We’re currently catching up on the slush here at Twelfth Planet Press. It’s been a while since I’ve been waist deep in slush. I was talking about some of the common factors/mistakes you see when slushing with an editor friend of mine and I figured it was time to do another How To piece.

Because every now and then, someone will tell me in their cover letter that this is their very first submission and even though I’m jaded and mean when slushing, I still want a writer’s first time to be a pleasant experience. It can be daunting to submit your first piece of fiction to an editor and there are lots of pitfalls. A general rule of thumb would be to conduct yourself professionally but sometimes how to do that is not obvious. Below are a few things that are really easy to avoid.

Submission guidelines
In the first instance, read the submission guidelines and follow them. Really, the editor means every word written and has thoroughly checked and proofed it. If you need to check or query an aspect of it, do so politely using the provided address. However, the guidelines really do refer to everyone submitting, including you. The guidelines are written for a reason and that reason may not be instantly obvious but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. The project might be funded by a particular grant that might have specific requirements to be met; the editor will have a vision for the outcome of the project; wordcount might (probably) has an upper limit.

That means, if no reprints are allowed, no matter how awesome your previously published work is, your reprint is not of interest to the editor. Likewise, if the guidelines specify that submissions fall with a particular wordcount, then querying whether you can submit your too short or too long story will highlight to the editor that you can’t or won’t follow instructions.

Multiple Submissions
Multiple submissions refer to submitting more than one piece to the same submissions call. Editors have a lot of reading to do in the submission pile and they don’t have time to choose which of an author’s works is their best or which is more appropriate to the particular publication. Being able to select your best work for the call shows awareness and confidence in your own work.

Simultaneous Submissions
Submitting the same work to several markets at the same time is considered rude, unless specifically allowed. The consideration process can be lengthy and it’s understandable that authors want to be able to make a sale as quickly as possible. However, an editor is going to get irritated if the work they have spent time reading and considering turns out to be unavailable. Flaunting of guidelines in one aspect also brings doubt about your ability to respect other guidelines, like copyright and contract.

Cover letter
Cover letters are difficult to nail. One big “don’t” is don’t forget to include one. Just attaching a document to a blank email is very impersonal, particularly for the first contact of what hopefully will be an ongoing working relationship. It’s okay to say that this is your first submission and you’re not sure what to expect. It’s also okay to include your previous publications but be aware that these may work for and against you. Previous publications, no matter where, will illustrate that the author has some experience with the editing and publishing process. Don’t assume that a long list of small, obcure zines is better than mentioning 2-3 that the editor is most likely to have heard of. Brevity is best.

The reading period can be lengthy for submissions, especially for open ended projects. It’s understandable that an author might want to check that their work is at least being considered or that they haven’t been forgotten. It’s also understandable that if the holding period exceeds a timeframe of the author’s personal choosing that they might want to withdraw the work and resubmit it elsewhere.

A polite query to the editor for any of these reasons is appropriate. Though take care that your timeframe is within a reasonable response time. A query might even nudge the editor to (grumpily) consider your work on the spot to reply. Once you have received a reply to your query, if you decide to wait out the consideration process rather than withdraw, I’d suggest waiting for the editor’s response. Editors are busy, yours is not the only piece in the queue and you are not the only person waiting. Editors are inundated with emails and answering them takes time away from other work, like reading submissions. And likely, the editor is already harried and trying to address all their submissions, reminding them that they need to hurry up and address yours is likely to make them irritated when they do get to it. Which is fine, if your story is BRILLIANT.

How to respond to a rejection
The best response is no response. Editors receive a lot of email so more email is not desired. If you really want to respond, “Thank you for your time/consideration” is acceptable. “Hahaha, this was totally already accepted at X and published” is not a recommended way to go (see Simultaneous Submissions). Likewise, holding a grudge and emailing later on that your work not only was bought somewhere else but won an award is petty. And I’ll let you in on a secret, I don’t care and I don’t see that as my mistake. But I will remember your name next time I see it in the slushpile and remember how you behaved.

Why I don’t give much in a rejection letter
A friend of mine recently told me that one of the most frustrating things is constantly receiving form rejections and never really getting any guidance or feedback on how she is going. As I’ve been working through a series of rejections, I’ve been thinking about that. Some are “never going to happen” and some are “so close but it needs need work on X” but all get the same form rejection from Twelfth Planet Press.

When I started my press I was advised never to engage with the rejected author. And I’ve learned that the hard way the few times that I have offered feedback. Really, asking for feedback should be about getting advice on how to improve or learning what a particular editor is looking for. It’s not really the place to argue with how the editor is wrong or doesn’t understand the mechanics of writing. Because, the minute you start down that line of interaction, the editor is already patting themselves on the back for dodging the bullet of “difficult to deal with writer”.

And so I stick to the form rejection. (Writer’s groups are a great place to get feedback on your writing.) On the other hand, every editor has their own way of doing things – for many, the personalised rejection is something special reserved for those stories that almost made it. These should be appreciated. It’s also worth remembering that singling out a flaw in your writing to work on in the future doesn’t mean that was the only thing wrong with the story, or that the comment is an invitation to debate the quality of the story.