Some Notes on Writing and Submitting

Trench Warfare

The editor preparing to “read” your MS which their “intern” is happily handing to them in neat little folds. I’d say “note the Ed’s facial expression” but likely you have and can’t look away, no matter how much you want to.

I was musing with a friend on the nature of writing and submitting at the end of the pond in which I swim and I came up with the following observations:

  1. It’s not “accepted” until it’s actually published,
  2. You learn to appreciate a quick read
  3. Do not respond to rejections
  4. Yes, your submission was rejected unread, and
  5. “Paying markets” might be overrated

It’s Not “Accepted” Until it’s Published.

I have 30+ pieces in print/pending including 20 of what I’ll call “short stories” (I have 14 “poems” – I’m really a prosodist – I tell little stories line-by-line and “poetry” publishers publish them – but we’ll set those aside for a minute.) Within those 20 shorts there are 4 that I’ve had accepted or shortlisted for magazines or anthology projects that died. Of those 4 only two editorial teams have responded to queries or contacted me to say that “We’re dead, best of luck placing it elsewhere.” The others have said nothing, although I note the project developers continue to tweet every day and maintain their social media presence. I have placed those 4 pieces, but had to place them twice, to see them in print once.

Every writer has a story like this and it’s part of the business – it happens.

I have a chapbook proposal out that I’d lump in this same category as almost a done deal and then …. Death of the publisher – But it was not actually accepted/contract offered so it doesn’t count.

You learn to appreciate a quick read:

Quickest Acceptance: Within 1 day.

Quickest Rejection: Within 1 day.

Longest Acceptance: 5 months and change,

Longest Rejection: 2 years/2 weeks.

Note – on this rejection I had queried at about the 6 month point and rec’d no response. I had accordingly marked my spreadsheet “No Response”. When I got the rejection (I had already placed the story elsewhere) I considered responding snarkily but fuck it, running a non-paying lit mag is most likely it’s own special circle of hell, and at least the guy stepped up and sent something out. I doubt it was ever read, just one of those things lost in the shuffle. It happens.

The Gentleman’s (and Lady’s) Response to Rejection:

The # of rejections I have responded to?

0 as in Zero, Nada, Zip, never.

I never respond. Hey, it’s one (or two) more readers than I would have had anyway – I appreciate the time and effort the Ed’s put into their project which is a labor of love and consumes their own writing time, family time, beer money, and offers very little reward in return. At worst it comes in two years and really, I have lost nothing thereby. No sense being snippy.

People will forget your writing soon enough, but they’ll always remember if you were an asshole. Be humble.

It’s a fool’s errand to speculate over rejection. At best it comes speedily and allows me to re-market quickly. I do appreciate the kindly-worded personal rejections but I don’t respond to those either. I note the rejection on a spreadsheet and move on.

Most Rejected: I had one story have 17 rejections before placing

Least Rejected: I have 3 stories and 5 poems that were accepted 1st time out – never rejected.

Remember: Rejection is not the worst thing that will ever happen to you. I’d say having a piece accepted then never running/having to re-market is worse than rejection. Also: Being eaten by a syphilitic bear. Perspective people, perspective.

Submissions Rejected Unread.

Ah, the unpleasant secret of the lit mag business – a lot of masterpieces are rejected not because they are shitty, or “not a good fit”, or for any actual reason that evolved from reading them but because the issues are jam-packed for the foreseeable future and they don’t need any more masterpieces. So they reject unread. It’s very difficult to get a hard number on this but I’m going to guess between 10 – 20% of mine are rejected unread. What I base that on are the subs entered via Submittable that are rejected without ever going from “received” into “In-Progress”.

Most Rejected? I had one story have 17 rejections before placing

Least Rejected? I have 3 stories and 5 poems that were accepted 1st time out – never rejected.

A Quick Note on Paying Markets:

Paying markets are not what you might like to think. If you show me a paying market by which you can earn a living due to their pay scale on a single piece (or on multiple pieces accepted during the course of the year) my ears will perk up. However, I doubt you can show me such a market. Glimmer Train, (as an example – many of my readers will be familiar with this publication), notes that they pay a sum total of around $50,000 each and every year to writers. Writers as in the plural of writer. That is the total payout to all of the writers they publish. $3,000 is the most they pay individually– a nice sum indeed, but that’s to the winner of their twice-yearly Fiction Opens – and they note that all prize funds are supported by the reading fees they charge.

You will not make a living submitting on a piecemeal basis to any one market. I think you are better off to submit to markets you like (you might have an affinity for one another) and markets you don’t like (obviously they need you to help build them up) and build up your resume’ by getting stuff out. Others might disagree with me, and sure, some markets take great pains to note that “we accept only the best, and our writers have often gone on to … blah blah blah.” “We accept only the best because we accept only the best is a tautology. Whoever said “We actively pursue the mediocre?” These things are in the realm of the subjective.

Absolutely you should be paid, but practically you need to get stuff published. My advice on submitting would to be to do it diligently, do it broadly, and to not second guess yourself and self-reject (i.e. I have no chance so I won’t submit) before sending. Learn the market’s basic guidelines/hit the submit button. This is the work part of being a working writer.

Exclusive Subs? Only if their response time is demonstrably fast. “Paying Market” is not a reason for exclusivity. No one pays enough money to justify exclusivity for more than 30 days.  Exclusivity seems to be a thing in Sci-Fi/Fantasy markets but rarely in general lit or poetry.

At any rate, that’s my mid-2016 update in the machinery of the literature industry. If your experience is any different – or if it’s the same and you just want to commiserate – feel free to comment below.

That’ll be a 10-4 little buddies, we’re on the road and rolling,



6 thoughts on “Some Notes on Writing and Submitting

  1. Okay, I’ll bite:
    1.“Accepted” is the preliminary step to being “published”. Two different things.
    2. You learn to appreciate a quick read. But why? What’s the hurry?
    3. If I get an encouraging rejection, I’ll thank them for taking the time to respond. Why not?
    4. Yes, your submission was rejected unread. Well, kind of. Put it this way, they read it as long as they need to.
    5.“Paying markets” might be overrated. You think so? Nobody can make a living writing short stories, it’s true. Myself, I don’t submit to paying markets for the $50 or whatever. I do it because they’re more competitive than non-paying ones. And many of them will impress agents or editors when shopping around a book manuscript. Which is to me is ultimately what this is about.

    My observations. Just saying.

    • Hi Lori!

      1: Agreed – I think that’s what I meant to say.
      2: How long should you wait? What can be gained by waiting?
      3: Sure. I personally don’t, but others have come forward to say they believe it to be part of relationship” building – I can’t see anything wrong with responding to positive rejections – I just don’t.
      4: Rejected Unread means rejected unread. This post informed my opinion ( along with a conversation I had in December at a freelancers/work-from-homer’s thing In Calgary in December 2015. Some publications reject unread. (Here’s another one: By the way, I don’t feel bad about this, it’s just the way it is.
      5: I understand your argument. My own opinion of the pay is informed in large part by my non-literary career(s): Because the pay rate is insignificant, it’s not a real competition. I understand that some people may not agree with that for the reasons you outlined. I do feel however, that with the boom in internet-based platforms for the distribution of literature, that it’s more difficult for publications to build and maintain any kind of “gatekeeper” status. You find good stories here, there, and everywhere. $25 (or even $250, or even more) will not necessarily funnel the best of the best into a publication and that kind of payment should not be the whole of anyone’s submission criteria. That’s just my observation – and sure, it’s arguable. But think about it – if you were giving a never-published aspiring writer advice as to where to submit – where would you send them? I do think that in my blog post I should have expanded on what i think is a good submission strategy but it would have been much longer. Next post maybe – after the one in which I decipher/translate Orwell’s facial expressions.

  2. Huh, well #4 was news to me. Re: 5 — the competition is for a credit in The Fiddlehead or The Atlantic or whatever.

    I would tell never-published writers to submit to a wide variety of markets, personally. Try the hard ones.

  3. Ya, I am short fiction only, but some other similarities to your experience. Right or wrong, I reply with a friendly when I get a TRULY personal, ya-juuust-missed reply. It’s like an “at’em” in baseball – it’s still an out, but it felt good.

    When I Google “slush pile” and look at the images, I suddenly have appreciation for the readers and my microscopic size in their universe.

    Cheers – m

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