By Lisabet Sarai
This week, Michelle has asked us to talk about our pet peeves. Now, I'm a pretty easy-going person. “Live and let live” is my motto (along with “Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n Roll”). It wasn't that easy for me to come up with anything at all that consistently annoys me.
Then I began grading my students' quizzes and it hit me. What really burns me? People who don't follow instructions.
On this particular quiz, I asked an easy question: which problem were you assigned for your term project? The class had been broken up into five groups, and I was trying to evaluate whether they were in fact working on their projects. Then, just to make sure the students understood, I told them, while they were taking the quiz, “The answer to this question should be one of the following five alternatives”. Then I listed the alternatives – one or two words each.
At least half a dozen papers had answers that had nothing to do with the question. Grr! Where were those kids when I practically gave them the answer?
On my blog Beyond Romance, I host guests twice a week. I have a standard set of instructions that I send my guests when I remind them about their posts a week or so beforehand. The basics are:
Send as RTF or text, not as a Word .doc file.
Keep the length between 500 and 2000 words.
Include your links and a short bio.
Include a small cover image (200x300 or similar)
Write about some topic that will interest readers rather than just providing a blurb and excerpt.
Sometimes I wonder why I bother. About half the time people send me .doc files. I've gotten posts as short as 300 words and as long as 3000. At least once a month I get a post that's nothing but promo. I have nothing against promo, you understand, but blog readers don't seem to find that sort of post very interesting.
Like I said, I'm pretty laid back. I don't get into a huff about these people, but I will admit to feeling a twinge of annoyance. And I won't ask them back.
I've had similar problems when I've edited anthologies. I will say that the situation seems to be improving but when I edited Sacred Exchange, I might as well have not published any submission instructions at all. I asked for double-spaced, 12 point type. For that collection, we allowed paper submissions as well as electronic (this was back in 2002 or so). RTF or text only for electronic submissions. Standard list of information to be provided about the author.
You would not believe some of the submissions I received, including electronic submissions full of garbage characters, .doc files, complete lack of author contact information, stories typed on paper bags...okay, I'm exaggerating, but not much. I didn't get upset. No, I was relaxed even then. But I did toss some submissions without even reading them. Hell, I literally couldn't read them!
In addition to teaching, I also develop software. I've written a number of software user manuals. It's a difficult task, providing instructions to someone whose background and knowledge you can only imagine. I put a great deal of thought into the organization of topics, the logical connections between sections, the vocabulary I choose, even the grammatical structures I employ. Simplicity and clarity are the primary goals in this sort of writing endeavor.
It doesn't matter how much effort goes into a manual, though. I've still fielded questions from clueless users who somehow can't seem to follow the instructions that are right there, on page 37, in plain English, black and white with color diagrams...
Sigh. I know that Kathleen at least will be familiar with the acronym “RTFM”. Read the Effing Manual, people. Read my instructions, class. Read my email, authors. I don't write these things just to amuse myself, you know. I could be writing erotica, which is much more fun.