouldn't be caught dead in a Ukranian
> peasant blouse, and I actually have the "heritage"
> to wear one.

Maybe that's part of why I'm peeved - my wife is half Ukranian, and she never got to have her own literary scandal!

At least - she *tells* me she's half Ukranian...

> And I've never seen a Ukranian in a traditional
> blouse, unless she was folk-dancing for the
> glory of the Socialist State or for the tips
> from the foreign tourists.

I've also seen them dancing for the glory of the local Ukranian folk club. It didn't really enhance my life, but I've seen it.

> Where do people get this idea that wearing an
> antique garment reinforces their heritage, real
> or pretended?

And besides - while the peasant blouses are nothing special, Ukranian wedding breads are incredible. She would have impressed me much more if she'd worn a loaf of bread on her head instead.

#36 ::: john ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 10:27 PM:

Mr. Todd James Pierce has an online sample of his published writing which interested parties can go read for free. It is located at

Oh my god, the horror, the horror.

This is supposed to be some kind of memoir about Australia? It contains so many schoolboy howlers in the first two paragraphs I can't bear to read on.

He says the Sydney Harbour bridge is "bronze", which is isn't, even figuratively, he gets the name of Governor Philip wrong, he refers to the "Christian Brother's" school -- there was just the one brother? He drinks "Bitters" instead of "Bitter" ... I could go on and on forever.

Did he just fake his work's appearance in an Australian Journal as part of his "lie about your work" system? Does he think people in Australia aren't on the internet yet and won't notice?

#37 ::: DSC ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 10:37 PM:

I'm no literary critic, but I couldn't stomach Hemingway - pretentious bore - and I can't stomach "The Giant Staircase". Maybe my liver has been rebelling against me all these years and I never knew....

#38 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 10:42 PM:

Should I point out that the thing that 'floated to the top' of a Yahoo search was "Arise and Walk, Christopher Reeve"?


My two cents.

#39 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 10:42 PM:

Vera Nazarian:
First of all, wrong vocabulary, should be "compliments" not "complements." And that whole "wooed by his large gesturing hands" is creepy in a Kafkaesque way if taken literally.

Shades of Sturgeon's "Bianca's Hands" if you ask me...

#40 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 10:50 PM:

In the wake of its success, many Australians found an idol in my grandmother, a woman who said things they felt but were afraid to say. She questioned English rule, frowned upon the masculine code of mateship, and believed women had a great untapped strength inside themselves. At the end of one essay, she writes, “I wish I had my life to live over. I should’ve been strong earlier. I should’ve know what was inside of me.”

Was it like the scene in Alien? Maybe the idol (a "great untapped strength," remember) decided to claw its way out, leaving only her hat and scarf? If she'd but knowed what was inside of her.

#41 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 11:39 PM:

Kathryn: So okay, say I get a promising first novel from newbie author R. Greg Ftvnep, and I look him up on the web. On the one hand, he has some very impressive-sounding credits to his name. On the other hand, he publicly advises other writers to lie about their publishing credits, since after all the cover letter is just a "persuasive document" designed to get me to look at the manuscript. Want to count the errors in tip #4? In no particular order:

1. Saying that in public. Additionally, saying it on FSU's own site.

2. Thinking that calling it a "persuasive document" makes it okay. Believing that his actions have only the consequences that he intends; in this case, that if the letter is meant to get an editor to read the manuscript, and it does, then it's good, and that's the end of the matter. Being in academia as long as he has without understanding that lying about your record can have serious consequences.

3. Not knowing the difference between a query letter and a cover letter. In a query letter, you puff up the coolness of your book and your own wonderfulness, hoping the editor will ask to see the manuscript. A cover letter accompanies a manuscript. If an editor is reading the letter, he or she has the manuscript in hand.

[Everyone else: to put this in perspective, a self-proclaimed authority on submission tactics who doesn't know the difference between a query letter and a cover letter is like a self-proclaimed chemist who doesn't know the difference between an acid and a base.]

4. Thinking that writing West Coast Fiction Review on a sheet of paper and stapling it to a copy of his story constitutes publication. As any ful kno, you have to then give it to someone else in order to claim that it was published.

5. Advocating transparent frauds that can be busted in thirty seconds via Google. If you're going to claim nonexistent publishing credits, claim you were published in a real but now defunct midrange publication whose contents aren't indexed online. Likewise, you shouldn't fraudulently claim that you won a nonexistent award, but rather that you were shortlisted for a real one. If you insist on claiming that you won an award, say it was in a category which that particular award does not address. If challenged, say they discontinued the category.

6. Not knowing that most basic scam: adorning your submission with lavish praise quoted from personal letters you've received from recently deceased literary lions

7. Thinking that it matters. Thinking that we'll be impressed. Thinking any cover letter ever contrived is going to help if you write as badly as Todd Pierce.

Would I take him on? Lord, no. Not on a bet. Life's too short. Or maybe I'd do it, but only if he'd written the most commercial book Western Civilization has seen in fifty years--you know, the kind of bestseller that underwrites scores of other books. And he'd been taken on by a strong-minded agent with a good sense of publishing ethics. And I had a finished manuscript in hand. And even then, I'd want Contracts to beef up the indemnity clause.

What amazes me is that this guy got a Ph.D. in writing when he can't write for toffee. Teep's right about that second paragraph. Pierce may have learned one trick, but doesn't have the sense not to use it a dozen times in a row. And in just the first screen's worth of text, there are two instances plus one near-instance of the same phrase ending one sentence and beginning the next: the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, The Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains, and through Year Six. After Year Six. If that's good enough to get you a Ph.D. in writing, I ought to be given a peerage, and Mike Ford ought to be beatified.

...The plot thickens. I've just posted again on the subject of Mr. Pierce.

#42 ::: Zara Baxter ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 12:08 AM:

That man has never been to Sydney, if that snippet is anything to go by. I realise it's all too easy to make the sort of errors that a local will find incongruous at best and outright impossible at worst. That story is an excellent guide about things to fact check if ever I write a detailed description of a place I've never been.

Sydneysiders, go have a chuckle.

I started to play "spot the errors" but it was like shooting fish in a barrel. and when I got to someone watching his grandmother descend The Giant Stairway, I burst out laughing, at work. Oops.

For those not in the know, The Giant stairway descends (all 800+ steps of it) down the side of a cliff. It's very well obscured by trees, so that even while climbing down it, as I've managed twice, you can see others climbing it only at certain rest-points. You climb into a valley with no houses, and the clifftops have no houses either, so the only thing that could watch you climb down those stairs is a very proficient rosella.

Hee. Shouldn't laugh though, I'm sure I've made more glaring errors.

#43 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 12:21 AM:


Note to self: Never publish bad book advice on the internet.

Another note to self: Never publish my own writing on the internet after I've published bad book advice on the internet.

Dare I say that I feel sorry for this guy now? Not that he deserves my sympathy, but I have this empathy problem and the thought that this guy is, unknowingly, being disembowled on the net makes me shudder. But it mainly makes me shudder because I can imagine something like this happening to me. Oh, please God, never let it happen to me. I'm already scared to post here because of my poor grammar. I'm originally from Oklahoma! That's my excuse!

#44 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 12:31 AM:

Mythago, you did the same thing I did, right? Went and checked all his claimed awards? As Patrick observed, someone who advocates lying ought not be doing it himself, because he'll inevitably be checked up on.

#45 ::: Jennie ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 12:34 AM:

Here are the positively *glowing* reviews of his Australia novel, which seems to have been published by MacAdam/Cage. Apparently, some people liked it. (Or maybe "people"?)


#46 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 12:36 AM:

You needn't limit yourself to those brief on-line excerpts. You can get The Australia Stories: A Novel by Mr. Pierce, MacAdam/Cage (a perfectly respectable small press; no agent required for submission), April,2003.

#47 ::: Zara Baxter ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 01:11 AM:

Well, after reading comments on the "Taking your own Bad Advice" thread, I shall cheerfully eat my words about Todd having never been to Sydney. Chomp, munch.

Instead I shall add a small note to myself:

Remember to fact check places you've been even more carefully: you'll assume you know them, but you're likely to stuff up.

#48 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 01:47 AM:

Zara wrote:
> Well, after reading comments on the "Taking your
> own Bad Advice" thread, I shall cheerfully eat my
> words about Todd having never been to Sydney.
> Chomp, munch.

Here's some fact checking where you don't want to eat your words: I was reading a story a while ago - can't remember who/where - which featured a character sitting at the kitchen table eating durian. The author had done enough research to know that durians were stinky, but not quite *enough* research - she mentioned the character sitting before a bowl of durians, casually eating them one by one, while carrying on a conversation.

(For those who haven't encountered a durian in the flesh, think of a football (same shape AND size) covered in tough 1 cm woody spikes. Anyone who can pop those in their mouth and crunch them is not to be argued with).

#49 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 01:57 AM:

Teresa, that's just what I did. I don't claim to have the world's best Google skills, but I'd think an award of any note would pop up with more than one person's name attached to it.

One would also think that the recent spate of unmasking plagiarists and resume-puffers (like the historical author who falsely claimed to have served in Vietnam) would make people much, much more cautious about this sort of thing. Certainly enough to advise AGAINST it, rather than advocating it, to aspiring authors.

#50 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 03:12 AM:

"My grandmother descended from convicts."

He's obviously been told to avoid the passive as, of course, the usual way to say this would be to say my grandmother was descended from convicts. Some people do believe everything they're told and carry it to extremes.

On the other hand, when I'm proofing Jordin's technical reports all that passive voice *does* make me twitch.


#51 ::: Zara Baxter ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 03:32 AM:

Steve Taylor:

Oh that's marvellous. Eating durians like lychees or longans. Perhaps the writer meant longans?

In summer, the suburb I live in (Marrickville) is scattered with rambutan and longan and lychee shells. In winter, it's custard apple skin. There's a detail I should use in a story. And all words worth eating.

#52 ::: Mick ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 04:43 AM:

I hate to say it but except for the lie and the SASE parts, I've read almost exactly the same advice in books supposedly written by editors and/or writers, including:
The 'personal history' advice.
'Only mention 1 or 2 works.'
'Get somebody to recommend you.'
'Attend lots of seminars conferences to make connections.'
'Cast a big net.'

Some of it came from places like Writer's Digest. It can't all be bogus. Or maybe you should write one giving the straight dope. Based on the section concerning what actually happens when a writer 'calls ahead', you'd do a better job and be more fun to read.

#53 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 05:43 AM:

Randall P: Dare I say that I feel sorry for this guy now? Not that he deserves my sympathy, but I have this empathy problem and the thought that this guy is, unknowingly, being disembowled on the net makes me shudder. But it mainly makes me shudder because I can imagine something like this happening to me.

Don't worry, it probably already happened to you, if it's going to happen at all. (I know it's already happened to me.)

Net.disembowelling happens for a variety of reasons, including giving crap advice in a pompous tone of voice, giving good advice that contradicts the bad advice believed by the net.disembowellers, being successful, being unsuccessful, being famous, not being famous, and the phase of the moon. It happens when somebody upsets somebody else, either for some good reason (as in the seed of this thread) or for bad reason or for no reason at all. If you want to avoid it, you'd best start by eschewing all forms of communication technology invented after 1440. It's hard to hold an international literary dissection in real time using goose-quill pens, parchment, and communication via mendicant monk and stage coach ...

('Scuse me if I'm rambling, please, I haven't finished my morning caffeine dose yet?)

Thinking about it, the point I'm trying to make can be summed up as: the net is a playground for petty thoughts and a gold mine for bad advice. And our problem is to distinguish the petty from the profound. Recursively.

#54 ::: Sheri Stanley ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 06:32 AM:



You have got to be kidding me.

#55 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 06:51 AM:

I like this, I think it could be better written but still it has potential. I think I'll write my own.

Tip 1: As soon as you have a decent first page for your story send that off, send off each succeeding page. This method is likely to have the editor on the edge of their seat with excitement, they can hardly wait to get the next page of your prose and sooner or later they will just flat out offer to publish you so as to stop the suspense.

Tip 2: Maintain a site with attractive nude pictures of a porn star on it, claim to be that porn star on the site, list this as your personal site so that when the editor out of natural curiousity goes to check out what you're like they will find you are really sexy. If there's one thing that will get you published it is being sexy.

Tip 3: Tell people you meet in the street that you are a genius and you have sent off your book to the publishing house to get published. Due to the scientific fact of there being six degrees of seperation between any person you meet on the street and the editor of the publishing house you have sent off your manuscript to this increases the chances of one of these random people calling up the editor and saying "hey, I'm a friend of Josh, and Bryan is a genius so you should publish him, ok?"

Tip 4: Gain a degree of notoriety by doing something which will get you in the news, make sure that you do something related to the field in which you're writing. For example, if the field is Science Fiction, steal the space shuttle.

Tip 5: Kill an editor at another publishing house than the one you're sending your manuscript to. Then point out to the editor of your target publishing house the possible negative consequences of not publishing your manuscript. Note that you cannot just threaten to kill them, that never works, no one will take you seriously, and the worst thing for a prospective author is not to be taken seriously.

Tip 6: Claim to be the royalty of a made-up European country. Intellectuals love that kinda crazy shit. Tell them if they publish your work you want to be paid in your national currency, the exchange rate of which is 3 dollars to the Drublosinhk. This will improve your payment rate.

Tip 7: write your manuscript in your made up country's language, offer to send them a translation for a flat fee of fifty dollars. This will cause them to respect you because you have mad bipolar language skillz.

Tip 12: When making up tips for people to follow don't be a boring old fuddy-duddy and number your tips in sequential order, instead throw in an out of sequence number every now and then to demonstrate your creativity. Do the same thing with numbering of chapters in your manuscript.

Tip Anaximander: Sometimes you don't even need to use numbers!!!!

Tip 8: Show up at the publishing house drunk, waving your manuscript, and threatening to burn it as a protest against all bourgeois sentimentality. They will beg to publish you.

Tip 9: be wearing a mask made to look like the good looking porn star on your site when you do number 8.

Tip 10: Tell them that you are them and you are publishing their manuscript. They will get so confused that they will publish your manuscript in retaliation.

Anyway these are my tips to help you get published. I swear that if you follow all these tips you will have the kind of success I've had in my life, and really who could wish for anything more?

#56 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 07:21 AM:

Charlie, thanks for the thought. I'm sure I have been disembowled (love that word) in one form or another. After all, who hasn't sent that in flammatory email in the heat of the moment and paid the price for it later? I guess my fear is that one day, I would come to my favorite message board (here) and find everyone making fun of me.

Oh, God, I'm reliving my junior high nightmares all over again. Fear of rejection! Fear of rejection!

#57 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 07:34 AM:

Is a bare pope a catholic that s**ts in the woods?

#58 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 08:54 AM:

You know I'm sort of wondering about this lie thing, like what if one tells lies that are obviously untrue will that be offensive. if i say i won the Elvis Presley Great Ass award 3 years running will that get my manuscript rejected (i should have won actually)?

#59 ::: Teri Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 10:58 AM:

Teresa, your rebuttal to Pierce's "tips" was, in itself, exactly the sort of information that a green (and, perhaps, not so green) writer needs. I hope you don't mind but I've forwarded this blog and the responses to some young friends that are hopeful authors. A large dose of reality after some of the fantasy that passes for fact on the various writing lists they belong to will not come amiss, I think.

Back to lurk mode,

#60 ::: Zarina ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 11:11 AM:

This post made me nervous about my own site.

Tip One: Wait until your work is absolutely finished before submitting...

I said the same thing, thought I. Why is Teresa calling this bad advice?.

I kept reading and only began to breathe again when I read Tip #4. That said, I'm hoping that if I write something so terribly bad on my site, some of my readers would correct it (and some already have in the past.)

#61 ::: S. L. ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 11:38 AM:

That's a sound way to cut a swath through the competition- give them bad advice and keep the good for yourself!

(Of course, because I'm paranoid, I went and Googled my CV and discovered that some of my best credits don't come up. I both love and hate the Internet.)

#62 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 12:16 PM:

Andy Perrin, when I said "he doesn’t know a bare pope from a hole full of shinola" I was jamming together several well-known phrases:

He doesn't know sh*t from Shinola.
He doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground.
Is the Pope Catholic?
Does a bear sh*t in the woods?
Is a bear Catholic? Does the Pope sh*t in the woods?
The first two are traditional descriptions of a person in a state of extreme cluelessness. My favorite one of those is "He couldn't pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the bottom." The last three are used when someone's asked whether something is so, and you want to simultaneously indicate that it is emphatically so, and suggest that perhaps you should have known that already.

Xeger, Pierce doesn't know much more about getting an agent than he does about cover letters, and some of what he knows isn't true, but unless I'm missing something, the advice he's formulated isn't as egregiously bad. An agent might disagree, but they know more about their end of the business than I do.

I don't suppose anyone at the Malibu is reading this on a handheld? If they are, could they please tap Lucienne on the shoulder and ask whether she has the time to take a look at Mr. Pierce's page about agents, and give us her opinion on it?

James McGirk, that depends, first, on that agent's or publisher's submission preferences. Tor asks for the first three chapters. If it's an author who hasn't sold a novel before, and doesn't have a substantial track record in short stories, we really prefer that they finish the book first, just so we know they can do it.

After that, it's a question of how fast you write. The basic idea is that you send part of a manuscript, and they read it to see whether they want the rest. If they do, it's best to have it in hand. This becomes less important if you're an established author, since they can read your previous books and extrapolate from the partial you've sent.

#63 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 12:18 PM:

Charlie, I don't think this is quite in the same category as looking up the guy's medical records or undergrad grades. Cutting up his fiction seems to me to be a bit pointless, but the guy is advocating to new writers that they lie about their credentials--a bad move that is likely to have long-term consequences. And it's not at all unreasonable to think "If this guy, who claims to be an expert, advocates lying, isn't it possible he's done the same on his own resume?"

#64 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 12:45 PM:

Quoth Ilona:

>Ugh. I wouldn't be caught dead in a Ukranian >peasant blouse, and I actually have >the "heritage" to wear one.

Hell, I own one; my grandmother made it for me, complete with hand embroidery, and I wouldn't be caught dead in it.

I'm sure if I took it apart, I could make a lovely Christmas tablecloth runner out of it, though.

Elizabeth-Bear-née-Wishnevsky *g*

#65 ::: James McGirk ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 01:15 PM:


#66 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 01:37 PM:

Elizabeth-Bear-née-Wishnevsky [say that ten times fast] wrote:
> Hell, I own one; my grandmother made it for me, complete with hand embroidery, and I wouldn't be caught dead in it.

Damn! My heritage is all wrong for my grandmother to make me a ukranian peasant blouse - but I do lust after some of the embroidery patterns.

Y'know ... it might make a fun costume party for everybody to wear a family monstrosity... [I'd throw on the -mustard yellow plaid wool kimono that my grandmother inflicted on me...]

#67 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 02:12 PM:

>Is a bear Catholic? Does the Pope sh*t in the woods?

I didn't even realise I was on the right line before :)
I've always preferred it as:

Is the bear Catholic? Does a Pope sh*t in the woods?

Right, I'll get my coat before someone asks me to leave...

#68 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 02:17 PM:

Interesting - well, to me - that on the Amazon listing of The Australian Stories, its publication date is April 1, 2003. Probably a coincidence, but it appeals to my twisted humour.

Also, haven't read it fully, but in the family history piece -- apart from describing the Bridge as "bronze" (? maybe in certain sunset light ?) -- the Blue Mountains are described as "sharp granite peaks", which was a shock. It's either three or two out of three wrong (you could call some places "peaks" though they're not pointy). The range is a dissected sandstone plateau. The mental picture is just completely different.
Still, I've heard locals say pretty dumb things about local places, from ignorance or believing local legends. Though I've never heard anyone seriously call the Bridge "The Coathanger" in some decades. It's one of those guidebook things.

#69 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 02:28 PM:

T replied:

...The first two are traditional descriptions of a person in a state of extreme cluelessness.

That would be me, I guess. I hadn't heard the last two. But I'm young yet. Sigh. My gorm riseth by reading this blog.

#70 ::: els ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 02:33 PM:

I can't imagine giving someone advice to lie. That's just so BAD.

I've been wondering about the idea of sending partials. The very thought of it scares the life out of me, even knowing I can finish a book quickly, even knowing it might be more than a year before hearing back on the sample chapters. But I know people who have sold books on a proposal, or are contracted to write for a series.
My own comfort dictates that I finish a novel before submitting it for review. My question is, do you ever have a more established writer send in a partial, get a contract, and then he suddenly finds that for whatever reason he can't finish the book? I have nightmares about that, lol.

#71 ::: Dawn Burnell ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 03:19 PM:

I hate to say it but except for the lie and the SASE parts, I've read almost exactly the same advice in books supposedly written by editors and/or writers, including:

I've never seen this in all of my looking around. I've seen send a follow-up query if someone is taking a long time to respond. I've seen call to get the editor's name. But not 'call' to let them know something is on the way, unless you've queried for it and been accepted.

The 'personal history' advice.

Yup. That's not so bad.

'Only mention 1 or 2 works.'

I've seen this, including the word recent.

'Get somebody to recommend you.'

Haven't seen this. Unless you mean by networking and getting another editor/writer in the field to verbally recommend you and hand-off the manuscript, which is different that getting a friend to give you a bullshit award.

'Attend lots of seminars conferences to make connections.'

Heard this. And do it.

'Cast a big net.'

As long as it is not simultaneous submissions. Simul queries are okay, depending on the market. But for full manuscripts, it is a huge no-no.

Some of it came from places like Writer's Digest. It can't all be bogus.

It isn't. But as I detailed above, the advice is not properly supported or used the context that I've heard ad naseum.


#72 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 03:57 PM:

Does a Pope sh*t in the woods?

Implying, perhaps, that an Antipope shits only indoors...

#73 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 04:06 PM:

Els: do you ever have a more established writer send in a partial, get a contract, and then he suddenly finds that for whatever reason he can't finish the book?

Yes, it happens. What happens next depends on the author and the editor and the small print in the contract. Sometimes the author coughs up a different novel, and it is acceptable. Sometimes the author gets to repay the advance. Sometimes it ends up going to m'learned friends, which is usually a sign that both author and editor have had a terminal loss of the ability to communicate.

Note that "a different novel" may mean one in the same genre, or with the same title. It may even be one based on the original outline, but deviating from it in large or small ways. I will confess to having sold a novel on outline that, when handed in, deviated considerably from that outline. The point is, the outline was provisional and the eventual novel satisfied the editor it was intended for and approximated a fit to the original plan -- so no harm done.

Meanwhile, don't promise something that you can't deliver is one of the oldest rules in the book for any self-employed person. To which I'd add the rider, or an acceptable alternative.

#74 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 04:15 PM:

The more base version, applicable to all areas of life, being Don't let your mouth write a check that your ass can't cash.

#75 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 04:54 PM:

Teresa - here's another useful expression for gormlessness, courtesy of my Arkansas father-in-law: he doesn't know whether he's found a rope or lost a mule.

#76 ::: Bill Shunn ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 05:18 PM:

About a year and a half ago, I stumbled across the web site of a SFWA member I had never heard of but who had published big piles of potboilers. On his page of writing advice, I encountered the following:

Contracts are unnecessary for articles or short stories.

Startled, I wrote to the fellow and offered my option that he might just be spreading bad and even dangerous advice around to inexperienced writers. He assured me that he had published a dozen short stories in big mags and had only signed a contract once.

So I took the question to a SFWA newsgroup that I knew the fellow read. I did not identify him by name but simply asked if anyone else thought it was good advice. The response was overwhelmingly what you might expect, though one or two of the pros there allowed as how that wasn't always the case.

Note, I did not use the fellow's name in any public post. He outed himself. He posted to the newsgroup and said, in essence, "My slip is showing. I wrote those guidelines a dozen years ago and it looks as if I failed to update them when I posted them to the web. Now I have."

In private correspondence to me he said this:

When people that I know, and respect, like [so and so], [this and such], [whatshername], etc., all so firmly disagree with me on a writing matter, whether it is business or artistic, it only makes sense for me to listen to their more knowledgeable opinions.

Grrrr. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

#77 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 06:13 PM:

Bill Shunn, even though he didn't acknowledge it publicly, you do realize that he apologized to you, right? That's as close as an arrogant person can get. He was trying.

True, he was lying to the newsgroup, to save face. But not to you. He could as easily have said "how dare you force me to retract something, if I ever see you I'll kill you" and macho piss like that.

#78 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 06:43 PM:

Cutting up his fiction seems to me to be a bit pointless...

Not really. If one proclaims oneself an expert on a topic and then proceeds to give advice from that lofty pedestal, then one can expect people who question the advice to question all aspects of one's self-proclaimed professionalism.

Put another way: "It's not just the advice; he seems to be clueless throughout" is the gist of the commentary.

#79 ::: els ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 09:27 PM:

Anyone who publishes should be ready for disagreement and scrutiny. Might not be pleasant, but it is a fact of life. And if you are publishig erroneous material, get ready to be picked apart like a Thanksgiving turkey, lol.

#80 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 10:15 PM:

Teresa, when you wrote

... when I said "he doesn’t know a bare pope from a hole full of shinola" I was jamming together several well-known phrases: ...
you left out
Is the pope Polish?
which I acclaim the cream of your jest. If you didn't notice it, I'll tell you that my best puns are not consciously meant, either.


I can't imagine giving someone advice to lie. That's just so BAD.
If he really believes in his advice, he presumably takes it, and lies. And if he doesn't believe in his advice, he's lying. Is he Epimenides, or is he a Cretan?

#81 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2004, 10:26 PM:

Not to deny Patrick's excellent, even T-shirtable phrase, but... If you're worried about getting stupid on you, you'd better not launch that browser.

#82 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 01:09 AM:

Put another way: "It's not just the advice; he seems to be clueless throughout" is the gist of the commentary.

True, but the pernicious part of the advice is not "those who can't, teach." It's that he advocates a dishonest and likely career-killing maneuver, and thus invites scrutiny of his own honesty.

I'm sure many of us could point to successful authors, even those who offer sound advice, and say "I think his/her writing is crap and here's why."

#83 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 01:32 AM:

As I recall correctly from my visit to Sydney back in 1985, nearly nineteen years ago, the Sydney Harbor Bridge is blue - just about two shades lighter than the Pepsi logo - and just plain butt-ugly; being a hideous and ungeometric collection of knobs, bumps, and other, more nameless protrusions. Seen at a right angle from across the harbor, the Sydney Harbor Bridge appears to decant directly into the Opera House, something I'd describe as a particularly Australian optical delusion. The whole thing's pretty just after sunset, but that's true of everyplace. While in Sydney, I was told by an unpublished writer that suicides frequently descend from bridge.

By the way, did I mention in my cover query that I once won the "Todd James Pierce Pseudo-Australian Prose Award?"

And let's not forget that a Palm Story set down-under is an Australo-Pithy-Scene.


#84 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 02:50 AM:

OK. So for getting stupid all over me, I have to take revenge.


#85 ::: Bill Shunn ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 07:37 AM:

Xopher, an explanation is not an apology. Not that I was looking for or expecting the latter.

#86 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 08:32 AM:

Re: piss and boots -- my grandfather the retired Marine always says "he couldn't pour piss out of a boot with a faucet handle on the heel and a spigot on the toe." Also a favorite: "He couldn't find his ass with a torch and a native guide."

We seem to have plenty of native guides willing to hand Mr. Pierce his ass, but I haven't seen anybody really get out the torches yet.

#87 ::: kat ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 09:02 AM:

This sounds like advice for sending out query letters. Cover letters are sent out with manuscripts. If he doesn’t know the difference, he doesn’t know how to submit his own work, much less advise others on how they should submit theirs.

In his "Nine Tips for Getting an Agent" page, Mr. Pierce gives this priceless advice: "In the first phase [of agent submission], you should send a cover letter introducing yourself, a short overview of your manuscript, and a sample chapter of no more than 20 pages.... Send this packet to as many suitable agents as you can find. Let's say, 15-20."

So it would appear that he doesn't know the difference between a cover letter and a query letter, or even that the latter exists, or, for that matter, of the existance of agency guidelines. And he is kindly sharing his errors with the rest of us. (In a later part of the same article, he notes sadly that, "Some agents will never respond to you." Has it occurred to him, I wonder, that there might be a reason for this?)

The rest of the article is largely stock advice, but it's his Tip #1 that really gets me. Here he advises that new authors not submit to big-name agents, because they've got no chance at all of getting in, and anyway the agents would just slight you, the new author, to pander to their big-name authors. Instead, "As a good rule of thumb, your experience as an author should more-or-less match your agent's experience as an agent."

This is insidious advice, especially after you've recieved your fifth or sixth rejection slip, but it's bad, because it encourages authors to go looking for agents with few or no publication credits. And while there are a few legitimate agents just starting out in this category, the vast - the very vast - majority are either useless or scammers. He does not mention this possibility; nor does he discuss scams, scammers, fee-charging, or any of the other pitfalls of agent searches. He lists several agents which I know to be scammers on his website. A quick search on the agency he claims is representing him, Richard Parks Agency, reveals nothing but a standard listing. This doesn't necessarily mean much - plenty of legit agencies haven't managed to leave internet tracks yet - but it's not encouraging, either.

So, the answer to the question "Is this guy completely clueless?" would appear from all sides to be a resounding "yes."

#88 ::: McDuff ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 09:35 AM:

I've always been a fan of the variant: "He couldn't find his own arse with both hands and an atlas."

Honourable mention, of course, must go to the ubiquitous British phrase "He couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery" (Translation for those Americans who don't know: The piss-up is a longstanding British traditional ceremony of two parts. The first consists of manipulating a group of people into the proximity of various alcoholic beverages, and the second of manipulating the beverages into the people.) This, of course, has reached the level of cultural saturation that one now needs only to allude to it, i.e. "The words 'piss-up' and 'brewery' spring to mind when reading this chap's article."

#89 ::: Brian ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 10:19 AM:

Did anyone else read the so-called "reviews" on his "The Australian Stories" page on Amazon? Maybe I'm in a conspiratorial mode, but it seems to me that all eight reviews are written with the exact same language, the exact same cadence. Methinks Mr. Pierce has a whole bunch of amazon accounts, and took it upon himself to become his fanbase.

I've read Amazon reviews before -- many times -- and this is the only time to my recollection that there aren't any people making comments that read like "this'm a gud boook". I think that if he didn't fabricate his own reviews (which IS a not uncommon practice, among certain authors), then Mr. Pierce might just have the most articulate fans in the world.

#90 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 12:12 PM:

Well, I disagree with Brian. I've seen faked Amazon reviews before, and these don't meet the smell test - near-identical language posted by first-time reviewers on or near the same date. So I have to believe they're legit unless there's more evidence otherwise.

#91 ::: James A. Ritchie ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 01:39 PM:

I don't know whether or not contracts for short stories and articles is or isn't a good idea, but I do know that just about half the large magazines I've sold to had no contract of any kind.

The majority simply sent a letter of acceptance stating how much money would be paid, and what rights were being bought. But there was no contract and nothing to sign.

On a few occasions, magazines have simply sent me a check in lieu of an acceptance letter or contract.

But I will say I prefer a contract. Can't make a publication give you one, however, unless that's the way they do business.

As I see it, the real problem with the advice article is that it has three or four little truths in it that might cover the utter foolishness of the rest. This might be highly confusing to new writers.

What I can't understand is where on earth he came up with this advice? It goes totally agaisnt the advice on every professional site I've been to.

#92 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 01:51 PM:

But there was no contract and nothing to sign.

A letter of acceptance can still be a contract, in the legally-binding sense. Of course it's not as good as the many-paragraph variety if it comes to quibbling over electronic reprint rights or other terms, but still.

#93 ::: An actual editor ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 02:33 PM:

As a senior editor at a major publishing house, I can assure you that Pierce is pretty much full of crap. Tip by tip:

1. Yes, absolutely.
2. It's easier to look up an agent or editor in a book's acknowledgements. Houses generally don't give out this information.
3. Yes.
4. Is he freaking nuts?
5. So he's a freaking nut with some sense of proportion. Which makes him a dangerous freaking nut because he might actually get away with lying until it's too late.
6. No, you should list the word count, but round off. 75,000 words is fine. 75,386 sounds silly, like those 386 words are really going to make a difference.
7. As with 3, yes.
8. Never call. Ever. An e-mail after six months if a book was sent to a specific person is acceptable.
9. Just this morning my assistant came into my office with what he described as "the largest slush submission ever," then for comic effect held up the #10 envelope sent for a reply. Some people think the envelope is more cost effective than adequate postage to send the whole ms back, but personally it does say, Just toss the ms. My real problem is with people who don't send envelopes big enough to contain the whole ms.
10. Mentioning more than one ms is foolish unless they are ideas for sequels to a series.
11. Cast a wide net but be aware of a house or agent's policy on simultaneous submission.

I should mention that I went to U Florida, so I'm predisposed to think that all things FSU are crap, but this guy is really beyond belief.

Oh, and I'd put my real name but I don't want Pierce to read this and think he's made a good contact.

#94 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 03:07 PM:

Mr. Pierce has responded to John Scalzi, who also comments.

#95 ::: Michael Finley ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 04:41 PM:

I had a sad experience this week at my church. A young woman had a poem accepted at one of these so-called anthologies, in which she pays $39.95 per copy, per poem -- of course she was invited to subit extramaterial, and if it was as good as THIS, well, she could expect additional acceptances.

She wanted to know if she shoudl have the poem copyrighted. I nearly blew milk across the cafeteria floor. (Most poets would find theft of theirt work fulfilling --it would imply that someone had read them.)

I am 53, and she is maybe 25. It was the proudest moment of her life, having had this ecstatic rhyming poem about Jesus accepted. I knew it was all a gross lie, and she was being plucked ... but I kept my damn mouth shut.

#96 ::: els ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2004, 06:01 PM:

Those poetry scams are the worst. The only "good" I can see in them is that they encourage new writers with a "credit." Eventually almost everyone finds out it is a scam, but maybe it helped someone to have the courage to keep on writing.
Even if their writing stinks and is unpublishable elsewhere, following a long held dream is a great thing.

#97 ::: Catja Pafort ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2004, 02:12 AM:

May I speak out in favour of finishing before submission, at least for longer works?

Since I neither outline or have the ability (yet?) to write to spec, _not_ finishing before publication would have been very bad for me. (Other potentials for disaster, not knowing whether I can can finish or the inability to keep up my writing speed I can happily refute!)

I am, undoubtedly, a better writer than I was three years ago when I began the quadrology-in-attack, and I want the whole work to reflect that. Revising it as a single entity will create a work that is more cogerent: not only do I want to take care of the vital inclueing and bits of characterisation which I need so I can write the last book as I want it to be written (rather than catering to what I'd thought I was writing about before), but there is all the tightening and downplaying characters I thought would turn up again who didn't, and the nailing down of rubber geography that only becomes important late in book three...

For me at last, something that only part of a larger work cannot be, by definition, revised and polished and ready to submit, and I'm almost certain editors feel strongly about being faced with drafts that the author _knows_ they can improve.

#98 ::: R. Greg Ftvnep ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2004, 08:40 AM:

If this guy has a Ph.D, why can't I find an abstract, or any reference to it at all, on the Interweb? Not even on a dedicated national library (LoC, British Library, National Library of Australia) search?

And Teresa, if you didn't like my novel, why didn't you just say?

#99 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2004, 09:04 AM:

Those poetry scams are the worst. The only "good" I can see in them is that they encourage new writers with a "credit." Eventually almost everyone finds out it is a scam, but maybe it helped someone to have the courage to keep on writing.

I've run into a number of writers who, on discovering that it was a scam, that their works weren't selected because of quality, were crushed.

Young, naive poets can lose hundreds of dollars on the swindle. Every step of the way there's a new money-extracting plan attached.

An investigator with the New York State Consumer Protection Board, a state agency in New York, is trying to find people in New York State, especially those living in and around New York City, who have been victimized by and related companies from Maryland. If that's you, please write or call.

Jon Sorensen
Director of Marketing & Public Relations
New York State Consumer Protection Board
5 Empire State Plaza -- Suite 2101
Albany, N.Y. 12223
(518) 473-9472 fax 474-2896
Cell (518) 527-4496

#100 ::: els ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2004, 12:32 PM:

I didn't want you to think I was promoting these scam artists, James. Not at all! But I do know people who have been burned and chalked it up as a learning experience and pressed on. And I did have Good in "". ;)

The thing that bugs me about people being "victimized" by and others, is that there is so much information out on the web and in bookstores. It's pretty easy to figure out if something is a scam or not. People should work harder to educate themselves before submitting their work. It doesn't make the predators less guilty, of course, but the artist has some responsibility in the matter as well.

#101 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2004, 02:11 PM:

about 4 or 5 years ago there was a news story here in denmark, I'm serious this was on the evening news, a bit of human interest, a young fellow in Arhus (looked like a rocker type, which is a danish gang) had some of his poetry accepted by and uhm this was a flattering portrait of the guy. The poetry was in english, they had him read some. It was not the worst poetry I've ever heard, although it was bad enough to be the kind of stuff one can scarcely consider fit for anything but curdling milk.

Really the news station was totally clueless, they were serious about how it was great that this Danish guy nobody had ever heard of was writing poetry in English and was good enough to get accepted.

#102 ::: Leslie ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2004, 04:43 PM:

The discussion of and its ilk brings back memories. When I was about 14 or 15, I sent in three poems to a similar contest. I was excited by the possibility of actually being published until they responded with an offer to print one of the poems in their compilation, which I could purchase for only $50 or some such outrageous price.

Even that young, I was cynical enough to see through them. Besides the money issue, I was made suspicious by the fact that the poem they wanted to publish was by far the worst of the three (not that the other two were stellar, but they were at least honest efforts. The "winning" poem was a bipolar monstrosity, first stanza literal nonsense, second stanza self-righteous indignant tripe; I had sent it in only at a well-meaning friend's urging). It was, however, the only one that rhymed, which may have been why they chose it.

Since I would have been frankly embarrassed to have that poem in print, even apart from buying the compilation, I didn't bother to return the permission form. Of course, the odds of anyone ever actually reading it would have been miniscule, but the mere possibility was mortifying enough to overcome the ego gratification of having a publishing credit to my name.

#103 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2004, 06:22 PM:

My mom stopped me from being milked by one of those poetry anthology thingies. I can only offer the excuse that I was in 5th? grade at the wasn't until the next year that I really started reading books on writing, the front essays in Writer's Market, etc.

Smart mom. Of course, if the demon-child ever grows up and wants to write, boy, is she going to hear the lectures on writing scams...

#104 ::: Tim Lieder ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2004, 01:47 PM:

I'm just happy that my mom made me watch that show about the Moonies on HBO when I was younger. A little cynicism goes a long way to avoiding the con artists.

#105 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2004, 02:53 PM:

Poetry scammer also run conventions, or conferences, or whatever starts with "con."

Once I was in Reno (I think it was) for a real conference, and noticed that the same hotel was hosting a big Poetry thing.

I picked up free registration materials. I stopped in on a plenary event in the main ballroom. I listened. It was not bad, for a solo presentation. But the audience members were paying thousands of dollars, assuming that the advice would make them professionals. Several attendees told me so. And they were happy, so far....

BTW, there are probably fewer than 10 people in the USA who actually support themselves in style from poetry royalties, not counting grant recipients, staff at magazines, greeting card writers, and writers-in-residence.

I spoke with the Con Chair. To paraphrase, I said "I'm an internationally known poet, co-author of award-nominated published poems with Ray Bradbury and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman... yada yada ... can you slot me in for a presentation at the last minute? I wouldn't ask more than that my room be comped and maybe $1,000 honorarium."

His reply, carefully couched, translates as: "kid, I got a good scam going. I ain't gonna cut you in. But go run one of these yerself... there's an infinite number of victims out there..."

#106 ::: colleen @ del rey ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2004, 05:06 PM:

Holy cow. I have been away from this website for far too long to have missed such gems as this post. What the bloody hell is this guy thinking? Does he not think that editors can Google? Does he not think editors can read? Heck, does he not think editors have a brain in their head? LIE??? MAKE THINGS UP???!!!

Obviously I need to go searching online more often for ridiculously bad - so bad it's entertaining - writing advice.

Thanks for the break in my day, Teresa! (still laughing uproariously...)

#107 ::: Michael Hiteshew ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2004, 09:57 AM:

Not being a writer, I only stumbled onto this thread via a link.

I'm reminded of a story my father told me about lying on your resume (CV). At the time, he was a software engineer for a multinational civil engineering firm, the kind that take on big, complex projects: hydroelectric dams, nuclear power plants, etc.

They were building a bridge and the project was a disaster. Everything that could go wrong did. It was one problem after another after another. For a while, everyone just assumed it was 'one of those projects': too many unforeseens, bad cost estimating, equipment scheduling conflicts, whatever.

Finally, a senior manager with the firm, a guy who had come up the hard way, decided to get personally involved to see if he could help get things back on track before the company lost it's shirt on the deal. He began looking at individual problems and what engineering/management decisions were made. "Why would someone choose to do that?", he kept asking himself, "He must have his reasons."

After a while, he was so dumfounded by what he was finding he began a little investigation on his own. Long story short: the guy running the project - a major bridge, mind you! - had completely fabricated his resume. Companies where he had worked responded to inqueries with, "Who? We have no record of anyone by that name." Projects he had 'worked' on didn't exist. As far as anyone could tell, he didn't even have a degree - in anything - much less in civil engineering.


Note to HR: Check references!

#108 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2004, 10:47 PM:

Great story, Michael H. Instructive, even.

Also goes to a point I've been arguing for a while in public debate. You hear/read people opining that part of their taxes go to supporting universities, colleges & students, and "Why should I support them when I've never gone/won't ever go to university?"

Which would be fine if they were OK with being treated by dentists, doctors & surgeons, or having their roads, railways, bridges, dams, city buildings, chemical plants, water treatment & distribution systems, power plants, etc., etc., etc. all designed, built & maintained by people with a reference library & maybe a 3-month practical course.

I, contrarily, am happy to support the people I'll be depending on for much of my health & safety.

#109 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 05:07 AM:

Michael:   I wonder whether your father encountered Ferdinand Waldo Demara (1921-1982), aka "the Great Imposter" — who did pose as a "civil engineer" (among other rôles).   There's a photo here.

Demara's fraudulent career was the basis of the 1961 movie The Great Imposter with Tony Curtis.   It also (loosely) inspired the recent TV series Pretender.

The recent film Catch Me If You Can (with Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio) is based on the "true life" (false life?) of another imposter, Frank Abagnale Jr., who is still alive, went straight, and now works as an actual security consultant.

#110 ::: Mike M. ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 12:55 PM:

Question: You mentioned that you doubt publishing credits that don't mention title and publication. I'm sometimes guilty of leaving out the titles because, well, I've got stuff published but since I doubt you'll recognize the titles, I figure why throw them out there? Does it really mean more to you for me to say that I'm the author of two one-act plays (Night of Faith and Waiting for Death) published by Playscripts Inc. as opposed to my just saying "I have had two short plays published by Playscripts Inc.?

#111 ::: Tiger Spot ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 05:26 PM:

Frank Abagnale is the single most charismatic person I have ever even heard of. He practically defines the word.

I remembering watching the DVD extras on "Catch Me If You Can", in which there were interviews with many people who had encountered Mr. Abagnale. And they were all saying things like "Yes, he did commit six felonies and a misdemeanor, but he didn't mean any harm. He was such a nice boy..." It was stunning. I wish I had that kind of an effect on people.

(Er... not that I'd commit felonies with it, mind you.)

#112 ::: Francois Luong ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2004, 10:52 AM:

No, FSU is not the most respected school.

In Creative Writing?? I don't know where you got that information, but FSU actually has a decent graduate program in Creative Writing. Poets David Kirby and Barbara Hamby both teach there and have both been feature in The Best American Poetry, edited by David Lehman.

#113 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2004, 10:58 AM:

Mike M. --

Without the titles, it's an uncheckable assertion.

With the titles, it's checkable, and thus more likely to be taken seriously, even if no one makes a particular effort to check it this time.

#114 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2004, 11:26 AM:

Tiger Spot, if you had such a gift, you might have been corrupted by it...getting breaks cut for you automatically by people who you can't help charming would be deeply detrimental to the development of moral character, I'd speculate. That Abagnale managed to wrestle free of that speaks very well for him.

In a way, this is one of the reasons athletic "free rides" are a bad idea; they're detrimental to the education, in addition to the character, of the athletically talented students, as well as being unfair to the academically talented ones.

#115 ::: The Zero Boss ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2004, 03:06 PM:

Thanks for that post - a nice debunking of some wretched advice.

This guy is almost as priceless as the "aspiring screenwriter" who sent Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio a screenplay that began with the dialogue, "So all they took were the aborted fetuses?" He capped this by including a Pagemaker printout of a fake newspaper that had him receiving major accolades and awards for his brilliant writing.

Some people should have a restraining order that keeps them 100 feet from a keyboard. It's that simple.

#116 ::: dagny ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2004, 05:32 AM:

Before you go, please click over to my personal homepage, which has links to stories published by The Literary Review and WebDelSol. And yes, you'll notice that the layout of that page looks a lot like this page. And yes, again, I stole it. So don't tell anyone. See you over there.

--Todd James Pierce

#117 ::: Babs ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2004, 04:51 PM:

Not ten minutes before stumbling upon this debunking of Mr. Pierce's advice I read his original tips on-line. They scared the crap outa me. I couldn't believe that all the things I'd read up on regarding manuscript submission were so far off base. Thank God I ran into this article when I did. I was almost ready to believe the word count advice.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

#118 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2004, 02:02 PM:

Todd Pierce's evil lives on:

Check out the posts from an "alex omalley" here.

#119 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2004, 02:13 PM:

Unbelievable, Jim. That idiot didn't even read the links you gave him, obviously. When editors tell you what they do, and you respond with "there's no evidence editors do that," you're putting yourself in the realm of flaming jackass.

For values of 'you' =/= you, of course.

#120 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2004, 02:53 PM:

Xopher: That idiot didn't even read the links you gave him, obviously....

Why would he? It hasn't changed much since June, and look how riled up he got then. Or am I being naïve in supposing that no one but a sock puppet would pretend to be one?

#121 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2004, 11:04 AM:

To quote "alex":
Padding your credits only gets the book considered quicker.

Hmm. It may be that everyone has misunderstood his goals. People naturally assumed he wanted the MS to be *accepted,* when actually he just wanted to jump the queue. Rejection on the grounds of falsified credits and ruination of one's career don't matter, as long as you get your MS read sooner.

#122 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2004, 11:35 AM:

Dan, I didn't think of that. But TJP changed his advice on falsifying creds, didn't he? This boob seems to still be advocating the old advice.

#123 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2004, 12:13 PM:

Xopher, why should we assume TJP changed his mind as well as his website?

#124 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2004, 12:20 PM:

Hmm, good point. I have a tendency to assume people are telling the truth and being sincere, which paradoxically has led to me having real trouble actually trusting people...I just assumed that there was a real Alex O'Malley who had read TJP's advice, believed it, and followed it. People are not inclined to believe that they've just shot themselves in the foot, even if they're looking down at a bleeding hole.

Probably it IS a sock puppet, though.

#125 ::: Sara ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2004, 01:17 PM:

Alex says

"Author: alex omalley (
Date: 08-18-04 17:40

It's the quality of book that sells it, not what you look like or what your mother thinks.(/snip)

If the quality of the book sells it, then why lie about your qualifications. Your qualifications should be worthless in the face of your striking manuscript.

I think the quality of the book is important but the integrity of the author is also important. An author who lies about awards may also have lifted the story, lied about technical background necessary for a book (though that might not be applicable in all cases).


#126 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2004, 11:13 PM:

The worst part about internet conversations is that, if one party realizes he's wrong, he just stops responding, and you can't accuse him of ducking out of the conversation because he knows he's wrong, because there are so many excuses for not being on the internet.

Mr. O'Malley seems to have adopted this tactic.

#127 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2004, 12:35 AM:

Well, it depends. Some people actually do make concession posts. Those are the people you want to argue with again later! (Only, of course, if you make concession posts yourself.)

I make a point of this. When someone convinces me of something I didn't formerly believe, I say so. And if I decide I've been a jerk, I apologize. But you know, I'm a pretty weird guy even on a good day.

#128 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2004, 01:34 AM:

I would agree with the person who said the onus was on O'Malley to prove that lying about one's credentials was, in fact, a useful way of getting to the top of a slushpile.

It's been pointed out to me in email by other readers who abandoned this thread earlier that the editors they knew in literary circles didn't think this fabrication of credentials was much of a crime; they pretty much ignore cover letters (as far as I could glean) anyway. Which is to say, the practice is common enough that the idea of credentials seems to be devalued almost entirely.

In SF/F, this is clearly not the case, so if a person was writing for editors in this field, it would be a very bad thing to do -- as it is, it's a completely useless thing to do wrt TJP's chosen niche, because it doesn't appear to gain you much, because no one is paying attention if they don't already recognize the publication.

Purely pragmatically, saying that business is business is fine, but while O'Malley points out that there's no hard evidence (by which, I assume, he means real world examples of consequences, and there are a couple that tickle the back of my mind that were big, but had more to do with quotes offered by published authors that were entirely fabricated) that lying will hurt you , he hasn't proved that it's useful.

#129 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2004, 09:08 PM:

As Fiction Editor for MidAmerican Review a few years back, I made it a practice to tuck any cover letter behind the mss before I was even tempted to glance at it. No publication credits (actual or false) made any difference anyway. I agree with Michelle. Editors aren't looking for great writers. We're looking for great writing. And you would be amazed at some of the names I recognized after I'd already started tucking the rejection slip into the return envelope.

Great thread!

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