Last week, I wrapped up my Virtual Balticon notes, but before I launch into sharing my notes from CoNZealand I figured you were owed an update.
Camp NaNoWriMo did not happen for me in July of 2020. That doesn’t mean I didn’t move forward on my writing, though! I finally finished revising my YA manuscript and got back into the querying trenches.
And? I took a pair of short stories plus a poem of mine and submitted them to editors.
What’s the Difference Between Querying and Submitting?
If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you probably are familiar with the concept of a query. It’s a brief letter to a literary agent telling them about your characters and their stakes, with a brief paragraph on the story’s stats and genre — maybe even with a few similar novels thrown in for comparison’s sake, and an even briefer sentence or two bio.
Once you get that heralded agent, they will submit your work to publishers on your behalf.
Most traditional publishers of novels do not accept “un-agented” work. They want you to be vetted. And? They want to be sure you have a person well-versed in book contracts to represent you, partially so you can’t claim ignorance later.
For the short story market, it’s a totally different beast. They have the payments listed (X cents per word), so no contract is really needed. And they expect writers to submit their own works, without an agent. Because really, the commission on a 1,000 word story that nets $80 at the pro-writer rate is chump change for anyone.
Now publishers, be they for novels, short stories, or flash fiction, don’t get query letters. They get cover letters, with the writing included — sometimes as a word attachment, sometimes copy/pasted into the email. These cover letter plus the full works are called “submissions” or “a submissions packet.” And the person you’re sending these to at the publisher is called the “acquiring editor.”
As I’ve discussed before, cover letters are far more brief than a query letter. You get one, maybe two sentences to describe your writing. Another sentence for its length (to the nearest 100 words for short stories or exact count for flash fiction). And then a 2-3 sentence bio, if they ask for you to include one. Especially with shorter works, you don’t need to tell the acquiring editor about your story, it’s right there and can speak for itself.
Despite the word “editor” in their title, acquiring editors are not just people who edit your work with feedback and all. Acquiring editors decide what they will and will not be publishing. They’re the ones who decide if your story fits the theme of their magazine, anthology, website, or publishing house. Sure, some of them will do some edits, after your work is accepted, but you should only be submitting fully polished works that are as good as you can make them.
There’s usually limited space (either in print, in time, in budget, or all three). If you had the choice between a solid piece and a might-be-amazing but “OMG it needs so much work and we need to have these prepped in two weeks and you’ve never worked with this writer before and they might take the edits in a direction you don’t want”… you’d probably go for the one that you know the readers will enjoy — without taking the chance on the one that needs more work without the guaranteed payoff.
Unlike querying agents, many publishers do ask for exclusive submissions. This means that, while you can usually query multiple agents at a time (although, most prefer you not to query multiple ones at the same agency at the same time), you should only be sending your shorts to one publisher at a time. I wish I could tell you that because of the exclusiveness, all publishers are prompt with their acceptance or rejection letters, but as with all things writer related… it can vary tremendously. Do pay close attention to the ‘open for submissions’ window time frames.
For me, I usually go to “The Grinder”, not the hook-up website, but :thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/ and search for paying markets. I start with the pro level ones (paying 8 cents a word or more), and then try the sub-pro, and then maybe the free markets (or sit on the piece until another paying market opens). I also google “Short Story Markets” and check the listicles for places that might not be on The Grinder.
For agents, I usually go to querytracker.net, search for agents in my genre, and then cross reference their manuscript wish list, twitters, and literary agent profiles to see if the books they represent or mention enjoying are similar to my works. If I don’t recognize any of them, they’re probably not a great fit for me.
Note: Once you perfect your query letters and cover letters, you’re probably going to reuse them. Be Very Careful When Doing This.
Make sure to update the agent name and any sort of personalization you added to the query letter. If you mention the name of the publication you’re submitting to in a cover letter, don’t be me. Make sure to update the publications name before you submit your piece to another publication.
I got a very quick rejection on a submission I made that mistake with. (Well, the publication has an under 48 hour turnaround time anyway, but still. Definitely not a mark in my favor.)
Between short stories and my manuscript, I’ve gotten 8 rejections this year.
There’s always the doubt: is it my writing? is it the market? Did I flub the query or cover letter? Am I picking the wrong agents?
Form rejections can’t tell you anything — but they’re become more and more commonplace as agents and editors get tired of writers responding negatively to thoughtful feedback.
If you get a personalized rejection — you know you’re on the right path. I’ve gotten a few in the past, but none this go around. But, I’m not letting it stop me.
I’m gonna keep querying and submitting because I believe in my work.
Best of luck to all of you out here with me in the query trenches or the submissions grind.
Couple things: first, I’ve been personally told by editors and writers, for a cover letter, if it’s not a novel, don’t even talk about the story, unless you have some qualifications (this computer that takes over the world in this short story is based on the supercomputer I ran for five years); all that I’ve heard is that the story will sell itself, or it won’t.
They do want publishing credits… but not a laundry list. They want the title, the wordcount, how to contact you, and that’s about it.
Novels, if you’re submitting to a publisher, may ask for a query letter. Or they may want you to use an online submission system that wants the query letter AS WELL. DAW, for example, does want an actual query letter.
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Ah. I hadn’t submitted any manuscripts to publishers because I don’t want to throw away my shot prematurely.
And, as always with publishing, all advice is tendencies, there are always going to be exceptions to the rule. For one of my short stories, my 1 line on the story is, “Please consider “The Darkness In The Files”, a blend of Lovecraftian horror and coder life, for your [publication name].” Not a true “pitch” in the novel sense.