The old saying goes one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. That’s applicable to a wide variety of creative endeavors, and writing is no exception. What I mean is that when you send out submissions, whether or not you get published is due to a number of factors. The two biggest are write a good story and make sure that story is appropriate for the market. Another important one, I think, is editorial preference. Even if you nail the first two elements (good story and good for the market), the person reading your story has to, you know, like it, and that is a pretty subjective thing. Let me see if I can illustrate the point with some of my own submissions.
The chart below includes eight stories and five markets – two pro markets, two semi-pro markets, and one token market. I send a lot of stories to these five publishers and they all generally publish the same type of material, namely speculative fiction that includes, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. I also end up sending the same story to these markets after one or more of them rejects it. Take a look.
|Pro 1||Pro 2||Semi-Pro 1||Semi-Pro 2||Token 1|
I’m not using the names of the stories or the names of the markets because I don’t want to give the impression that any of these publishers are wrong for rejecting my stories or right for accepting them. This is just a sampling of my submissions to illustrate my point that editorial preference (which is neither right nor wrong) plays a role in getting published.
If editorial preference plays a significant role, how do you improve your chances of acceptance? Well, that’s where submission targeting comes in. For starters, you should read sample stories from the magazine, which’ll give you a good idea of the content the editors like. That said, I find once I start getting responses from editors in the form of rejections or acceptances, I can really drill down on their preferences (especially if they’re kind enough to give me some feedback).
Sometimes you hit the mark right off the bat. For example, pro market 1 and semi-pro market 2 accepted the first stories I sent them, and that helped me narrow down what to send them next. The result? I’ve been accepted by both markets a number of times. On the other side of that coin are pro market 2 and semi-pro market 1. I had seven and ten stories rejected by those markets respectively before I broke through. The stories they accepted had a very specific style and that told me A LOT about what I should be sending these publishers.
The take away here, for me at least, is there’s no exact formula, no foolproof plan to getting a story accepted. You have to commit to perfecting your style and craft, be diligent with your research, and, yes, accept a fair amount of trial and error. In addition, don’t give up on a market just because they’ve rejected you a bunch. It might be that you simply haven’t sent them the right story yet.
Thoughts on editorial preference? Tell me about them in the comments.
There’s also that variable of right place at the right time. They may have loved your vampire dentist story, but just published something similar last month.
I agree one-hundred percent . . . and now I want to write a vampire dentist story.
I thought you might 😉
Such helpful perspective. Thank you.
I agree with everything here, and I think the sentiment is REALLY good for people sending stories off to understand. I’ve gotten feedback form one place that was along the lines of “we don’t like x” while then the next publication wrote back saying that aspect of the story was what they enjoyed the most.
Everything has a place, and it’s always good to keep that in perspective! Wonderful post.
Thanks, and that is a really good point. For example, I published a story called “Night Games” a few years ago that has a strong baseball central element. It was rejected by a couple of publishers BECAUSE of the baseball element–just not to their taste. The two markets that did publish it–one original and one reprint–obviously enjoyed that aspect of the story (or at least didn’t have an issue with it).