Marketing: 9 approaches and 2 warnings

First of all, no one has to submit their writing in order to call themselves a writer. A writer is someone who writes, although in our culture if you tell someone you’re a writer, their first response may be “Have you been published?”

But the fact is submitting your writing is an option. An add-on. A choice.

9 Approaches

If you do decide to submit your writing, there are several approaches you can take, including these:

  1. Top-down: Start with the most prestigious, well-known and highest-paying markets, such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Sun, Creative Nonfiction, Rationale: If you’re going to spend all that time and energy making a submission, you might as well aim for the top.
  2. Bottom-up: Start with small-readership, relatively unknown, low- and non-paying publications, such as your local newspaper, chamber-of-commerce magazine or community college journal. Rationale: Earn your chops, garner some clips and work your way up.
  3. Mix it up. Simultaneously work the Top-down and Bottom-up approaches. Every other submission goes to the top; the rest go to the bottom. Rationale: If one approach doesn’t work, maybe the other will.
  4. Overproduce and undersell. I first heard about this approach from a celebrity chef being interviewed on TV. Until then, I didn’t know it existed but when I heard the chef explain how he focused on making the best possible food and spent minimal time on marketing, I realized that’s what I do. When it comes to my writing, I focus on producing the highest-quality product I can and then send it out. I also call this the Gentle Approach. Rationale: If it’s good, it will sell. Sometimes the soft sell works.
  5. The numbers game. Make as many submissions as possible. Focus on quantity. Send anything anywhere. Rationale: The more submissions you make, the greater the likelihood of having something accepted.
  6. Thin thread. Sometimes, when researching markets you’ll come across a publication or contest that exhibits only a thin connection with your writing, whether it has to do with tone, topic or genre. Make the submission anyway. Rationale: Even with exhaustive market research, there’s always a certain amount of randomness and unpredictability to the submission process. In fact, when it comes to getting published, “there is no system,” a published author once told me. Maybe randomness will work in your favor.
  7. Entertainment purposes only. Do it for fun. Make submissions to see how many rejections you can collect. Boast about every rejection to your family. Paper your office with rejection slips. Compete with your writer friends to see who can earn ten rejections first. Rationale: In the grand scheme of things, whether or not your writing gets published doesn’t matter. What matters is you’re having fun.
  8. The grand experiment. Think of the submission process as a scientific experiment for which you don’t know the outcome. Tell yourself the only reason you’re making submissions is to find out what happens. Be curious and open-minded. Have no ulterior motives. Keep accurate records. Rationale: Learn something.
  9. The soft-boiled egg. Save your vulnerable side (the soft-boiled egg) for when you’re writing. Don your suit of armor (the egg shell) before making submissions. Rationale: To write you have to be open; to market you have to be tough.

2 Warnings

 In the interest of full disclosure: Bad things can happen to those who submit. For instance:

1. The dreaded mailing list

When you make a submission to a publication, whether or not your submission is accepted, you may be put on that publication’s mailing list.

That means that not only was your essay or short story rejected but you may receive weekly, even daily, reminders of it in the form of emailed requests to purchase the rejecting publication’s online class, take part in its pay-to-enter contest or buy its anthology. Talk about salt in the literary wound. And to make things even less pleasant, those ads often are sent in the middle of the night, the better to greet you from your crammed inbox when you start work for the day.

That rejecting market may event enlist “partners” who also send you ads. When will the horror stop? When you opt out of the mailings, of course, but sometimes that’s complicated and, well, you get my point.

2. Never hearing back

And then there’s the rejection itself.

Just what is a rejection? You could say it’s a non-acceptance, an absence of a good thing. When your poem is rejected with a “sorry but not a good fit” email, no one comes to your door and beats you up about it. No one yells at you over the phone or mocks you online, although years ago I was severely chastised via email by a contest judge who made an inaccurate assumption about me and my writing. But for the most part, a rejection comes in the form of a belated email, if you receive one at all.

In the olden days, like five years ago, publications actually notified everyone who made submissions, but nowadays it’s more common for the journal or contest organizer to say something like “if you haven’t heard from us in three months, it means we won’t be able to use your submission.”

Wow. Kind of like asking someone to marry you only to have them respond with “If you haven’t heard from me in a week, it’s a no.” Talk about tone deaf. Talk about rude.

In my opinion, a publication, contest organizer or literary agent—anyone inviting submissions from writers—shouldn’t do so unless they can guarantee a prompt response. But, hey, I’ve been criticized for caring too much about writers.

Meanwhile, take a deep breath, remember the chance of getting published may be low and find other ways to maintain your confidence.

Marketing your writing: It’s all about the stars

It's All About the Stars 1-8-16

“It’s all about the stars,” I told one of my students, in an attempt to simplify the marketing process. By “stars” I meant the stars each student in her class earned by making a submission.

The class had decided to hold a friendly marketing competition. The students had three goals: To motivate themselves to send their writing out, to learn about the submission process and to have some fun.

The rules of the game were simple: For each submission they made, they would earn one star, which was then drawn on a dry-erase board. At the end of the 10-week class, the student who earned the most stars would be declared the winner and taken out to dinner.

Notice that each star was won not by having a poem or article accepted for publication, although that would be great, but by making a submission.

Why?

Because making a submission is something a writer has control over.

As writers, we may not have control over how talented we are, although we can always work on our craft. We may not get to decide what kinds of books are selling or which magazines have gone under. But we do have control over whether we submit our short stories, poems and essays.

Making submissions is like selling shoes. Say you own a brick-and-mortar shoe store. You’re not going to sell any high heels, slippers or athletic shoes if you keep your inventory hidden in the back storeroom. You need to display the kid’s shoes and hiking boots on the store shelves and in the front window, so your customers can see them, touch them and possibly try them on.

Even if you do display your shoes, you’re not going to sell every pair. Some of your customers are going to walk out without buying anything. But you still need to set your merchandise out.

For writers, displaying their work means sending it out. Not that submitting writing is easy. In fact, over the years, several of my students have told me they find the whole submission process overwhelming. And in some ways they’re right.

To submit just one story, a writer has to:

  • Come up with a story idea
  • Draft, revise and finalize that story
  • Research markets
  • Decide what market to submit to
  • Submit the story

Just the number of markets can be overwhelming. Factor in the fact that each publication has its own set of writer’s guidelines and you see how complex the system can be.

Which is why it’s important to focus on the stars. Earn one star and then another star and then another star. Until you have a constellation.

Poem and photos to appear in Cirque

Good news! My poem, “The Open Road,” and three photos of birch trees (how I love Alaskan birch trees) have been accepted for publication by Cirque.

Photo: Here is the preview of our next issue.  Thank you, Mark Muro, for the cover shot.  Advance purchases can be made only via PayPal to cirquejournal@gmail.com $25 will cover the issue plus postage.  Contributors can order 5 copies for $60 including postage.  You can also order via US mail.  Inquire via the same email for details.  Advance orders may be delivered before Christmas; this editor will try.  Don't order yet from the Cirque web page as it's set up for prior issues, still.

Cirque editors Mike Burwell and Sandra Kleven have been great supporters of my writing. I feel honored to have my writing and photos appear in this stunning publication, which features work by writers living in the North Pacific Rim — Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia, and Chukotka.

Self-Publishing Perspectives

Self-Publishing Perspectives: A Successful Author, Agent, and Publisher Discuss the Revolution in Progress

by Kevin Larimer, Published in Poets & Writers

Special Section [1]

November/December 2013 [2]

11.01.13

Page 1 [3] | Page 2 [4] | Page 3 [5] | Page 4 [6] | Page 5

What’s the biggest misconception about self-publishing?

Ciotta: The stigma. Slowly, the industry is breaking away from the stigma that if a book is self-published, it’s not worthy of a publishing house, or it’s not worthy to read at all. Now that many self-published authors are businesspeople, too, their books are well written and professional and they can certainly uphold or go above and beyond readers’ standards. That being said, both traditionally published and self-published books can be amazing, good, or just plain bad. So it’s an author’s job to do his best to be in the “amazing” category and blow readers away.

What’s the future of self-publishing look like? Where are we headed with this?

Ciotta: Since self-publishing is making a ton of money, it’s only going to get hotter and hotter. We’ll see more self-published titles than ever. I believe self-published authors will bust through some major industry barriers. Perhaps the New York Times will start reviewing a self-published book once in a while, in the future. Or we’ll start seeing a few more self-published authors being interviewed on NPR or on Jon Stewart.

But most of all, self-pubbing in the future will give the power back to the readers. What the readers demand, the readers will get. And that’s the beauty of self-publishing.

Nelson: Back in 2007, my fellow agents assumed that print-on-demand was only for those who couldn’t find an agent or a “real” publisher. I never thought that. And you know why? Because over the course of my career, I haven’t been able to sell any number of projects for a variety of reasons. But I thought those novels were always worthy and ready for publication, otherwise I wouldn’t have offered representation! Now if a client wants to pursue a regular publishing deal, we go for it. But if it doesn’t happen, we aren’t necessarily despondent. We have a host of other options available to help this author find his or her audience. Traditional publishing is simply one avenue. That’s why I launched NLA Digital in 2011. It’s a platform that not only supports the reissuing of client backlist titles but also supports clients launching new frontlist titles. And, according to Bowker stats from the 2013 Digital Book World Conference, on average the hybrid author—an author who is both traditionally and self-published—will make anywhere from 10 to 20 percent more in income than authors who are just in one camp or the other. My job is to not only guide an author’s career but to also help my client make more money. Through my agent filter, hybrid looks like the future to me.

When a traditional publisher gets 100 percent behind a title and the launch is a major event, the results are unparalleled. Hands down. It’s magic, and a completely unknown author becomes a household name in less than a year. The problem is that this treatment only happens for a handful of titles in any given year. Self-publishing is the empowerment of the midlist author who would have been dropped by a publisher for sales underperformance. Now that author can find the right price point for the audience, have ultimate control, and make a decent living.

And for me, here is the last word—for now: I have yet to see a self-published title become a worldwide, juggernaut best-seller without the backing of a major publisher. Now this isn’t to say it will never happen, but as the publishing world stands right now it would be hard to achieve. Until the first one…

Nash: The future of self-publishing is the same as the future of publishing. The two are inseparable; they aren’t, in fact, even two. They are these terms of convenience becoming increasingly inconvenient, at least in terms of describing reality. Walt Whitman, Sander Hicks, Hugh Howey, E. L. James, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Guy Kawasaki have nothing in common, except that they’re all, technically, self-published. But the reasons, the tools, the goals are all radically different. You could create an equally absurd cross section of so-called traditional publishing. Some self-publishers have agents, some don’t; some are in print, some aren’t; some do “distribution” deals (as opposed to “publishing” deals), some don’t. I know, in order to have this conversation, we have to agree for the moment to talk about self-publishing as if it existed in contradistinction to selfless-publishing, but I do hope we abandon the term quickly, so we can proceed on to helping individual writers realize their goals, matching their skills with peers and intermediaries without regard for how closely they mimic what was once called traditional publishing. We’re all publishers now. That’s both a desire and a prediction.

Kevin Larimer is the editor in chief of Poets & Writers, Inc.

What books sell best: Self-help, kid lit and erotica

The Christian Science Monitor – CSMonitor.com

What books sell best? Self-help, kid lit, and erotica

As USA Today celebrates the 20th anniversary of its bestseller list, the organization says romance novels, children’s books, and inspirational books defined the last two decades of reading.

      A commuter uses an e-reader on a subway train in Cambridge, Mass.

    (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

By Husna Haq
posted November 1, 2013 at 1:30 pm EDT

Self-help, kid lit, and erotica: That, in a nutshell, sums up the last 20 years of bestselling books, according to a new analysis by USA Today.

The news organization is commemorating its 20-year anniversary of the USA Today bestseller list – which began in 1993 – by considering the major trends that have changed the publishing world in the last two decades.

The bottom line: the last two decades have been a period of dynamic change.

Broadly, three major eras have defined the retail book biz over the last 20 years: brick-and-mortar bookstores (1993-1998), online booksellers such as Amazon (1999-2008), and the rise of e-books (2009-present).

The rise of the latter two eras have had a significant impact on the publishing world, resulting in the shuttering of bookstores and entire bookstore chains, and ultimately changing the way we read.

The types of books Americans are reading has also undergone a significant shift in the last 20 years, according to USA Today’s analysis of its bestselling books. Broken down by era, popular genres have included:

• Self-help, inspiration, and advice books, which were popular between 1993-1998. Nine of the 25 most popular books from that era were self-help, according to the news organization. Among the bestsellers were John Gray’s “Men are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” Richard Carlson’s “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” and Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen’s “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

• Kid lit, which defined the publishing world from 1999-2008, and continues to exert significant influence in the book world today. Eleven of the 25 most popular books since 2009 are series aimed at kids or teens, according to the paper’s analysis. Among the children and teen books that have redefined the book biz are J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” series, and Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series.

• Erotica and romance, which have moved into the mainstream as e-books have enabled readers to consume the books in public more privately. Consider this: between 1994 and 2008, romance accounted for 5 percent to 9 percent of bestsellers. In 2012, it accounted for a whopping 25 percent of bestsellers tracked by USA Today. That’s thanks in large part to the book that has revolutionized romance and launched erotica into the mainstream: EL James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

More takeaways from USA Today: Rowling has helped redefine reading when the hit “Harry Potter” series “triggered Dickens-like excitement about reading and demolished the conventional wisdom about children’s books.”

What’s more, since 2009 fiction has risen to all-time highs as readers look for an escape, perhaps from a grimmer world of recession, overseas conflicts, and government ineptitude.

Formerly pooh-poohed, translations have also become hot business in books. Doubters have only to remember the success of Swedish reporter Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and other books in the Milennium trilogy.

Two other factors that have had a major impact on books sales in the last 20 years, one growing, one waning: Hollywood and Oprah. As USA Today wrote, “Nothing sells a book like a movie adaption.” That goes for the likes of Rowling, Collins, Dan Brown, John Grisham, and Nicholas Sparks, all of whom have enjoyed a boost in sales when their novels were adapted for the big screen.

As for Oprah, her influence reigned supreme during her book club’s heyday between 1996 and 2001, when each of her 72 book club picks, including Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom,” made multiple bestseller lists.

(Surprisingly, however, the “Oprah Effect” was limited to just a few weeks of big sales, the paper reports. “Not one of Oprah’s picks was the top seller for the year,” USA Today writes. “None appear in the top 25 books of each era.”)

Whether readers are getting self-help from a brick-and-mortar store, “Harry Potter” from Amazon, or “Fifty Shades” on an e-reader, one thing hasn’t changed: bestsellers have always been a cultural touchstone.

“A mega bestseller works itself into the social fabric of our lives,” Paul Bogaards, publicity director of Knopf and Doubleday, told USA Today. “It becomes part of the American culture. Everyone knows Harry Potter even if they’ve never read any of the books.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

What Editors Want

By Lynne Barrett

The Editor’s Job

A magazine editor is a person who enjoys bringing new writing to the world in a publication that will be seen, read, appreciated, and talked about.

This is the first fact anyone submitting to a magazine should understand. There may be two editors, or five, or a rotating group of a dozen student-editors on a board, but for purposes of this essay, let’s consider one who, if not totally in charge, has a large say in what goes on. This editor is committed to the magazine, to it reaching a readership, to its identity and survival.        

The editor wants nothing more than to read something so fresh and powerful and polished there is no question it must be in the journal.

Instead the editor, having read 17 things this morning, keeps going, thinking: A run-on sentence in the first line! Oh no, another story with the character waking up hung-over and getting a phone call.  Why must they flash back before anything interesting happens? That isn’t really funny. We don’t publish travel articles. Does no one read the guidelines? This one gets good in the middle, but then the character just sits down and thinks about stuff. Wonderful minor character but the main one is self-pitying. Almost. Good scene. Pretty good. Not quite. Please can’t somebody just dazzle me so I can pick something and stop this?

The editor reads till unable to process any more, goes to get some more coffee, and starts again, resolving not to give in to the temptation to say no as fast as possible in order to shrink the pile on the table, or the long list of files on the computer. The editor knows that because of the accumulation of negative thoughts, it is possible to miss something wonderful and make a mistake.

The editor, despite this, notices some good pieces, puts them aside to reread, sees in the light of second reading what holds up, and then passes the work along and meets with the other editor, or four, or eleven, and listens to their views, argues, surrenders, prevails, until there is enough for an issue that matches their vision of the magazine’s identity. The editor then moves on to overseeing the production of the issue  (online, downloadable pdf, broadside, stapled, perfect bound, whatever it may be, this is hard, detailed work), while at the same time commencing to read for the next, trying to get together the money needed to keep this thing going, and getting the word out about the issue that just came out.  Unless the magazine is a big commercial enterprise, the editor is continuously reading, selecting, working on production and lay-out, trying to get money or workers or both, and trying to get the magazine seen.

The editor is tired and busy.

Much of the editor’s work is invisible. What gets published may, possibly, go on to win awards or be anthologized, which helps to cast some reflected glory back on the magazine, but recognitions for an editor are few. One pleasure is sending out the acceptances, and knowing somebody is made happy. At the same time, the editor sends out flotillas of form rejections. This is a job to delegate, if possible, it’s so depressing. Those who think the editor is rejecting with some pleasure in hurting are entirely wrong. The editor, with an eye to the long run and a pang for those who come close, may send a few rejections that contain a word or two of encouragement, or even a longer letter. (See below for how to handle each of these possibilities.)

Yes, the editor is a gate-keeper, controlling entrée to something you want, but that is really of more importance to you than to the editor.  The editor’s eye is on the magazine.

 

Your Job

You, of course, are a writer. Let’s say you are just starting to send out. You are thinking, Am I any good? Will this make people I love believe I’m worthwhile? Is that third paragraph unnecessary as R said in workshop, but I still like it, and if I keep it, and my story gets published then that will show R, but what if R is right after all? Is this my first step to fame and glory? Am I a genius? Am I in fact too good for this magazine I’m sending to or not good enough?  Am I an idiot? Will my parents stop suggesting other jobs I could do given my education? Will strangers want to sleep with me because of my prose? Etc. etc.

None of this is of interest to the editor. Remember the editor’s deepest wish: Send something perfect for us, please.

So your job is to help the editor by sending work that is developed, complete, thoroughly revised, and—of great importance—appropriate for the magazine.

To do that last part of your job well, you have to read the magazines.

Yes, you do.

Not long ago, within a few days, three aspiring writers stopped me (in the office, in the parking lot, and at an airport gate) to ask: “Where should I send my story which is over 20,000 words long?” “Where should I send my work where it will be accepted as fast as possible? The agent I approached about my novel says I have to have a track record.” “What magazine likes grown-up fables that are a little weird?”

They were asking for a shortcut. It’s natural to want one, when you feel small in a big unknown world, and impatient, wanting results immediately.  But I said, to each: “You can’t expect to be a professional if you don’t do your own homework.”

When I was starting out, I told my questioners, I spent at least one day each month in a library, reading literary magazines and taking notes on index cards. Yes, those were ancient times. It’s easier now, but you still need to read magazines and I still advocate having a set time to do this research, keeping it apart from your writing.  And then you’ll be ready to send your work out.

Three out of three went on to say, “But does anybody ever read these magazines?”  (Implying that because they haven’t, no one does.)

Yes, I said, people do. Writers do. Writers who want to learn what kind of writing gets published where, what it takes to break in. Writers who want to learn their craft. You’ll see things that you don’t like and things that stun you and teach you. In addition, other editors, agents, and even some people who just like to read, read magazines. When I edited Gulf Stream, a couple of smart agents and more than one editor wrote to ask for the contact information for contributors whose work they liked.

I told my questioners, if they didn’t believe me, to look at Dan Chaon’s interview in The Review Review, and read the reviews there, to look at New Pages.com, AWP Chronicle, Poets & Writers, and Facebook (where journals have community pages which will send you helpful reminders of when they are reading), and start to make a list of magazines to investigate. Then, I repeated, choose some to read. If they are on-line and free, it’s easy. If they’re print journals, you may see a sample on the website, but you should go ahead and order the magazines whose samples intrigue you.

A good tip: go in together with four other people and each subscribe to a couple of journals, and then share them. So cheap! Then you can discuss the work that was chosen, which can be a great amplification of your usual workshopping. What do these pieces have (or not have) compared to the work you and your friends are writing? How unified, inventive, and polished does a story have to be to be published? Which editors like what?

Odds are you have read the work of your classmates, and the work of masters. Now you want to see the work of the people who are just maybe a step or three ahead of you. Read the contributors’ notes, which can lead you to find where those whose work you like are publishing and so follow trails through the literary world. Identify magazines you love, ones where the work excites you and speaks to what you want to do. Start to create a list, making pecking orders of ones you are interested in, based on their visibility, circulation, reputation, pay, attractiveness, or whatever factors matter to you.

Then you are ready to begin sending your work out.

 

Submission

Keep good records of what you send where, when.

Make sure your submission is done in the format asked for on the magazine’s website, and pay attention to the reading period. If a cover letter is part of the set-up, use the right name for the editor you are approaching, spelled correctly. You can include one sincere sentence about the magazine to show that you have really read it. “I especially enjoyed So-and-so’s story or poem in your Spring issue, because of: say something specific here.” You have no idea how ridiculously rare this is. (Note, if you do not like any work in a magazine, you should not be sending there. You and the editor are not going to be on a wavelength.)

Other than demonstrating that you have done your homework, essentially a cover letter or uploaded statement conveys information about what genre your submission is in and who you are. If you have credentials include them, but be simple and succinct.  Many magazines are interested in discovering people, so there is no shame in saying, “If you select this story, it would be my first publication.” I think it is better not to list things that almost happened. It’s fine to cite winning a contest, but 12th place just says 11 were ahead of you.

Don’t assume the letter is a sales pitch. Upon arrival, your information may be read by someone opening the mail or logging files. That somebody may flag a previous contributor, a person whose submission has been solicited, or someone who has been asked to send again. But you cannot expect the editor will definitely see the letter, nor will a letter make the editor read the story differently than other work in the pile. What you send should not be full of explanations, plot summaries, testimonials (“my friends love it”) and pleas (“Even if you must reject, please send me comments.”). Put your creativity, humor, and sensibility into the work you submit. You are writing a business letter to a busy person. I think the best closing for a query letter is a simple, “Thank you for your time and consideration.”

Send out and get back to work writing and reading.

 

How To Receive A Rejection

A standard rejection slip will have a wording that was worked out, sometimes long ago, to let people down and move on. It is in no way personal. Do not brood over it. Note the rejection in your records. If you have established a pecking order of magazines, you sent the submission to one high on your list. Now simply move on to the next one. (If you simultaneously submit, it should be in groups of magazines you think are equivalent. You are going to have to live with the first acceptance you get.) You want to have many tiers on your list. To go straight from The Paris Review to your school literary magazine is to miss the area you most need to explore.

If, while the work was away, you thought about it and saw things you really want to do to improve it, do so. Then send it to the next place you want to try. Never send it back to the rejecting editor. (Let alone sending it back unrevised. Despite apocryphal tales, editors do remember what they have seen before.) You shouldn’t have sent to them before it was ready.  Lesson learned.  Move on. Luckily there are loads of journals.

Do not take the rejection slip, underline words or phrases on it, and send it back with a scrawled note saying: “‘Doesn’t suit your needs at this time?’ YOUR needs? Well, who cares about you and your pretentious magazine that I never liked anyway, etc., etc.”  When people do this, editors post the missives in the office, to be mocked as coming from an immature writer who completely misunderstands how impersonal this is. You may set fire to rejection slips, show them proudly to your friends, use them as coasters for consolatory margaritas, but do not write anything in response.

 

How To Respond To A Minimally Encouraging Rejection

If you get a standard rejection with something addition written on it—“Sorry” or (better) “Try us again”—you should rejoice. And try there again. You were in the top 5% or 2% or 1% of the work rejected. Ideally, you have other work on hand to submit, but if not, do not feel you must act instantly. Let’s say you have a year. When you do send to this journal, start your cover letter with, “Thank you for your encouraging note about my story ‘G.’ As you suggested, I am trying you again with the enclosed story, ‘H.’” Then go on as usual.  Don’t describe G to remind them! Don’t talk about what you have since done to G! This cover letter, which reminds them they liked you before, may let “H” get flagged as one to look at a bit more carefully.

 

How To Respond To A Longer, More Personal Rejection

If you get anything longer—a signed note, a letter—again, rejoice. You have come very close. Yet this does not mean the editor wants to see a revision. The editor wants to help you understand why you are close, or promising, but not there. Unless the editor specifically says, “Please do this and send me the revision,” the response called for is to send something else, ideally after having considered the something else in the light of the qualities the editor has described as good and what was lacking in the old one. Your cover letter should begin by thanking the editor for taking the time to write a personal letter. You may say it was helpful. But don’t go into the issues it raised.

Unfortunately, and paradoxically, the more an editor writes in a letter, the more likely there is to be some phrase that burns the writer’s sensitive soul. It’s still a rejection and may contain detailed criticism. You need to be strong, stay calm, and understand that the editor has taken trouble for you. You are not to rebut the letter, nor to go off hurt. You need to try this editor again. (I confess, I once got a note that said a story of mine “had its moments,” but that the topic was one the editor saw too often. I was very young and never tried him again. I now know this was foolish and self-defeating. The topic was common, the magazine a top one, and an editor’s bluntness is valuable.)

One of my friends once showed me a file of over 20 items—rejection slips, rejection slips with words on them, short notes, and long notes— that he’d received from one editor before he got a poem accepted by him.  The collection showed how steadily and patiently he conducted himself in this process. He learned about the editor’s views along the way, and the editor may have learned to read his poetry better (certainly more slowly and attentively), too.

And what about the item that got the editor’s note?  Be encouraged (it was good enough to get an editor’s time and thought) and send it elsewhere. Of course if the editor’s comments make sense to you, you may revise before you send on. But, revised or not, send it to the next place on your list, something close to the rejecting one, perhaps. My story that had its moments was published by the next journal I sent it to. My friend’s poems were published. What happens is that a piece of work finds its level, and then, with new work, you keep trying to move up.

There is also some transformation that happens when a piece is published: it is read differently. I heard once from an editor who had rejected a story of mine, with a long note, and then, since editors read magazines, saw it in the journal that took it soon after. He liked what I’d done with it, he said. I hadn’t changed more than a few words. I’d just found a better magazine for that particular story, and their typesetting, the work around it, the glow of approval, made it look different to him.

 

Acceptance: Dos and Don’ts:

When you get an acceptance, you should be in a position to say, immediately, “Thank you, I’m delighted,” and then you should notify any other journal that has the work under consideration.  (It is not possible to hold up the accepting editor while you see if maybe The New Yorker will take it. This is why you should only simultaneously submit to magazines you think of as equivalent. First responder wins.)

If you have simultaneously submitted and already been accepted elsewhere and not notified the journal, you have not only wasted their time, but you may have caused someone else’s work to be bumped while they chose you. No, you cannot now write and say, “Oops, how about if I send you this other thing instead.” You have to apologize, say you screwed up, and if I were you I’d wait a little while before I sent there again, because they are likely to be sore. So this situation is to be avoided. Keep records, inform editors promptly.

When your work is accepted, say, “Thank you, I’m delighted,” and send the editor anything requested: contact info., signed permission form or whatever is required. (Make and keep copies for your files.)

Do not immediately send the editors a revision!  The piece accepted is what they wanted. You could say, perhaps, “I have since done another draft, in case you’d like to see it.”  But they may look and prefer the original. On the other hand, the accepting editor may ask for some changes (generally simple ones—editors get so many submissions that they can pick ones that work and not deal with ones that need extensive editing, though there are sometime exceptions). You should not get defensive about your sacred work.  Try to listen to what you are being told and give it full consideration. Of course if it represents something you cannot live with, you’ll have to say so, but I find that this is really extremely rare.

If you get galleys, do them promptly and only correct errors. You cannot now rewrite.  (Which again goes to show that you should really have done your revising before you send out.)

Make sure the editor has your up-to-date information if you move or change email address.

 

How To Greet The Issue Your Work Is In

Read the magazine (not just your own piece!) and send the editor a thank you note that remarks on the issue, whether the look, the cover, or some other work in it. Email is fine, but a real letter is more memorable.

Do not, as one person did, upon receiving her copies of an issue I edited, write a note saying, “Why wasn’t mine the first story in the magazine? Mine was better than Q’s.”  This revealed the seething ego of the writer and her failure to understand the many factors that go into ordering a magazine, including wanting a piece that is catchy or short or that sets a tone or theme up front. Layout is full of many decisions invisible to the author.

Ask, if you haven’t been told, whether it will be possible to order some copies (if it’s a print publication) with author discount, and if so, order them. What, pay for copies? Yes, and give them away: just a couple of copies will help the magazine and help you. Send them to you former teachers or friends who have read your work, thanking them. Whether the journal is print or digital, use whatever platform you may have to announce the publication and link to the magazine. At this point, your interest and the editor’s overlap: you both want the magazine to be seen, enjoyed, and respected. Start listing the magazine in your bio, as you go on to submit and publish elsewhere.

 

Last Advice

Try editing.  Volunteer to read submissions for a magazine near you (or, with web journals, far away).  Start a little magazine or a one-time anthology with some friends. Seeing how much is sent when it is not ready and how a single work reads amid a mass of submissions will teach you a lot.  You may not enjoy it or you may get hooked. But once you have been an editor, you understand their arduous devotion.

 

 

Lynne Barrett is the author of the stories collections The Secret Names of Women, The Land of Go, and,  forthcoming in Fall 2011, Magpies.  Recent work appears in Delta Blues, One Year to a Writing Life, Miami Noir, Saw Palm, The Written Wardrobe, The Southern Women’s Review, and many other anthologies and magazines. She is founding editor of  Gulf Stream Magazine, co-edited the anthology Birth: A Literary Companion, and is currently editor of The Florida Book Review.