Friday, April 08, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Writer's Guidelines

This is only tangentially related to Revival, but since you're here you might as well read it anyway.
"But Mr. Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months."

"Oh yes, well, as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything."

"But the plans were on display..."

"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."

"That's the display department."

"With a flashlight."

"Ah, well, the lights had probably gone."

"So had the stairs."

"But look, you found the notice, didn't you?"

"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the Leopard."*
Finding the writer's guidelines for Writer's Digest at is not quite that difficult.

Last year I wrote Revival during November's NaNoWriMo event. In a recent Writer's Digest "Creativity" special edition there was an article on NaNo. Unfortunately, it was a factoid-based piece, detailing the history of the event, but lacking any sense of how fun and/or frustrating it can be. The author hadn't hit the NaNo 50,000 word mark.

It was one of those things that makes you say: "Hey, I can do better than that." After all, I did 74K words in November. Surely I can write many fewer about my experience and encourage others at the same time.

Step One: Have an idea. Done

Step Two: Check writer's guidelines to make sure you stay on the right track. Uh-uh, not so fast.

If you go to you'll see a little sidebar over on the right. First item in sidebar: Writer's Guidelines. Click it and you're taken to a page advertising, a service that compiles the guidelines from a plethora of publications and will let you access them for a fee.

Part way down the page there's a "click here for an example" link. Aaah, well they've used their own publication as a sample for the service. How synergistic of them. <Click> Nope, it's Atlantic Monthly.

Well, there's a little search field. Let's try that. Writers Digest. Nothing, huh? Wait, did I forget the apostrophe? That's the ticket. Brings up the magazine and the book publisher. Click on magazine. Hmmm ... brief snippet, says they prefer e-queries but doesn't list the e-mail address. Not as bad as discovering the stairs are out, but not exactly helpful, either.

Back to the home page and start again. Click on "Writer's Digest Magazine" on the left-hand index. Subscription form. But I am a subscriber. Dang.

Try the "Get Published" horizontal menu item. Nope. But wait, there're little links at the bottom of the page. One is "contact us" ... well, that's what I want to do, isn't it?


Ooooh, under Writer's Digest Books there's a "writer's guidelines" link. Click. Back to the Writer's Market ad. Double dang.

Job Opportunities at the bottom of the page? Bit of a stretch, but <click> Yeah, like I said, it was a bit of a stretch. Plenty of career ops east of the Rockies; that's good to know.

Well, at the bottom of the page is an "about us" link. Let's find out if the Vogons are behind this. Better yet, let's find out if the Dentrassis designed the website for the Vogons in between food-service shifts.

<Click Ahoy!>

Aha! In the middle of the page: About ... link for "writer's guidelines." No, wait; "a searchable database of 'writer's guidelines'." Not gonna fall for that again if I can help it.

About our magazines. Subscription link. Where to buy. Mailing Address. "See the Writer's Digest 'writer's guidelines'."

Wait! Could it be? Is it the locked filing cabinet in the disused lavatory at long last? There's no "Beware of the Leopard" poster, but let's give it a try.

Yes! We have Success!

If you've played the Infocom text-adventure version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, this is like getting the babel fish in your ear. It's like having tea and no tea at the same time. It's like figuring out what you're supposed to do with the lint.

If that makes no sense to you, play the Java version of the game here, or the Flash version, here.

Step Three: Write the thing. Well, after finding the writer's guidelines, how hard can that be?

Step Four: ?????

Step Five: Profit!

NB: This entry was written is a spirit of fun and great affection for Douglas Adams, Writer's Digest Magazine, the BBC, and the whackos on Slashdot who introduced me to the steps 4 & 5 bit. No offense is intended and I should be highly disappointed if any were taken by any of the aforementioned entities.

*The above passage was written by Douglas Adams, who, if he has a problem with my misappropriation of his copyright, can cease pretending to be dead for tax purposes and write me a cordial letter expressing his concern.


Blogger Valerie Comer said...

Thanks for making my day, Chris. :D It makes all The Blogger Fluff worthwhile. Oh, a question? Why are you writing horror when obviously you have a flair for humor? (Please don't tell me you're combining the two; I don't want to know that.)

8:27 AM  

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