Ten Clues for the Clueless

I’ve been getting back into the swing of things in terms of submitting my short fiction, just because I’ve been writing more of it. And co-editing anthos, and hearing a lot from various magazine editors. And thus, from within the cocoon of that context, I have ten clues for the clueless.

Specifically, if you submit your fiction to a publication:

(1) Don’t query about your story two weeks before the average length of time the magazine says it responds in.

(2) Don’t withdraw your story in a huff two weeks after submitting it to a publication with a one-month response time.

(3) Don’t email an angry response to a friendly rejection.

(4) Don’t get upset if an editor you emailed a submission to rejects it a scant two hours later. Be happy you got a quick response.

(5) Don’t, if sending a snail mail submission, include a naked photo of yourself with your submission.

(6) Don’t send, without a query, a 40,000-word submission to a publication that only takes fiction up to 10,000 words.

(7) Don’t leave a rambling telephone message for the editor about how you’ve got some really cool SF that’s “true to life” and based on your “psychic experiences.”

(8) Don’t leave a telephone query for the editor with your phone number in another area code and expect a call back.

(9) Don’t send poetry to a publication that only takes fiction.

(10) Don’t send any submissions to a publication that’s been dead for almost 20 years. (Imagine my surprise to get a submission to Chimera Connections earlier this year, which folded back in 1990.)

21 comments on “Ten Clues for the Clueless

  1. Ennis Drake says:

    Good advice. I’ve found that courtesy, and genuine appreciation for an editor’s time, usually ensure an equally courteous response. Another note on what I like to call “submission lag” (when the story is out, you know its there, in some slush reader’s hot little hands, or perhaps even the editor’s, and the response time is, say, four weeks, and it’s been three, and you haven’t heard anything, and the anticipation IS ACTUALLY BEGINNING TO KILL YOU): The longer it takes for you hear to back from the editor, the better your chances that your work has ENGAGED the editor (or at least a slush reader, or an associate editor). So, really, no news (relatively speaking — time is relative, after all) is probably GOOD NEWS (even if good news is a personal response).

    If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then patience is almost as good as published.

  2. Ian Rogers says:

    I currently have stories that have been out for close to, or in sometimes more than, a year. But I still try to be patient. Some of these are small-press publications, and I understand that most people have a life outside of their respective magazine/anthology.

    But it can still be a bit frustrating. Especially when you see other markets that respond so quickly. :)

  3. Well, I’m NOT at all in favor of rewarding publications that take that long, unless, I guess, they state it in their guidelines.

    But, me, I’d never submit to something responding in a year.

  4. I’ve found that a professional attitude and a respect for others’ time and personal boundaries can go a long way in this and any other endeavor. I’ve interviewed a number of publishers and editors, and their stories about towering slush piles, looming deadlines and dingbat writers have helped me to develop some perspective about the ins and outs of submitting my own stories. I’ve had a couple of stories out for going on nearly six months and I haven’t heard anything yet, but that’s the way it goes with some of the better, and thus busier, markets.

    Even as a neophyte writer (I just started writing fiction this year) I’ve had a fair number of rejections, and have always tried to be appreciative of the fact that at least the editor took the time to read my story. Really paying attention to what gets rejected and what sees print is a good way to “earn as you learn” to develop the craft of telling a story. It’s like gladiator school for short fiction. The successful stories thrive, and the unfit perish. My colorful hyperbole aside, making mistakes is the only way to learn what works as a writer, and sometimes rejection can be a harsh but dependable teacher even if the lesson isn’t one you were hoping to receive.

    Of course, there’s the other side of the coin: nutty editors. I’ve been fortunate enough to have only run into one, a gentleman of hardly more accomplishment than myself (and I’ve not accomplished much at all) who seemed to relish eviscerating my work with the gusto of a practiced sadist. Several stories that I submitted to his electronic quarterly went on to find print in other (even better) markets, and I learned through him that sometimes it’s good to weigh the merits of criticism against the merits of the critic.

    I know that you and Ann both have earned more than a little experience on the other side of the editor’s desk, and I’m sure that I speak for most everyone when I say that I appreciate you sharing your insight.

  5. Naked photos? Really? Wow. The editing business is more perilous than I thought.

  6. Ennis Drake says:

    Perilous? Or exciting?

    Just ribbing. I couldn’t help myself.

  7. I’ve always wondered about #3, but in the reverse, is it okay to send a, “Thanks for the comments and your time, hope you like the next one better,” kind of email to a nice rejection?

  8. Steve: that’s a good question, because it’s something I’ve done as a matter of course. If it’s inappropriate then I need to know.

  9. All writers are 300 pound shut ins, right? That’s why they’re writers. :p

  10. Ennis Drake says:


    I make it a point to write a letter of thanks when I recieve a personal response. It’s only polite. That’s just my southern manners in action, but I believe you could do worse.
    Imagine what that editor’s job is like. I imagine (and I could be wrong) that they recieve a hell of a lot more complaints than they do pleasantries (not to mention the slushiness of some of the slush they wade through — and I’m not excluding myself from that; I sure like to think I am, excluded that is, but I’m not THAT presumptuous). Just a thought.

  11. Ennis Drake says:


    There may be some very attractive three-hundred pound shut-in writers out there in the world. And for all we know, they photograph very well. ; )

  12. Yeah, fine to send a friendly response.

    Yes, it’s usually more crap than thanks, but the upshot of that is that as an editor–well, I mean, I can only speak for myself–I generally don’t get irritated about rude behavior, especially since I understand the frustrations of being a writer all too well.


  13. Rude behavior just kills me. Who wants to burn their bridges in this business?

  14. Yeah, but Matt, without the cranks and weirdos, there would be no SF/F.

  15. Ennis Drake says:


  16. Ennis Drake says:

    I resemble that remark.

  17. Harlan Ellison.
    That is all.

  18. Mike Allen says:

    I’d like to add that (9) is equally valid in reverse. Fiction submissions come in to MYTHIC DELIRIUM with some frequency.

  19. Oh, you poets know you deserve whatever you get, you boozing bastards. ;)

  20. John Klima says:

    For me, the most stunning thing about this post (because I experience what Jeff’s talking about on a daily basis) is that 1990 is nearly 20 years ago.

    That just plum makes me feel old.

Comments are closed.