Dear Guardian Deity of the Planet,
I have just experienced my very first rejection letter and so I thought that perhaps you could clarify something for me. Don't worry, I am not asking you to explain why my story was rejected. But something funny happened in my rejection letter that I found somewhat humorous and more than a little confusing. The nice rejection lady said that the biggest problem they had was that too many people sent in stories from a female POV--mine being no exception. But the thing is the publication is the "For women and by women" type of publication and they were asking for stories with themes about women's issues. I had a story that my friends told me would be better sent to publications looking for women's lit and so that is what I did. I never expected it to get accepted, I just never expected this particular reason.
So my question is this: Does this mean that when these publishers say they want something specific we should be giving them the opposite of what they ask for? Should I try sending my "women's lit" short story to GQ or something?
Most Humble Regards,
Displaced Canadian, Virtual Land Baroness, Writer
Here is an Industry Secret! The Secret is this! A rejection letter? It is basically like the missive of a Magic 8 ball. On occasion, it may bear some relevance to your purpose. But generally, it will be an impenetrably-worded half-sentence of total uselessness, delivered at random, with absolutely no relation to whatever question you asked (in this case, "Will you publish my story?"). We try to explain it to people like this: what if EVERY TIME you picked up a book in the bookstore, thought, "Ehhh, probably not," and put it back, YOU HAD TO WRITE A BOOK REPORT ABOUT WHY YOU DIDN'T BUY IT. You'd start saying some pretty inane shit too. Just ignore 'em and carry on.
Dear Empress of Literary Etiquette,
Since you are an appreciator of both TEH LITERARY FICTION and TEH GENRE FICTION, I pose to you this question: how do you decide where to submit a story that blends both literary and speculative elements? Say, for example, that an author such as myself has a short story that could be deemed fantastical in nature (there are demons) but could also be considered traditional (the demons are based in Biblical traditions and the story is ultimately about relationships/growth of the individual). Obviously one would want this story to be published in the best magazine that will accept it... but how does one determine which is "the best" across genres?
For example, Fantasy Magazine has an excellent reputation within the sci fi/fantasy community, and pays professional rates. Would this be better than a non-paying lit fic market? Some would probably say that cash is proof of prestige, others would likely say that lit fic always trumps spec fic for reputational purposes. If my novel-length works are contemporary, should I try to focus on the "literary" magazines, since those will more likely boost whatever platform I may have in that non-genre arena? But if my short stories are all a bit more surreal/speculative, should I just let myself build a second brand in genre stories and ignore the fact that I may not have an overlap in audience between my stories and my novel?
I eagerly await your insights.
Unless you are publishing in the New Yorker, the likelihood that publishing short stories will get you a book deal is slim to none in this day and age. (DO NOT SHOOT THE MESSENGER. WE ARE NOT SAYING THIS IS JUST. WE ARE SAYING IT'S HOW THINGS ARE. MAY WE RECOMMEND KLONOPIN OVER HATING ON REJECTIONISTS.) However, no pleasant and sensible Agent in the twenty-first century is going to be all like, "GAH! Fantasy Magazine! Get this vile spew away from me!" Genre has come a long way in recent years (just ask Justin Cronin,* who happily paint-by-numbersed a Stephen King book to the tune of like five million dollars, after a lauded but unlucrative career as a Literary Fiction writer), and fancypants lit mags regularly publish work that crosses genre boundaries. You're more likely to get read by Agents and Editors in lit mags, if that's your aim, but cold hard dollars are lot more appealing in the end, are they not? Basically: neither one will hurt you, lit mags will probably make you look more impressive, but we wouldn't worry about ending up with a diverse portfolio if we were you. Go with your little heart.
*We are more than happy to explain at length how angry The Passage made us, if anyone is interested. We might do it at some point even if NO ONE is interested. We will concede that the first third is pants-shittingly terrifying.
Dear Eternal Bosom of Hot Love:
Most literary agencies now offer the convenience of e-mailed query letters, while at the same still accepting (for the most part) old-school, mailed ones as well, but nowhere does anyone say which they are more likely to reject. Has anyone in the industry done a study of the rejection rate of e-mailed vs snail-mailed query letters? Clearly, it is as easy as plucking feathers to reject and/or ignore either option, but I was wondering whether it might not be just fractionally harder to reject an object you hold in your hand over one that passes in a flash in front of your eyes. Thus, formally, I would like to dip this question into your deep fount of industry wisdom: Does a query letter have any greater chance if it is printed out, slipped into a beautiful envelope and addressed with an enticing font rather than sent in the body of an e-mail with the possible resulting loss of formatting and the creation of widows and orphans and other glaring eyesores? Thank you ardently in advance for your opinion on this delicate matter.
Doing My Damndest to Make It Harder for the Publishing Industry to Reject Me
No. We would hazard a guess it is more likely to Languish, however, based solely on our own personal Experience of Occasionally Leaving the Mail in a Pile for Some Time.
Firstly, I grovel most humbly at thy feet which are made of awesome.
Secondly, I'm hoping that you can and will recommend a book for me to buy for my father this Christmas. He very much enjoys historical non-fiction dealing mostly with the Civil War, but also WWII, and any man that has once held a great amount of power (presidents, etc). I bought him Battle Cry of Freedom last year and he devoured it.
Thank you for any help you can provide, and for your time, and for being so kick-ass. I love reading your posts every day.
Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond. We have only the vaguest of ideas as to what this book is about, but we have been recommending it for military-loving dads for over a decade, and have never gotten any complaints. And thank you for your very nice compliments to our person.