Six Hundred Sixty Six Bottles of Blood on the Wall: An Open Letter to Publishers


As writer, aspiring, up-and-coming, amateur, terrible, whatever you want to call me is fine, but I write consistently, submit constantly and publish stories occasionally. I’ve been quite fortunate in my two years of taking writing seriously, but I’ve also worked my butt off.

Being one who submits, it seems like every market is just a little bit different, they all want things a specific way. And that’s fine, you’re the ones signing the checks, and compiling the books, so we’ll bend and if other writers are anything like me, they’ve probably got the same story saved at least five different ways depending on how many times it’s been rejected.

I can’t imagine the struggles you deal with editing, reading slush, etc. From people blatantly ignoring the guidelines to authors pulling stories at the last possible second because they got a better offer somewhere even though you clearly indicated NO SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS. To arguing about changes to stories and corresponding with 10-30 contributors for each anthology/magazine etc and everything in between.

So I totally understand wanting things a specific way from file format to Shunn’s manuscript format, to one space after periods (I’ll kill that bear someday, but damn that is hard!)

I like to think that writers do a decent job of following the guidelines, at least the one’s worth/are serious about publishing.

God knows I’ve laid a few eggs when submitting and still do occasionally but for the most part, I’ve got a good grip on the flow of things.

Now onto the business at hand.

First off, this is not targeted at any specific publisher. I’ve mostly had nothing but great experiences in my two years. Definitely had a few hiccups, but I’m resilient and I’ve moved on.

Having said that, I’d like to suggest a couple of things that some of you could do just a little bit better. I know that a lot of you work day jobs and moonlight as publishers and a lot of things I’m suggesting would save time on both ends. I know that most of you are writers as well and I’m sure publishing changes your perspective after spending some time at it, and maybe I’ll eat these words someday, and if I do, I’ll gladly admit, recant, rewrite this post, but for now, here’s a list of things that I think serious, competent writers deserve when either submitting or researching markets.

I’m well aware that I’m on record here saying that “no one owes you anything.” I still pretty much stand by that with these few exceptions.

Publishers don’t have to agree with me, but please consider:

1. Send out confirmation emails – I blogged about this for Horror Tree a few months ago. This is especially important if you don’t allow simultaneous submissions. Make it easy on yourself and the writer with a simple “thanks, got it.”

2. No contributor copy bait and switch – If you are offering a contributor copy as payment or part of payment, the writer deserves to know up front if it’s a digital copy or a print copy. Lately I’ve been seeing WAY TOO OFTEN the words “all contributors will receive a complimentary copy.” That’s it. That phrasing alone makes me wary, as if the press has something to hide. I’m not even asking for a paper copy, (though I avoid a lot of places that don’t offer them for contributing) I’m just asking to know up front, so I won’t be super excited about this amazing anthology and then feel ripped off when it’s clarified at contract stage what my contributor copy actually is.

3. Send out rejections – I see this one every now and then too. Rejection sucks, I totally get that, I wouldn’t want to send those out either, but let me say from experience, it feels a lot better to get that form rejection “thanks for submitting but we’re sorry you’re story wasn’t a good fit” as opposed to seeing a publisher post a picture of the book with a TOC attached to it. I’ve felt that steel-toed kick to the nuts a few times and that’s no good either. It’s unprofessional and unfair, especially if you’re holding a story a writer could resubmit elsewhere without telling him or her.

4. Indicate whether or not you’re accepting reprints – All too often I see this information left out of open calls. I’ve been at this two years and I don’t know if this means “hell no” or “bring ‘em on” and I don’t want to waste my time and a publisher’s time asking a question that should be answered when they post their submission guidelines.

5. Quit saying “no blood and sex and gore for shock value or for it’s own sake” – NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THIS MEANS OR WHERE THE LINE IS. South Park is the most bloody, sexual, fart, piss, shock show on tv and also one of the best written and dare I say “literary.” So is the stand up comedy of George Carlin or Louis CK. What you’re doing is scaring writers from submitting on the fear that they will be judged even more or more harshly than they already will be for submitting. Not cool, brah. Oh and that whole thing about horror as counterculture and shock is sort of… at its foundation? Right?

So there’s my current list. I’m sure there’s more, but this was off the top of my head. Like I said, I’m not (super)angry about this stuff, and I don’t see it too often, but I still do see it and I’m just asking for fairness (number 5 is a little more personal than the rest). I’m not really even demanding things to change. And I don’t expect them too, but you never know who might get a look at this. This isn’t a manifesto or something, I’d just like publishers to at least be aware of these things. I’m guessing a lot of writers and publishers too for that matter, would largely agree.

Maybe, maybe not. I am interested to hear your thoughts though. Agree? Disagree? What points am I missing? Anything I’m being too big of an annoyance about? Let me know. [email protected]

I’ve never once asked for this since I started writing for HT over a year ago, but I’d love to get plenty of eyes on this. Would love to see this get some posts and shares on facebook/twitter or wherever you do your most social media damage.

After all, I’m doing this for you as well as for me.

Thanks for listening!

Also, I’ll be back in a week or so with an update on the story a week challenge. So far I’m 4 for 4. I hope some of you are too!

Keep reading, keep writing, and keep it real,

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