How to Fail, Part 9: Mailing, Rejections, Acceptances.

Since the last time I posted in this series, I jumped into ebook publishing (which I said in the last post that I wasn’t sure I was ready for).  Things are changing so fast in publishing right now, I don’t know how to keep up.  But anyhoo, ebooks are beyond the scope of this series, so I’ll leave that alone, other than to say this:

I think that chasing publication through other outlets than self-publishing still has worth.

That should give you a clue as to how big my shift in opinion has been.  At any rate, even if you’re self-publishing, getting published through other markets has the benefit of reaching people who don’t get their books through self-publishing channels.  Plus, the markets for short fiction will release your fiction after a while, so you can a) get paid for getting published and b) get paid for reprints and c) get paid for self-publishing.

Two cautions:

First, putting up one story/collection (as I had previously) means that you’re shouting into the void.  If you’re serious about wanting to make money, you’re probably going to have to be serious about getting a LOT of stuff up.  I can’t say this from direct experience, but I’ve now talked to enough people that are hitting long-term money-making numbers from epublishing to know that that has been their experience.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Second, do NOT price your books below where you intend to sell them long-term.  Apparently, there are a lot of agreements between sellers in place that will price match automatically.  Once you price that novel at .99 or free, that’s it, forever, because even if you raise your prices across the board, there will still be one tiny market out there that’s lower, and it’ll bump the rest of your markets back down.  Automatically.  Again, not from direct experience, but from a bunch of people who it happens to.


Okay.  The main focus this time is going to be mailing your submission package.

1) You’ve already formatted the story in standard ms. format.

2) You’ve already created a query letter, waiting to be filled in.

3) You’ve found your genre.

4) You’ve found your market.

5) You have a tracking system set up for your submissions, acceptances, and rejections.

6) The story has a beginning, middle, and end, and has been spell-checked.

Now, it’s time to get that story in the mail.

Go to the market’s submission guidelines page.  Often, you’ll see it right away on the website.  Sometimes, it’s a little buried, and you can find it by searching for “submission” on that page.  But sometimes, it’ll be deliberately buried under an “About” page or not even linked to from the home page.  (In that case, run a search engine search for the name of the market and “submission.”)

Read the guidelines from start to finish.

  • Make sure the market is open.
  • Make sure the market is looking for the story you’re selling (check the genres, “what we see too much of,” themes for the issue, and whether they buy from your country; some places buy only from Australian authors or wherever).  Read an issue of the market, if possible, or look up the authors they list on their cover, if you don’t recognize them.
  • Make sure your formatting matches the formatting they ask for exactly.  This is even more important for electronic submissions than for print subs; you don’t want your story overlooked because it’s going to cause the publisher more trouble than it’s worth to set it up.  There’s a reason they ask for certain formats:  ease of reading/publishing.  Follow them, please.
  • Enter the correct information onto the cover letter.  If they ask for anything specific or ask you not to provide something (some markets really don’t want any hints about the story in the cover letter), do it.
  • Put the editor’s name in the letter.  Spell it correctly.  Someone else, a first reader, assistant editor, or slush reader, may read the ms. instead.  That is acceptable, so don’t be shocked if you get a rejection from someone other than the person you sent it to.
  • Make sure your cover letter is correctly formatted and contains the correct information for a print/electronic submission, as applicable.  (E.g., for an electronic submission, make sure your wording is “Attached” and not “Enclosed,” and the encls: SASE, story line, if using, has been removed.
  • Enclose a SASE on all print submissions, unless noted on the website.  Overseas markets will often say they will send you a response via email, even if you have to send the submission via snail mail.
  • On the outside back of your SASE, write the name of the market and a word from your story:  “F&SF – Mirror.”  Sometimes, you’ll get back a form letter without the name of the story.  Mostly you won’t, but sometimes you will.

Then click send or drop it in the mail and add it to your tracking system.  You may be sick with fear the first few times, the first dozen times.  Or cocky.  Or ecstatic.  Whatever.  A strong emotional reaction at this point is normal.  However, if you get too wound up about these things on a regular basis, you’ll make yourself sick.  The first time, go ahead and get wound up a little.  Celebrate:  you done good.  But keep in mind that obsession will damage your relationships and health.  The best way to get over it is to:

Write more and send it out.

The more you submit, the less crazy you will be (whatever your particular crazy is).  Plus, the better you’ll write, and the better chance you have of finding the markets that love you.


This is not a comment on your story (although you will receive negative comments from time to time).  This is not a comment on you.  It is, perhaps, healthiest to assume that your story is perfect and just not right for them. It won’t be perfect; that’s okay.  It’s just one story, one tiny little piece out of your ten million words.

You will get rejected.  Track your rejections.

Just as you have to get used to the fact that not everyone will fall in love with you (which would be awkward), you have to get used to the fact that not every editor will love your story.

Don’t contact the editor or whomever rejected you.  Do not.

Do not explain, do not justify, do not tell them they’re missing the point, do not tell them that you’re going to kill yourself.  That submission package was your job interview.  Only crazy people lash out at potential employers or beg them on their knees.  I had a guy with a petition try to chase me down outside a Target once, because I was in a hurry and wouldn’t sign.  I told him no three times, and he yelled at me for being an apathetic citizen.  Don’t be that guy.  No matter how badly you want something, there are some ways of chasing that thing that will put your farther away from your goal.  Arguing with rejections, in any shape or form, no matter what your intentions are, will put you farther away from getting published.  I’ve never signed a petition outside a store since.

However, you may feel sad, worthless, angry, cheated, justified in castigating the editor, or some other strong emotion.  This is okay, as long as you don’t communicate this to your editor or to the community at large.  Bitterness is repulsive.  Being bitter in public, whether it’s about the fact that someone else got published or whether you got rejected and feel that you shouldn’t have been, is rotten.  It’s just rotten.  It will push people away from you.

And don’t rewrite your story to death – if you’re convinced that it’s that bad, just set it aside, keep writing and submitting other things, and completely rewrite the story from scratch once you think you know what went wrong the first time.  Don’t even look at the story; just rewrite it out of your brain.  THAT adds to your ten million words.  Fussing with editing stuff does not.

Set a goal for how many rejections you’re going to get this year.  I did that last year; it made each rejection into a tiny victory, a badge of honor.


Getting accepted is a whole new set of problems, ones that we happily trade up for.

I have much less experience with acceptance than rejection, though, so I’ll keep this part short:

Again, keep in mind that obsession will damage you physically.

Network with other writers.  When you get accepted, brag about it to them–and ask for help with what to do next.

Especially if you’re working with free markets, you may not want to publish your story, based on the contract. Read the contract.

Make sure:

1) It says when you’re getting paid (e.g., 30 days after publication, author copies in 3 months, whatever).

2) It says what happens if you don’t get paid or your story doesn’t get published (e.g., if not published within 12 months, all rights revert to author).

3) It says how much you’re getting paid and how (e.g., $50 by Paypal).

4) It says what rights they’re buying and when you get those rights back (e.g., first electronic rights for six months).

There’s more that I’m missing. Again, I apologize – I only have so much experience here.

If the contract says, in short, that the market gets all rights to your story, forever, walk.  Or negotiate, if you feel comfortable with that.  But don’t bend over and think of your bestselling status 20 years down the road.  You’re getting screwed.  If you’re going to sell your soul (and each story, while only a small part of your soul, is that), then make sure you’re getting paid appropriately for it, because you’ll never get it back.

Contracts are negotiable.

If anything tickles your brain as being suspicious, or if you’re not comfortable going it alone, ask published writers if they’ll look over your contract.  It’s not a confidential agreement, unless you signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which is more of a ghostwriting thing, and not something you should run into submitting your own stories.  It’s not like working for an employer, where they give you all this crap about not telling someone else your pay or whatever.  You can talk about your contracts to other people; you can ask for help.

A last point about acceptances…

Should you get published or self-published, don’t argue with your critics.  Your critics, unlike millions of apathetic unwashed non-readers out there, read your story.  Say “thank you,” or say nothing at all. Do not argue with your critics behind their backs, either.  Don’t talk smack.  Don’t bitch that you’re misunderstood.  Don’t laugh (in public) when they get their comeuppance.

Writers generally don’t start out with business experience, but this is part of being a businessperson, rather than an employee:  You are the face of your business.  Be businesslike when it comes to business.  Let’s say you’re at a restaurant and you don’t like the food.  If the owner happens to find out and threaten to cut you off at the knees, that’s not so much with the businesslike.  Even the mafia doesn’t do that.  No.  A good restaurateur comes out and gives you a free bottle of wine and makes it right.

You can’t rewrite a published story to make all readers happy, but you get my point, right?

Next time:  the wrap up.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *