20 February 2019

Dominating the Submissions


by Robert Lopresti

This piece may not be of use to most readers.  It's a niche thing, I guess.  I am writing it for two reasons.

First, recently someone wrote an email to a list for mystery fans that went vaguely like this:

I just wrote a parody of a well-known crime novel.  It's not a REAL mystery so I don't want to send it to mystery magazines.  Where do you recommend I submit it?

I immediately thought of a few things I wanted to say.  But I felt that if I did it would sound like I was piling on, trying to discourage the newbie.  Not at all my goal.  So I decided to expand my thoughts, and write some advice today for people thinking about submitting a story for publication for the first time.

The second reason I'm writing this will become obvious in two weeks when my next blog appears.  Suspenseful, huh?  Tune in, same bat-time, same bat-channel...

Okay.  Five  thoughts for the newbies out there.

1. If all you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails.  If you go to a list of mystery fans/writers  and ask about markets, they are likely to tell you about mystery markets.  If that isn't what you want you should probably ask somewhere else.

2. Don't try to read tea leaves when the ingredients are listed right on the box.  You want to know what a magazine editor is looking for?  They show you detailed examples in every issue.  Before you submit to a magazine, read it.  If you peruse a few issues of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, for example, you will probably determine that they are not averse to parodies.

3. There are times to think outside the box,  and times not to.  Creativity and originality are wonderful things in your story.  They do not belong in your text-formatting.  If you use an unusual font, strange margins, or other gimmicks you are basically offering the editor a written invitation  to drop your story in favor of something more professional.  If the editor hasn't made specific recommendations (you did check their website, right?) then go with William Shunn's Proper Manuscript Format, which is considered an industry standard.

4.  Even if you're paranoid there is probably no one out to get you.  If you are determined to convince the editor that you are 1) an amateur, and 2) way too much trouble to bother with, you can't do much better than filling your cover letter and manuscript with copyright notices and dire warnings to anyone who might dare to steal your idea.  Trust me; they see hundreds of ideas every year; they aren't going to risk career suicide and personal disgrace by swiping yours.

5. There is a time for patience and a time for the other thing.   What do you do if you submit a story and never hear back?  Again, you have checked the publication's website, right?  It will tell you how long they expect to hold onto a story before they get back to you.  Alas, they tend to be optimists. You might want to try Duotrope a site with records which come from actual submissions.  If your story is long past its expected return date, send the editor a polite query.  By the way, some publishers say flat out that they won't bother to notify you that they have rejected your story, which I think is disgraceful, but people submit there anyway.  Keep in mind that if you haven't heard back from a market and you decide to send a story somewhere else  it is good policy to send an email  saying "I am withdrawing the story." 

And that is everything I know about submitting a story to a magazine or other market.  Read the comments for advice that will likely pour in from wiser heads than mine.  And good luck!

3 comments:

janice law said...

Good advice and I like the cat carrier- also the cat.

Michael Bracken said...

Being a new writer was both harder and easier in the days of typewriters and snail mail. Because it wasn't possible to simultaneously send a message to hundreds of people one didn't know to ask where to submit a manuscript, one had to do actual research—spend time in the library or at the newsstand, look at magazines, discover Writer's Market, and so on.

And back then one could attach a twenty-dollar bill to the last page of one's ms. If one's story was returned and the twenty was missing, one at least knew the editor had read it all the way to the end.

The key, then and now, is to get one's manuscripts circulating. Even if one sometimes targets the wrong market and has a rejection come flying back at boomerang speed, one learns the process: Submit and keep submitting until one's story is accepted or there are no more markets where one can send it.

(Apparently, having just reread the above, my word of the day is: One.)

Eve Fisher said...

I agree with all your suggestions, Rob.
Telling an editor your "requirements" is sort of like telling a judge what you'll accept for a sentence. It almost never goes well.