All advice given to writers is clear about the need for them to research the publications in which they wish to be published, but vague about how to do it. We are supposed to be able to work out the formula for what is a hit and what is a ‘I think we’ll pass on this one’ just by reading the stories and poems carried in the ezine or magazine. Well, Dear Reader, this writer can’t do it this way!
The idea is to work out what sorts of pieces the publisher is taking, as editors always publish the same sort of thing… don’t they? Where ezines and magazines publish only two, three or four stories or poems in each issue, I think it’s impossible to gain the overall flavour, especially where submissions have been written to a theme. Moreover, publications evolve over time and editors may change from issue to issue. The printed magazine, Mslexia, for example, invites guest judges to judge competitions; the winning entries make up a large portion of the mag. They are not going to stop publishing stories with a liberal, feminist viewpoint, but the angle of the liberal, feminist viewpoint will be different. Also very occasionally an editor is wowed by something different and says to himself/herself ‘I’ll have that’.
So what is the poor writer supposed to do? Just send any story anywhere? Some of us have done just that. A writer I know once send an industrial fiction story (with violence and swearwords) to ‘People’s Friend’ – and got a polite letter back saying the story ‘wasn’t right for PF’, more or less the same letter as the rest of us get. (He’s now a published novelist, by the way.)
There is advice available about writing for certain genres; for instance, womag writers make great use of womagwriter’s blog and some creative writing sites offer general guidance about specific publications. Linda Lewis (in ‘Why Short Stories Get Rejected’, published by Amazon, which I reviewed on 4 March 2013 ) has set out a few rules for evaluating womags:
- Consider the tense – past or present?
- How old are main characters?
- What type of story is it?
- What percentage of the story is dialogue?
I suspect that this is the way to go, but adding more questions of your own, specific to the publication, the genre and your own story, and I’m going to do this before I sub again.
Speaking as a writer who hasn’t shifted much recently, I’m very interested to know how other writers decide where to sub.