Writers and publishers: what we owe to each other.

I’ve been submitting to magazines a lot recently, as you can see by other posts on this blog, and one thing I have started to notice is statements like this in the submissions guidelines of various publications:

“Note: will not respond in the case of rejection.”

“Due to volume of submissions, we will only be letting accepted stories know”

“If you haven’t heard from us in 6 weeks, assume we didn’t want your story”

These have always gently frustrated me, and as I have gained experience in my actual career of handling things like advertising jobs and putting out tenders, this frustration has grown somewhat.  I’ve been asking myself why, and I think I’ve come up with the answer:

When a writer submits to a publication, there is a contract.  Not a publication contract, of course.  Only the angry people self-selecting out of the publishing market assumes that sending a story to a publisher means they are bound to accept it.  However there is a social contract in terms of how writers act and publishers act towards each other.  In its simplest form the contract is this.

The writer will:

  • Read the submission guidelines
  • Follow the submission guidelines
  • Be polite in their dealings with a publisher
  • Avoid nagging or pestering
  • Take no for an answer.

The publisher will

  • Have clear submission guidelines
  • Follow their own submission guidelines
  • Act in as timely a manner as is appropriate
  • Recognise the information needs of the writer

What I mean by the last part is that writers of short stories are rarely submitting a story to one market and one market alone.  Usually when a story is rejected they will polish it up and send it to someone else who might want it.  There’s a reason why The Submissions Grinder has a “Find another market for this story” option.

In order to continue the process of finding other markets for their stories, writers have information needs.  They would like to know that their story has been received.  The very curious would like to know where they are in the reading queue.  And importantly they would like to know as soon as it practical when their story is no longer being considered for publication.  Only then can it be turned around and prepared for another market.

Recently, and with the very best of intentions, a previously closed story opened their submissions.  With a decent word rate and a solid pedigree within their publication (they are an SFWA recognised market), they were quite quickly swamped with submissions.  To the point where their submission method (emailing the editor) broke down and not all submissions were received.  This was an entirely honest accident, and as soon as the problem was known they took measures to correct the problem, but it took a while for the problem to be known about, in part because their usual protocol was that writers should not inquire about stories until six weeks had passed since submission.  Which meant that it took six weeks for writers to realise their stories hadn’t been received.  In other words, an information need for the writers wasn’t being met.

Systems like Moksha and Submittable fill this gap, albeit at a cost.  This is a modern fiction market where people read, write, and submit online, and where email is ultimately still fallible.  In this market, writers will desire, the assurance that their work been received, and in the end the assurance that their work has been considered.  In return, publishers can and should expect that writers follow their guidelines.  And ultimately everyone involved in the writing and submission process should treat each other with the respect due to fellow creative professionals.

It’s what we owe to each other.

 

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Rejection #19: Blood Marker

I just received the nicest, most thoughtful, most encouraging rejection I’ve ever had from a magazine.  Fantasy & Science Fiction liked Blood Marker, especially the setting, but had some issues with the pacing and thought I didn’t always hold their interest, so were going to pass on the story.

This is feedback I can use, feedback that will improve the story.  Obviously it would have been nicer if they’d wanted to publish, but this is so much better than just a “we’re passing on this” form.  I’m really grateful for the time and effort Charlie Finlay puts in to his submissions process.  It’s very much appreciated by writers like me.

Writer’s fatigue

I finished a novella today, the fifth one in a linked series, putting the series at just over 100,000 words.

It left me in an odd mood regarding this series because it exposed something that I think has changed in my writing style.  It used to be, for quite a long time, that I wrote a novel in November, then put it in a box and didn’t really look at it again.  Then in 2011 a writing group I joined (and still belong to) prompted me to pull out and revise an older novel.  Through slow, careful submissions I sent two complete novels through this group over the next 4 years.  They grew slightly in the telling, but fundamentally each ended up about the length I thought they would be, and each took about two years to submit, beginning to end.  They ended up as much much better books, incidentally.

And then came Mrs Gagarin  A novel that was a series of novellas rather than a single narrative.  And there came the problem.

The thing about the way I write, or a thing at least, is that I tend to change things up between draft zero that I write in November, and draft one that I submit to my writing group, to the point where it’s very rare that a word of my November novel makes it to the group, although the sense and the scene structures usually make it through.  As well as physically rewriting the group, I will also change the plot, finding something that works better or is emergent in the text as important.  In War Poets this was Frau Bruckner.  In Fateville this was Ethan.  Each influenced and lengthened the text and made the books longer but more satisfying.

The problem with doing that with a series of novellas, especially mystery novellas, is that as you add new characters and plot twists and interesting ways for the story to go, the text grows fast.  The story I finished today started life as an 8,500 word short story and ended up as a 24,000 word behemoth.  And also a much much better story.

This is great in terms of inspiring creativity and improving my writing, but it leads to slow progress.  I’ve so far completed only 5 of the 9 stories in my original November attempt to write the Mrs Gagarin series, and it’s taken me nearly 3 years.  Part of that is that the stories have grown.  Part of it, though, is that I’m just… tired of writing this series.  It took me a year to complete the latest Mrs Gagarin novella.  Now. part of that is that I was writing other stuff at the time (a LOT of other stuff as it happens) but I was writing that other stuff in part because writing Mrs Gagarin had become a chore.

I have at least two more Mrs Gagarin stories to write at some point, but for the moment I think I’m going to gently put the series down while I work out what to do with it, so that when it comes time to write these stories they’re a treat rather than something I have to do.

And in the meantime I’ll keep writing other stories.  Which is a good time to remind people that you can find a list of my latest published stuff on my website here: http://isrennie.com/index.php/latest-work

(normal accepted/rejected service will be resume when my next story with my writing group gets comments back so I can whip it into shape)

New website

Having this blog has been a lovely thing and it great at keeping me task oriented for things like the rejection letters, but it does have the unfortunate side effect that sometimes the first thing editors see if they look at my web presence is me recording not getting published, sometimes in a tone of lamentation (I’m only human).

For that reason, and to try and gather all my stuff in one spot, I’ve set up a website at http://isrennie.com/ where info about my writing can be easily found.  I’ll keep updating this, of course, I’ve still got rejections to get 🙂