#1 Way to Protect Your Query Letter from an Upon-Arrival Trashcan Fate

Let me tell you a true story.
It’s a horror story.
A publishing horror story.
The following is not for the faint of heart.

I work at a social science press. We publish history, economic, sociology, psychology, and urban planning books (among others). On occasion, we publish memoirs but these books are usually the memoirs of significant leaders in the above-mentioned academic fields. We have our own website, clearly illustrating what we publish.

So it boggled my mind when I found out that some of the editors at my company receive query letters for fiction titles. Action adventure fiction, mystery thrillers, literary fiction. These aren’t poorly written query letters either; the writers’ have obviously spent a lot of time editing their manuscripts and researching the appropriate format of a catchy query letter. They just haven’t bothered to research their market at all. After all that work, the editors at my company barely give those query letters a glance before throwing them out; with them, they throw out an author’s misplaced dreams and hopes. (Don’t worry. The editors are kind enough to reply and explain that the manuscript just isn’t our thing).

Your book might be amazing. Your query letter might be phenomenal. But it’s not going to convince a publisher to change their business plan, alter their distribution method, and design a unique marketing method just for you and your special book if they simply do not publish/acquire that genre.

An adult fiction literary agent or publisher will not suddenly decide to publish a YA title (and if they do accept your submission, despite it being way outside their range of expertise, you should be concerned. How well can a literary agent, for example, shop your book if they’ve never represented a YA book before and never had the chance to cultivate those critical editor contacts?) A serious academic press will not change their tune and start publishing romance novels. Cookbook publishers are not going to be interested in publishing a collection of short stories.

So writers, do your homework. After all the hard work of writing and editing a book, then a query letter, and then building up the nerve to submit it all . . . don’t waste all that effort (and everyone’s time) by submitting it to a literary agent and/or editor if you both know it’s not going to be their cup of tea. Don’t do all that work and then sabotage yourself and send it to somebody who will, without a doubt, say no.

When querying literary agents . . .
Look at their website and see if your book would fit what they’re looking for. What do they tell you they like to represent? What do they tell you they will never–even if the world ended–represent. Respect their wishes.

When querying publishers . . .
Look at their website. First, make sure that they accept unagented submissions. If they require every submission to be agented, they will not make an exception for you. Your query letter won’t knock their socks off because they won’t even bother reading it before throwing it in the recycling.

If they do accept author submissions, then check out what their mission statement or About page says they publish. Search for comp titles (books they’ve published that are similar to yours). Do they publish books for the same audience (ex: adult vs. children)? Do they often publish the genre your book is (ex: romance, thriller, literary, fiction, memoir)? Are the comp titles recent publications or from decades ago? (This might reflect that they’re moving in a different direction and don’t acquire those types of books anymore.)

So the #1 Way to Protect Your Query Letter from an Upon-Arrival Trashcan Fate?
Submit to somebody who’s going to want your book. You can’t guess ahead of time who will definitely accept it–if you did, writers would never get rejection letters–but research enough to know who would never ever in a million years consider representing/publishing your manuscript.

(Image, No Copyright)

Perks of Being A “Jersey Girl”

1. Cheap gas that someone else pumps for me
2. Jersey tomatoes (taste so much better than Pennsylvania ones)
3. Jersey corn (can you tell I’m thinking about summer and gardens?)
4. Jersey Devil Press, an online literary journal that has some really impressive content and one I’m looking forward to submitting to! (Thanks go to Carol Deminski for inadvertently introducing me to the small independent press with her story “The Fortune Teller,” a clever take on the Jersey Devil’s plight and personality.)

For those of you who follow sports, you already know that New Jersey’s only professional sports team, the Jersey Devils, is based off a hugely popular local myth about a monster–“most commonly described as having the body of a kangaroo, the head of a dog, the face of a horse, large leathery wings, antlers similar to those of a deer, a forked reptilian tail, and prominent, intimidating claws”–that stalks the Pine Barren forests of southern New Jersey.

A bit of a rare bird in the literary community, Jersey Devil Press is super up-front, offering all the answers any writer could ever want or need on their website. For example, despite the fact that New Jersey is now and forever associated with Snookie and the Jersey Shore, Jersey Devil Press clearly states that they are not impressed with the association and in fact strive to “publicly decry the downfall of humanity that is Jersey Shore.” Thank goodness! My respect for them improved several notches. (Not that it wasn’t already pretty high, after reading their most recent issue. Seriously, I don’t care if you don’t have time; make time to read “About the Hiding of Hidden Treasure,” by Kimberly Lojewski. It’s gorgeous and probably one of the best things you’ll read this month. No seriously, go read it right now.)

They also answer some more practical things, such as:
What They Want: short fiction stories sub-4,200 words that “straddle the line between speculative fiction and literature.” There’s a more detailed list of what they don’t want, too, so don’t disappoint them.
When They Want It: Anytime, day or night.
How They Want It: Via Submittable (a.k.a. formerly known as submishmash)
Simultaneous Submissions? Yes.

Multiple Submissions? No. Only one story at a time, please.
Accept Previously Published Material? Yes, but share that information in your cover letter. They won’t publish anything that’s already available elsewhere online.
Paying Market? Nope. As they explain, they’re poorer than you are. And if you’re a starving artist, that’s saying something, now isn’t it?

Submission Response Time: Less than twelve weeks. Query if you don’t get a response within that time.

The Scoop on New South Journal

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the rejection letters I got in the past month was for New South, the official literary art journal of George State University. I submitted a fiction story that I’ve been shopping around for two years now–a story I’ve fixed-up, reorganized, and rewrote at the recommendation of different editors (and at my own recommendation as my writing has improved over time and each old version becomes stale) for the same length of time. It’s gotten more rejection letters than all of my other rejection letters combined,* but I simply cannot abandon it and put it in a drawer. It won the 2009 Fuller Fiction Award, an undergraduate award specifically for Bloomsburg University students, and got an “almost, but we don’t have time to wait for the edits” rejection letter.** This convinces me that it must have some literary merit and I am determined to find people who agree. Have any of you gone through similar repetitive experiences with a submission? Did it pay off?

In any case, New South isn’t the right home for this story, but it might be for your work! Check out the information below, read some excerpts from past issues here, and consider submitting.

What They Want:  “New South seeks to publish high quality work, regardless of genre, form, or regional ties. We are looking for what is new, what is fresh, what is different, whether it comes from the Southern United States, the South of India, or the North, East or West of Anywhere. ” This can come in the form of one fiction story up to 9,000 words in length, or up to five short-shorts under 1,000 words each; up to five poems; creative nonfiction or lyric essay up to 9,000 words in length. For criticism, please query first.

How They Want It: Via their own online submission manager, Tell It Slant. See further submission guidelines here.

When They Want It: Anytime. Rolling submissions.

Contests? Yes! They’re having one right now; there are awards for both prose and poetry. Grand prize is $1,000.

Simultaneous Submissions Allowed? Yes.

Paid Market? No.

Official Submission Response Time: Not mentioned.

Personal Submission Response Time: 2 months, 9 days

*This isn’t actually true. The story has gotten ten rejection letters total and I’ve certainly received more rejection letters than that.

**”Why not resubmit there?” you ask. Well, the journal in question, Glass Mountain, only accepts undergraduate writing and by the time the next period of open submissions rolled around, I had graduated. It’s an excellent journal though, so if you’re an undergraduate, definitely consider submitting!

I Won and I’m Sharing the Prize with All of You!

I hope you all participated in the awesome free literary magazine contest Writer’s Relief hosted, took advantage of the super-discounted subscriptions, and are looking forward to a lovely journal coming to a mailbox near you!  After a long week of form rejection letters (I’ll talk about some of them later) it was a welcome surprise to learn that I am one of the winners (make sure you check the list!  Maybe you’re on it and you didn’t realize!) and am now a free-subscriber to Prime Mincer Literary Journal.  It’s a brand new publication that seems to only have one issue thus far–my favorite kind of literary journal to read and to submit to!–so I’m super excited.  It’s a print journal that publishes three times a year (March 15th, July 15th, and November 15th).  To make it feel like we all won, I solemnly promise to write up a summary review of the first issue as soon as I receive it so you’ll get a taste of whether you want to subscribe yourself or have something that would live happily ever after on its pages.  In the mean time, here’s the basic overview:

What They Want:  fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. They “desire first, and foremost, solid, well-crafted and intelligent work, and beyond that are very open minded as far as form and style. Our hope is to push the creative envelope, give artists a place to take risks, and to bring a fresh, modern feel to the world of creative writing. To clarify, this does not mean that we publish only the strange and extraordinary. We love traditional fiction, but want to allow it to breathe and flourish outside of the confines of the creative writing workshop. Prime Mincer is a place to play, explore, create and exhibit, and we invite you to bring your most interesting work forward.”

How They Want It: via submittable (submishmash changed its name).

When They Want It:  The deadline for the winter edition is already done (October 1st) but it seems they have rolling acceptance.

Who They Want It From: “Although we plan on publishing established writers, we are excited at the prospect of getting first dibs on new talent, so submit away.”  (Meh.  I don’t really approve of this selectivity process, especially from new start-up publications who are not affiliated with a university, but it’s a free country so whatever floats your boat.  Just don’t make this your first submission ever, in your life, and try to beef up your publication credits before you submit.  And here’s an example of my own author’s bio.)

Archives: True, they have not published yet, but they have a few things online to give a flavor of who they are.  See here.

Submission Response Time: Unknown.

**Simultaneous submissions are fine (as long as you follow the polite writer rules) but previously published work is not.

 

 

Dig into the Clapboard House Archive and Submit Your Stories!

Staying with the theme of our budget writing, Clapboard House Literary Journal offers a wide selection of excerpts from past issues on their website archive.  So before submitting by their deadline–NOVEMBER 1st–get a taste of what they like.What They Want: short fiction sub-3,000 words or 3 poems.

When They Want It:  November 1st

How They Want It:  Via email.  See further submission guidelines here.

Submission Fee?  Nope.

Accept Simultaneous Submissions?  Yes.

Response Time:  Unknown.

For All the Broke Writers: The Citron Review Lets you Read for Free

An original goal I had for this blog was to provide readers with information about the submission response times for literary journals and magazines I’ve submitted to in the past.  However, I’ve noticed myself recently shying away from publications that don’t offer excerpts online; to read the journal and get a vibe of what the editors like, I’d have to subscribe and, unfortunately, I am not made out of money (or, perhaps, not unfortunately.  Money gets rather soggy in the rain.  But I digress in a probably confusing and not-too-funny way.  Moving on) and cannot subscribe to every journal that I want to submit to (I can afford about four or five a year).  Unless any of you are a one-in-a-million international bestseller, I assume you’re in a similar financial boat.  So what’s a writer to do?

For everyone’s benefit, I’m going to start highlighting publications that offer content online.  That way you can still submit your writing in an informed sort of way, without breaking the bank.

The first one in our series of Budget-Friendly Publications is: The Citron Review.

Published by four friends/graduates of the Antioch MFA program, The Citron Review is an online, flash-fiction, micro-fiction, short memoir, poetry, and art literary journal.

What They Want: Previously unpublished Micro-Fiction (sixty words or less; allowed up to five micro-fiction selections per quarter); Flash-Fiction (one-thousand words or less; allowed to submit up to two flash-fiction selections per quarter); Poetry (30 lines or less; allowed to submit up to five poetry selections per quarter); Creative Non-Fiction (1,000 words or less (All genres of non-fiction (memoir, essay, articles, reviews etc.) are acceptable. You may submit up to two Non-Fiction selections per quarter).

When They Want It:  All the time; rolling submissions.

How They Want It:  via email.  See further submission guidelines.

Online Archive:  read it before you submit.

Official Submission Response Time: A month or less; because they read on a monthly basis, they usually let you know at the beginning of every month.  If it’s been more than six weeks, query to find out what’s going on.

Good luck!

The 4 Rules of Polite Simultaneous Submissions

I’ve read blog posts before where people claim that it’s “rude” or, at the very least, makes them extremely uncomfortable to simultaneously submit their writing to multiple journals or to multiple literary agents.  This is ridiculous!  Think about it.  If you have submitted your manuscript to a single literary agent, the wait time is, perhaps, eight weeks.  If you’re a betting sort of person–particularly a slots machine player–you know these odds are totally not in your favor.  And getting your writing published is already an upstream battle; simultaneous submissions is one of the tricks (a completely fair and legal one!) to increase your odds of becoming a published writer sooner.  The same goes for short stories at literary journals.  You have to expect rejection at least a few times–even the greats were rejected before they were discovered; wouldn’t it be better to submit to five places all at once, get four rejections and one acceptance in the same span of wait time, rather than doing it single file and having to wait years, perhaps, to get a “yes”?

Not only does it harm yourself as a writer, but journals and agents expect simultaneous submissions because it’s what smart writers do; it’s part of the industry and as long as you politely warn them in your cover and/or query letters and promptly withdraw your work from consideration elsewhere it is perfectly acceptable.

How to Simultaneous Submit your Work without Stepping on Toes:

1.  Read the fine print.  Make sure that the literary journals and agents you’re submitting to accept simultaneous submissions.  (Most do and they’ll mention it on their submission guidelines page; for example, see fugue, CutBank, and So to Speak.  Those who are morally against the practice also mention it there.)  There is nothing worse that simultaneously submitting something and then withdrawing it from consideration elsewhere when they don’t approve of the practice.  You might have burned a bridge with an editor and a journal so they won’t even consider your work again.  (This is not meant to scare you off!  As long as they say they don’t mind simultaneous submissions, you’re golden!)

2.  Only submit your story to a handful of places.  You don’t want to spread yourself too thin or do more work than you have to.  If your submissions are well-targeted–meaning you’ve read the journal before, or, in the case of a literary agent, have read their bio and are positive you’re writing fits their criteria–then you shouldn’t have to submit it one thousand times, so writing one thousand letters all at once would be wasted effort.  Personally, I submit a story a maximum of four different journals at a time.  And for queries, I usually send letters out in batches of five at a time.

3.  Submit in tiers.  In these batches of submissions, don’t submit to the New Yorker and you’re local no-name literary journal at the same time.  What if that local no-name journal accepts your work?  Great, right?  But then when you go to withdraw from the New Yorker, what if the editor says “that’s such a shame, we were really interested in publishing it.”  The New Yorker is a much better publishing credit–and a paying market–than the local no-name.  But, the polite rules of the industry are that you must accept the first offer and turn down any successive ones.  So to avoid shooting yourself in the foot, group together journals and literary agents in order.  In the case of journals, submit to the most competitive, bit-of-a-stretch-chance ones first.  Then, once you’ve heard back from all of them, go down a tier and submit to a batch from that level.  Same goes for literary agents.  Submit to your top five favorite, all-star, dream agents first because they might be interested.  You never want to be disappointing that one editor or agent responded first.  You should be equally happy to have gotten accepted by any single person in the same tier.

4.  Be honest.  In your cover letter, don’t conceal the fact that you’re simultaneously submitting your work.  Just throw a sentence in there: “This is a simultaneous submission, but I shall notify you immediately should it be accepted elsewhere.”  And then, if you do get accepted elsewhere, let the other journals/agents know.  Don’t try to get a single story published multiple times.  It’s dishonest, will hurt your career because word will get around, and might also lead to copyright legal issues.

So while you’re waiting to hear back about that one story, go submit it again somewhere else!  Or if you’re waiting to hear back from that literary agent, send it to another one in the mean time!