Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Mistake to Remember

I know better, but I made a mistake the other day in a story submission. I wanted to send a story to an anthology featuring strong women characters. The editor’s first name was “Roby.” (Let’s say the last name was “Doe.) I went to the market’s website, as I always do, and checked the submission guidelines and the section on “about.” There was no mention of Roby’s gender. Since I know a man whose first name is Roby, I addressed my email, written like a business letter, to the editor as “Mr. Doe:”

Big mistake. I didn’t hear from the editor herself, but from another woman at the market who took me to task for referring to Ms. Doe as Mr. Doe. I received a brief lecture on how I should check the website so I wouldn’t make such mistakes. She even sent me links to the website, which were the same ones I’d already investigated and which didn’t mention Ms. Doe’s gender.

Although I thought the lady’s response was rather out of proportion to my mistake, the truth is it was easy to avoid. All I would have had to do is address the letter as: “Dear Roby Doe:”

Because of a single moment of carelessness, I pissed off an editor and quite possibly lost a potential market. Don’t do what I did.
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48 comments:

Jack said...

It's seems like a harsh reaction. But, you did come up with a solution to that type of situation.

Travis Erwin said...

I have faith that you will live to fight another day. We've all done something similar.

Bernita said...

You'd think if one had an androgynous name one would be a little more forgiving.
A lot of names have switched gender. Ashley and Beverley for two.

Wil said...

I agree that it does seem a little harsh when you know your name is one that can go either way. I would have never even thought it was a woman.

Thanks, Terry Kelly Johnson

The Trailer Of Love

Sidney said...

Live and learn.

Greg Schwartz said...

Charles, thanks for the warning! Roby's a pretty unique name. I usually do what you suggested with the first & last name if it's a name like that, but if I had to guess, I'd say it was a man's name, too!

December/Stacia said...

Oh, hugs Charles. Yep it's the kind of thing we've all done at one time or another.

Although I will say...if you know you have a gender-neutral name and it bothers you that much when people get it wrong, you really should take steps to make sure people know what gender you are. When my eldest was born I had a couple of adorable onesies for her, they were blue with little pink flowers. I assume the flowers would keep people from thinking I had a boy; it certainly did not. After being told for about the fiftieth time what a handsome little boy I had, I ran out and bought a bunch of pink onesies, and kept the blue ones for home-only.

It solved the problem very easily.


Conversely, nobody ever knows how to spell "Stacey" and I stopped caring years ago. When people ask if it's "S-t-a-c-y" I just say "Yes" even though it isn't, because 99% of the time it doesn't matter at all. So if I get letters addressed to a different spelling I don't care; I'm the one who didn't go out of my way to impress the correct spelling on them, and I'm used to it anyway so it's no big deal (the only exception there is my husband, who I expect to get it right, lol.)

Point is, if it bothers you that much you need to take steps to stop it from happening. I don't think you're entirely to blame on this one, at all.

Precie said...

Ouch.

Another option I sometimes use is "Dear Editor Doe" just for variety.

Ditto what travis said...we've all dome something similar.

Paul R. McNamee said...

Hey, you did your homework. If she is so touchy about it, she should have ensured the website had the data.

With a name like that, she should expect confusion. And I'm not saying that flippantly - plenty of people mispronounce my last name and I should be used to it by now.

You're right that there is an easy solution though - addressing to person and not giving a salutation title.

Or, just write "Dear Editor(s)" and be done with it.

I wouldn't get too concerned - there are lots of markets and lots of slush in the slushpiles. If she notes your name for the WRONG reasons, well, that's really her issue.

Heff said...

If (she's) that difficult over something no more important than that, you're probably better off not dealing with her anyway.

moonrat said...

that is a rather harsh reaction to an innocent mistake. seriously, if someone calls me Mr. Rat, i usually roll my eyes and keep reading. i have to be kind of forgiving (seeing as "Moon" is one of those first names that could really go either way). Janet Reid has a post a few days ago about resisting to follow up with "neener neener" and it sounds a little bit like this was a neener neener situation.

Charles Gramlich said...

Jack, the bad thing is I knew the solution befor I made the mistake. Just carelessness.

Travis Erwin, yeah, I know. I'm mostly irritated at myself.

Bernita, I sort of thought so. But....

Wil, Roby really sounds masculine to me too.

Sidney, better than either alternative to that statement. lol.

Greg, I just rushed the letter off a bit, without giving the thing more thought. Mistakes happen, though.

Stacey, lol, uhm Stacia. I'm the same way. Charles is always spelled correctly but my last name is butchered constantly and I just don't care.

Precie, ouch is right. Fortunately I'll heal, and the story is better for the rewrite I gave it.

Paul I agree completely. I have used the "editor" approach before but tend to like to use the name if I can find it. This time that backfired.

Heff, I thought the same thing. There would have been something else I'd gotten "wrong."

Moonrat, lol on the neener neener. I thought of it, but was polite in my reply. I'm not particularly planning to work with those folks again, but who knows where they might move next and I'll run into them.

laughingwolf said...

hell, i know men called bev and jess!

honest mistake, but your solution is apt...

BernardL said...

It was an overreaction. She's probably collecting stories for her blog (Look at this! Some writer queried me with Dear Mr.). Oh the pain, oh the trauma, oh... gag. :) Think of it this way, Charles, somewhere along the line you've queried one of these Godlike people, and they've lost your query, or didn't bother to respond. This is exactly why Day-jobs are so important. :)

H.E.Eigler said...

OOOOppps!

ivan said...

Let me adopt The Walking Man's (another blogger's) style: If that is the way they think, pee on them. Simple minded!

Lana Gramlich said...

@#$% that feminazi beyotch.
:)

Sarai said...

Dang that sucks I wouldn't have thought it would be that big of a deal considering her name is unisex. I mean I could see her getting mad if her name was Sandra or Suzie but Roby is unisex. Sheesh.

L.A. Mitchell said...

If she's dealt with an ambiguous name her entire life, you'd think she'd be over it by now. However, it's quite possible this is an attempt by this other woman to find her self-importance and the editor didn't think twice about it.

I'm sorry this happened. A good lesson for the rest of us.

Steve Malley said...

These things happen. There'll be other markets...

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, yes. I just heard of one today, a guy named Zia.

Bernardl, I'm sure glad I have a day job. That's for sure.

H.E., indeed.

Ivan, Mark probably would too.

Lana, I'll just stay home with you sweetums.

Sarai, it's bound to happen with that sort of name.

L. A. Yeah, I'm curious what would have happened if the actual editor had gotten it first.

Steve Malley, yes, there will. And the story is better for the rewrite.

Travis said...

Ouch. The childish part of me says "screw 'em" if a simple gender mistake is going to get them all in a twist like that. It's an unprofessional response to an error.

But there's plenty of markets and you're a terrific writer. And I can't imagine you're the first person to make that mistake about such a gender neutral name.

My childish self wants to write a note to those people and suggest that if they are going to be so touchy, then perhaps they should post photographs to avoid future confusion.

Mimi Lenox said...

Arrrghh....seems overdone if you ask me. Sorry that happened to you. Of course, I am in awe of your accomplishments....

signed,
O-She-Who-Has-Published-Nothing

I have something for you at the castle...E Is For Excellent ~My Report Card Runneth Over

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis, you know, I've seen photographs that don't make the gender clear. Lol.

Charles Gramlich said...

Mimi, thanks very much. I'll post about this tomorrow or the next day. Thanks again.

Merisi said...

Are you sure you'd want to do business with that kind of attitude?

That lady should buy herself an ounce of sense of humor, to say the least.

Charles Gramlich said...

Merisi, I considered that difficulty and figure I'm probably more lucky than anything. They certainly would have found "something" wrong somewhere else.

Rachel said...

I did that, but in the opposite direction -- assumed that it was a female and was told it was a male later. But, you know, that editor took it in stride. Yeah, I checked out the website, etc, but nothing pointed to gender. I should have just addressed it to the complete name, but it ended up being okay in the end. I think people with names that can be either are used to that. I think it's interesting you heard from someone else, NOT the editor. The editor was too busy, I bet, to bother with it.

Rachel said...

Want to add, I also, like several people here, get my last name mispronounced at me all the time. I just correct people and move on. And people misspell my first name all the time. Correct, and move on.

I do, however, shower thanks, gold stars and compliments on whomever gets it right.

Shauna Roberts said...

I would have thought "Roby" was a guy's name too.

I know a woman whose legal first name is "Gary." So I guess one can never make assumptions, even in seemingly clearcut cases.

Sometimes I leave the salutation off altogether when I'm uncertain. Your idea of using the first name instead of a courtesy title is better.

writtenwyrdd said...

IMO, that's a ridiculous response. But I hear you on being cautious, because who knows what sort of baggage another person has around the wrong gender title being used? (Especially considering I hate being called Mrs. or Miss EVER. I want Ms.)

I hope it didn't poison that well for you, Charles. If they are worth their paychecks, it did not, however.

writtenwyrdd said...

And after reading the comments, I wanted to add: No one ever spells my first or my last name correctly. Even when I tell them how, it's still misspelled much of the time. (boggles the mind, doesn't it?) And I always am very clear what I wish to be called when I introduce myself, by a good percentage of the time, people go ahead and use the -y ended nickname, which I loathe.

Sometimes, aka a lot, people don't listen. I try and chalk it up to this: Every day somebody's stupid, and today was their day. Saves getting peeved, anyhow.

Charles Gramlich said...

Rachel, the other person was actually the "publisher." Ouch. Yeah, I hardly even notice my name being mispronounced these days.

Shauna, yeah, if you know the name then just using the whole thing works pretty well.

Writtenwyrd, my only pet peeve about nicknames is I really don't like being called Chaz, but there are people who do it, and usually folks who would do it more if I made a big deal out of it. Ultimately it's not that big a concern.

lorenzothellama said...

If people are that precious about their titles, then that's their problem, not your's.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Charles,
You, of all people, should know better! Then again, we're human and prone to make mistakes. I will say this, I'm glad to keep such good company. There's always next time (there will be a next time), the story will speak for itself.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lorenzothellama, it definitely seems like a waste of energy on their part.

JR, knowing better and doing better are often two different things, my friend.

ANNA-LYS said...

Oh NO!!!

Let's look upon it as their mistake, if they are that narrow-sighted at that editorial board it probably is not a forum for Your manuscripts anyway! If she has problem with her genus identity I guess it ends in this way - not Your mistake.

(( hug ))

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

This is always such a tough one. I can't stand it when one specifically goes to look for the editor's gender and still can't find it - and then they still take offense. At least you've come up with a solution. Hope you fare much better next time.

Danette Haworth said...

Way too much reaction! My name's not that common, and even though it ends with a diminutive, I still get mail (and have received rejection letters) addressed to Mr. Danette Haworth.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

Definitely a harsh reaction. When I was an editor, I used to get letters from people addressing me as the last editor, my Michelle, and sending me pictures of themselves with tombstones wearing turtlenecks. But I always thought it was endearing -- so hard to be a writer and send stuff out. The details never mattered to me if I found a jewel.

J. L. Krueger said...

Life was so much simpler when we all had gender-specific names and parents didn't name their boys "Sue" and girls "George."

Charles Gramlich said...

Anna lys, thanks, I bet you're right.

Absolute vanilla, yes, I knew to do that too and just let it slip my mind. Thanks for stopping by.

Danette, it's certainly not a rare mistake.

Michelle, that's how I'd be about it too. Otherwise you're worrying about stuff you can't control.

Christina said...

I have that problem too. When I was looking up agents, some of these names just sounded a little genderless. I went in search to see if I could find out if I was writing a letter to a woman or man. I've been lucky and found sites with pictures. It really helped.

Nice thing is, they get so many letters a day, she might have forgotten your name already. I seriously doubt they have a list of offenders that they keep an eye out for.

SQT said...

I just did this recently when an author I reviewed went by "Rob" instead of "Robin." I didn't think to check, so it was totally my error and someone gave me the heads up in time to fix it. But I was a little mortified that I could make the mistake so easily.

I agree with the comments that say you're better off not dealing with her. If she flies off the handle that easily she'd be a nightmare to work for.

Charles Gramlich said...

Christina, probably not, although folks who'd take that much notice might be just the types to keep a list. lol.

SQT, it happens. Fortunately, most people are forgiving.

X. Dell said...

I'm thinking that it would be a lot of fun to keep quering her as Mr. Doe under different pen names.

ChrisEldin said...

I hope you're still scrolling down to read posts, because this one makes me really mad on your behalf. Life is too short. That is not the kind of person anyone wants to work with--so anal retentive and unforgiving.

Sorry for this though. It's their loss.

Charles Gramlich said...

x-Dell, you know that thought has occurred to me. Evil fellow that I am.

ChrisEldin, exactly. I don't have time for such silly things. There are a lot more important issues to consider.