the p-game

You can take this as ‘the publishing game’. Some call publishing a game, played by an elite and exclusive group of people who are supposedly not interested in giving new writers a go. I prefer to call publishing a different kind of p-game: the p for persistence.

Imagine two writers who both want their material published. I’ll talk about short stories, but this story can apply just as well for novels.

Both writers are submitting their material. Both are getting lots of rejections and the occasional acceptance, usually from small magazines. Both would like to be published by a certain magazine. Writer #1 submits three stories. All three are rejected. This writer then concludes that the magazine ‘doesn’t like my style’ and stops submitting. Writer #2 submits 16 stories. All are rejected, although some come back with nice comments. After story #16 is rejected with a note that says ‘lovely story, but we’ve decided it doesn’t fit our magazine’, writer #2 is ready to commit suicide. He looks at writer #1 and wonders if this magazine is just playing a game with him. At this stage conspiracy theories surface. But he wants to be published in that magazine, so he sends another story, which they hold for seven months before rejecting it. Writer #1 is ROTFL and writer #2 is ready to accept that his friend is right. Except he’s got one more story that he’s written recently. It’s a bit of an oddball thing, and represents a change in style for him. He sends it, not expecting anything. They again hold it for seven months, and when the message comes (by now he’s almost forgotten about the story), it’s not a rejection. They’re buying his story.

Now, this little tale is a consolidation of my experiences over the past year of trying to get into magazines.

You, too, want to be published by a magazine you like but is hard to get into?

– Submit, submit, submit. As soon as something comes back, send something else, providing it fits within the magazine’s (sub)genres.
– If submissions start taking a long time, and I mean a looooong time, to get back to you, then you’re on the right path. Check Duotrope and you’ll see that almost every magazine takes far longer to accept something than to reject something.
– Keep submitting no matter what. Sometimes you’ll wonder if a magazine accepted your story just because they got sick of you. It doesn’t matter (in all truth, what’s published is deteremined by quality, since many magazines strip author names for their slush readers), just keep submitting anything that’s suitable.
– Few people ever sell anything to a magazine on their first submission to that magazine. I’d love some anecdotal stats on this. Say you’ve published in a big-name magazine, how often have you submitted to them before you had something accepted? Let me know in comments.

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2 comments on “the p-game

  1. When it comes to the ones I’ve gotten… with pros or semi pros, I’ve always got them with my first or second try. I think it takes one rejection for me to work out what they want and what they absolutely don’t want.

    At the moment I have two semis that I’ve sent one or two things to and gotten a “HM MAYBE TRY AGAIN NOT SURE HMMM COULD YOU REWRITE THIS BIT HMM UM HRRR” so I have to rethink those and bang them again.

    But I think once you know what you want you can write something that IS what they want and they’ll be like YAY and you’ll be like YAY.

  2. I’ve only submitted to online journals so far. I was fortunate enough to get one first-time acceptance of a flash fiction piece. One journal I got accepted to after three or four tries. From a third I got a request for a rewrite after four tries. Not too bad, but then again, the online fiction market is easier to break into than the print. I’m hoping it’s a stepping stone.

    By the way, I’m totally shooting for 10 rejections a month next year, good lady. Thanks for the inspiration!

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