Submission Protocol: The Escape Clause

I recently received a further consideration from a publisher that included what can best be termed an escape clause, and it prompted me to ask the following question. When should you, if ever, pass on a publication that is obviously interested in your story?

First, the letter:

I love this story! I have short-listed it. And it’s a short list.

Would you mind if I held on to this story until the close of submissions, February 1st? We just opened and we’ll receive a lot more submissions.

Please advise.

Thanks! 

This is a great further consideration letter, and I’m thrilled the editor digs the story. He’s also given me the option of pulling my story if I don’t want to wait until February. That’s a very considerate and professional thing to do, and I appreciate it. I really want to see this story in this particular anthology, so I don’t mind waiting, and I communicated that to the editor. Hopefully, my story survives the winter.

Though I decided to be patient and wait for this editor to make a decision, it left me wondering: Under what circumstances might I have pulled a story when given that option by a publisher? Obviously, if I submitted a story to a publisher, it’s because I want to see my story published with them, and I usually don’t have an issue with waiting, especially if the editor is very communicative and upfront like this one. I really tried to come up with a reason I would pull a story in a situation like this, but I kept coming back to the fact that a foot in the door with one publisher is almost always better than a cold submission to another. That said, here are a two plausible(ish) reasons you might pull a story when it’s under consideration

  1. More appropriate market. Say, for example, you wrote a story about giant radioactive katydids terrorizing a small town, and you submitted “Colossal Katydid Killers” to a semi-pro horror anthology. You get a further consideration letter from the publisher like the one above but at the same time, another anthology, Six Legged Apocalypse, a collection of stories about giant radioactive bugs, begins taking submissions, and it pays a mind-boggling 10 cents per word. Your katydid story is a perfect fit for that anthology, so, yeah, you might consider pulling your story from the first publisher and submitting to the perfect-fit publisher.
  2. Really, really long wait. The editor above asked me to wait roughly two months for a decision, which is completely reasonable. Most publishers take around 60 days to render a decision anyway. But what if the publisher wants you to wait six months or nine? That’s a long time for a story to sit idle waiting for a decision. That’s not to say I haven’t waited that long or longer, but I’ve never been given the option to pull a story under consideration from one of those publishers. I’d probably wait, with a bit of grumbling, but I could see why some writers might decide to try their luck elsewhere.

Personally, if I get a further consideration letter like the one above, I’m going to wait. Though an enthusiastic response like this one isn’t a sure thing, I like my chances. Couple that with a perfectly reasonable wait time, and I can’t see a real reason to pull the story.

I’d love to hear from my fellow writers about this one. Would you pull a story in this situation or one like it? If you would or have done so in the past, tell me about it in the comments.

Rejections and the Revision Decision

How many rejections do I let a story accumulate before I revise it? That’s a question I get asked a lot these days (maybe because I plaster my rejections all over the internet). It’s a good question, and my answer usually is something like, “Well, what kind of rejections are we talking about?”

It’s really the type of rejection that informs my decision to revise rather than the quantity of rejections. To show you what I’m talking about, let’s look at some of my recent rejections, and I’ll tell you how they factored into my decision to revise or not revise.

Rejection 1: Standard Form

We have read your submission and will have to pass, as it unfortunately does not meet our needs at this time.

I’ve received rejections like this a lot—most writers have—and, honestly, they barely even register on my revision meter. I mean, this rejection doesn’t tell me anything other than this publisher is not going to publish the story. Because there’s so little information, I would likely never revise a story on a rejection like this or even a few rejection like this. Now, if I get this rejection like ten times in a row, then I might reconsider. Thankfully, that has yet to happen on any story I’ve submitted.

Rejection 2: Higher-Tier Form

We have read your submission and unfortunately your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. While we regretfully cannot provide detailed feedback due to the volume of submissions, we thank you for your interest in our magazine and hope you continue to consider us in the future.

Yeah, it’s still a standard form rejection, but it does give me some information I can use. This letter doesn’t give me any specific feedback, but it’s from a very tough market, and a higher-tier rejection usually means they saw something they liked. If I get this rejection early in the submission grind, like the first three attempts, I usually take that as a sign to keep submitting the story as is. If this editor liked it a little (and these decisions often come down to matters of taste), the next editor might like it a lot.

Rejection 3: Further Consideration + Rejection

1) “XXX” has been accepted into our final round of consideration. We will be letting you know before the end of April whether or not it is accepted.

2) Thanks so much for letting us consider your story “XXX.” While it made it to the final round of consideration, I’m afraid that we chose not to accept it. We had a lot of submissions and there were difficult decisions to be made. Best of luck placing it elsewhere.

It’s always a good sign if your story makes it to the final round of consideration, or, with some of the top-end markets, past the first round of readers. A further consideration letter is always a positive in my book, and even if it results in a rejection, there was something in the story the editors liked. In this example, they didn’t offer any specific feedback, so it only strengthened my decision to send the story out again as is. That turned out to be a good decision, as the story was accepted by the next market I sent it to.

Rejection 4: Further Consideration + Rejection + Feedback

1) Your short story “XXX” has made it through to the next stage of submission. This involves your story going to our editors at the end of the month for a final decision and can take a little while so we appreciate your patience.

Following is feedback from our readers.

– Nicely crafted urban fantasy story.

– Edgy piece, nicely written. I had to look up Baba Yaga to get the full meaning of the ending of the story, however.

2) Thank you for your patience while our editors reviewed your submission.

Unfortunately, XXX has not been accepted for publication in XXX.

We hope you continue to submit to XXX in future and I wish you all the best with your publishing endeavors.

This further consideration letter was somewhat unique in that it included feedback from the market’s readers. They had some nice things to say about the story, but one of them had a solid bit of critical feedback that I definitely took note of. In this particular story, I banked on the reader being familiar with Baba Yaga, a powerful witch or ogress from Slavic folklore. I wouldn’t go so far as to call her obscure, but Baba Yaga is certainly not as well-known as other mythological figures. The problem, as the reader pointed out, is that the impact of my story’s ending suffers if you don’t know who she is. That’s a legit issue, and it has certainly given me reason to consider a revision.

It’s also important to note that this story has received a number of rejections like examples one, two, and three, so it’s been out there a lot and had a fair number of near misses. I didn’t revise it because it was getting close, but this little nugget of information might be one of the reasons it hasn’t been accepted yet.


So, there’s a little insight into how rejections play into my revision process. It’s not a perfect system by any means, and there’s no doubt I’m drawing the wrong conclusions from my rejections from time to time. That said, when I do revise based on a letter like the last example, I feel like I’m on firmer ground with a clear direction and clear problem to fix. In my opinion, that’s the best position to revise from.

How do rejections factor into your revision decision? Tell me about it in the comments.

Real-Time Rejection II: The 3rd Rejection of “Story X1”

Another notch in the ol’ rejection belt, and the third rejection for “Story X1.” If you need to get caught up on the saga of “Story X1,” go here.

Let’s take a look at that rejection:

Thank you for the opportunity to read “Story X1.” Unfortunately, your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now.

In the past, we’ve provided detailed feedback on our rejections, but I’m afraid that due to time considerations, we’re no longer able to offer that service. I appreciate your interest in XXX and hope that you’ll keep us in mind in the future.

This is a standard form rejection from another top-tier market. I’ve received this rejection a bunch of times, which is not exactly surprising considering how many submission his particular market receives. Like all the top markets out there, this one is extraordinarily difficult to crack, but you have to keep trying. Perseverance has paid off for me before, and I’ll keep submitting here and to the other top publishers in the horror genre until I get an acceptance or they literally tell me to stop sending them stuff. 😉

Normally, I would have sent “Story X1” out again already, but a lot of the markets I normally submit to are closed to submissions for the moment. So “Story X1″may sit for a bit until one of those markets opens up, which should be some time in early December.

Got any rejection you’d like to share? Tell me about them in the comments.

Real-Time Rejection II: The 1st & 2nd Rejection of “Story X1”

Well, that didn’t take long, and we’ve even got a two-for in rejection land, but it’s not all bad news for “Story X1.” (If you’re just tuning in to the “Story X1” extravaganza, see the first post in this series.)

The first market I chose for “Story X1” is a top-tier, pro horror market, one I would dearly love to crack, and one that is super, lightning fast with responses. I received the following rejection six hours and nine minutes after the submission (which, oddly, is a longer than usual for them).

We have read your submission and unfortunately your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. While we regretfully cannot provide detailed feedback due to the volume of submissions, we thank you for your interest in our magazine and hope you continue to consider us in the future.

This looks like a form letter, and that’s because it is, but it’s also appears to be a higher-tier form letter (a subject I discuss at length in this post). This is my seventh rejection from this particular market, and this is the first time they’ve included that second sentence. Yeah, I know it’s not a personal rejection or glowing praise, but it could be progress with a very tough market, and, better yet, it might tell me a little more about the type of story they’re looking for.

That first rejection came in last night, and I waited to post it until this morning. I sent the story to another top-tier market last night as well, and I’ve already received a rejection. Here it is:

Many thanks for sending “Story X1”, but I’m sorry to say that it isn’t right for XXX. I wish you luck placing it elsewhere, and hope that you’ll send me something new soon.

What’s interesting about this letter is that it looks like a higher-tier form letter because of the “send us something else soon,” which, in my experience, is the type of phrase that differentiates a standard form rejection from a higher-tier form rejection. That said, this is my sixth rejection from this market, and I’ve received the same letter each time. That could mean one of two things. One, I’ve received their higher-tier form rejection each time, or, two, they don’t have a higher-tier form rejection, and this is just the wording they chose for the standard rejection. My rejectomancer senses tell me it’s likely option two, but I could be wrong (I often am).

Of course, the saga continues, and I have chosen another top-tier market for “Story X1” and fired my poor, unwitting creation off into the void once more.

See you soon. 🙂

Real-Time Rejection II: The Saga of “Story X1”

Some of you may remember a series of posts I did called Real-Time Rejection: The Journey of “Story X.” If not, here’s the basic gist. I finished a story and then began sending it out immediately. I then posted the responses (rejections) as they came in, in “real-time.” I submitted “Story X” ten times for publication, with the caveat that if it didn’t get published by the tenth submission, I’d retire it and post it on the blog. Well, I submitted it ten times, and it was rejected ten times. I was as good as my word, and you can read “Story X,” which is actually called “The Scars You Keep,” right here. If you’d like to see all the rejection and whatnot, here’s a link to the category archive with all the “Story X” content.

Well, guess what? I’ve got another shiny new story, which I’m calling “Story X1,” and I’d like to document the journey of that piece with the same set of rules. Ten chances at publications, all responses shared with you fine folks, and retirement (and posting) if and when I receive ten rejections.

Like “Story X,” I won’t reveal the real name of “Story X1” until it’s been published or rejected ten times. “Story X1” differs from “Story X” in that it’s a true horror story not dark urban fantasy. That’ll limit my options for publication a bit, but will give me a better shot at markets that publish exclusively horror.

I’m going to start the submission process by sending it to the top-tier pro markets with quick turnaround times. Once those publications have rejected me, I’ll start targeting other publications with longer wait times or those that are in the semi-pro tier. So follow along once again as I offer up a big, steaming plate of schadenfreude for your enjoyment and edification (it’ll be like watching me eat my vegetables and getting all the nutritional benefits yourself).

The first submission(s) for “Story X1” will go out today or tomorrow, and then the fun will begin.

Submission Protocol: The Waiting Game

If you’re a writer who regularly submits short stories and who also uses submission tracking sites like Duotrope, then the following scenario will likely be very familiar to you.

You send your submission to a publisher, noting on Duotrope their average response times for rejections and acceptances, then sit back and wait. Your submission crosses the rejection threshold, and you dare to hope, “Could they be considering my story?” Then your story crosses the acceptance threshold, and you start getting really excited. “They’ve held my story so long they MUST be STRONGLY considering it for publication!” You wait a few more weeks, more hopeful every day an acceptance letter is forthcoming, and then . . .  BOOM! Form rejection.

So what happened? Well, there are a bunch of possibilities, but just because a publisher holds your story for longer than their usual response time for rejections or acceptances doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more likely to be published. I’m not saying it’s not being considered, but I’ve learned not to put too much stock in how long a publisher holds on to my story. I’ll explain why in a sec, but first a quick advisory note.

What follows is rejectomancy at its finest. It is the attempt of one writer to make sense of the grand chaos of the submission process by stringing together bits of disparate information that likely have no relation to one another. It is absolutely, one-hundred-percent anecdotal evidence and should be read with the clear understanding the author may be and probably is completely full of shit. 

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here’s how I approach the waiting game. Like everyone else, when my story is held longer than usual, I get hopeful, but then I remember two things.

1) Submittable. If you send a lot of submission to magazines, e-zines, and the like, then I’ll bet huge sums of money you have a Submittable account. If you’re unfamiliar with this service, Submittable is a submission management platform that many publishers use both for submission intake and submission tracking. The author side of things lets you see what the publisher has done or is doing with your story via a number of different status labels. After you send a story, it’ll be marked RECEIVED, which according to Submittable means: “Your submission has been successfully sent to the organization and is in queue or being printed and read outside the Submittable system.” It may also be marked IN-PROGRESS, which means: “Your submission has been received and additionally handled in some way (e.g. assigned, commented on, etc.).” The other two status tags are DECLINED and ACCEPTED, and those are self-explanatory.

Okay, so here’s the thing, in my experience, the RECEIVED tag only lives up to the first half of Submittable’s explanation. Basically, the publisher has received it, and it’s in a queue to be read. It’s not until that status becomes IN-PROGRESS that someone is actually reading/considering your story. This is all anecdotal, of course, but many times a story of mine has languished in RECEIVED purgatory, and once it became IN-PROGRESS I received a response in a few days to a week. Not once, not twice, dozens of times I’ve seen this happen. So, if you submit a story to a publisher via Submittable, I wouldn’t get too excited until you see the IN-PROGRESS tag. Are there exceptions to this “rule”? Absolutely, and there are very probably publishers who are reading stories while they’re in RECEIVED status.

2) Further consideration letters. Okay, I feel like I’m on slightly firmer ground with this one. In my experience, bigger publishers have first readers or editors who sort through the slush pile and decide which stories are good enough to pass up to the decision-makers. If your story is chosen by one of those first readers, you won’t have to guess if you’re story is being considered because the publication will tell you via a further consideration letter, like this one.

Thank you for submitting “XXX” toXXX. One of our first readers has read your story and believes it deserves a closer look. We would like to hold it for further consideration. Good luck!

With these publishers, how long the story has been held probably doesn’t matter. Your story is likely not being considered unless you get one of these letters. Now, of course, after the further consideration letter, it’s anyone’s guess. With the letter above, I received a form rejection 28 days later (funny thing, the submission was a zombie story), which put my total wait time at 49 days. That’s about half their estimated wait time for an acceptance.

I can think of three pro publishers in the horror market that send first-reader further consideration letters, and I’d be willing to bet many others follow suit. Again, like with most things on this blog, this is anecdotal evidence from my own experience, and there are definitely going to be publishers who work differently.

***

So, why would a publisher hold on to your story past their usual rejection or acceptance thresholds and not be considering it? The simple answer is they have a ton of submission to get through. As I’ve said many times, the big, pro-paying markets receive hundreds of submissions a month, and it’s no surprise they get backlogged from time to time. Smaller publishers have the same problem; they might get fewer submissions, but they usually have less people to read them. Sometimes publishers just lose a submission. That’s happened to me a couple of times. Lastly, publishers go out of business. I’ve experience that scenario twice while one of my submissions was in the publisher’s queue.

At the end of the day, if your submission has been held for longer than seems typical, it’s probably best to send a status query to the publisher. Check the guidelines first, though. Some publishers only want status queries after a certain amount of time has passed (usually 60 days). In my experience, a status update query almost always speeds up the process, and I usually receive a response shortly after sending one.

How do you handle the waiting game? Any tips or tricks to share?