Inside an Editor’s Mind (Tips for Writers)

As some of you saw in my Updates: May 2012 post, I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Plasma Frequency.  I’ve been doing this  just shy of one month, and I have learned a lot about being an editor.  But, I’ve also learned a lot about being a writer too.


I was very surprised by the sure volume of submissions we have had in the first month.  To date, our editors have read 125 submissions, and there are currently 68 stories in queue.  We never expected this type of response and it has been a blessing for sure.  We keep getting more and more responses and I’m very grateful for all the writers that contribute.

The hardest part has been saying “No, thank you.” to very talented writers with very good stories.  The issue has a limit to how much we can publish and in the end it came down to picking the very best out of an excellent crop.  I spent two nights debating over many of the stories before making a final choice.  But even before it came down to final selections, there were so many good stories.  There were many well written stories that were simply not my style or the style of the magazine.

This got me thinking about all the stories I have sent out and how crushed I have been when I was rejected by some of those markets.  Especially when I thought I had the perfect fit for their publication.  Now that I see what I am getting as a semi-pro market, I can only imagine the volume and quality that a publication like Daily Science Fiction is getting. I got nearly 200 submissions this month, that means I’ll get 2400 stories in a year.  I will only publish roughly 100 stories in a year.  That is only 4% of the stories I get submitted.  I suspect DSF is much lower.

Skill is very important.  You must have the art of story telling down.  But, luck is also just as important.  The Editor you get has to enjoy the style you write in.  They have to like your prose, and enjoy your tale.  It is almost like lining up the stars.  Should you be discouraged?  No.  Just remember you are up against the odds more than anything else.  But, there is a huge plus to this all.  There are currently 4200 markets listed on Duotrope alone.  Even at the odds per publisher, there is still a good chance one of those 4200 will line up for you.

There are ways to get into those slim odds.  Here are some common mistakes I’ve seen already:

Join a writers group.

Join one that is outside of your friends, family, and other well known colleagues.  Let them read your manuscripts before sending it.  Together you will catch these common mistakes that can cause for a quick rejection:

  1. Missing words
  2. Punctuation Errors
  3. Story Pacing Issues
  4. Readability
  5. Missing Parts
  6. Extra Parts to be cut

Submission Guidelines

You have seen that the odds are small of getting accepted.  This is why it is very important to follow submission guidelines when you send in some work.  Some publications are extremely strict on their guidelines and will reject your story unread if you fail to follow them.  Check everything over carefully.  Look for errors if you convert your file type.  If they don’t want multiple submissions or simultaneous submissions don’t do it.  Multiple submissions are when you send more than one manuscript to the same publications.  Simultaneous Submissions means you send the same story to two different publications.

I’ve heard it argued that in today’s market you can’t not simultaneous submit because it takes so long to hear back.  Well, I don’t agree with that.  In the day and age of getting everything handed to us in an instant, we now are becoming impatient with the response times of publications.  But, there was a time where six months to a year of waiting was considered the norm.  That was a time when there were fewer publications, fewer authors, and submissions were sent by mail.  My experience shows that most publishers take 30 to 60 days to respond now.  That is hardly a blink of an eye when all things are considered.  And now we have caused editors to speed read the “slush” pile.  Our own impatience (in my opinion) has caused writers to get more stories rejected without a real in depth reading, just because of reading deadlines.  The point is that you can wait 30 days, or even 90 days, to get a rejection before sending it to another market.  If you don’t like how long the response times are, don’t submit there.  I don’t submit to a few publications for just that reason.  It won’t hurt any of us to breath a bit between submission and response.  Who knows, maybe you can work on another project.

I’ve also heard that there is no real way for an editor to know you have simultaneously submitted.  This is true so long as all the markets reject it.  But if one accepts it, you should tell all the other markets to remove it from consideration.  Now those markets know you sent it to more than one market, despite guidelines.  Even worse, what if it is accepted in two places?  So much work goes into accepting a story.  When an editor accepts it only to get an email saying it was accepted someplace else a week earlier, that will equal an upset editor.  That can burn your bridges with that publication (more on burning bridges below).

Now if you like simultaneous submissions, then submit to those markets exclusively.  That really goes for any publication’s guidelines.  If you don’t like them, don’t submit to them.  Where you submit is your choice, 100%.

Responding to Editor Comments

One thing I pride Plasma Frequency on is that we provide a reason for rejection.  We tell the author how far in the manuscript we read, and at least one sentence as to why it was rejected.  As the story advances to the second reading, we add that editors thoughts as well.  You don’t see many personal rejections in this industry.  I was warned by fellow editors to stick with a form letter.  And, I’m starting to see why.  Many people have taken our rejections and never responded (which is exactly as it should be unless a response is requested in the letter).  A few have responded with a “Thank You”.  But some have responded with threats or anger.  While anger may be a natural response to rejections, I know I have been angry by a few rejections (and those were just form letters), responding to the editors with your anger is not good.  This includes putting a comment on their Facebook or Twitter pages.  It will only hurt those odds above.

First, the editor is not wrong no matter what you think.  They have chosen to provide you with their OPINION.  You may not agree with their opinion, but they are not wrong.  Opinions rarely fall into the category of right or wrong.  You are allowed to disagree with them, you can change nothing in your manuscript and simply submit it someplace else.  Another editor may read it, love it, and accept it.  His/her opinion is different then the opinions of the previous editor.  You might agree with the opinion and change some things and send it to another editor and they will reject it because they don’t like the changes you made.  Yikes.  But that is that is the beauty of art.  The artist is the only one that can decide to change it.

Second, editors talk to each other.   Just as writers share information about editors and publications, editors do the same with each other.  They let each other know about a great new talent they see.  Or, about the person who responded rudely to a rejection.  I’ve been warned about a few authors, and I’ve warned a few editors.  Editors will  be sure to “watch out” for them.  No editor deserves to be treated that way and any good Editor-in-Chief will protect his staff by refusing to accept submissions from writers who belittle editors.  So not only will you be burning your bridge with that particular publication, you will be burning your bridges with many others.  Because those editors will share with each other and then they will share with others.  One think I have learned is that things spread like wildfire in this industry.

Third, Publications are often run by bigger presses.  When you burn your bridges with one publication, you may well catch a few other bridges on fire as well.

This is why it is important to take a moment to be angry, disappointed, or even sad over getting that rejection letter.  But think before you click send to any editor.  Let it go.  It really is just a minor thing in the long run.  You have a right to disagree with an editor’s opinion.  If you do, ignore the feedback they gave and move on to the next submission.  No matter how angry the few personal rejections I have got made me, I was still so pleased to know why it was I got rejected.  It gave me something to work with.  Maybe they just don’t like my style.  Maybe they just didn’t get it.  But it is so much better then “we decided not to accept it.”  Also, as an author you will be exposed to a lot of people’s opinions.  And many of those will be much harsher than those of an editor.

Why the information?

Why did I decide to give you this rare glimpse into an editor’s mind?  Because I will always thing of myself as a writer first.  I want to see my followers succeed.  And with the odds as they are, why not get a little boost with some insider information.  I hope it helps you.

Comments ( 3 )

  1. delrancho
    The converse holds true as well- an editor shouldn't be rude in their rejection letters.
    • Richard Flores IV
      I agree. I've been fortunate enough to have never received a rude letter from an editor.
  2. Form Rejections « The Flores Factor
    [...] enough to move on.  They have to say something back.  Those authors should read my blog post, “Inside an Editor’s Mind (Tips for Writers)”.  The problem is they are rarely correct in their anger, and it is almost always [...]

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