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Writing: Kiss of Death Acceptances

Perhaps the only thing worse than not getting a story or poem accepted is to have it accepted but to watch the magazine fold, the anthology be canceled, or the supposed publication fade into the ether, never to be heard from again. This probably happens to everyone at some point, but I have had it happen at least seven times. I then begin to wonder, do I have some sort of  superhero (or villain) power where I cause the publications to die? The moment they accept my piece, the end is near–the kiss of death.

Of course that’s sort of a reverse ego thing and if I really did have that power there are a few publications I would like to use it on. Not for rejecting me, mind you. That’s part of the business, but in the past when editing and writing, I was cheated out of money by one magazine, and got so much BS from another, along with a lengthy battle to be paid, that they deserved to fold (and I believe have by now).

But the truth is, especially with the proliferation of the internet, that it’s easier and cheaper to run a magazine (such as online), but it still takes skill, knowledge and consistency. Perhaps the best nonpublication I had was  a magazine called Offworld Magazine. If you’ve never heard of it it’s because they didn’t even get number 1 out the door. They did pay for the story (called a kill-fee in some mags should they choose to not publish, though this one did not have that caveat). However, when I received the letter that said my story had been “excepted” I thought it had been rejected, not “accepted.” To except is to exclude. Hmmm.

Then there were the Tampa marketing anthologies, a list of themed anthologies by this company I had not heard of before. These days, there are many many publishers and small start-ups and new ventures so sometimes it pans out to try something new, after carefully reading the guidelines. It was low paying but still seemed worthy. As can be seen here there was little response from the company and the first anthologies were supposed to be out in June of 2009. After no response and several query emails you tend to chalk these things up to yet more unfulfilled pipe dreams. Then last November I received an email from someone who was asked by the head honcho to get the project done and he was accepting my piece. I asked which piece as I had submitted several, and when was this going to be published. I didn’t wish to pull my piece from other possible submissions unless I had some guarantee. He said he’d ask the big guy…and I never heard from them again.

I’ve sold several poems that were subsequently unaccepted because the magazine forgot they had them or lost them or changed their minds in the next two years. I had a story accepted to a noir erotic anthology and then it was held because they were splitting the anthology into books 2 and 3 and I would be in book 3. And then the publisher canceled book 3. I did get a kill fee on that one too. I’ve had a magazine say, “We loved this poem and would have taken it but we’re closing our doors.”

Sometimes there are odd little anthologies that pop up like “Quantum Planet of the Arts,” a collection of surreal (or something) fiction that was supposed to be published last year. After several emails to the editor who said they were delayed but still planning to publish, (and that she would send my email to the publisher) I heard nothing. My last email this year was a note to her saying, I will presume this venture dead. I heard no response so I think I presumed correctly.

There have been a couple of erotic magazines with the same result, communication dropping off to nonexistence. Circlet Press, always a slow mover fell into that realm in my books. They never replied and I presumed them dead. But instead they win the prize of the slowest rejection letter every–seven years! By that time I had sent the piece out many times (maybe published as I don’t remember what it was). After a certain length, really, a why bother should probably be the best plan. But it is frustrating when publications don’t bother to tell you they’ve rejected your stories, or they’re way behind or they’re folding. It’s part of the biz. I do have two stories languishing in magazines that seem to have dropped off the face of the earth, though I’ve had some private communication. I send those pieces out in the meantime but leave them with the magazine in case they ever get through their slush. It’s been nearly two years with some of them so I’m not exactly holding my breath here.

I recommend www.ralan.com as the best place for speculative markets with updates and the grave of dead magazines. I can say at least that my superhero power of writing and getting pieces published is better than my kiss-of-death power. I’ve had more accepted pieces published than not and that is a relief.

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The Kiss of Death

One might think this is a euphemism for a vampire’s love bite, or perhaps the last sarcastically sensual act of a femme fatale. However I’m talking about the kiss of death as a writer. Now it can be interpreted several different ways but I have managed to be the kiss of death quite a few times.

What I mean is this: you get an acceptance from a publisher/editor for a piece in their magazine and then you either find out that the magazine is folding with the issue before the one that would have your story/poem in it, or they say, “We loved this story and would have published it, but we are closing down the magazine.” And then the story never ever sells to anyone ever.

If I had a credit list of all the publications that have said they would take the story but so long, I would have sold another six pieces of fiction. Perhaps the worst/best example of this was a new SF magazine to which I sent a story for their inaugural issue. I received a letter back saying my story had been “excepted.” As opposed to “accepted” which means to include, except means to exclude. I thought the story had been rejected but as I read through the letter, the opposite was true. I guess that was the first sign of a doomed publication.

I signed a contract, and they sent me a cheque, and…the first issue never came out. But I still had a contract that said it was theirs until printed. After a year I contacted SFWA and asked the contract committee to help. So they told me to send a letter to the publisher indicating that since the magazine seemed to have ceased to exist that I was withdrawing the story. It was worded differently but didn’t leave my story in limb forever.

When there was a spate of magazines that said they would have published this or that but they were closing down I began to wonder if I was the kiss of death and by accepting my piece they had doomed themselves. Of course, that is nothing but ego and the belief in a power I don’t have. The truth is that many writers would have found themselves in the same boat and that many magazines come and go like the flow of the tide.

Funding disappears, editors get sick, quit or get different jobs (since often editing a magazine is a part time job or a labor of love), or are disorganized, and reader interest may flag for any number of reasons. These all affect the longevity of a magazine, whether it’s online or in print.

A successful magazine takes constant advertising, through ads in other magazines, books, websites as well as promotions: buy a subscription and get a discount, buy this magazine at this convention or launch and get two for the price of one, etc. Magazines have to become known and that means more than just by word of mouth though reviews and other editors, writers, readers or publishers may help, a magazine can’t become complacent because there is always more competition.

Of course a magazine has to deliver what readers want as well but the ongoing, marketing, advertising, printing and distribution is a constant issue to  deal with. These aspects are truly what can be the kiss of death to a magazine, not the author with eldritch power.

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