Let’s Talk About Submissions
by Dennis Doty
You’ve written your story, run spell-check and Grammarly, done your self-edits. You sent it to your Beta readers and implemented their feedback. At this point you need to make a decision about a professional editor. This is a recommended and important step, but to be honest, one that I often skip over on short stories. For stories over 10,000 words, I wouldn’t consider skipping this step, but I do a very thorough self-edit and have some really outstanding Beta readers. Usually, instead I run it for a final check past my granddaughter, and who is a teacher with a degree in English who is also a writer and knows that I don’t want anything but honest and professional feedback. For most writers though, I would strongly recommend a professional at this point.
Now you are ready to submit. Your story is fully polished and ready to go. You search the markets using Writer’s Market, Duotrope or whatever source you use to find a market that fits your story. Time for all the final details.
You make sure that your story is in the proper submission format for the market you have selected. You read the Submission Guidelines closely making sure that everything is exactly as the publication wants it. If there is no editor listed to address your cover letter to, you have gone on-line and found his/her name and address. If you can’t find it on-line, you have called the publisher and asked the usually very helpful secretary who answers the phone for the proper address and editor.
You have written a short but professional cover letter. Here is an example of one I used for one of my stories.
You have sent your story, usually as an attachment to your cover letter email or through Submittable (be sure to follow the guidelines for submitting to the letter), and you are waiting expectantly for your acceptance letter and contract to arrive. What happens to your story now?
It arrives at the publisher and is probably opened by a secretary. He/She gives it a quick glance. Is it properly addressed? Is it in the proper format? Were all of the guidelines followed? If the answers are “yes”, she prints it out and puts it in the editor’s slush-pile in-basket. If the answer(s) are “no”, she copies your address info into a standard rejection email, hits send and deletes your submission. End of story. Let’s look at the submissions to Friday Flash Fiction Challenge and see how this works.
Look at the very first entry under formatting. It scored a two out of a possible five. This story would have received the standard rejection letter within days of submission depending on when the secretary opened it. It would NOT have been seen by an editor or even a reader assisting the editor. This story would have been rejected unread. Now look at the second story in Week 2. This story would have been printed by the secretary and put in the editor’s slush pile. That’s what you want to happen.
What happens to your story now? Eventually, your story will make it to the top of the pile. When that happens, either the editor or one of his assistants will actually read your story. Now look at the 5th story in Week 4. It nailed the format and went right into the slush pile, but it didn’t really fit the story requirements published in the Guidelines. Another rejection letter goes out and another story is crossed off their To-Do list. Now take a look at the second story in Week 2. This story was a perfect fit for the magazine, anthology or contest is was sent to. It was passed on to the actual editor and lands in a much smaller slush pile sometimes known as the short-list. Congratulations, your story is in the top 90% of stories submitted to that market. But you have one final test to pass.
Now the editor has to compare your story to the other stories in his/her short-list stack. Is it the best fit for that particular issue? Does the quality of writing stand out above the others? Do you have a great hook that draws him right into the story? Does the story flow? Is it cluttered with too many characters or too much exposition or dialog? Does it have a great ending which ties up all of your loose ends and leaves him/her satisfied? Does he/she want to see more of your work?
If the answer(s) are “no”, guess what? Yes, that’s right. You get a rejection letter. If the editor has time (highly unlikely) or sees something special about your writing, you may get a personalized response explaining why your story was rejected and maybe even asking you to submit it again for a future issue or to see more of your work. However, if the answers were mostly “yes”, you’ve made it. An acceptance letter and contract are on their way. Congratulations, you are in the top 1-2% of stories sent to that publication. Your story is going to be published!
If you got a rejection letter for any of the above reasons, you have work to do. You need to read over the guidelines again and compare what you sent in. Did you dot your I’s and cross your T’s? Look over your cover letter and be sure that it was properly addressed and just the right professional tone with ALL of the requested information included. Now, look at the story itself. Did it need a final edit or proofread? Read it out loud AGAIN. Is there any word that needed to be inserted or left out? Does your hook grab the reader? If you aren’t sure, send it to a trusted Beta and ask. Was your ending satisfying? Again, if you don’t know, what do you do? That’s right. Send it to a Beta. If you have done all this and still find nothing wrong, don’t get frustrated. It is likely that it simply wasn’t a perfect fit for that publication or for the issue they were working on. Go back to Writer’s Market, Duotrope or whatever source you are using and start again. Louis L’Amour collected over 200 rejections before Bantam took a chance on him, but he didn’t give up. He went on to become their best-selling author ever with over 330 million books sold. Another author was rejected twelve times before a publisher’s eight-year-old daughter asked to read the rest of the story. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone went on to sell over 450 million copies.
I hope that this overly long post will help you to understand what happens when you submit a story and encourage all of you to do so. Honestly, rejection can only make you better. Sure, it might sting for a bit, but it will never really hurt you. Send those stories out. It’s what writers do.