Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tips for Subbing to Mags

By Steve Weddle

We continue to discuss Tom Piccirilli's excellent crime fiction novel THE LAST KIND WORDS over at the DSD book club page.


Tips for Subbing to Mags

As the editor over at NEEDLE: A Magazine of Noir, I see quite a few stories on a weekly basis. I've also worked on some more "literary" magazines, including New Delta Review (when I was MFAing and teaching at LSU).

So I thought I'd pass along some tips if you're 1) interested in submitting to fiction/literary magazines and 2) give a damn about anything I have to say.

At NEEDLE, I'm joined in reading stories by Matt Funk and Stephen Blackmoore. Naomi Johnson is on hiatus after long, grueling hours I forced on her. And DSD's own Scott Parker was with us at the beginning helping out before he thought better of it. So it's a team effort. These are just my thoughts.

Do not blather on in your cover letter.
Look, it's super neat that you were published in Burning River Monthly. And Triangulation. And Far Flung Fiction. And those other 19 mags and websites. Honestly, I've never heard of any of them. And even if I had, it won't matter. You'd think if you said, "This is my first submission I'm sending out since having had my last three published at The New Yorker" would matter. It doesn't. See, we're going to look at your story whether you were loved by The New Yorker or just your mom.

Do show you know the mag
This is a big one. When we started out with the magazine, we got listed at Duotrope. Very pleased, of course. Love those folks.
And, yet, what happens is that we get many, many, many, many submissions from people who are sending the same story out to 50 magazines and sites.
If you say something to show you're not carpet-bombing the world with your story, you'll be better off. We'll look at your story either way, but it's better to say, "I really liked 'The Hung Nut' in your fall issue."

Do really, actually, for reals -- know the magazine
You'd be surprised how many horror, sci-fi, fantasy stories we get at our noir publication. Unless you think the number is 100 a week. Then maybe you wouldn't be surprised. Some people who write stories want that story published. They don't care where. They don't care that no one who gets a noir mag is looking in that noir mag for a story about the mining revolt on New Jupiter. If you're a real writer, seriously, you want the best audience for your work. Choose wisely.

Do not send us a chapter from your novel
Seriously. I did not get up from my futon today to promote your crappy novel. If the magazine you're sending to says that they accept "stand-alone chapters" or something along those lines, you're probably better just passing it off as a story. Seriously. If you say -- "This is an exciting chapter from my historical noir series featuring beat detective Nick Nickleback and his sidekick and lover, Quartermayne, in the quest to discover the true identity of Jack the Ripper. In this chapter, they come face to face with their biggest foe so far. I think you'll enjoy it." -- then I shall share your home address with my twitter followers, telling them you need advice on how best to kill your neighbor's puppies.

We accept simultaneous submissions, but you need to let us know immediately if your story is accepted elsewhere, because we don't want to accept your story only to find out that you already had it accepted elsewhere.
This means you, James T. Sessions, Jr. of 1223 East 10th Street, Apt. 2-C, Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Do not send us the story as soon as you finish it
There's no rush. We're not going to read it today. We might not get to it this week. We have a backlog. Everyone has a backlog. So take your time. Finish it. Do something else. Come back to it in a week and walk through it again. Let the thing breathe a little. Please.

Do not act like a dick if your story gets rejected
Look, pal. I've had stories rejected by magazines you've never heard of. So don't think I don't know what it's like to get a note back saying, "We really didn't connect with this character, though we do appreciate your creative grammar." You know what? They weren't right for my story. And maybe the magazine you sent to isn't right for your story. Maybe the editor goes to the trouble to give you an explanation of why your story wasn't a good fit for the magazine.
And guess what? When an editor sends a note along with a rejection, the editor is not entering into a debate with you. Editor: "Some of these details seemed to throw our readers off." You: "Throw your readers off? LOL. Your readers are probably morons because I spent 83 hours researching this story and making sure the facts are correct because I am a real writer and you are an ill-fitting colostomy bag." Yeah, don't do that. Just use that anger to write a better story. And maybe take a closer look at those details.

Do not send in a PDF of your collection and ask the magazine to pick a favorite story to publish
Yes. This has happened.

Oh, and your mileage may vary and all that.

OK. Now your turn. What tips am I forgetting? What tips did I screw up?


Anonymous said...

These tips are actually really helpful. Yeah, using my anger from getting rejected to write a better story is for sure one thing I should learn to do. I'm currently interning at The Review Review, a website about lit mags, and they also write a list of useful tips related to publishing each weeks: here's the link. In case anyone wants more. Anyway thanks for these.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

I posted my most recent tip on Twitter yesterday, which you retweeted.

But it might be worth putting it here because this has happened to Snubnose Press TWICE.

Don't send us a query or a manuscript then turn around and self publish it while it is still under consideration. Did you think I wouldn't notice?


Nik Korpon said...

Make sure you're addressing the cover letter to the right person and the right magazine.

Never made that mistake for subbing, but I've done it a couple times with jobs. Maybe that's why I'm still underemployed...

pattinase (abbott) said...

I never submit simultaneously since a story was published in two places at the same time a few years back. What I do do is withdraw a story if more than a month or two has past. My strategy would be different if I was thirty, but I just can't afford to wait months at this point.

Brad Green said...

That bit about no novel chapters surprises me. I thought that was a fairly standard practice. Oh...sorry about that then.

Steve Weddle said...

If the chapter really, really stands alone, then it's more like its own story, I think. Of course, other editors might like having writing more fragmentary. YMMV

Meriah Crawford said...

There are very few journals that respond within a month. Almost none of them, in fact. And often, the longer they take, the more seriously they are considering it. If you want to get published, this is not the right approach.

Manuel Royal said...

Good tips. I'd add: Read, understand, and follow the Submission Guidelines. Not just for the type of piece they want, but for formatting: Even if you're in love with Courier, put it in Times New Roman if that's what they want. If they request an .rtf, don't send them a .docx.

And, no matter what -- be polite, be professional. Even if the editor is clearly a halfwit.

Thomas Pluck said...

Be NICE. like Swayze said in Roadhouse. Thanks for suggesting the writer mention proof that he read the mag. Great idea.
I simultaneously submitted my first story to three zines, like an impatient idiot. I had to apologize and write two stories to beg forgiveness.
Be patient. I don't like waiting months for a reply either, but I wait and then query, and pull the story if I get no response to three queries after six months. Editing one anthology us more with than I imagined., you editors who do this every quarter are nuts, monthly? I salute you.
To reference a famous psychology experiment about delaying gratification...
I think writers need to wait for the three marshmallows they can have later, instead of going for the marshmallow we can have RIGHT NOW.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Adding to that one about not being a dick when you get rejected, don't call people dipshits and try to justify how great your story is by saying how much the people in your creative writing class loved the reading you gave at that Barnes & Noble in San Bernardino that one time.

Seriously, it doesn't work.

And that whole comment on the cover letters? Absolutely.

Speaking as the laziest member of the Needle crew when I actually read a story I don't look at the cover letter. Ever. Half the time I don't even look at the author's name.

So all those accolades and publishing credits mean fuck all. Sure, I might be impressed, especially if I happen to wade through the constant cloud of pot smoke around my head to go, "Oh, hey! I know this guy. He's cool," but that's pretty much it.

In fact, this has worked against some people. If I recognize a name and it's someone whose work I like I find I have much higher expectations.

And that's not cool, because then I'm not judging the story for the story, but against my own hopes for the story.

So I try not to do that.

AC said...

Good advice. I still stick up for the folks who get upset by rejection. I'm a sensitive guy! I know rejection sucks. Nasty emails in response to rejection suck also, but I wonder if editors wouldn't be better off creating a standard response to these emails explaining in a polite way that the writer needs to develop tougher skin and realize that his or her work is not for everybody. Or maybe I need to not be such a nice guy!

Ron Earl Phillips said...

Great tips, Steve!

Having done the SH website and now the anthology, especially with the antho, we've been lucky overall, but I do have this one tip, which was kind of touched.

Do not try to sell your book, collection or any previous work you might have up on Amazon and other e-markets. You'd be surprised how many submissions finish with "If you liked 'This Supper Wicked Story' then check out THIS WICKED COOL collection available right now at website"... I paraphrase of course.