Surviving the Submission Guideline Gamut

When submitting a story to a journal for publication, C. M. Mayo writes in “Get Your Short Story Published”, do not explain the story.

“Explaining and introducing is blather, and it annoys most editors (the experienced ones skip over it and reach for the rejection notes).”

A great little pill of information. Who knew? Now at least I can count on the last round of subs for my fantasy story to hit the skids. One publication’s set of guidelines wanted a story blurb in the cover letter. I thought it looked spiffy and left it in for three others. Gah! Lies!

Just once I’d love to be blunt in my cover letter:

Dear Mr./Ms. Whydjamakeyournamesohardtofind,
I am relatively new to publishing, although not for lack of trying. I’ve been submitting to journals and querying agents for about nine months now. I handle rejections easily, which is a fortunate thing.

Enclosed is my short story, Self-Torture By Avoiding Self-Publishing. Please publish it and put me out of my guidelines-twisting misery.

A short bio is included below and the story is attached as a Word document.

Thank you for considering my work.

Perhaps my personal philosophy makes it so easy: if it can’t get you sued for malpractice, don’t sweat it. Maybe I’m just used to severe criticism (after months of using online critique communities) and now a form rejection simply isn’t enough to faze me. Who knows.

It’s not broken, so don’t think I’m going to break it more by fixing it. And yes, I read back over that last line twice and it’s exactly what I meant to say.

Rejections don’t bother me. Failure to achieve does. (Granted, I might run that part by my sister. She’s a Licensed Social Worker and is good at stripping away what I say to lay bare the wretched truth.) Rejections are fine. They don’t mean it’s no good. They only mean it’s not going into the journal.

Unless, of course, they pulled out the form that says, “thank you, try somewhere else, good luck”. That, friends, is a slammed door. Don’t call us. We’re not calling you. I haven’t gotten any of those, so therefore, I’ve nothing to be upset about. Most of the time the form rejections include kind invitations to submit my work again. Even if they are lies, they are the lies I can live with.

Of course, I attribute my fair fortune of form rejects to my adherence to submission guidelines, 90% of the time. Assembling a submission is as painstaking as an operation. Or, more aptly, a game of Operation, because the moment I bumble off the guidelined path I get that annoying ECCCKKKKZZZ! It’s the sound of FAIL. (At least if you nick something during a real operation, you don’t hear that awful noise.)

I view editors as live grenades that have failed to detonate, and I take their guidelines as their journal’s bible truth. Trouble is, after examining five or six different journals, I’ve begun to realize that every journal has their own bible. What suits one offends another, many guidelines are too vague for a hypercritical submitter like me, and some contradictions just flat out make a writer lose faith all together. Lies, I tell you.

Just tell me what you want. I’ll gladly deliver it. Just don’t allow me to sabotage my submission.

Because in the first six months of submitting my work, I sabotaged myself. A lot. Granted, not all of what I sent out was of publishing quality. That’s okay, too. I never took a class or a workshop on submitting work. (Just about everything I learned, I learned on-line and we all know the Internet is full of mischief and lies.) I’m growing as a writer. Those early works have either been refined or retired. Those rejections, with the exception of one, were polite form responses.

The one exception coupled their invitation for future submissions with a comment of why the work was rejected, a comment that merely defined the slush reader’s personal taste. I’ve read the comment several times, in several different moods, trying to find something redeeming in it. Alas. It was, in a word, unprofessional.

Without launching a diatribe, suffice it to say I’m not submitting to them again, not because I fear their condemnation, but because I reject them. This is a two way street. I don’t want to work with someone like that, not when I am taking care to be professional and amiable and a pleasure to work with.

I reject them because this early in our business relationship, I need to be lied to. Please, editors and slush readers, let me believe you operate on higher aesthetic sentiments. We haven’t been together so long that I can weather the harsh truth. At the very least, make your opinion bearable. Even my ten-year-old understands those basic tenets of new friendship. Sheesh. FAIL.

Send the form rejection. Period.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve earned my first acceptances. I placed two poems and a story, in print and electronic journals alike, and two of them paid enough to count as credits toward the requirements for becoming a published member of Pennwriters. Last night someone asked what I was paid for my last poem. I crowed. “Point-three-seven cents a word!”

That little spark of glory makes taking up the gauntlet of the Guidelines Gamut completely worthwhile.

And yes, I read back over that last line twice and it’s exactly what I meant to say.

C. M. Mayo’s story appears in Get Published, a supplement to The Writer magazine. Visit for more information. A similar article appears on Ms. Mayo’s web site.


One response to “Surviving the Submission Guideline Gamut

  1. Excellent post. Thanks!

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