Submission Spotlight: The Do Not Send List

Today we’re exploring another potential submission guidelines surprise. This time it’s not about formatting or regional preferences, it’s types of stories publishers would rather not see at all. I call this the Do No Send List  As usual, you should read the guidelines completely and thoroughly so you don’t miss publisher preferences. The Do Not Send List is usually pretty obvious, but not always, so read carefully.

The Do Not Send List is fairly common in submission guidelines and comes in a few different versions. Let’s take a look at them.

1) Send at your own risk. The regular strength version of the Do Not Send List is more suggestion than command, but you should still be aware of the publisher’s preferences when sending them a story. This version usually looks something like this:

Originality demands that you’re better off avoiding vampires, zombies, and other recognizable horror tropes unless you have put a very unique spin on them. 

They’re not saying you can’t send vampire and zombie stories, but you’d better come up with some mind-blowingly original shit if you hope to get one published. You’ll see this kind of thing in guidelines pretty often, and I think it’s because, yes, the publisher is tired of getting Dog Soldiers and Twilight knockoffs, but they still recognize it is possible to make those old tropes fresh and interesting again. So, sure, if you think you’ve got a truly original take on a vampire story, send it to a publisher like this. You never know.

2) Do not send. Like, seriously. For really reals. Some publishers,  tired of seeing the same old tropes again and again and again, take a more aggressive approach to the Do Not Send List, in that it is truly a DO NOT SEND list. Those generally look like this.

We do not accept stories with the following: vampires, zombies, werewolves, serial killers, hitmen, excessive gore or sex.

As you can see, most of your standard horror tropes are included in the guideline above, though hitmen is one I don’t encounter as often (but if they put it in, it’s because they’re getting too many). In this case, absolutely do not send a story containing these tropes. It’ll just make you look like you didn’t read the guidelines, and that, my friend, is a real bad look. Most of what’s on the list is pretty straight forward. If your story contains a vampire, a zombie, a werewolf (or other lycanthrope), a serial killer, or a hitman, just don’t send it. Seriously, don’t. But what about the other stuff? The stuff that has the word excessive in front of it. That’s a tougher call because what’s excessive to one person may not be excessive to another. The best thing to do here is read the publication in question to get an idea where they draw the line is on such subjects. Of course, the question then becomes is the example story right up to the line or a few feet behind it? For me, excessive usually means gratuitous, but even that’s open to interpretation. In the end, you’ll likely have to use your best judgement.

3) A list of hard sells. Some markets expand on the send at your own risk example and give you an entire list of stories and tropes that generally don’t work for them. Like with example one, they aren’t saying don’t send them, but if you do, you better do something very different with that serial killer werewolf story. Below are some markets that have hard sell lists, and I find they’re pretty informative, especially when you’re starting out and you think every idea you have is super original (it’s not).

  • Clarkesworld: This market’s hard-sell list is right in their general guidelines and hard to miss. It’s also pretty exhaustive.
  • Strange Horizons: This list, called Stories We’ve Seen Too Often, is part of Strange Horizons submission guidelines. It’s a long list of cliches and overused tropes compiled over the years, and it’s an informative read.
  • Flash Fiction Online: FFO’s list of hard sells is shorter than the others, but they go into a lot of detail why a certain trope or theme is on their list.

You can learn a lot from these lists, and not just about the preferences of markets that include them in their guidelines. If one publisher considers a trope or plot device to be overused and cliched, well, then others might too. Keep in mind, though, that just because you write a story that includes an element that’s on these lists doesn’t mean it’s a bad story or unsellable, just that it probably is going to need an original spin to set it apart from all the other zombie apocalypse, vampire romance, werewolf soldier, and serial killer turned detective stories out there.


If you’ve read any of the other entries in this series, you probably know what I’m going to say now. Yep, read the guidelines completely, carefully, and every time you send a submission. Sometimes these little nuggets of information are buried in a publisher’s guidelines, but it’s still your job to find them, read them, and implement them.

Have you seen anything else pop up on Do Not Send Lists? Tell me about it in the comments.

Three Types of Tough Rejections

If you’ve been submitting short stories for any length of time, then you’ve likely developed a fairly thick skin when it comes to rejections. After you hit triple digits, those form rejections, filled with not for us’s and doesn’t fit our needs’s, kind of lose their sting. They’re pretty easy to take in stride, and it’s not too difficult to move on and send that story somewhere else. But in my experience (after well over 300 rejections), there are three types of Nos that can really take the wind out of your sales if you let them. Let’s talk about them, what they might mean, and how best to deal with them.

Tough Rejection #1 – The Long-Wait Form Rejection

What it is: Some markets just take longer than others to get back to you. Sometimes the wait can exceed six months or even a year with some literary markets (and one or two genre publishers). Generally, a long-wait form rejection is not preceded by a shortlist letter or really any other communication from the publisher. If you do get a shortlist letter, well, that’s more example number two.

Why it’s tough:  Even though I shouldn’t, even though I know better, I can’t help but get my hopes up a little when a submission starts getting long in the tooth. The theory that the longer a publisher holds a story the more likely it is to be published doesn’t hold much water in my experience, but for some reason I can’t help thinking that maybe THIS time it means something. So, invariably when that form rejection comes after 150 days, it’s more disappointing than if it cames in a couple of weeks.

What to do: I usually follow the same protocol with a long-wait form rejection that I do with any form rejection. Without any specific feedback on the story to prompt a revision, I log the rejection and send the piece out again, right away. I might be somewhat hesitant to submit to the publisher again, especially if they don’t allow sim-subs.

Tough Rejection #2 – The Shortlist Rejection

What it is: A rejection preceded by a shortlist letter. Sometimes it’s not a shortlist, but a second round or second read notification, but it’s essentially the same thing–the publisher has indicated your story is of interest and has made it past the slush pile at the very least.

Why it’s tough: Unlike the long-wait form rejection, you get your hopes up with a shortlist rejection for good reason. The publisher has straight up told you they like the story, at least enough to give it a second read or seriously consider it. If that shortlist rejection is from a prestigious market, say one you’ve been trying to crack for years, then your hopes soar even higher. That, of course, means they can reach terminal velocity before hitting the pavement when that rejection shoots them out of the sky.

What to do: With a rejection like this, you have to look at the positive (because it is mostly positive). If the story was shortlisted, that means two things. One, this publisher probably likes your work and wants to see more of it, and, two, you probably have a good story on your hands that you should immediately send out again. The one caveat here is if the shortlist rejection gives you valuable feedback on the story and the editor points out something they think needs work. In that case, if you agree, then it might be time to revise the story, but you can do so with the knowledge it’s probably close to where it needs to be.

Tough Rejection #3 – The Thorough Personal Rejection

What it is: A personal rejection where the editor relates, in detail, what they didn’t like about the story (or your writing). There is often some positive feedback as well, but in my experience these rejections can go a bit heavier on things the editor doesn’t like. It’s important to note these rejection aren’t mean-spirited, and the editor is trying to give constructive feedback. I’ve yet to get a rejection where I thought the editor was being intentionally hurtful. I’m sure they exist, but I doubt they’re very common.

Why it’s tough: It’s never fun to read what someone doesn’t like about your work. It’s especially not fun to read a lengthy rejection where the editor spells it out bluntly and exhaustively.  I don’t care who you are, that stings.

What to do: First, put the rejection aside until you’re in a more objective headspace, then go back and read it carefully. More likely than not, you’re going to discover a couple of things. The first is the editor has done you a service. They’ve clearly indicated what doesn’t work for them with the story, and that’s something you can use for future submissions. Also, they’ve probably hit on some things that DO need work in the story. It’s always helpful to get that kind of feedback. The second thing you might realize is that, well, this is one person’s opinion, and it’s possible that some of the things they’re calling out in your story are stylistic mismatches. Let me see if I can better illustrate that last point:

I don’t like Doctor Who (probably gonna lose some followers over that). I don’t think it’s a bad show, but it is decidedly not for me. I find it a little silly, over-the-top, and just weird for weirdness’ sake. Now, I know from talking to fans of the show that those same qualities are part of the reason they like it. Also, because those elements stick out for me, I may be unable to appreciate the show’s other qualities as much, like its boundless creativity, good acting, and generally upbeat tone. Now imagine I write Doctor Who-style stories, and I submit one to a magazine that is more like The Expanse or Altered Carbon (or some other gritty, realistic sci-fi). There’s a damn good chance I’m going to get a rejection, and if the editor gives me specific feedback about things they don’t like, some of it might be because our tastes and styles are completely mismatched.

Now this is not to say that every thorough personal rejection is because the editor simply has a different taste in story than what you write. We’re all capable of writing a clunker or sending a story out before its ready or a hundred other things that can result in this kind of rejection. So when you get one of these, try to be objective as possible, realize the editor is trying to be helpful and not hurtful, and see what you can learn from their feedback.


So those are three types of tough rejections I’ve encountered. What about you? Tell me about your tough rejections in the comments.

Submission Spotlight: Fun With Formatting

If you’ve sent out any short story submissions, you are likely very familiar with Shunn Standard Formatting. If you’re not, follow the link in the last sentence and GET familiar. Now, the vast majority of publishers ask for Shunn (often just called standard manuscript formatting), but sometimes it’s a starting point more than a formatting destination. So, like everything in this series of posts, it’s important that you read very carefully to pick out all this little formatting idiosyncrasies in the guidelines.

Let’s take a look at some examples of how publisher formatting guidelines vary from Shunn.

1) 99% Shunn. Sometimes a publisher wants just a slight deviation from standard formatting, like this:

Submissions should generally follow standard manuscript format, though we prefer single-spaced instead of double-spaced.

A slight change to standard formatting is pretty common. These small changes can be easy to miss because, however, so, as always, read very carefully. The other change I often see looks like this:

The Editor MUCH prefers Times New Roman.

Not every editor is down with Courier, and you’ll often see a request for a different font. Times New Roman is the most common, but I’ve seen other serif fonts requested as well. Again, this is a simple change to make, but if you’re not looking for it, you can miss it.

2) Mostly Shunn. Publishers sometimes ask for a larger deviation from standard manuscript formatting, but often with good reason.

Standard Manuscript Format, but with all author information removed from the manuscript.

For publishers who read submission blind, standard formatting presents a challenge in that it lists an author’s name and info on the front page. I see this request a lot, and it’s fairly easy to implement. If you’re like me and you have a standard manuscript template ready to go, remember to remove your name from the header too. I’ve almost missed that one a few times.

3) Doing our own thing. The last group of publishers are those that do not reference standard formatting and give camplete, albeit brief, formatting guidelines.

Double spaced Docx or RTF files set in a 14 point serif font like Times New Roman.

Often times when a publisher break from standard formatting, they’ll have very simple formatting guidelines like what you see above. That’s pretty easy to follow, and honestly, you could probably just use standard formatting here, change the font to Times New Roman, and be good to go. That said, sometimes the formatting guidelines will be more in depth.

  • All manuscripts should be double-spaced with broad margins and numbered pages.
  • Use 12 pt Times font, or a similar serif font, such as Cambria, Palatino, Baskerville. No other fonts, please. Italise words and passages that you want italicised. DO NOT underline words or passages you want italicised

Again, you could probably start with standard manuscript formatting (if that’s your template), change the font to one they have listed, and italicize words and passages you want italicized. Everything else in standard formatting conforms to what they want (broad margins, double spaced, numbered pages), and my guess the small additions (name and title in the header, for example) won’t be an issue. Rarely will a publisher have more detailed instructions outside of standard format, but I have seen one or two that are as in-depth as Shunn yet completely different.

4) It really doesn’t matter. The last type of publisher breaks from standard manuscript format because formatting isn’t all that important to them.

Don’t worry about standard manuscript format, as long as we can read it we’ll read it. 

Some publishers aren’t that concerned with formatting as long as the story is legible and you don’t use some crazy, weird font. A lot of the time when I see this in guidelines it’s because you’re pasting the story into a submission form that’s text only (or even into an email), so you couldn’t do standard manuscript format even if you tried.


Of the four examples above, the one I personally have to be watch for is the first example. That one little change to standard formatting can throw me because it’s not a big enough change (nor does it take up much real estate in the guidelines) to catch my attention if I’m not careful. Will a publisher auto-reject your story for a minor formatting mistake? Most of the time, probably not, but there are publishers who will (and they’ll tell you right in the guidelines). So, as always, it’s incumbent on you to read the guidelines completely and carefully every time for every submission.

Know of any other ways publishers deviate from standard manuscript formatting? Tell me about in the comments.

Submission Statement: October 2019

Finally getting one of these out in a timely manner. Here are my submission endeavors (and results) from October.

October 2019 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 6
  • Rejections: 8
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 1

I’m still behind on my goal to reach 100 subs for the year. I’m sitting at 69 at the moment, which means I need to slam out 15 subs in November and December to hit 100. I think that’s pretty unlikely at this point, and I’ll end up somewhere in the high eighties (maybe). With 14 acceptances, I’m still within striking distance of last year’s number of 19, so it’d be nice to hit or exceed that, even if I don’t reach 100 total subs.

Rejections

Eight rejections this month.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 5
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 2
  • Personal Rejections: 1
  • No-Response Rejection: 1

Mostly form rejection in October, with one rare no-response rejection. The personal rejection was a shortlist rejection and is worth taking a look at. See below:

Spotlight Rejection

This is one of those useful rejections that can sometimes highlight the idea that “good stories get rejected too.”

Dear Aeryn,

[story title] made it through to our final round of consideration, but unfortunately it was not a good fit for us at this time.  We wish you the best of luck in finding a home for it elsewhere.

Thank you for thinking of us at [publisher]. We hope you’ll consider sending us more of your stories in the future.

This was a shortlist rejection, the story’s third. I know this one will eventually get published, but I just have to find the right fit. I know “right fit” can seem like a platitude, but I think it is one of the most common reason stories get rejected, especially good ones. It could be a wrong fit for the issue, the market, or they’ve simply published something similar recently. Hell, it could also be that you’re good story was passed over for better ones. Sometimes the competition is fierce. So, if you get a shortlist rejection like this, send that story out again right away (I did).

Acceptances

One acceptance this month, and it was a good one. Here’s the acceptance letter. You’ll note I’m revealing the publisher here. That’s simply because I asked and received permission from the publisher to announce the sale.

Thank you for sending us “The Back-Off”. The editors were impressed with the story, and we are pleased to offer to purchase the rights to use your work in an upcoming issue of On Spec Magazine. If the work is still available, kindly let us know with a brief note to [email address].

You will be sent a standard contract offer in due course, and we’ll let you know the next steps in the process.

I’ll be straight with you. I didn’t expect this acceptance. I mean, I don’t usually expect an acceptance, but there are certainly times when I feel I’ve got a better shot than other. Here, I thought I had no shot. And that, friends, is why you should never, ever, ever self-reject, no matter how much you think a market won’t be interested in your work. Send it anyway because you never know. Anyway, this story had been rejected a fair amount, but it kept getting these nice personal rejections. The problem generally was the story wasn’t horror enough for the horror markets or fantasy enough for the fantasy markets, so I finally got wise and sent it somewhere that published speculative fiction in a broad sense. That, uh, worked. 🙂

Publications

One publication this month from one of my favorite markets, The Arcanist. The story, “Small Evil,” took second place in their Monster Flash contest, and you can read (or listen to) it below:


And that was my October. Tell me about yours.

Submission Statement: July-September 2019

Getting caught up on these submission statements. Here’s my submission activity for the last three months.

July/August/September 2019 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 16
  • Rejections: 10
  • Acceptances: 6
  • Publications: 3
  • Submission Withdrawal: 0

This averages out to about 5 submissions per month, which is far less than I’d hoped to send. Six acceptances is certainly nice for a three-month span, and the number of rejections is about what I’d expect (though I did experience a 32-day stretch of no rejections). I’m sitting on 66 submissions as I write this, which means I need roughly 11 submissions for the next three months to hit my goal. That might be tough, but we’ll give it the ol’ college try and see what happens.

Rejections

Ten rejections for this period.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 8
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 2

Mostly your standard form rejections of late, though the two personal rejections provided good feedback. I’ll go over some of that feedback below.

Spotlight Rejection

This is a rejection for a flash fiction story that I think perfectly illustrates where some flash stories (including mine, obviously) go wrong.

We found the premise interesting and liked the characterization a lot. However, we there’s a lot more to this story that we’re not seeing. There’s so much action that is going to happen after the story ends it feels like we’re being cut off before we get to the good stuff. (The good stuff in this case being children getting turned into snacks lol,) And for Anton the driving motivation is never shown in scene- the bullying happens before the story starts – which made his emotions seem a bit remote to me. This makes the story read more like a part of a larger whole than like a complete story on its own. 

This feedback points out a common flaw in a lot of flash fiction. Essentially, we’re getting the middle of a longer tale. Therefore, the story is ultimately unsatisfying because it ends before we get to the good stuff. You can fall in love with a premise or characterization–as I did here–and not see the forest for the trees. So based on this feedback (which is spot-on), I’ll revise this story, make it longer, and write that first and third acts.

Acceptances

Six acceptances in the last four months: three flash fiction acceptances and three microfiction acceptances. Not too bad. I’m getting to the point where I have enough flash fiction publications to put together a respectable anthology. I should really do that one of these days. 🙂

Publications

I had a fair amount of publications in the last three months as stories accepted as far back as last year are finally getting published alongside more recent acceptances. The first three are free to read, and the last one is chapbook for sale by the publisher.

“The Thing That Came With the Storm” published by the Molotov Cocktail

“The Grove” published by The Molotov Cocktail

“Ditchers” published by Aphotic Realm

A Point of Honor published by Radix Media

The United States has instituted archaic dueling codes overseen by a government agency called the Bureau of Honorable Affairs. Victims of slander and libel, among other crimes, can force their tormentors to face them in state-sanctioned combat. Jacob Mayweather is challenged to a duel by a man he has never met. The accusation is for a considerable crime, and Jacob must choose whether he will fight or be blacklisted as a duel dodger.

 

 


And that was my, uh, third quarter. Tell me about yours.

Weeks of Writing: 9/9/19 to 9/22/19

A couple weeks of writing and whatnot to report.

Words to Write By

One of my favorite authors, Stephen King, recently had a birthday, so today’s quote is one of his.

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”

― Stephen King

I can certainly relate to this having just finished a novel. While you’re writing it’s all details, details, details, and it’s pretty easy to lose the big picture narrative if you’re not careful. In each revision–I did four–I tried to step further back and see if all the little detailed pieces I wrote made up a cohesive whole. I think I got a better picture of the forest, so to speak, with each revision, and the book felt more finished with each one. So, here’s hoping I could see that forest despite all the trees I kept planting to block my view. 🙂

The Novel

No much to report here. The manuscript is with my agent, and I don’t expect to hear back for a bit. I know this part of the process is not quick, and I need to be patient. Luckily, I have plenty of other project to fill my time, including a novella I owe Privateer Press and a little self-publishing project I’ll share in the near future.

Short Stories

I’ve been better with submissions over the last couple of weeks, but I still need to pick up the pace.

  • Submissions Sent: 5
  • Rejections: 0
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

Five subs in two weeks is solid, and I’ll have more going out this week. That five puts me at 62 for the year, which is still off my pace for 100. Gonna have to bring it in the last three months if I want to hit that goal. Here’s a weird thing–I haven’t received a rejection in over a month. I feel like that dam is about to burst any minute.

The Blog

I blogged a bit more over the last couple weeks. Here are the highlights.

9/18/19: Submissions: The Genre Wasteland

In this post I talk about the dearth of markets for genres outside of my usual literary stomping grounds.

9/20/19: Submission Strategy: Ranking Response Times

Here I discuss a submission strategy based around how quickly (or slowly) a publisher might respond.

Goals

The big goal is to get at least halfway on the first draft of the Privateer Press novella, about 10,000 words. After that, it’s all about the submissions, and I’d like to get another five for the month.


That was my week(s). How was/were yours?

Submission Strategy: Ranking Response Times

If you’ve been submitting short fiction for long, you’ve invariably develop strategies for getting your work out there as efficiently as possible. I have a number of strategies, and the one that follows I use for a brand new story I haven’t written for a specific market. In that case, I generally prioritize which publisher I send a story to based on how quickly I’m likely to hear back from them. This breaks down into four tiers or steps, as follows.

Tier One – Rapid Response

These are markets that respond in under a week, sometimes in less than twenty-four hours. I’ll generally start with these markets for a couple of reasons. First, they’re often some of the biggest, high-profile markets out there, and second, I might get a lot of useful feedback in a short time that will help me revise the story for later tiers. Some of these markets do not accept sim-subs, but with a response time this fast, who cares? It should be noted that the rapid response time is generally for rejections. If your story is under serious consideration, it’ll take longer, but most of these markets will let you know with a further consideration letter.

Tier Two – Around a Month

There are markets that generally respond in under thirty days, which is still pretty fast. They may or may not allow sim-subs, but I rarely use simultaneous submissions at this stage. That’s more a personal preference than anything, and I don’t mind a wait time of a couple of weeks. I find most of the big flash fiction markets fall into this category. Like tier one, these markets take a bit longer if your story is under consideration, usually around 60 days in my experience.

Tier Three – Sixty-Plus, Accepts Sim-Subs

These are markets that take at least 60 days to respond on average but many take a lot longer. These markets DO accept sim-subs, though, which means you can submit to a couple of them at the same time. Additionally, sometimes I’ll submit to one of these markets first if I think my story would be a good fit and then sub to faster markets at the same time (who also accept sim-subs).

Tier Four – Sixty-Plus, No Sim-Subs

These are markets that take 60 days or more to respond and do NOT allow sim-subs. For me, they’re often the last markets I submit to unless I have a story that I think is a perfect fit. No sim-subs might give you pause, but one thing I have found with these markets is they often provide feedback, which can be invaluable. So, one strategy you might consider is to submit to one of these markets if you feel your story is a good fit and you’re likely to get feedback, wait however long it takes, and if rejected, THEN hit the fast markets and work you way through the steps.


I should note I follow each of these steps within the same level of market: pro, semi-pro, etc. So I might run through all four steps in the pro markets, then start over with semi-pro markets (though I have been known to mix and match). As usual, this is just how I approach submissions. It’s not the one true way or even the best way. It’s just my way. If it works for you, awesome. If you prefer a more targeted approach, also awesome. 🙂

Thoughts on this strategy? Got one of your own you’d like to share? Tell me about it in the comments.