Tag Archives: submission format

How to Piss Off an Editor

I’m cleaning out my email files and getting back on track, so in the near future you’ll see some posts here about other than writing. I’m no longer slush reading for Chizine Publications but this one email was memorable. We asked for sample chapters for the first read-through. I received a manuscript that was so full of slang and vernacular as to be incomprehensible. I didn’t think I could give a constructive comment so I opted for diplomacy. Remember, editors are extremely busy people and they rarely will give comments. I’ve always tried to say something because it also hones why I’m rejecting a story.

Whenever I’ve received comments back on a story rejection I’ve found them at least steering me toward what didn’t work. That’s most of the time, not always. Sometimes editors might just be off their rockers or so bent on their own agendas that they make little sense themselves. I’ve had a magazine tell me they didn’t do religious stories because I sent a tale of Garuda (the Hindu god who is part man, part bird) and a lover. Hardly religious but well…they saw it that way. I’ve had rejection letters that are framed as breakup letters, which are annoying and immature, but I’ve never written them back to say so.

So, with that being said, here’s a short lesson in how to get yourself blacklisted from a publisher. This guy didn’t follow the guidelines and probably didn’t read them, so he was lucky that we even bothered to read the piece. Oh, and CZP is a Canadian publisher, and I’m Canadian with a BFA.

Dear X,

Thank you for the opportunity to consider your manuscript for publication by ChiZine Publications.  We enjoyed reading your novel, but, after careful consideration, we regretfully advise that we are unable to accept it for publication.

Please make sure you follow the guidelines in the future. Also submitting manuscripts in a standard submission format is much easier on the editors’ eyes.

You had some very interesting descriptive phrases but I did not find that the story grabbed me. Best of luck elsewhere with this.

Your interest in our press is genuinely appreciated, and we wish you the best for your ongoing writing endeavours.


Colleen Anderson

Didn’t “grab” you – what exactly does that mean? Push the limits of form & vernacular and this is response you get. Jesus.

Don’t take it personally, Colleen. I’m sure you’re a victim of your own particular MFA program. Obviously Americans are too stupid generally. I’ll send it to Germany. Or Congo.

Dear X,

Editors have many manuscripts to go through and we don’t always have time to go into detail. And sometimes we don’t like something well enough to say what’s wrong with it. Doesn’t grab me is a polite way of saying it didn’t seem to go anywhere. The vernacular was heavyhanded and overdone. That’s not edgy; that’s going to be a book that won’t sell. But don’t take it personally. I’m sure you’re just a victim of your generation that doesn’t read more than the first paragraph, so why would you think we want to read the rest of your book? You did not even follow the submission guidelines or standard submission format. They’re there for a reason. And while some Americans may be stupid, calling most or all stupid and assuming you even know what nationality I am smacks of bigotry and your own stupidity.

Please, go bother Germany, the Congo and any other publisher you wish. Your submissions are no longer welcome at CZP.

Colleen Anderson

And really, unless you’ve been an asshat, don’t take it personally when you’ve been rejected. It’s about the piece, not the person.


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Publishing: Trials of a Slush Reader

There will probably be more than one post like this as I dig through the various manuscripts that I’m reading for CZP. Slush reading novels is far different from stories or poems, in some ways. You’d think it would be straightforward but it’s not.

The best way to irritate the hell out of a slush reader is to do some silly things like go for an artsy font; bold it, italicize it in spots, change the size. The publisher will decide in the long run on the look and while some italics or bolding are required in a story, too much of it on nearly every line is like eating a whole cake at one sitting.

Easy to read fonts are the way to go because we’re not reading one of these things, we’re reading dozens. Our eyes get tired, we have pages and pages to read and if something other than the story gets in the way, then we don’t get to reading the story without already being annoyed. Times New Roman if you’re not sure.

Double spacing is standard manuscript submission format (there are some exceptions). There is a good reason for this. It used to be, when everything was hard copy, that the editor would have to make notes and edit on the page, and there was no space if it was single spaced. Besides that mechanical consideration, it is easier to read when double spaced and when you have to read many manuscripts and sometimes skim through paragraphs to see if the plot is progressing it’s the best default.

Why can’t people read the instructions, or submission guidelines as we call them? It’s one thing to fudge your font or your border margins slightly. If we ask for three chapters only, don’t send the full manuscript. If we say we want a synopsis too, then send one because we won’t know the full arc of your story with only those sample chapters and we won’t read the full book on spec. If we say send it in .doc or .rtf, we mean it.

The final thing, if we reject you, is not to write back insulting our nationality (or what you think it is) insulting our education level (or what you think it is) and basically telling us that we haven’t realized your edgy genius. I try to say something nice when rejecting a manuscript as well as some reasons why it didn’t work. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint or narrow down nicely without a more thorough reading. There may be several reasons that it’s not right for a publisher from style to readability. But the next person that insults me for rejecting their manuscript will get blacklisted as well as get a very pointed smackdown as to why exactly their manuscript sucked so badly that it would never be bought.

Sure, you might be rejected a hundred times and then go on to have a best seller. Go for it, but if you piss off the publisher and their slush readers, you’ll have to go elsewhere. When I submit pieces to publishers I understand the busy-ness of editors and I appreciate any comments. If I get a rejection that says, “It wasn’t right for us” I know it might be a form letter, they may not have time to say more, or they didn’t like it for whatever reason but didn’t want to go into it. I accept it. If I get even a sentence saying what was good or bad I appreciate it because any insight helps and it’s rare.

Most of the people I’ve had to reject have been thankful for the comments. The whiny and bitchy ones are becoming memorable and they will not get much of my time the second time around. Should CZP still accept submissions from them they better hope they go to a different slush reader. Of course, we all talk amongst ourselves so we’re aware of the buttheads out there. Be forewarned and do it right the first time.

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Writing: Submitting Poetry

Okay, I know I just wrote about this in the last few weeks but really, it sometimes pays to hit people over the head. In fact some of these rules apply just as equally to submitting other works as fiction.

Chizine has three poetry editors. Carolyn and I assist Sandra. We also correspond regularly with each other and offer opinions on whether we think a poem is good or not. When reading many submissions, and often bad ones (the ratio of bad poems to good ones is higher than it is with fiction, from what I’ve seen), we might lose perspective. So then we ask each other, Is this good? Does this make sense? I don’t get it.

Sandra distributes the poems to us so she sees everything. Now editors make rules, not because they have nothing better to do, but to manage submissions. And magazines have rules about what they like to print. A smart writer will read these guidelines before submitting. Admittedly some magazines can be overly weird and picky in their particular submission guidelines and do things backward from everyone else. Most magazines ask for double spaced, indent, no extra space between paragraphs, a readable and regular font. Some want you to do single space, no indent, space between the paragraphs, and it seems it’s just to be contrary. Frankly I would stick with an industry standard and if I accepted a piece, then ask the author to reformat to what was needed. But mostly you need to acquiesce to the idiosyncrasies of the magazines and their editors.

We ask for poems to be embedded in the email. Sending an attachment will have your piece summarily deleted. We say no rhyming poems and we mean it. If you are Leonard Cohen, you might be able to send us a rhyming poem but otherwise, don’t bother. If you thought you had the best poem ever and it rhymed, remember that you’re already starting out with a strike against you as we tend not to accept/like them. I told one author she could try but only if she thought it was quite different and very good. I haven’t read it yet but her chances are just smaller because of that, and should I like it, I then have to convince Sandra.

So when poor Carolyn received a submission of about six poems, it broke so many rules that she bluntly told the author what he did wrong. We don’t set a limit on number of poems in one submission but a wise person will send no more than six. Three to five is a common number. First, we don’t take simultaneous submissions. Some authors do them anyways and hope not to be caught. The best way to be caught at it is to put all their email address in the “To:” line of your email. This author did this. Second, the author sent a form letter. Third, he didn’t read any of our submission guidelines. And fourth, not only did he send rhyming poems, he sent the worst ones possible. The following isn’t his poem but is of the same caliber. My advice to any writer, if you write like this, just don’t send your poems out, at all.

I went for a beer
with nothing to fear
hoping for cheer
but something quite queer
made me veer
and now I fear
I’m nowhere near

Yes, they were all this bad. And to top it off this writer (I use the term loosely) signed his name with “The poet and scholar.” If you have the audacity to call yourself “THE” poet, negating the existence of all others you better back it up with credentials including that you are your country’s poet emeritus and have won awards equivalent to the Booker and Governor General’s awards. And if you are the poet who did these things, just be happy that I haven’t put your name down.

In fact, although we haven’t started such a list yet, this guy could get himself on a blacklist. And yes, some magazines start blacklists. If you threaten the editors, send nasty letter, consistently ignore all guidelines, you will be put in the trash file. Bad writing alone won’t get you blacklisted. But idiocy will.

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