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To the Mailbox and Back Again...

by J.L.Cooper

We’re all different – size, shape, emotional contents – and we all strive for the same thing – to be published. It is this achievement that gives you, the Short Story, purpose in life. It doesn’t matter how good you are (or indeed, think you are) without publication none of your claims can be substantiated. It is with publication that people begin to talk about you, nominate you for awards and even allow your creator to give you brothers and sisters.

I understand what an emotionally challenging experience it is for a Short Story to grow and develop. There are so many things that you have to consider, your idea is simply not enough. Hey, I’m an article (just a little bit different from you) and I’ve been torn up, thrown across the room, sworn at and accidentally used as toilet paper so I can understand to a certain extent what you’re going through. You have to wonder about characterisation, setting, plot and story flow. So much of your creator goes into you sometimes you don’t even get a chance at publication. They’re forever tinkering away in the hopes of making you perfect. Even your creator’s personal life can halt your growth. Mine just found out he’s going to be a Daddy. He had to stop shaking from the pleasant surprise before he could resume typing.

And no matter what anyone claims, no Short Story can be 100% perfect and after the hard-work is done and your creator is finished it becomes your time to shine. But the whole process of publication can be intimidating for Short Stories not used to it. I’m lucky, I’m being sent by e-mail but I can imagine how scary it would be being slotted into a metal can for delivery (but that’s gotta be better that being tossed into one – for recycling). It’s dark, cold and lonely. Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning.

What I’m hoping to achieve, simply by being myself, is to show you that even though every Short Story will have a differing submission experience, there is some kind of process that goes along with it. You shouldn’t fear it. Embrace it. Remember, every time you gain a rejection (and you undoubtedly will) your creator will learn from it and (hopefully) won’t take it as a personal attack but something to be used to improve you.

So there you are, nestled comfortably at the bottom of the mailbox. You’re shiny, new and crinkle-free. Both you and your creator have high expectations for your success but it’s probably mixed with a dash of fear and self-doubt. This is expected.

In what seems like only hours, you’re roughed up, chucked into a mailbag and you begin to fear, not rejection, but your life itself. You didn’t expect it to be like this. You were written to be cherished, not man-handled like the lonely, despised Bills that accompany you. You’re sorted, processed and if you’re lucky you’ll make it to where your creator intended you to go. Just think surviving Australia Post is an achievement in itself.

Once sent and received different things begin to happen to you, depending on the publication your creator has targeted. Looking at the process at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, gives one a good overview of a standard practice.

At ASIM, your journey will be like mine - electronic. According to the website you are “entered into a submissions management program developed explicitly for Andromeda Spaceways [which is] affectionately dubbed [the] ‘Slush-O-matic’.” The great thing about ASIM is that you’re judged solely on your own merits as a Short Story. All creator details are stripped prior to the story being sent to a random reader who’ll end up marking it with a yes, no or maybe.

If it’s a no… Sorry, you’re going home to your creator, who’ll hopefully not cry or send death threats to the editor condemning their lack of wisdom regarding quality fiction. Then it’s on to rounds two and three where the stories are judged and rejudged. The published works are then chosen from these best of the best.

“Every other magazine goes through some variation of this process,” claims the ASIM website, “We’re just more open about it than others.”

Agog! Press, on the other hand, accepts no electronic submissions (conveniently ignoring new launch Ripping Reads). The manuscripts are usually collected by editor Cat Sparks who does all the reading. “Agog! is a one woman show,” she declares. And for that she should feel proud, as should the editor of Antipodean SF, Ion Newcombe.

James Cain, editor of the gritty Dark Animus knows a good story. “I read the submissions myself and those I think are good, I give to my readers for a second opinion in most cases. Some I pick right up, if I think it's just what the issue needs or it knocks me off my socks.”

Angela Challis, co-editor of Shadowed Realms and the upcoming Macabre: The New Era in Australian Horror, uses a variant of the ‘Slush-O-Matic’. “As a rule, submissions are receipted by the editor and then electronically forwarded to the slush readers,” she explains, “The role of the slush readers is to apply a rating system to the submissions received. When choosing stories for the next issue I will look at those rated highest by the readers.”

However, on the odd occasion a read gives a particularly well-written or well-told story elevation to an ‘alert’ status.

Although you, my dear Short Story, are judged purely on the personal opinion of the readers who are reading you, if you are worthy you will succeed.

“I do sometimes select stories that are clearly well-written that I personally don't much resonate with,” said Ion Newcombe.

Angela agreed. “Occasionally I have stumbled across a story rejected by the readers, yet for me, it has embodied a statement worth publishing.” Angela echoed.

And just because you’re rejected, it doesn’t mean you’re not a Short Story worth publishing.

“Anthologies require balance,” Cat said, “I try to cater for a wide variety of tastes rather than my own personal preferences only. If I end up with two similar stories (say, werewolf tales for example) then I’ll pick the one with the greatest literary merit.”

This is important for all Short Stories to know. “Some stories miss the final cut for no reason other than they duplicated a theme,” she said.

And at ASIM they agree. “There are all sorts of reason a story might be rejected, ranging from the fact that the author [your creator] does not know how to write basic English through to “This is great but we’ve already GOT a shape shifting transvestite elf story in this issue.”

“What we do try to do,” they say, “is not leave you hanging.”

Rejection is great. You should expect it but when you get accepted for publication the feeling is unlike any other. Your creator now has proof that what they’re doing is not a worthless waste of time. It’s a confirmation that they’ve got the skills and talent to pursue this arduous and sometimes difficult career path. You’re going to be shown to the world and the people in it. Some you’ll ‘touch’, sticking in their minds for years to come. Others will hate you and never read you again. But hey, that’s the life of a Short Story.

But what happens during that murky period between acceptance and publication?

Dark Animus’s James Cain explains, “Once a tale is accepted, I contact the writer and confirm his details and the availability of the tale (just in case they have changed their mind). I then do up a contract allowing me to publish the tale one time and send that to the writer to sign and return by post.”

But before contacts can be signed and agreements reached you may find yourself going through a bizarre process. You may feel as though a giant hand has reached inside of you, twisting and re-arranging your innards. This is not to be feared. This is called editing.

“My editorial approach varies from story to story depending on the author’s ability and experience,” Angela said, “A line edit is applied first; focussing on punctuation, grammatical errors, and sentence structure; followed by a plot check to ensure the storyline is logical and not contradictory.”

“I edit and work closely with the authors to perfect the story,” Cat Sparks says, hopefully with the word ‘perfect’ meaning as close to perfect as humanely possible, so as not to contradict my earlier statements. “The author must approve my changes before I go to press,” she said.

James Cain also edits the tale, but he keeps those edits to a minimum (usually grammatical). “If extensive editing is required,” he explains, “I’ll give these to the author to approve.”

And Ion Newcombe also requires approval prior to publication. “Most writers are happy tp run with suggested edits,” he says, “some suggest further edits, or for changes back to the original, many praise the editing as an improvement.” However, “I’ve also made some enemies with my suggested edits – authors who never submit anything again.”

And there’s a word of warning from the editor of Shadowed Realms, “The author’s approval is essential prior to publication,” Angela said, “I would advise authors to be cautious of any organisation prepared to publish a story without gaining the author’s prior approval of the galley proof.”

Rights are also something that should be considered prior to a contract being signed. “I would be wary of sites that hold on to your rights for whatever reason or which prohibit you from republishing your tale for an extended period of time,” James elaborates, “Unless you receive appropriate remuneration.”

He goes on, “We buy the right to publish the tale once and then rights return to the writer. We do NOT have the right to republish the tale in any future ‘Best of’ issues. I would have to renegotiate such rights should they be required.”

“Shadowed Realms requests exclusive worldwide electronic rights for two months” whereas “Agog contracts are modelled on the SFWA (Science Fiction Writer’s Association) contract.

However, Ion Newcombe of AntipodeanSF works a little differently. “I have no formal contract, nothing to sign,” he said, “I don’t ‘purchase’ rights; just ask for a once-off use for electronic publication for the duration of approximately four weeks. Writers are made aware that their material is archived and accessible online at the National Library of Australia (presumably in perpetuity). All copyright reverts to the writer after publication.”

I guess what I’m trying to point out here is the need for caution. 99% of the time you’d have nothing to worry about but unfortunately this is the real world (as opposed to Shae-lea world where my creator’s partner dwells) and there are people out there that do act in loathsome, unscrupulous ways.

And then it is done. Contracts are signed and you can boast to everybody you know that you’re going to be a published Short Story. It’s great for your ego but how long can you brag before people stop believing you. How long does it actually take between acceptance and publication?

At AntipodeanSF, “it’s about a six-seven month delay between acceptance and publication. “For Dark Animus, it’s up to a year,” the editor said, “however, in most cases it’s less than six months. For other publications it can be longer. Black Petals, for example, takes in excess of two years to print an accepted story.”

And for creators who are thinking of submitting a Short Story for the first time there are a few things to consider. To the mailbox and back again… is something you’ll end up doing a lot and Cat Sparks implores you to “read a publication before deciding if you want to be in it or not.

And more important Angela believes, “the best piece of advice I can offer authors considering submitting their stories; read and closely follow the guidelines. This is a common complaint by all reputable publications. After all, if you can’t take the time to read our guidelines, why would we take the time to read your story?”

 


The creator would like to extend a huge thanks to those that helped, particularly James Cain, Ion Newcombe, Angela Challis and Cat Sparks. A big thanks, also, to Marty Young who patiently waited for the article to be finished. You’re a champ!

J.L. Cooper is a Sunshine Coast based writer who's currently selling car insurance over the phone. It's seems a waste of talent considering in his writing career he has interviewed great bands such as Grinspoon, Frenzal Rhomb, Taxi Ride and interestingly enough Phil Towle (Metallica's therapist) and the dude who voices Nintendo's Mario and Luigi (Charles Martinet). With over 300+ articles and short stories published he still hasn't found a paying job within the news media. If any editors are looking for a young, energetic, passionate cadet journalist e-mail Jamie at jlcooper@etelecom.com.au

Document Created: 13th October, 2006 | Last Updated: 1st May, 2007