Hold, Please: Further Considering the Short-List Letter

I’ve discussed the hold or further consideration letter a few times on the blog, but since I’ve received a bunch of them this year, I thought it was time to revisit. We’ll look at a couple of examples, what they may tell us, and then try and determine how common they are. I’ll be focusing on pro genre markets in this article because, in my experience, they send more hold/further consideration letters.

Some definitions first. You will often see the terms further consideration, hold, and short list used to describe essentially the same thing: a story that has made it through one or more rounds of review. The term short list can have slightly different connotations in large contests, but for our purposes it means the same as hold or further consideration.

Okay, let’s dive in with an example.

Thank you for submitting [story] to [publisher]. 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!

Many publishers use first readers to weed through the slush pile for stories that might be a good fit for the market. The above is an example I received earlier in the year. If I understand the process correctly, a first reader flags the story as one with potential, and it goes to the editors for review. The story then likely goes through additional rounds of review before it is chosen for publication (or rejected). This particular hold letter did end up as a rejection, which looked like this.

Thank you for submitting [story] to [publisher]. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the story does not meet our needs at this time. We’re going to pass.

I wish you the best of luck finding a home for [story] and I hope to read something new from you soon.

This is a form rejection, but a good one. This publisher does not generally include the “I hope to read something new from you soon” line in their rejections (I should know). So, if you get a letter like this, take the publisher at their word. They would like to see something else from you. Now, how close to publication did I get here? No idea. The final rounds of review are rarely revealed to the author. That said, I suspect I would have received a personal rejection if I’d gotten real close, but that’s entirely conjecture.

Now let’s look at a hold letter with a more successful ending.

The editorial team has read your story, [story]. They have decided to put this story on the “short-list” to be considered for publication. We want to respect your time as an author, so we will make a final decision as soon as possible.

You’ll notice this further-consideration letter states it is the editorial team and not a first reader who decided to short-list the story. This was a smaller market, though it still offered a pro rate, and maybe did not use a team of first readers to whittle down the slush pile (though editorial team could encompass first readers). You’ll notice they used the term short-list here instead of further consideration, and as I stated earlier, they are essentially the same thing. You could infer this one holds a tad more weight since it is a short list complied by the editors, but that’s probably a bit of a stretch. Anyway, as promised, this further consideration letter had a happy ending.

We are pleased to inform you that we’ve decided to select [story] for publication in an upcoming issue of [publisher].

Contract details will be sent next however please be patient as we will not send these out until all stories have been selected for the issue.

In the meantime, if you have any questions please feel free to email me.

I got this one through. Always nice when that happens, because many of my hold letters end up as rejections.

What can we take away from a further consideration letter? What does it tell us about our story?

  • It was good enough to make it through at least one round of cuts. In other words, somebody liked it. Whether it was a first reader or the editors who flagged it for further consideration, the story probably has some merit. Even if the story is ultimately rejected by the short-listing publisher, I think you can safely resubmit the story elsewhere without further revision. It’s important to remember that pro markets are going to turn away stories they like A LOT simply because they don’t have the room (more on that in a bit).
  • You’ve written something that fits the style and tastes of the market, at least a little. Even if you don’t end up with an acceptance, a short-list letter says you’ve at least gotten in the ballpark of what the market publishes. Send them more stories like that.
  • You’ve hit somewhat rarified air. Getting a hold letter from a big market is an achievement all by itself, and for once, I have the numbers to back that up. (more below).

Okay, what are the chances of a) getting a further consideration letter and b) getting an acceptance once you do? Normally, I have to simply guess at these kinds of things, but one publisher, Diabolical Plots, makes their submission data public (bless them, seriously) and openly discusses it on social media. Here are the numbers they released from their last submission window.

Diabolical Plots received 1,074 submissions, held 96 for further consideration, and they’ve stated they’ll publish 10 of those held stories. So ballpark math says you have a 10% chance of having a story held, and then about a 10% chance of getting a held story accepted. Now, is that typical of most pro-paying markets? Hard to say, but its a good hard data and not a bad place to start. (Again, many thanks to the editorial team at Diabolical Plots for making this information available. It’s incredibly helpful.) Of course, your “chances” of getting a hold or an acceptance are not random. These markets aren’t pulling names out of a hat; they’re carefully weighing a story’s literary merits and how it fits the style and needs of the publication. Basically, the right story has a 100% chance of acceptance, while the wrong story has a 0% chance.

So instead of looking at these numbers as rolling the dice, it’s better to look at them from the viewpoint of the publisher. Any publisher receiving a deluge of submissions for a handful of spots is going to reject many stories they like because they don’t quite fit the magazine’s style, or there’s another story with a similar theme they like a bit better, or a dozen other perfectly valid reasons. They can’t publish all the good stories they receive. They don’t have the room or the resources. So, if you get a further-consideration letter from a publisher like this and it’s ultimately rejected, I think you’ve still likely written a sellable story. (I’ve gone on to sell the majority of stories that received further consideration letters.) Submit it somewhere else right away. Chances are there’s a publisher out there where you and the story are a 100% lock.

5 Comments on “Hold, Please: Further Considering the Short-List Letter

    • Yeah, me too.
      This window was particularly bad because they only allowed one story per author, as opposed to two (their normal).

      • Lots of us in that boat, I’d wager. 🙂

        Personally, I don’t mind one story per author if it means they’ll be open to subs more often. I’m more likely to have one good story ready to submit twice per year than two stories ready to go once per year.

  1. Pingback: Lucky(?) Number 101 – M. A. Blanchard

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