• The Selection Process (Yet Again)

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments No comments

    Where in God’s name did the expression “Beating a dead horse” come from? Who, when faced with a person who was forcing an issue that had already been decided, was the first to liken that situation to physically assaulting an expired pony? Did the coiner of that phrase actually picture his/her conversation partner battering a prone, lifeless horse? Terrifying.

    When I first considered the idea of recycling old blog content, “beating a dead horse” is what first came to mind. It’s not really accurate, though. The issue hasn’t already been decided, which means that the horse is still alive. Recycled content is more like running a horse in a race against a class of horses that has already whupped his/her ass many times before.

    I’ve got it: Recycled content is like whipping a nearly-dead horse.

    Back in December of 2009, shortly after WBN’s inception, I ran a post about the selection process of literary magazines. We had then, on average, 0.7 blog readers per day. Now that that number has tripled doubled, I’m going to run the post again. Partly because it’s full of brilliant insight into the minds of litmag editors, and partly because Justine and I have a combined four writing projects due at the end of the month, and there’s only so much creative juice to go around.

    So, I give you here the scintillatingly-titled “The Selection Process,” for your reading enjoyment annoyance:


    The Selection Process

    Selection processes vary from editor to editor, publication to publication, but your manuscript (if you’re lucky) will go through four stages:

    1. After sitting in a pile on a desk (or on the floor) for several weeks/months, it will be read by an underling (called a “reader” in the biz).

    2. The reader will pass it along to a higher-up. The manuscript will again sit in a pile on a desk (or on the floor) for another few weeks/months, and then the higher-up will read it.

    3. The higher-up will pass it along to other higher-ups, and they will discuss the merits and faults of the manuscript, and compare it to others that have made it to this level.

    4. Your manuscript is selected for publication.

    If you make it past Stage One, you’ve done very well for yourself, because Stage One is where manuscripts go to die.

    At Fringe, I would say that we receive around forty short stories per week. Of those forty, our readers pass along probably 3-4. Less than 10% make it past that first stage. And for publications that receive dozens and dozens of mss every day, that percentage drops even more.

    (NOTE: Not sure about the soundness of the logic in the last line. An increase in the number of submissions received does not automatically equate to a lower percentage of them getting passed along. A percentage is a ratio, Duhr. If the ratio stays the same, when one side increases, so will the other.)

    Consider these readers like the gatekeepers in Joseph Campbell’s monomyth—if you want to escape into that new realm and get your boon, you need to get past these readers.

    (NOTE: “The gatekeepers in Joseph Campbell’s monomyth”? What a pompous prig. If I read that on someone else’s blog, I would immediately disregard everything that had come before. How embarrassing.)

    Having spent some time as a reader, I can tell you some of the factors that made me pass along a story to the higher-ups. First, there are two hard and fast rules, the breaking of which will get your manuscript trashed before it’s even read. To wit:

    1. Format your manuscript according to the publication’s specific guidelines.

    2. Do not have typographical errors on the first page.

    Breaking either of these rules is a sign of carelessness, and carelessness rarely, if ever, translates to a good piece of writing. Always remember: you are asking another human being to donate his or her time to your work. A reader’s (or editor’s) time is as precious as yours. Earn his or her attentions.

    (NOTE: #2 above seems to imply that you can fill pages 2 and up with typos. Don’t have typos anywhere.)

    Among the factors that can get you kicked up to a higher editor … well, basically all of those things we’ve been going over in the workshop. Strong character, vivid settings, confident narrative, the dreaded “showing vs. telling.”

    What it boils down to for most editors is, “Will readers of my publication enjoy this piece?” That is why knowing your market is among the most important steps in the submission process.

    Example: Fringe publishes experimental work, often with accompanying themes such as Feminism, Environment, and the upcoming Working. Now, there is a fairly well-known writer who keeps sending short stories to us. He’s a talented writer, has been published in dozens of literary magazines all over the country, teaches writing at the Master’s level … but his fiction is fairly traditional. His stories are good. Damn good. But they’re wrong for Fringe. Our readers would not enjoy his work, so I have to reject him again and again.

    (NOTE: I’m not sure to whom the above paragraph is referring. The writer is quite possibly a figment of my imagination.)

    So know your market.

    And have a strong opening. If you can get someone to read into Page 2, you’ve made it further than 70% of the other writers who have submitted to the same publication. Grab your reader immediately, and don’t let him or her go.

    (NOTE: If you haven’t read all the way to this point, I have broken my own rule. I have let him or her go.)

    (NOTE: If you have read all the way to this point, I applaud you for your patience/tolerance.)


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