Explaining the No


Back in June, we opened submissions for the upcoming Weird West anthology, Lawless Lands, from Falstaff Books. We’ve had a lot of stories roll in, some of them great, some of them okay, and some of them pretty terrible. Yeah, I said ‘terrible’. Despite all the advice we here on Magical Words (as well as lots of other writing sites all over the net) have offered over the years, there are some writers who are just NOT. GETTING. IT. And that breaks my heart. As an editor, what I hope to find every time I open a story file is that incredible story, the one that makes me race through to the end and then read it again because it was that good. The one that leaves me in tears because it touched me so deeply. THAT story. But sometimes writers send in pieces that make me stare at the wall and ask ‘What were you thinking?’

Let’s talk about that.

First, I want to bring up word count. We say, on our submission guidelines, that we are looking for stories of 3000 to 7000 words. Seems fairly straightforward, doesn’t it? So why would you want to send me a story that comes in far below the minimum?  Sure, we said we’d entertain the possibility of something slightly outside the guidelines, but we meant we’d look at a story that’s a little over the limits. If we said 3000 is the shortest story we want, then your 600 word piece is going to have to blow my everloving mind to impress me. If we said 7000 is the maximum, then your 10000 word saga had better hit the ground running and never let up.

Next up…the definition of ‘story’ is ‘an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.’ Okay, I’ll stipulate to that being a bit broad. However, when I say ‘story’, most people know what I mean. When I say ‘poem’, again, most people get the difference. So why are you sending me poetry when I asked for stories?  Just don’t, please. For the love of all that’s holy. Send your poems to a poetry journal and send me stories, and we’ll all avoid the head-against-the-desk bruises.

Now this one may upset a few people and I hate that for you, but it’s important that you listen to me. Women in the days of the US Western expansion were just as tough and brave as the men. They had no choice but to be. Yes, some of them worked as prostitutes. But they also served as barkeepers and merchants and doctors and schoolteachers and ranchers. If the only women in your story are sex workers, you’re doing a disservice to our history and 50% of the readers who’ll encounter your story (not to mention irritating the three female editors you’ve asked to look at your work.) If your story revolves around a prostitute, make sure there’s a good reason. Something other than, “that’s all women could be out west.” Because that’s just not true.

Another thing I’d like to point out is diversity. The American west was chock full of all sorts of people. There were Native Americans of all different tribal cultures. There were escaped and freed black slaves trying to rebuild the lives. There were Chinese workers and Irish refugees and Hispanics from the former New Spain territory. With all this fabulous storytelling fodder to work with, why do we receive so many stories about white cowboys? I’m not saying we won’t accept a story about a white cowboy. It’s just that I’d hate to ignore all the possibilities that exist for your story to be different, incredible, totally stunning. Branch out, y’all.

And here’s the last thing…when we receive your submission, we respond with an email letting you know that a) we appreciate you submitting to us, and b) we will send you an answer no later than October 31. We mean that. You may get lucky and hear from us earlier, but it takes time to read each story properly, and there are three of us. We each have to read your story, make our notes and then discuss between us the merits. All three of us may not agree, and that adds to the time it takes. Submissions close at the end of September, so one month on top of that is more than fair.  Please don’t start writing to us on October 2 demanding to know why we haven’t sent you an answer yet. If we’ve been on the fence about your story and you start acting like a prima donna, that may be enough to push us over onto the rejection side of that fence.



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