When she’s not teaching, my daughter is the University Applications Officer for her school. That job might be distilled down to getting the candidates to think about how their applications will appear to an academic institution. One of her exercises is to get the students to play the role of the university admissions board and to assess a set of applications to see how the applicants come over to them. It’s the same when you go after a new job: the first impression is created by the application.
The publishing equivalent is the query letter; the first window into the soul of the writer. Given that such things are received by members of an editorial staff, the writer would be reasonably advised to expect pedantry. I try not to be too hard on writers – after all, we all make mistakes (as this blog will occasionally attest, I am prone to homophone errors and to grammatical mistakes caused by rearranging sentences on-the-fly), so I may well turn a blind eye to the hedge obsessives who offer us scripts about a “Privet Investigator”. On the other hand, it seems reasonable to expect authors to make an effort to check what they have written.
So, this post contains some cautionary (and anonymous) examples, from amusing to appalling. (The spelling errors in the quoted sections are as received; outside the quotes, they’re all mine.)
“It is a psycological horror play that is very visual and is set in naturist theatre…“
Naturist theatre has the advantage of a very low budget for wardrobe (although some of us would need a lot of make-up).
“Tensions run high and fractions appear within the group,”
I suggested to the writer that a number of the group might progress from fractions and become irrational; he went up considerably in my estimation when he responded by “eating some humble pi.”
“[The script] is set in the recent present.“
And the writer seems to have invented a whole new grammatical case.
A query e-mail is, to some extent, a sales pitch.
“It is believed I hold great potential in the art of writing. […] They are short ten-minute plays which i’ve put under one reading due to there similarities of a specific topic, love. It can be easily viewed by my use of lyrics and syllable pentameters that I am ahead of my time.”
This might be considered over-selling. On the other hand, it is possible to go too far in the opposite direction…
“I would like to send you a copy of the script I wrote a few years ago. You probably won’t like it…”
If you can’t think of a better way in, just tell me about the script.
Occasionally, we get some cracking excuses:
“Some of this was written on my older computer (which has a missing M key), which explains the incomprehensible words!“
(I think that the above came from a writer whose work we have published.)
Then there’s a whole series where the writer seems to have a different frame of reference from the publisher…
“narrated throught querky and must have different voices for each cast
the cast mime the lines in sink with narrator“
I rejected this script on the grounds that I don’t believe that anyone will be able to find a stage with a large enough sink.
“A radio play. Scene: A customer enters a gift shop, looks around but is soon looking rather bewildered.“
The author and I had different experiences of what was possible on radio.
“[The play] is entertaining and mainly comedy. It is for all ages and is Epically enjoyable.It starts off with four children and their dog (which I have people and a clever dog who are great actors and would love to play them). […] It is a cunning crime that delivers with a unexpected criminal that will leave people shocked and blown away”
Amongst many other things (such as why a publisher would be concerned about the availability of actors), does the dog have an agent? If not, how does the writer know that the dog would love to play the role?
“Could you plaese publish this script for everyone in the world to read and put it on the internet and maybe publish it to the book shop in Diss. Please publish it and maybe act it out and send me the video of the performance.”
There are some expectations that a publisher just can’t satisfy.