By M.J. Moores, Editor – Infinite Pathways Press
If you have any kind of track record for submitting short stories to journals, small presses, anthologies, or literary blogs, then you’ve probably received the impersonal “Thank you, but…” response—if you’ve received anything at all. Like me, when I started out, I’m sure you’ll want to know why.
- Why wasn’t it selected?
- Why didn’t I receive any feedback?
- Why haven’t I heard back yet?
There are several myths and negative jujus floating around about the submission process. Regardless of how heavily your heart is sitting on your sleeve or how much you’ve bared your soul to the cold corporate world of publishing, we in the industry have our very own ‘What Not To—’ line up to help you navigate your way through the forest of whys:
Don’t Take it Personally
If you haven’t heard back from a given submission agent, don’t automatically rattle off an email asking about the status of your entry. First, double check to see how long their standard response time is; if it’s just past that date, give it another week. If it’s long past, then check to see if the company contacts non-winners/writers of rejected manuscripts. A lot of publishing companies who are running contests or providing open submissions deal with hundreds of stories and only have 65,000–95,000 words they can accept (on the high end). This means that sending a personal rejection, or none at all, is not a door slam—it’s like your mom trying to do the laundry, cook dinner, help your sister with homework, and make lunch for everyone in the family all at the same time. If she doesn’t tell you she loves you, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true—she’s just a little distracted right now.
Don’t Ignore the Rules
Every publication has its own set of rules or guidelines to follow. Just because you have a template set up for PUBLISHER ‘A’ doesn’t mean that PUBLISHER ‘B’ feels the same way. If you forget to add something to your query letter or package, or if you send along your bio even though it hasn’t been asked for, don’t be surprised if you get an immediate rejection. This will often happen when using an automated submission system, but it tends to happen via email, too. Your story might be the best we’ve ever read, but if we have to slog through a bunch of stuff we haven’t asked for, we’ll move on to the next story. Think about it: if you asked for a non-fat mocha latte, half-decaf with caramel drizzle, and your barista handed you a full-caf—you’d either demand another one or you’d leave and go somewhere else. Ditto with submitting stories.
Don’t Be Vague
If a publisher is looking for a specific word count, and would like an exact word count in your query letter, in the top left corner of your page with your contact info, and in the header on the right side of every page… then do it. And don’t send a manuscript that’s 3,050 words long when they’ve asked for max. 3,000 words. To you, those extra 50 words are no big deal. To a publisher, that means three things: 1) A book that’s supposed to be 65,000 words, holding eight different stories either expands exponentially in the word count or lessens the number (and thus the variety) of stories being offered; 2) Extra editing will need to go into fine-tuning the piece to meet requirements, equalling more time and effort spent on non-money-making organizational aspects; 3) It shows that you’re either absentminded or don’t care (and either personality trait is a potential red-flag in a business where time is money).
If you happen to get one of those automated rejection notices, or even a semi-personal one—where your name and story title is in the message, but everything else reeks of recycled bio-waste—take the above advice and “don’t take it personal.” You may feel jilted, or even angry, for any number of reasons (including finding out that someone with a similar story was chosen, or believing yours to be better than others picked), but don’t put those words in an email and send it to the publisher—don’t burn that bridge. There are always extenuating circumstances that you won’t be privy to, and two seconds of justification are not worth losing a potential future connection or resource.
Don’t Give Up
This goes hand-in-hand with Don’t Retaliate. Even if ‘no one’ is taking that one short story you keep submitting, don’t stop trying—with a new story, that is. If you absolutely love the one that isn’t getting traction, then hire a professional editor who specializes in short story writing and get their honest opinion. While that’s happening though, start writing another one (and another one). Whether you’re aiming to become an Olympic figure skater, a NASCAR driver, or a revered author, the same things hold true: don’t give up; keep practicing.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is that publishers are not trying to make your life miserable; they’re actually trying to keep their lives from getting that way. They got into the business because of a love of words, stories, writing… the same reasons you did. They are giving writers like you this opportunity because they want to help—and like you, they want to be able to buy food from the grocery store and pay their bills, and that means sacrifice. Regardless of how many rejection slips you get, hold on to your dream and keep trying, keep learning your craft; you will get published.
Follow M.J at: http://mjmoores.com
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