by Tom Howard
There’s nothing more exciting than digging through form letter rejects and finding one that says, “We love your story and would like to publish it. Contract forthcoming.” Some assign you an editor right away, some don’t touch the story after they’ve bought it. There are probably as many different types of acceptances out there as there are editors, but for the writer, any acceptance is a good acceptance, right?
I can only tell you of my experiences with editors and publishers, but for the most part, they’ve been very good. I prefer the publication that assigns a tough editor and works one on one with me to improve the story, but out of two dozen stories I’ve sold, only about six have done that. Most take the story as is, and I just have to hope and pray that the crit group has managed to catch the majority of my typos before it’s exposed naked to the whole wide world.
Some acceptances are conditional. One editor asked me to rewrite a piece in present tense to make it more intimate. I struggled because I don’t normally write in present tense, but the story was much improved. Another editor liked my psychopath meets alien story as long as I took out the alien.
A good friend recently asked me how passionately she should fight against editorial changes, and I told her I fight only those things that change the plot of my story. I don’t quibble over this word or that. They’re paying me for the right to make it sound correct to their ears so I let them do their jobs. Sure, I’ve had editors screw up my grammar and punctuation, but as long as the story isn’t affected, I’m okay. After the publisher buys it, it’s like a kid going away to college and not my problem anymore.
The paperwork can be a full-time job. I was very happy writing away, using Duotrope to find good markets, and patting myself on the back when I got an acceptance letter. It wasn’t until I’d been selling for a year that I realized my brag shelf wasn’t getting much weightier (nor was my bank account). I researched where all my twenty-eight babies were and discovered some magazines had gone out of business without publishing my story, some had paid me and gone out of business, some hadn’t paid me, some were available on Amazon (without telling me), some were online publication only, some gave contributor’s copies and some didn’t. So, I made myself an Excel spreadsheet listing the story, date sold, price paid, media, buyer, date published, and whether or not it occupied my brag shelf. I find if I update it monthly, I can keep up with it (since I sell one or two a month).
As to the rejection letters, don’t take it personally. Really, the publisher and editor are looking for a specific story and yours doesn’t happen to fit what they’re looking for that day for that publication. Keep shopping it around. One of my early magical realism pieces hit ten magazines before an editor sent me a note at midnight on the day I’d submitted it. He loved it and said he was looking for exactly that story.
I am finding that the more I write, the more editors tend to give me feedback on what didn’t work for them. In every case, it’s been helpful and has resulted in a rewrite and a better story. I’ve even worked up the nerve a couple times to insist they tell me exactly what “doesn’t work for them” when I got a form letter. Most were gracious enough to give me details.
Each publication pays differently. Since I have a full-time non-writing job, I only insist on token payment so I can say I didn’t give the story away. I never submit to royalty-only places due to their “pay writer after all debts have been paid to the publisher” clause in most contracts (debts are never paid). Generally in the contract, the publishers ask for first time exclusive rights for six to twelve months. That means you can’t sell it anyplace else in that time and only afterwards as a reprint. Many contracts have non-exclusive rights. That means you can sell it the next day as a reprint. If they don’t publish it within that time frame or they go out of business, the rights revert back to you.
Be sure to check if the rights you’re selling are worldwide or not. US contracts generally are worldwide, but others aren’t. I’ve sold the same story several times to different countries (Australia, UK, and US). Just make sure the amount you’re going to be paid is mentioned in the contract. Most of the publishers now pay by Paypal, and sometimes you get the payment before you receive the acceptance email.
Understand which media rights you’re selling. It wasn’t until I read a recent contract that I realized my story was going to be a podcast (I kept the print rights and sold it elsewhere). Almost all of them ask for anthology rights, many paying additional funds if they do decide to publish an anthology. No publisher I’ve worked with has willfully tried to screw me over. They’re like us, trying to produce something worthy of being read.
Another facet of writing that I hadn’t read about in any book is the changes caused by social media. Not only do you have to write a story, market it, and keep track of the admin stuff, but now publishers are wanting more from writers. It used to be the three line bio alone was fine, but with the advent of social media, readers want to know more. For one story, they asked me to provide a 500 word “why I wrote this story” essay (Russ sold one to that same anthology), for another, I answered twenty interview questions. Just today I was invited to an “hour long Google hang out that will be broadcast live online for fans to watch and join in on the conversation via Twitter” for an anthology recently published.
This has been my journey so far, and it’s been a pleasant and rewarding one. I’ve enjoyed the editors, the friends I’ve made through writing (like Russ), my critique group, and the occasional fan letter. No matter how much work it is or how mysterious the process, we will make it. Every acceptance letter, no matter how long it takes to arrive, is validation that we are Writers.
Links to much of Tom’s work, available for Kindle and in paperback, can be found at his ever-growing Amazon Author page. Thanks again to Tom for sharing his experiences! To catch his upcoming author chat “tune in to Youtube.com/user/MorgueAnnePresents Wednesday, October 23 at 7pm and watch Tom and fellow authors talk about their favorite scary stories. You can follow along live and tweet your questions with hashtag #BookDate.”