Submission Protocol: Stay in Formation

Rejectomancy points deducted for FTFFD or SSD: -5 (What’s this?)

Something you will see in just about every set of submission guidelines is a request for a specific manuscript format. In my experience, many genre publishers will ask you to submit your manuscript in standard manuscript format (SMF from here on out), sometimes proper manuscript format or Shunn manuscript format. What they’re usually asking for is the format described in this fantastic and widely read and referenced post/article by author William Shunn: Proper Manuscript Format. (Many publishers will actually link to this article in their guidelines.) If you’re going to be submitting your work, you should get well acquainted with this format. Read it now. Right now. Seriously.

Although many publishers ask for SMF, many of them also ask for slight modifications to it. In most cases, when a publisher deviates from SMF, they’ll request a specific font, ask you to actually use italics for italicized words rather than underline them, or ask you to use a single space after a period. Whatever changes they want to SMF, make sure you make them.

So why do many publishers want to see manuscripts in this format? First, SMF’s fonts, margins, line spacing, and so on do improve readability. Second, these elements come together to create an unobtrusive format that is pretty much invisible to the reader. That’s why crazy fonts are always, always a bad idea. Even if a publication doesn’t ask for SMF, a weird font is going to jump right off the page in an irritating way—that’s not exactly a good introduction to your story. Another thing SMF has going for it is familiarity. From what I’ve encountered, this is the format many editors are used to seeing, which, of course, ties back into the whole being unobtrusive thing. This is not an area where you want to stand out; let your story do that. Finally, some editors still print out manuscripts and redline the hardcopy, and SMF leaves plenty of room on the page to make notes, leave proofreader’s marks, and so on.

Now, if you’re like me, you are going to get all cozy and familiar with SMF, and then you are going to encounter a publisher who asks for something else. That can throw you for a loop. For example, you might see something in the submission guidelines that asks you to format your manuscript thusly.

  • Times New Roman or Arial, 12pt
  • Double Spaced
  • ONLY one space after a period
  • Do NOT manually add a space between paragraphs

If you’re used to sending manuscripts in SMF, and you run across this, it might leave you with some questions. How do they want italics handled? Do they want my contact info and word count on the front page? Page numbers?

My advice here is to do what they ask you and then leave whatever is unspecified in SMF. In the above case, unless the guidelines ask me not to put any identifying marks on the story (and some do), I’d go ahead and follow SMF for the header, contact info, and word count. I’d also use the SMF margins and indent.  You might leave italics underlined or you might not; that one is a bit of a toss-up. My gut tells me not to underline here, since even publishers that do use SMF often request no underlining, but that’s just my opinion. In short, I don’t think an editor is going to ding you for including elements of SMF. It’s only going to make your manuscript easier to read.

You might also run across submission guidelines that handle manuscript format a bit more loosely:

We aren’t sticklers when it comes to manuscript format, but please use some common sense regarding fonts, spacing, formatting, and the like.

In this case, since they’ve given no specific instructions on how they want the manuscript formatted, I’d go ahead and send them the manuscript in SMF. It hits all their criteria. It’s easy to read, and its fonts, spacing, formatting, and the like are the pinnacle of common sense. I don’t think the editors of this magazine would mind one bit if they received a manuscript in SMF.

To sum up, get well acquainted with SMF, and don’t deviate from the guidelines when it comes to format (actually, don’t deviate from the guidelines on anything, ever). Even if a publisher is inclined to be lenient about that kind of thing, you can’t know that going in, so toe the line and follow the rules.

Do you have a thought on manuscript formatting I haven’t covered here? Tell me about it in the comments.

Praise & Skorne at Privateer Press

Hey, Privateer Press just posted an article I wrote about writing non-human characters in a fantasy setting, specifically the militant skorne from their Iron Kingdoms IP. It’s kind of a companion piece to the novelette they released last Friday “Sacred Charge(also authored by yours truly). Check out the article or the novelette in the links above.

I promise I’ll stop all this self-promotional nonsense very soon and return you to my regularly scheduled rejections.

Sacrilege & Skorne – My Latest Privateer Press Publication

Sacred Charge Cover

What follows is a short excerpt from my e-novelette “Sacred Charge,” now available from Skull Island eXpeditions and Privateer Press. The story is set in Privateer Press’ Iron Kingdoms setting, “A place where steam power and gunpowder meet sword and sorcery.” For those unfamiliar with the Iron Kingdoms, Privateer Press has posted a wonderful, in-depth introduction to the world on their website.

Here’s the “back cover” text for “Sacred Charge.”

Among the skorne, death and glory are often the same thing.

At the command of Archdomina Makeda, the great Army of the Western Reaches pushes further into the uncharted lands in the west. The skorne who fight for the archdomina face enemies stranger than any they’ve seen, but with each foe comes a chance at glory and exaltation.

When three warriors are cut off from the main army after an ambush by a new and deadly enemy, they become the sole protectors of a most precious cargo: soul stones containing the vital essence of skorne who died bravely in combat. These survivors must overcome their differences in rank and the rigid skorne caste system, band together, and fight their way back to safety. But one among them harbors a terrible secret, one that may cost them their honor, their lives, and even their very souls.

You can download “Sacred Charge” at the following sites:

Many thanks to Skull Island eXpeditions and Privateer Press for graciously allowing me to post this excerpt on my humble little blog.

608 AR, South of Scarleforth Lake

The enemy came in a wave of pale shadows, flickering silhouettes rushing through an alien forest on a tide of steel and death.

Senior Beast Handler Zoaxa cracked her whip, its barbed tip scoring the flesh of the basilisk drake in front of her. The reptilian creature hissed and snapped at the air, but the pain had the intended effect: it turned its scaly head toward a charging line of pale elves armed with long slashing swords. The basilisk’s eyes blazed crimson, and the air in front of it shimmered. Ten yards away, the elves, the toksaa, were struck by the creature’s gaze. Zoaxa smiled behind her mask as the enemy warriors’ bodies disintegrated, their flesh sloughing off their bones in a liquid tide.

“Cetrati! Battle line!” Tyrant Verthak’s voice rose over the din of battle, powerful and commanding. His Cataphract Cetrati, heavily armored warriors wielding long spears and stout shields, formed a line of armored flesh in front of the skorne scouting force.

“Venators! Cut them down!” came another command, this time from Dakar Isket. A dozen lightly armored skorne  obeyed their commander and aimed their reivers, gas-powered rifles that hurled a shower of deadly needles, over the shoulders of the heavy infantry in front of them.

Zoaxa stood behind the Venators along with another paingiver beast handler. It was their task to manage the warbeasts, a basilisk drake and its mate, called a krea.

Tyrant Verthak was an imposing figure, a veteran Cataphract who had attained much glory fighting in the west. An ancestral guardian stood beside the tyrant, its obsidian body festooned with sacral stones to catch the fleeing souls of worthy skorne, saving them from the Void and ensuring their experience could be called on in the centuries to come. The guardian was a mighty combatant in its own right; the spirit animating it had once been a skorne warrior of rare skill and valor.

The buzzing whine of the Venators’ reivers sounded, and white-skinned elves fell beneath a hail of needles. More enemies streamed from the forest.

The blighted elves were known to be in the area, and there were reports that Master Naaresh had engaged a large force of them to the north of the Scarleforth. Lord Hexeris had sent Tyrant Verthak to seek out the enemy and determine their strength and numbers in the immediate vicinity. Neither Herxeris nor Verthak had expected to encounter a force of this size.

They were outnumbered; this much was clear. The ambushers were initially comprised of dozens of unarmored warriors wielding twin swords. Many of these had fallen, but now a group of hunched, leather-clad archers was emerging from the trees. Zoaxa had understood the elves to be blighted, warped by the fell energy of a dragon, but these archers confirmed it. Spines and horny growths jutted from their bodies, their legs bent backward at the knees, and their feet were clawed talons.

“S’ket!” Tyrant Verthak shouted, his voice thundering over the noise of combat. “Bring the krea to my position.” Nearby, the skorne the tyrant had called out to hurried to obey. S’ket was a mortitheurge willbreaker and could use her mystical skills to motivate a warbeast and tap into its power. She pointed at Tyrant Verthak’s position, and the krea loosed an irritated screech, but it moved. The beast’s latent magic ability could be harnessed to create an energy barrier that robbed the strength from missile attacks. The krea lumbered in Tyrant Verthak’s direction with S’ket behind it, silently driving it forward.

Zoaxa turned her attention back to the drake. She ran a hand along its leathery flank, making sure its pain hooks were in place. The creature’s rage was palpable, an aura of chaotic power that could be harnessed by a skilled mortitheurge such as S’ket. But left unchecked, the beast would lose control and attack both friend and foe. Zoaxa tugged lightly on a pain hook sunk into a nerve bundle at the base of the drake’s skull; its manipulation had a calming effect on the beast. There were no targets for its destructive gaze at the moment, and it would be needed when the enemy closed. The drake quieted, and Zoaxa looked to Tyrant Verthak. The krea had reached his position, and she could see the slight shimmer in the air that indicated S’ket had driven the beast to use its power.

Arrows fell like black rain.

The enemy archers were skilled and crafty. They did not target the Cataphracts, whose armor was thick enough to repel even the most powerful bows. Instead, their arrows fell among the Venators and the beast handlers.

Zoaxa ducked and rolled beneath the drake, using its body to shield her from the rain of missiles. She heard screams as the Venators were struck down, their light armor insufficient to turn aside the arrows. Beside her, the other beast handler, Kress, fell to the ground, an arrow protruding from his left eye. The drake writhed above Zoaxa as arrows thudded into its scaly hide, and she twisted its pain hooks to keep it calm and to accelerate its healing ability.

“Cataphracts, forward!” she heard Tyrant Verthak shout. She rolled out from beneath the drake and saw most of the Venators had fallen, including Dakar Isket. One of them was crawling toward her, possibly wounded, away from the battle.

“Coward,” she said and would have dispatched the Venator with her short sword had there been time. Instead she pushed the drake forward into a slow jog and ran beside it, keeping pace with the Cataphracts. She saw that the krea and S’ket still lived and were moving behind Tyrant Verthak.

More enemies were emerging from the trees, blighted elves in heavy, ornamented armor and armed with great two-handed swords. They formed a battle line, their discipline apparent in the speed and efficacy of their movements. The archers moved behind them and again filled the air with black-fletched arrows.

“Charge!” Tyrant Verthak cried, and the Cataphracts surged forward. They met the enemy swordsmen with a deafening crash of steel on steel. Blood plumed as Cataphract spears penetrated pale flesh.

The Cataphracts were now held in place by the enemy’s heavy infantry, but there were more unarmored swordsmen moving around the right flank of the Cataphract line. Zoaxa saw them; she whipped the basilisk drake forward, enraging the beast and spiking its physical strength with a surge of adrenaline. It charged eagerly, barreling into the elven warriors with tooth and fang. She left it to fight without her guidance; it would hold the right flank for a time.

More arrows fell, dropping the remaining Venators and a single Cataphract. The heavy infantry closed ranks around their fallen comrade, shortening their line. Zoaxa raced forward, unfurling her whip and drawing her short sword with the other hand. The krea’s animus had kept Tyrant Verthak and S’ket safe from the enemy’s arrows, but more swordsmen were moving toward them. The tyrant was shouting orders and hacking down any enemy that ventured within reach of his halberd. The ancestral guardian stood grim and still beside Verthak, the sacral stones on its body occasionally flashing red as they absorbed a worthy skorne soul.

More Cataphracts fell, and Zoaxa had nearly reached Verthak. The swordsmen approaching the tyrant were led by a tall female armed with a single blade. Her gait was predatory, and Zoaxa saw this was because she had the same bestial deformities as the blighted archers. The female warrior and her swordsmen fell on Verthak, separating him and the ancestral guardian from the Cataphracts. The tyrant cut down two swordsmen with his halberd, and the others streamed around him, slashing at the krea and S’ket. The krea shrieked as enemy blades cut into it. S’ket bravely urged the beast to fight, and it snapped its jaws closed on a swordsman, nearly biting him in two.

Zoaxa reached S’ket just as the krea went down, slashed to pieces by a dozen swords. She had begun her tutelage in the paingiver caste as a bloodrunner, a mortitheurgical assassin, and she was no stranger to battle. Her whip snapped out, slashing open the throat of the nearest swordsman, then she leapt forward and buried her short sword in the spine of another.

S’ket was doing her best to hold the enemy at bay with a sword snatched from a fallen Venator, but she had little martial training. A swordsman nimbly dodged S’ket’s first clumsy strike, stepped inside her reach, and removed the willbreaker’s head with a single stroke.

Two more swordsmen threatened Zoaxa, and she gave ground. Tyrant Verthak had engaged the tall female elf and was fending off a flurry of sword strikes with his shield. To the tyrant’s left, the Cataphract line had collapsed. Only four remained. They had taken a toll on the enemy, though. Dozens of pale bodies were heaped around them.

Zoaxa turned back to the immediate threat. The two swordsmen charged. She snapped her whip at the first, causing him to jerk back. The other raced forward, both blades slashing. She knew she wouldn’t be able to fend off both swords, and so she drew her arm back and hurled her short sword at the charging enemy. It was a clumsy weapon for such an attack, but she was lucky. The blade pierced the elf’s chest, stopping him in his tracks. He toppled, folding over the mortal wound.

A bright flash of red light drew Zoaxa’s attention to Tyrant Verthak. The great skorne warrior stood limply, the female elf’s blade transfixing his skull. She had thrust the weapon up under the tyrant’s helm, the precision of the strike denoting superlative skill. The flash of light was Verthak’s soul filling one of the ancestral guardian’s sacral stones. The massive stone construct was nearby, fending off more enemies with its glaive.

Verthak crumpled to the ground, his limp body falling among the mounting skorne dead. Zoaxa knew his death signified the end of any hope they might survive. Without his leadership and martial skill they stood little chance. At least his soul had been preserved, that he might fight once again for the archdomina in the stone body of an immortal.

Pounding footsteps broke Zoaxa’s attention back to the immediate threat. The remaining swordsman had taken advantage of her lapse in concentration to close the distance. She stumbled backward, knocking aside the enemy’s first sword stroke with the butt of her whip. But she was not fast enough to turn the second. The blade smashed into her mask just above her jaw line. The world went dark, and she was falling . . .

©2015 Privateer Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Using Real People as #Fictional #Characters – #ArtisticLicense and #TBT

Great post by author Alana Siegel on her blog Optimist Superheroes about using real (historical) people as fictional characters. Check it out.

Optimist Superheroes

Throwback Thursday to John F. Kennedy’s Presidency!  More on him a little later.

Artistic License

There is a fine line between real people as fictional characters adding an intriguing aspect to a novel versus causing it to crash and burn.  Artistic license needs to be applied with caution so readers do not expect a biography, but instead a fact-checked, interesting twist on the person.

My latest book is about a girl who can see spirits, and the school she attends has a faculty of famous dead people. On the one hand, the spirit version of the celebrity may be totally different than the living version of the person. I could make Abraham Lincoln an outgoing, busybody, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, I attempted to write each character in the voice everyone knows, but I then add an exaggeration here and there. [insert coy devil smiley]

John F. Kennedy as a Teacher…

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Rejection Letter Rundown: The Further Consideration Letter

In previous posts in this series, I’ve covered common types of rejection letters (at least the ones that are common to me), but there are others letters out there a writer might receive, strange hybrids that are neither all rejection nor all acceptance. These crossbreeds come in a variety of flavors, but the one I’m most familiar with is the further consideration letter. It looks like this:

Dear Aeryn,

Just a quick note to let you know that we’re holding [XXX] for further consideration. We should have a final decision for you by March 31.

Getting a letter like this is exciting—it kind of feels like an acceptance letter because there’s a definite sense of validation. The editors liked the story, at least a little. Why else would they hold it for further consideration, right? That said, the further consideration letter can be anxiety-inducing. You know you have a real shot at publication, so waiting for the publisher to get back to you with a decision can be somewhat nerve-wracking.

Be patient, the publisher will get back to you (you have their attention). Hopefully, they get back to you with an acceptance letter. If not an acceptance, then it’ll be something like this:

Dear Aeryn,

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to consider this one. After reading and discussing it, and then holding it over for several rounds of further consideration, we’ve finally decided to pass on it. We like it a lot, but don’t have the space and budget to publish everything we like, and in the final cut must pass on some stories we might otherwise buy.

Good luck placing this one elsewhere. And in the meantime: you got really close this time. Not this one, but maybe your next one. Send us another story, please.

Sure, I was disappointed because I got so close (the editor even said as much), but I also felt pretty damn good about this letter. They did like the story, they almost published it, and they truly wanted to see more of my work. That’s a lot of unambiguously good stuff wrapped up in a rejection letter. Why did they ultimately pass? The editor mentioned space and budget, and I have no reason not to take him at his word. I certainly understand the magazine business, and the words space and budget are always looming concerns.

So, if you get a letter like this, I think you should do exactly what they ask—send them another story. You want to get them something else while your name is still fresh in their minds. That’s not to say you should just fire of any old thing. One of the benefits of getting close is it should give you some indication of the type of story the publisher wants, allowing you to zero in for your next submission.

I did finally publish the story that generated the letters in this post. I fired it off immediately after getting the very nice rejection letter you see here. I was confident I had something good on my hands. The story was rejected twice more before it was finally published, but I never lost faith in it (like I’ve done with a few other stories), and I credit some of that stick-to-itiveness and the eventual publication to this near miss.

Have a near miss of your own you’d like to share? Tell me about it in the comments.

Ranks of the Rejected: Richard Lee Byers

This time on Ranks of the Rejected, I spoke with veteran fantasy and horror author Richard Lee Byers. I was lucky enough to work with Richard on a number of projects when I was acquisitions editor at Skull Island eXpeditions, and it was a great experience. He’s a true professional, astonishingly easy to work with, hits deadlines with laser-like precision, and turns in some of the cleanest first drafts I have ever seen. Richard was gracious enough to share some of his own tales of rejection, gathered over a long and successful career. Of course, Richard is more than just a well known and successful author. He is also a mighty 20th level Rejectomancer, whose reality-warping literary powers include Orson’s Instant Outline and Flawless First Draft.

Here’s a bit more about Richard:

Richard Lee Byers is the author of over forty fantasy and horror books including Blind God’s Bluff: A Billy Fox Novel (Night Shade Books), Murder in Corvis (Skull Island eXpeditions/Privateer Press), and the forthcoming “Black River Irregulars” trilogy (Skull Island eXpeditions/Privateer Press.) His short fiction appears in numerous anthologies, and he has collected some of the best of it in the eBooks The Q Word and Other Stories, Zombies in Paradise, and The Plague Knight and Other Stories. When the mood takes him, he writes an opinion column for the SF news site Airlock Alpha, and he invites everyone to connect with him on Facebook, Google+, Ello, and/or Twitter.

1) For many writers, that first rejection letter is pretty memorable. What do you remember about your first?

Honestly, I’ve been at this so long (since the mid-eighties) that I don’t remember the first. I can tell you my first novel was rejected by every genre publisher you’ve ever heard of and some you probably haven’t before finally being accepted by the most obscure market imaginable. I was overjoyed and accordingly crushed later when the novel came out and that publisher went bankrupt simultaneously. This meant nobody ever saw the book. Devastating for me, less so for the world, because when I looked at it again years later, it wasn’t a very good book. Anyway, right from the start, I had my nose rubbed in the randomness and bad luck that often afflicts a writing career, and the experience probably served me well. It may have kept me from being quite so crushed when other disappointments came along.

2) What do you hope to see in a rejection letter? What is useful to you as a writer?

Perhaps I’m arrogant, but there are only two things that strike me as useful to the writer. One is the editor saying that if I change X to Y, he would like to see the story again. The other is the editor encouraging me to send something else.

As far as criticism goes, I don’t pay much attention to it if the editor is definitely passing. This attitude stems from when I was shopping my first novel around. I mostly got personal rejection letters, and there was no consistency to the various editors’ reasons for turning down the book. This made me think that reworking a story on the basis of one editor’s reaction is foolish (unless, as I mentioned previously, he’s saying he’ll look at it again if I do.) Now, if ten editors made the same criticism, I might consider tinkering, but that hasn’t happened to me yet, and I wonder how often it happens to anyone.

3) Got a favorite rejection? Funny, mean, just straight-up weird?

One editor at a major house rejected a novel on the grounds that it was very much like a book they had recently published. I wasn’t familiar with that book, so I took a look at it. The story was nothing like mine. The title, however, was quite similar. As you can imagine, this left me wondering just how diligently the editor in question actually does his job.

4) What’s the toughest part of rejection for you? Pro tips for dealing with it?

Rejection hurts, no question. It feels like the editor is telling me something I poured my heart and soul into is no good and that I have no talent. That’s not a rational, useful way to look at the situation, and on a good day, I can shake off my initial reaction pretty quickly. Still, there’s often that gut-punch moment.

I have two tips for handling rejection. One is to already be working on another story when the rejection arrives. If you’re already focused on something new, the rejection of the old piece won’t sting as much, and if you’re going to have a professional writing career, you need to work steadily anyway.

The other tip is to get the rejected story back into submission immediately. Then it’s not a failure anymore. It’s a project that’s in play.

5) Tell us about your latest acceptance letter. How long did it take the sting out of the rejections that followed?

My most recent acceptance letter turned up in my email right before I started answering these questions, so no rejections have followed it yet. They undoubtedly will.

I can tell you that when a story finds a home, that obliterates any lingering pain from the rejections that preceded the acceptance. Fortunately, in recent years, most of mine find a home eventually, so I’m not too traumatized.

6) Okay, plug away. Tells us about your latest project or book and why we should run out and buy it.

You’ve caught me between novels. My last came out a while back, and the next, the first in my Black River Irregulars/Iron Kingdoms trilogy from Privateer Press, won’t be along for a while. But I have had stories in a number of anthologies that either came out recently or will be out in the near future. People who enjoy my sword-and-sorcery tales may want to check out Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues, The Bard’s Tale, and Champions of Aetaltis. Lovecraft fans may like my contributions to The Fall of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Fhtagn!, Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales from Beyond, and Legacy of the Reanimator. People can get a taste of my non-Mythos horror in Blood Sushi and see how I handle science fantasy in a modern setting by reading my novelette “The Gold Bugs Affair.” Last but not least, I’ll have a story in License Expired: the Unauthorized James Bond. That book, however, will only be available in Canada and other places where the copyrights on the original Ian Fleming novels have expired, so interested parties living elsewhere (like in the US) may need to find a friendly Canadian to purchase it for them.

Duck Snorts & Worm Burners

I’m going to take a little break from rejection today (we’ll hit the hard stuff again first thing Monday morning) and talk about two of my favorite subjects: baseball and weird slang. Happily, the two go together.

Baseball is one of the oldest organized professional sports in the Unites States, and the first professional game was played way back in 1869. In nearly 150 years, baseball has picked up a bunch of strange slang terms to describe various elements of the game. I love these things, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you. Hopefully, these will be of interest to both my fellow word nerds and baseball aficionados.

  1. Can of Corn. You hear this one a lot, and at first blush it makes absolutely no sense because what it means is a high, lazy, medium-depth fly ball that gives the outfielder plenty of time to settle underneath it. It’s an easy catch. But why call it a can of corn? Remember, baseball is an old game, so some of its lingo originated over a century ago and was drawn from things that make little sense to the modern fan. The origins of this one are debatable and probably lost to time, but this article over at Baseball-Lingo presents one of the more plausible explanations I’ve read.
  2. Cup of Coffee. Another one you hear all the time, a cup of coffee is when a minor league player comes up to the majors for a temporary stint, sometimes just a single game. The idea being the player is up only long enough to have a cup of coffee. Some players, however, seem to never get anything more than that, repeatedly bouncing from the minors to the majors over the course of many seasons, treating the show like some sad version of an MLB Starbucks. Apparently, even professional baseball players have opportunities to earn Rejectomancy points.
  3. Duck Snort. Yeah, I swear, this is a real, honest-to-god baseball term. Anyway, a duck snort is a shallow pop up that manages to elude both outfielders and infielders, often landing between them as they race toward one another to catch it. The duck snort is often the culprit when outfielders and infielders  collide with one another chasing down the ball. Apparently the duck snort was originally called the duck fart, which is even stranger (and funnier). I have no idea what duck snorts and farts have to do with softly hit fly balls, but such is the enigma of baseball slang. The duck snort is known by many other names, including but not limited to, the bloop, the dying quail, the flare, and even the Rick Flare (yes, in reference to the wrestler).
  4. Frozen Rope. One of my favorites, the frozen rope is a hard-hit line drive with very little “hump” in it. The idea behind this one, I guess, is that a real frozen rope would be pretty damn straight, just like this type of line drive. This term is sometimes also used to describe a particularly strong throw from an outfielder.
  5. Seeing-Eye Single. The seeing-eye single is usually a softly hit ground ball that, through blind luck or the grace of the baseball gods, manages to avoid every infielder, often by bare millimeters, and find its way into the outfield. It’s one of those weak, almost embarrassing hits that prompts baseball announcers to use the oft-repeated phrase, “Well, it’ll look like a line drive in the box scores tomorrow.” The seeing-eye single is a close cousin to the excuse-me single, which is one of the more humorous ways a hitter can add to his batting average. It usually occurs on a check swing, where the ball hits the batter’s bat by accident, resulting in a swinging bunt that catches the infielders entirely off guard and allows the batter to leg out an infield hit. The excuse me part comes from the invariable expression on the batter’s face when he makes accidental contact with the ball, a strange mixture of embarrassment and horror.
  6. Worm Burner. This one cracks me up every time I hear it. A worm burner is a hard-hit ball that hugs the ground, theoretically torching any hapless worms in its path. Not to be confused with the dreaded worm killer, which is a pitch, usually a breaking ball of some kind, that hits the dirt before reaching home plate, possibly slaying the unsuspecting worms there who showed up to watch the game.

I hope you enjoyed this little sojourn into the weird world of baseball slang. I really just scratched the surface, and there are dozens and dozens of even stranger terms that can be found with a simple Google search.

Are you a baseball fan? Got any favorite bits of baseball slang? Tell me about them in the comments.

Real-Time Rejection: The Third Rejection of “Story X”

The hits just keep on coming! “Story X” has received its third rejection letter, and here it is:

Thanks for submitting “Story X,” but I’m going to pass on it. It didn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way.

Like the two rejections before it, this is a standard common form rejection with all the usual trimmings. Polite? Check. An unambiguous “no.” Check. General niceties? Check.

This is the last submission to the quick-turnaround publishers. Next were heading into the deep, dark wilds of simultaneous submissions. What’s a simultaneous submission? Well, it’s really a topic for another blog post, but in short, a simultaneous submission is when you send the same story to multiple publishers at the same time. Some publishers allow it; others don’t. Pro-tip: Don’t send simultaneous submission to publishers that don’t go in for that kind of thing. It can put you in a very bad position.

“Story X” will be sent to three publishers, all of whom accept simultaneous submissions. (Yes, I checked.) The turnaround times for these three markets are in the 30- to 60-day range, which is pretty typical for most genre magazines. That said, many publishers are quicker than their stated turn times with rejections. Acceptances usually take longer, as these stories are often under consideration for some time before the decision is made to publish.

So, three shots fired. Let’s see if any of them find the mark.

Previous Real-Time Rejection Posts

Intro: Real-Time Rejection: The Journey of “Story X”

Part 1: Real-Time Rejection: The First Rejection of “Story X”

Part 2: Real-Time Rejection: The Second Rejection of “Story X”

Rejection Letter Rundown: The Acceptance Letter

Rejectomancy Points + 10 (What’s this?)

Imagine, if you will, a writer of dubious talent opening his email and finding a subject line that looks something like this: RE [Awesome Stories of Awesomeness] Aeryn’s Awesome Story. The author sees this email and thinks, “Great, another rejection letter. That’s the eighth one this week.” He opens the email, girding himself for yet another “does not meet our current needs” or “we’ll have to pass” or “go fuck yourself, you worthless hack.” Instead, he sees strange words in the first sentence that combine to make weird, alluring phrases like, “we loved it” and “publish in our next issue.” Then it hits him. He pees a little, thrusts his fist into the air, looses what he thinks is a manly roar of triumph, and scares the shit out of his wife who thinks he’s having a stroke (he kind of is).

Yup, kiddies, let’s talk about that rarest of rare birds, the glorious, treasured acceptance letter.

Here’s one of mine, removed just this morning from its hermetically sealed display case so you might marvel at its loveliness:

Dear Aeryn,

Thank you for sending us “XXX”. We love it and would like to publish it in the next issue of XXX. Your contract is included in this email. Please accept the contract by following the link at the bottom of this email and include your 100 word bio in the Requested Information box. We’ll send an email with editorial suggestions two to three weeks before the issue publication date.

Thank you for your submission and we look forward to working with you!

I won’t lie; finding one of these little gems in your inbox can make your whole day. Previous rejections are forgotten, and the future seems a bright, welcoming place filled with adoring fans and phrases like “award-winning” and “best seller.” But, hold your horses there, champ; you’ve still got work to do. Because, even though a publisher likes your story enough to publish it, there are still plenty of opportunities to fuck this up. How do you fuck this up? By falling prey to SSD (special snowflake disorder) or FTFFD (failure to follow fucking directions).

You’ll notice along with the nice things they said about my story and the fact they’re willing to publish it, they’ve also given me some instructions. Every acceptance letter will do that. Publications need certain things beside your story to publish your piece. What this one asks for is very standard. They want me to sign a contract, and they want me to send them a short bio (we’ll discuss those things in later posts). When should you get these things to the publisher? As soon as humanly possible. Trust me, editors don’t like waiting on authors whom they’ve graciously agreed to publish to  follow simple instructions. So get on it, and get them what they need.

Got a recent acceptance letter you’d like to share with the class? I’d love to see it in the comments.

Ranks of the Rejected: Gabrielle Harbowy

In this episode of the Ranks of the Rejected, we’re going to turn the tables and—Gasp!—talk to an editor. Gabrielle Harbowy is the managing editor at Dragon Moon Press, submissions editor for Apex Magazine, and copyeditor for Pyr, Circlet Press, and other publishers of novel-length genre fiction. She has graciously agreed to be interviewed and provide some insight on rejectomancy from the other side of the coin.

As an editor, Gabrielle has many strange and wondrous powers, one of which is removing rejectomancy points from foolish Rejectomancers who fall prey to SSD (special snowflake disorder) or FTFFD (failure to follow fucking directions). But her powers are not always used for evil, and her suite of extraordinary abilities includes many that are beneficial to the Rejectomancer. Follow all the submission guidelines, proofread and revise your story, and she may bestow such boons as Read to the End or Create Constructive Criticism or that most potent of editorial blessings, Aura of Acceptance. But writers beware, she also has access to the dreaded Random Reject Table.

random reject table GRH

Here’s a bit more about Gabrielle.

Gabrielle Harbowy is a writer, editor and award-nominated anthologist. She has been reading and acquiring novel- and short-fiction submissions since 2008 and hasn’t poured bleach in her eyes yet, but she *has* learned not to say “Now I’ve seen everything.” She is passionate about helping authors navigate and understand the slush pile. Her short fiction appears in several anthologies including Carbide Tipped Pens from Tor. Anthology-wise, her latest project is Women in Practical Armor, co-edited with fantasy legend Ed Greenwood. This is their fourth anthology collaboration, and its crowd-funding effort is live on Kickstarter right now!

1) Okay, since this a blog about rejection, let’s get right to the meat. What are the top three things you see in a story or manuscript that result in an auto-reject? Please, be blunt. We writers rarely understand nuance or subtlety.

I only get three? Hmm…

Okay. Since you’re asking me about auto-rejections, I’ll focus on the things that are so rejection-assured that I would have to reject on the basis of these flaws even if I like the story.

a) Failure to address the theme/genre of the market. This tops my list. Even if a story is well-written and I love it, if it doesn’t fit the theme of the anthology, or the genre of the publisher, I can’t buy it even if I want to.

That sort of situation is rare, but it happens. Ed and I got a great story for When the Hero Comes Home 2 in which the fantastical element the story would have needed to fit the genre of the book, would have killed the story. It ONLY worked in a mundane world. It was a great story…for another book.

More often, a lack of attention to the market is correlated with a lack of attention to one’s own writing, and the things that aren’t a fit also aren’t very good. If it’s a good story that just isn’t right for us, at least I’ve had the pleasure of reading a good story (even if it comes with the heartache of rejecting something awesome). If it’s a “meh” story that isn’t remotely a fit for us, and is just the result of someone throwing their story at every market they have an address for to see if it sticks, reading and processing it has been nothing but a waste of my time.

b) Lack of plot. A premise is not a plot. A premise is the set-up and the plot is the conflict and resolution that happens to one person within that set-up.

Many, many short stories go something like this: “I have this awesome idea, so I’m going to flesh out a world around this idea. Right at the end, I’m going to introduce a new fact about the world that you didn’t see coming. It’s a plot twist!”

Except, no. It isn’t a plot twist. It’s just a reveal of withheld information. “Guy looks in mirror and studies his hair” isn’t a plot, so when it turns out he’s actually a dog, that’s not a plot twist. In a plot, there is a protagonist (a character who wants something concrete/has something at stake), and something between that character and their goal. If no one has a goal, there’s no conflict or resolution. It can be a perfectly good vignette, but it’s not a story. Okay, he’s a dog. So? What conflicts arise from the guy being a dog, and what does he do about them? THAT’s the plot.

c) Someone else’s intellectual property. Unless I’m specifically licensing tie-in fiction, or unless you’ve specifically received permission from an author or their publisher or their literary estate, I can’t publish your steampunk reimagining of a modern bestseller (with the same characters and the same plot) or your crossover mashup of two other authors’ work, until that thing you’re making use of for your own purposes is in the public domain…and you’ll probably be a disembodied consciousness in a jar before that time comes.

2) When you send a form rejection letter, can it mean something in addition to “no?” Do you have multiple tiers of form rejections? For example, a simple “no, thank you,” a “no, thank you, but send us more work,” and so on.

It gets tricky when some publishers are so genial in their form letters that you can’t tell whether they’re a form or not. (I’ve taken to writing “dear author:” in my form letters, so that authors know without a doubt that they’re getting a form.)

It also gets tricky when publishers use those ambiguous phrases that some people mean, but that other people only say to be polite.

“Not quite” a fit doesn’t mean “change it a little and try again.” If a market wants you to revise and resubmit, they’ll be specific enough that you won’t have any doubt over whether they mean it.

Not a fit “at this time” doesn’t mean “our needs may change, so try again in a couple of months.”

I never say “please submit work to us again” unless I mean it, and then I let the author know that it’s a personal letter. But I do know other editors who have told me that they make it part of their form. They don’t really mean it as more than an encouraging pleasantry. That said, if you send them more stuff, they will look at it.

But, to stop rambling and actually answer your question, a form rejection could mean “No. Also you made my eyes bleed. Please get therapy.” It could mean “This was really, really close.” It could mean “This story doesn’t fit the feel of the anthology.” It could mean “This was good but it’s too similar to something we’ve acquired already, but since it hasn’t been announced there’s no way you could have known that.” It could mean “This looks like a fourth-grader typed it in the dark. We really wish you hadn’t told us in your cover letter that you’re a university literature professor, because now we despair for the future of humanity.”

The form letter can mean any of those things, but all of those things mean this:

“This market has decided not to buy this story. It’s strictly a business decision and not a personal one, but we’re not going to discuss it further with you for any or all of the following reasons:

  • we’re too busy to respond to each author individually
  • we’re not open to negotiation about it
  • we don’t want to deal with the fallout of honestly telling you it was awful
  •  we don’t want to deal with the fallout of honestly telling you we loved it and had to say no anyway
  • it’s our managing editor’s rule that we’re just not allowed to

3) Is there ever a situation when a writer should respond to a rejection letter? If so, what’s the protocol?

Please don’t respond to a rejection letter, even a really encouraging personal one, even just to say “thank you for your time.”

The only situation in which it’s okay to respond to a rejection letter is if it asks you a question to which the sender would genuinely like an answer. For instance, “This wasn’t a fit for us, but do you have any other finished manuscripts we might consider?” (Pro tip: Reply to that one.)

4) I know editors are not all heartless monsters, and there are real people behind those rejection letters who aren’t out to destroy hope and crush dreams. Are there rejection letters that are difficult for the editor to send out?  

The “really close” ones that almost made it. The ones that are to people you know personally. The ones that are to people whose work you’ve acquired before, but not this time. I’ve also delayed sending a rejection letter because I learned it was the author’s birthday.

5) Rejection is just part of the business, but do you have any pro tips for writers on how best to deal with it?

Here’s the plain truth: You’ll probably never know why your story was rejected. You’ve been conditioned to expect closure in life, and here in your career where it most matters to you, you’re probably never going to get it. Which sucks.

And somehow, you’re expected to roll a crit on your Will save every time or something, to keep that from bothering you. Failing that, all you can do is develop whatever coping mechanism works for you.

Maybe you have to invent a narrative you can accept and believe (They didn’t take it because it’s got sex in it; They didn’t take it because it doesn’t have sex in it; They rolled low on the Random Effects table).

Maybe you’ve got to turn around and send it right back out to another market, have a lot of ice cream, and distract yourself with B movies or with outlining your next manuscript. Maybe meditation or retail-therapy are involved.

There’s no one answer. Find something that works for you, preferably something that isn’t destructive. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Make peace with the lack of closure, and move on.

Editors don’t set out to crush dreams (even though, as my partner always points out, broken dreams have no calories). We open every story and manuscript wanting it to be amazing and perfect and brilliant.

All you have to do is send us stuff that lives up to those expectations. No pressure!

Previous Ranks of the Rejected Interviews

Ranks of the Rejected: Rose Blackthorn

Ranks of the Rejected: Orrin Grey

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