Elements of Style

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

Some writers avoid social media like the plague, coming up with all manner of reasons why it’s detrimental to their writing (and everyone else’s). Other writers enthusiastically embrace it, testing out and playing with new technology, and incorporating what works into their writing practice.

I tend to admire writers who are willing to explore new technology, like Margaret Atwood, who is in her seventies and still trying new ways of writing, over those who dismiss all new technology outright, like Jonathan Franzen, who was apparently born a grumpy old man with a distaste for anything invented after his birth.

For this month’s exercise, visit the websites and social media of some of your favorite writers. Think about what they do well—what aspects appeal to you? what made you hit “follow”?—and then renovate your online writer presence based on your observations.

Some things to think about:

  • Blogging is a legitimate form of writing, and so is serializing work on a site like Wattpad. Writers have parlayed humorous social media accounts and fan fiction into book deals. Keep in mind if you have a knack for a type of writing that’s suited to social media, your social media accounts might not be a distraction from your real writing, they might actually be your real writing.
  • You can’t do it all, so what’s your focus going to be? Which platform gives you the most satisfaction? Which feels most natural? What benefits your writing most? Make that your primary focus, your everyday platform.
  • You may want to have one platform for brief updates and informal interactions with other writers and readers, and another for longer posts or more formal content (book descriptions, event schedules, etc.). For example, many writers enjoy Twitter as the work-from-home version of the workplace water cooler, a place to talk about writing and current events, while also maintaining a blog or Facebook page.
  • If you’re only going to use one platform, make sure anyone can access it whether or not they have an account.
  • Close or make private accounts you’re no longer using. If you want to keep other accounts active, repost content from your primary platform (set this up to happen automatically if you can) or use them occasionally for more specialized content.
  • Some writers like to maintain separate personal and professional accounts; others prefer to combine personal and professional. Accounts that provide a glimpse into writers’ personal lives and other interests tend to be more interesting for readers/followers, but not everyone is comfortable sharing personal content with strangers. Be honest with yourself about your comfort zone.
  • Use consistent branding (same username, design, color scheme, logo, graphics, etc.) and link your accounts together so readers can easily find you on different platforms.

9 Years, 9 Percent: A Look at Toasted Cheese’s Submission, Rejection & Acceptance Rates

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

Inspired by other journals that do monthly, quarterly, or yearly public posts about their submissions, I did some very rough and dirty math about Toasted Cheese submissions over the last 9 years of our 15-year existence. This includes the last three quarters from 2007 and the first quarter of 2016.

Where did you get this information?

In 2007, I began to use Gmail to help me sort and label my TC email. Anything that comes through with “submission” in the subject line is automatically labeled as a TC submission. That’s one of the reasons we ask that you title your submissions that way.

I also use labels to mark a first-read piece to be rejected or considered for second read. After that, I use another set of labels for a final rejection or acceptance.

For my archive, I have labels for the year a submission was sent and a label for the issue for which the piece was submitted. After that issue is published, the submission is re-labeled for the year in which it was intended to be published. For example, a submission received on November 1, 2015 would be for the March 2016 issue and is filed under “All Subs/2015” and “TC Subs/2016.”

How accurate is this?

It’s not scientific by any means. First of all, these are only my picks, not the picks of TC’s editorial collective. Because these are only my picks, they aren’t TC’s official acceptance and rejection rates. I’m one of the more generous editors. I have more “yes” pieces in my final stack than other editors. Therefore, these numbers probably reflect a higher acceptance rate than TC actually has.

Not everything I choose as a “yes” or a “no” is published or rejected. The information I can access reflects only my personal choices. There are times when a first-read “no” for me is eventually published.

Some writers send their submission to the wrong place. Sometimes they send only to me. Sometimes they send a new submission as a reply to a rejection (those are sent by Beaver). When we manage to catch those, we forward them to the editorial collective even though they’re disqualified. So the overall submission rate may be higher simply because we don’t actually get some intended submissions.

Due to the volume of data I worked with, I’d guess these discrepancies might only reflect a percentage point or two of difference. I feel confident in saying that my personal choices are a fairly accurate reflection of TC’s overall rates of acceptance. When I’ve investigated a month’s or a quarter’s acceptance rate over the years, these numbers fall in line with what I found.


Background Image: Jose Picardo/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Okay, let’s hear it.

We had approximately 4600 regular submissions (not contest entries) in the last nine years. Of all regular Toasted Cheese submissions, 60% are rejected on first read, 13% are disqualified, and 2% are withdrawn before first read. This means 75% of submissions don’t make first cut.

Our shortlist is therefore made of 25% of total submissions. Of those, two-thirds (16% of total submissions) are rejected on second read and one-third (9% of total submissions) are accepted for publication. Of that 9%, some are withdrawn (for example, the piece was simultaneously submitted and accepted elsewhere) while some of the rejected pieces are salvaged by an editor (as an “Editor’s Pick”).

Note: writers can submit up to five poems in a single submission; often we accept only one or two of these. The data here considers any number of poems accepted as an acceptance (e.g. 5/5 poems submitted is an an acceptance, but so is 1/5 poems).

These number run pretty parallel to rates we see month-by-month, quarter-by-quarter, and year-by-year.

Our submission rates have been quite steady: an average of 510 submissions per year (over 40 submissions per month, 10 of which pass through to second read); between 500-620 per year during and before 2011; and 410-496 during and since 2012. We have light months and heavy months. January is traditionally the month we see the most submissions, likely due to New Year’s resolutions. All other months are pretty equal.

As I write this, we have had 174 submissions in 2016. At that rate, Toasted Cheese will receive 525 regular submissions.

So when you hit “send,” you have a 1 in 4 chance of being shortlisted and a 1 in 10 chance of being published in TC. And you’re 100% ahead of all the writers who never click that send button.

If you’d like to see us share more in future about our submission, rejection, and acceptance rates, let us know in the comments.

Track Your Submissions

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. If you haven’t already, set up a way to track your submissions. Duotrope’s submission tracker used to be free but when Duotrope went pay, so did the submission tracker. Membership is $5 per month, less if you sign up for a year. Writer’s Database has a submission tracker and free accounts.
  2. When you set up your submission tracker, go through your email and add everything you’ve ever submitted. It can be inspiring to remember how many times you gave it a shot.
  3. Set a goal for submitting your work over the next three months, like:
    • Send out a story every Thursday for 12 weeks.
    • Clean out your file of unfinished or abandoned work and polish one piece for submission within 90 days.
    • Submitting poetry? Max out your submission. If you only have one poem slated to send but the journal accepts three per submission, add two poems. You never know what will move an editor.
  4. Read the submission guidelines for a handful of random journals. New Pages runs a nice listing, as does Poets & Writers. Compare submission guidelines for similarities and differences. If you’re curious about why a journal has set a specific criterion, click through to read it and you might discover further explanation at the site.

Fifteen Ways to Get Your Submission Into My “No” Folder

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

  1. Simultaneously submit. Even once.
  2. Assume that your lack of publication credits will mean automatic rejection.
  3. Assume that your age has any bearing on whether your story is accepted.
  4. Use your cover letter to talk about how little faith you have in your skill/talent.
  5. Mention that you have to submit somewhere because of an assignment and you chose Toasted Cheese just because you liked the name.
  6. Don’t give your story a title.
  7. Describe your character within the first paragraph by using his full name, height in feet and inches, his weight in pounds, his hair color, and his eye color.
Background Image: Brian Wilkins/Flicker (CC-by-nc)

Background Image: Brian Wilkins/Flicker (CC-by-nc)

  1. If it’s a contest entry, don’t use the genre required.
  2. Don’t proofread.
  3. Write inauthentically about a setting I know.
  4. Use double punctuation on your sentence, like a question mark paired with an exclamation point. One exclamation point pushes it enough.
  5. Have female characters who serve no purpose other than set dressing, being a trophy for the male main character, or to have conversations about the male main characters.
  6. Kiss the word count. Then when you get near the end, chop it off and call it finished instead of rewriting.
  7. Throw in a Shyamalan twist ending.
  8. Respond to a rejection by saying that TC sucks anyway, submit again.

Negotiating Social Media for Writers: A Conversation With Jim C. Hines, Mary Robinette Kowal & Kameron Hurley

Absolute BlankBy Erin Bellavia (Billiard)

“The Internet, like the steam engine, is a technological breakthrough that changed the world.” —Peter Singer

The internet can be both a blessing and a curse, giving us a wealth of information at our fingertips, and allowing us to make connections across continents and around the world. For published authors, the internet has become a place to research quickly and easily as well as interact with fans and colleagues instantaneously. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all create spaces that allow for different levels and types of interaction.

We wondered how blogs and social media affect the writing and personal lives of working authors, so we contacted Jim C. Hines, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Kameron Hurley, all authors with a prominent online presence, and asked them to talk to us about their lives on the internet.

Negotiating Social Media for Writers

Background Image: Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Toasted Cheese: Thinking back to before you were published, can you think of any online behaviors that may have helped your career?

Jim C. Hines: Back in the wee days of the internet, when we hand-coded our “online journals” into Geocities while adding starry backgrounds and moving dragon gifs, I mostly used my web presence to connect with a handful of other struggling writers. It was a great way to share encouragement and to feel like I wasn’t alone in the struggle. Back then, the internet was pretty much worthless as a tool for self-promotion, at least for most of us, but it did help me build those human connections. That’s one of the things I try to focus on today, fifteen years later. Promotion and sales are nice, but those connections are the best part of being online.

Mary Robinette Kowal: Most of the online behaviors were mirrors of things that I do in real life. Celebrating other people’s successes, being interested in what people are working on, and generally trying to be helpful while trying to avoid being pushy.

Kameron Hurley: Writing well and passionately, certainly. Engaging with people. And not being a jerk, generally. That doesn’t mean not disagreeing with people—I disagree with people all the time—but I disagree with ideas and statements and world views. I try not to condemn people as human beings because we disagree about something. Writers have professional disagreements all the time. What I learned is that there’s a core group of people in the business with you now who will be there in twenty years, so try not to burn any bridges or start any feuds unless you’re really, really sure of what you’re doing. You’re going to see these people at all your professional events.

Writing is a business, and you have to treat it like any other business.

TC: What online media (social and otherwise) do you use most? For what? How do you use different media in different ways?)

JCH: I’ve got a blog I use for longer essays and things that require a bit more complex thought. And also the occasional Lego picture. Twitter is great for joking and chatting with folks, like the world’s biggest social bar. I’ve also started doing a little more long-form stuff on Twitter, posting things in five or ten parts. Facebook is good for posting photos and sometimes links back to longer pieces or conversations, along with shorter excerpts and jokes and such. Facebook is also nice for getting input or feedback. It’s easier to tap into the internet hivemind over there.

MRK: Twitter is where I hang out the most. I like the conversational aspect of it. It’s fantastic for research, because most of the people on there are really, let’s be honest, looking for a way to procrastinate. So queries like, “Anyone know where I can find the telegraph code for Atlanta in 1907?” get answered in five minutes flat.

KH: I spend most of my online life on Twitter, and I write all of my long form content on a blog that I own and manage at kameronhurley.com. I strongly recommend that if folks are going to write content, that they host it all on their own websites. Platforms grow, change, and dissolve, but you can maintain your website and its content presumably forever.

I cross-post all of my content to Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and Tumblr, and I recently started an Instagram account. Tumblr and Instagram I created primarily because I knew there was a huge potential audience who used those platforms that I was completely missing. The average age of someone using Twitter is 34. If you want to find younger readers, you need to be where they are, so I do make an effort. That said, I don’t like them as much, so I keep my involvement there very low maintenance. It’s all on autopilot, set to post across platform when I click “publish” on my blog.

But Twitter is the biggest cocktail party, and certainly the platform that’s been best for me to connect with colleagues and fans. I’ve virtually “met” a ton of people who I later hung out with at conventions or appearances. I like the immediacy and low time investment of the form.

I’d pick one or two social platforms you like and put your time into those. Don’t try to fracture your time too much, or you’ll burn out really quickly. Social media moves so fast that keeping up is a full time job in and of itself.

TC: How has your relationship with the internet/social media changed since being published?

JCH: It’s gotten… bigger, really. More people, more followers, more interactions, more content… it takes significantly more time than it used to. There are a lot more options out there now. It also feels a lot more tense sometimes. I think there are a lot of important conversations and discussions happening right now, but there are also days I just want to post funny animal pictures, you know?

MRK: I talk a lot less about my personal life than I did. I used to blog about lunches and company. When 100 people follow you and they are mostly folks you know in real life, then it’s just chatting with your friends. But with 14,000 followers, it now it feels like I’m invading the privacy of my guests if I trot them out for public view.

KH: I spend more time thinking about what I’m saying instead of just blasting out angry rants. Overall, I think this is actually a good thing—as a writer, I should pay special attention to the words I’m using, and writing publicly now, with more people listening, means I’m more aware of the impact of my words, and I take greater responsibility for them. Do I really mean what I’m saying in exactly this way? Am I needlessly attacking someone? Am I being gauche to shock and hurt people? What am I trying to accomplish with a rant?

TC: Has your pre-publication online life ever “come back to haunt you”?

JCH: Not yet! My post-publication online life, on the other hand…

MRK: Not yet!

KH: Strangely enough, not that I know of. But then, my colleagues are forgiving.

TC: How do you use blogging and social media for promotion? How much self-promotion is expected of you?

JCH: I’ll announce when new books come out and things like that, but self-promotion is very much secondary. People know I’m an author. There’s links and info about my books on my sites. If readers want to check those things out, they can. They don’t need me shoving it in their face every other post.

As for how much is expected of me? I haven’t had much outside pressure from my agent or publisher or anything like that. I’ve talked to authors who feel like they’re supposed to be online and actively promoting themselves on ALL THE SITES, but that hasn’t been my experience, nor is it something I’d be comfortable trying to do. I don’t want to be a salesman. I want to talk about cool SF/F stuff with my fellow geeks, and maybe sometimes rant about stuff that pisses me off.

MRK: I do. I think the thing most people miss with social media is that the emphasis is on social. Which means that you have to be engaged in the community for it to work. Sometimes I describe social media as a high school cafeteria. You can wander through, overhearing snippets of conversations, and occasionally stop to join in them. If you need everyone to know about a thing, you stand up on the table and shout about it. If you’ve been engaging and part of the community, then everyone will help spread the word. If not…you’re just the obnoxious person who stood on the table and shouted.

KH: No one really expects authors to promote themselves; they hope for it, sometimes they ask and prod about it, but writing and promotion are very different skills, and the reality is that many of the world’s best writers are very poor promoters. The best advice I ever got on promotion was from fellow science fiction writer Tobias Buckell, who told me to only do the things I enjoyed doing when it came to promo. I don’t like doing readings, so I stopped doing them, and I doubled down on what I’m good at, which is blogging. I can write essays pretty quickly. Now I do fairly extensive blog tours during the release weeks of my books.

What you find is that media works like a sieve—you do a ton of blog posts for small blogs, and folks one tier up see that. So you do some for mid-sized blogs. Then you get invited to podcasts, you get invited to radio shows, then mid-sized publications quote you, then larger publications come knocking. It’s about projecting your presence across a number of different media during a short, intense, promotion window. Think of yourself like a puffer fish, always putting out content that makes you look like a bigger deal than you are. Sounds like a trick, right? And it is. People think I’m far more financially successful than I am when it comes to writing fiction, but that, in turn, has led to me being more successful because I’ve been invited to more projects and gotten more gigs. You project success and importance and speak loudly and smartly, and you’re funny and delightful, and then people start asking you to do more work. If you can do the work well, and on time, then congrats—you’ve faked your way to success!

Which is what a lot of us do, really. A lot of promotion is pretending to be the person you want to be, even during the times you’re really not feeling it.

TC: How would you describe your relationship with your fans online?

JCH: Pretty darn good. One fan just send me a gift certificate for gourmet bacon. My fans and readers and community of online geeks are awesome.

MRK: They are lovely, lovely people.

KH: That’s a good question. I think you’d have to ask them! Fun, overall, for me. Fans are delightful and encouraging, and one of the best parts of the jobs. I’m on Twitter to have fun, interesting conversations. Most of the folks who follow me are there for that reason, too.

TC: Of course, one drawback of the internet is the anonymous hate and trolling that sometimes goes along with having an online presence. Can you describe a time when you had to deal with hate and/or trolling?

JCH: Eh. I don’t get too much trolling, and the hate is significantly milder than I’ve seen other people get. (Which I’m sure has absolutely nothing to do with me being male and white and straight. /sarcasm) I have no problem with people arguing with me online. When people get abusive or cross the line into just being dicks, I generally just block them and get on with my life.

MRK: Yesterday. So, I decided that it would be a nice thing to offer to help people who couldn’t afford a supporting membership for the Hugo awards, by doing a drawing to give some away. This led to cries of “Vote buying!” even though I wasn’t up for an award. My feed became infested with people associated with GamerGate. So I did something I call “politeness trolling.” Which is that someone says something hateful to me, and I answer them with a request for clarification, often accompanied by an apology. More often than not, this actually leads to an interesting conversation.

And the ones that are just trolling me? Heh. I grew up in the South where we’re taught to say, “That’s nice,” instead of “Fuck you.” I can bless someone’s heart all day.

KH: I used to get death threats and such in the beginning (back in 2004), when I had comments turned on for my blog. I got rid of comments, have my assistant screen my email, and block people ruthlessly on Twitter now. I’ve made it so I’m able to live pretty troll-free. Twitter’s mute function is fabulous. I’m also very careful never to wade into comment sections that I know aren’t going to be useful conversations—you get very good at figuring out when someone’s discussing your work and when someone just wants to start a pile on, or poke at you to see if you’ll have some public meltdown. Inciting author meltdowns is a sport, for some people.

I see so many people giving over their platforms to trolls these days—retweeting hateful statements, getting into arguments with people who are clearly just there to argue—and I can’t imagine it’s very satisfying to anyone but the troll. You have to get that trolls are sadists. They want you to waste your time arguing with them. They want to discourage you from creating work. They want you to be upset and be fearful. The best thing you can do in the face of evil is to do the work that evil doesn’t want you to do, because it’s the work that helps create a world that has no place for them.

TC: It’s fun to watch popular authors interact with fans online, and while I’m sure the majority of interactions are positive, what are three things you wish fans wouldn’t do when interacting with you online?

JCH: Stop adding me to Facebook groups without asking! Don’t tag authors when posting nasty reviews of their books. And for Cthulhu’s sake, if you think the proper way to argue with a woman is to call her a bitch or a c**t, or to post threats of rape or violence, do civilization a favor and get the hell off the internet.

MRK: 1. Apologize for bothering me; 2. Offer me unsolicited advice on writing; 3. Complain about the pricing of my books.

KH: I occasionally get folks who tweet at me like twenty or thirty times a day, without really adding to a conversation, just sort of being like, “I’m here! I’m here!” It’s lovely that they are there, but the reality is that if something feels like spam, I need to mute it for my own sanity. I do sometimes get folks who try and make “ironic” sexist or racist jokes, which always falls flat with me. I mute those immediately, even knowing they meant no harm. When you’re surrounded in real hate all day, even the ironic stuff gets to you.

Overall, though, my fans are great. They are funny and smart and supportive. I even had one bring me a bottle of scotch to a signing, raising the bar for all future fan interactions (TAKE NOTE FANS).

TC: Can you offer any advice to those hoping to be published, regarding their internet/social media presence?

JCH: Be yourself. Have fun. Don’t try to do everything, because you’ll burn yourself out fast. Figure out what you’re comfortable with and do that.

MRK: Don’t stress about it too hard. The social in social media means that you really should be engaging in ways that are comfortable to you. Anything that you have to work at, or hate doing, is going to show as a lack of sincerity. And at the end of the day, your job is to write. So do that first.

KH: Do what you love. Avoid the stuff you don’t like doing. But know the difference between “I don’t like this” and “this is too hard to learn.” Sometimes, if you take the time to learn a new platform, you’ll end up liking it, but you don’t know if you don’t try.

And don’t be a jerk. For the love of all things… don’t be a jerk. Be the best possible version of you. Treat people kindly and humanely. These aren’t pixels, they’re people. And when you are burned out (and you WILL be burned out, at one time or another), it’s OK to take a break from the internet and promotion and all the rest.

I’ve gotten to the point now where I schedule six weeks a year that are just to promote whatever novel I have coming out, and I don’t expect to do any writing in that time. Then I go dark for a month or two, and really pull back on my social presence after that while I work on the next book. Don’t try and be “on” all the time. Break it up into manageable chunks of time.

But most of all, I want to remind folks that the work comes first. Write great books. THEN figure out how to tell people about them. Walk before you run.


Jim C. Hines‘s first novel was Goblin Quest, the humorous tale of a nearsighted goblin runt and his pet fire-spider. Actor and author Wil Wheaton described the book as “too f***ing cool for words,” which is pretty much the Best Blurb Ever. After finishing the goblin trilogy, he went on to write the Princess series of fairy tale retellings, and is currently working on the Magic ex Libris books, a modern-day fantasy series about a magic-wielding librarian, a dryad, a secret society founded by Johannes Gutenberg, a flaming spider, and an enchanted convertible. He’s also the author of the Fable Legends tie-in Blood of Heroes. His short fiction has appeared in more than 50 magazines and anthologies.

Jim is an active blogger about topics ranging from sexism and harassment to zombie-themed Christmas carols, and won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2012. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Masters in English, and lives with his wife and two children in mid-Michigan.

Mary Robinette Kowal is a Hugo-award winning author, voice actor, and professional puppeteer. Her debut novel Shades of Milk and Honey (Tor, 2010) was nominated for the 2010 Nebula Award for Best Novel. In 2008 she won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, while two of her short fiction works have been nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story: “Evil Robot Monkey” in 2009 and “For Want of a Nail” in 2011, which won the Hugo that year. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and several Year’s Best anthologies, as well as in her collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories from Subterranean Press. Mary lives in Chicago with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters. Sometimes she even writes on them.

Kameron Hurley is the author of the novels God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture—a science-fantasy noir series which earned her the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer and the Kitschy Award for Best Debut Novel. She has won the Hugo Award (twice), and been a finalist for the Nebula Award, the Clarke Award, the Locus Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her most recent novel is the subversive epic fantasy The Mirror Empire. The sequel, Empire Ascendant, will be out in October 2015. She writes regularly for Locus Magazine and publishes personal essays at kameronhurley.com.

Find the Right Social Media for You

A Pen In Each Hand

By Billiard

In “Negotiating Social Media for Writers,” we asked Jim C. Hines, Mary Robinette Kowal and Kameron Hurley their advice to writers regarding their internet/social media presence, and this is what they said:

JCH: Be yourself. Have fun. Don’t try to do everything, because you’ll burn yourself out fast. Figure out what you’re comfortable with and do that.

MRK: Don’t stress about it too hard. The social in social media means that you really should be engaging in ways that are comfortable to you. Anything that you have to work at, or hate doing, is going to show as a lack of sincerity. And at the end of the day, your job is to write. So do that first.

KH: Do what you love. Avoid the stuff you don’t like doing. But know the difference between “I don’t like this” and “this is too hard to learn.” Sometimes, if you take the time to learn a new platform, you’ll end up liking it, but you don’t know if you don’t try.

Experiment with various social media platforms and find one or two that you’re comfortable with. It’s easy to tell when someone views social media as a chore so focus your attention on platforms you enjoy using. Many allow you to cross-post so you can maintain a presence at places you aren’t active.

Tales From the Inbox: Baker & Beaver Discuss First Reading

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker) & Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

Theryn: Let me start with this. It annoys me when people fail to put “submission” in their subject line and/or submit to the wrong address because these subs end up in my main inbox with all my other mail, rather than being filtered into my submissions folder. Sometimes I wonder if people do that intentionally (especially with the wrong email address) thinking they’ll somehow jump the queue, but really it just increases the chances of the submission being missed or mistaken for spam. So, follow the guidelines, please. (Oh, haha, literally as I’m writing this, a “submission”-less sub showed up in my inbox!).

Stephanie: I just got that one too. I use a flagging system (and have for years) so when something has “submission” in the title, it gets the big, bold “TC SUB” tag and gets my attention. I also have a filter so that anything with “submission” in the title never goes to spam. So all it really does when a writer doesn’t follow that guideline is increase the chance I won’t see it. It will either be deleted with the flotsam and jetsam or it’ll languish in the spam folder for a month and then die alone and unread.

T: Ditto. When you bypass the guidelines, you bypass my “never send to spam” rules.

Background Image: Michael Dolan/Flickr (CC-by)

Background Image: Michael Dolan/Flickr (CC-by)

T: Oh, yes. Part two to this. Sometimes when people re-submit / submit again they just hit reply on the response I sent them. Which sends their new sub to me only, and leaves my lovely colleague Stephanie out of the loop. If I don’t notice you sent it just to me, and she doesn’t see it, your chances of making it past the first round just went down (oops!). Also, not as important, but still annoying, with threaded conversations, the new sub gets tied to the previous sub and that gets kind of messy. Again, I’m not sure if this is a jumping the queue thing or if people just aren’t thinking, but it would behoove you to submit to the correct address.

S: I am lovely. Since I’m on there as “managing editor,” I also get subs sent directly to me. I have no problem—nor does anyone else, to my knowledge—with a cover letter that mentions me in its salutation. The problem is when it comes to my email address. I usually don’t notice until my ravishing colleague Theryn says, “What is this submission you want in?” Then it goes from shortlist to DQ.

T: Ravishing? lol, ok.

S: I have a thesaurus and I’m only slightly afraid to use it.

T: Your lack of fear makes me afraid 😉

T: I also shake my head when I glance at my submissions folder and see a bunch of attachment symbols. What about “NO ATTACHMENTS” is hard to understand? Ok, maybe people don’t get why attachments are problematic. The main thing for me is they really slow down the reading process. All the opening and closing is annoying, when you could just be moving smoothly from one sub to the next. I often read/shortlist subs on my phone where attachments are a pain. I just want to read your sub and move onto the next without impediments. So just paste it into your email, ok?

S: Sometimes I give people the benefit of the doubt that they may have an email program that sticks some kind of an attachment onto everything. Sometimes it’s a signature that’s technically an attachment. But it is a huge red flag. I read those submissions right away and usually the attachment is the submission. So it actually saves me time in that I can say, “Oh a sub with an attachment? Can I get this out of my inbox? Why yes I can.” Click.

T: Oh, for sure. Same.

T: What do these things have in common? Oh, yes. WASTING MY TIME.


T: So it makes me sad when I head into the subs folder to shortlist and I glance down the names and notice that 75% or more of the subs are from men. What’s up with this, seriously? I brought it up in the class I’m teaching because it’s just so striking to me. I mean, we’re a publication that was founded by women and has had a majority female staff since the beginning, and this info is not a secret! Also, if you look at our archives, we have a good balance of m/f writers. What I’m saying is it’s kind of obvious that we’re a female-friendly publication and yet, women still seem hesitant to submit to us. (And if they’re that hesitant to submit to us, how hesitant are they to submit to a publication with an all-male staff / that publishes mostly men?)

S: Are men more confident about submitting? That’s the only thing I can think of. I don’t think there are more male writers. I don’t think it’s fear of rejection.

T: These are the key differences I note between men/women writers (generalizing, of course). Men a) seem to be more willing to submit early drafts of pieces and b) almost always submit again after a rejection. Women a) seem to polish/edit work more before submitting and b) almost never submit again after a rejection. My guess as to why? Men are taught to take risks (submit anything! why not? what’s the worst that could happen?) and to pick themselves up and try again if they fail (rejection = challenge). Women are taught to be cautious, to not expose themselves unnecessarily (therefore: “I should work on this a bit more; it’s not ready yet; I don’t want to look stupid”) and that if they fail once, well, they’re really not good at that thing and maybe they should try something else, something “easier” (rejection = you suck at writing, maybe you should take up knitting, not that there’s anything wrong with that).

S: Sadly, this could be the case. I don’t think it’s a confidence problem. I think it’s more “Well I’ll just go elsewhere then.” We’re not rejecting the author. We’re rejecting this piece. It’s like holding out a bag of Hershey Miniatures and telling me I can only have a Mr. Goodbar. Maybe I want a Special Dark. But you don’t offer the bag again so I’ll just have this fun-sized Crunch from over here.

T: lol now I want Halloween candy.

S: Hey, I don’t pull my metaphors out of nowhere. I have a bag of Kit Kats here.

T: So I really do think women writers do need more encouragement to get their work out there than men do. With that in mind we have been putting out occasional calls for more submissions specifically from women writers.

S: We put out a call for minority voices and I think we’re enjoying a really great response. Hopefully asking for work from female writers will have the same result.

T: I’m not sure what else would be helpful. Women writers: you tell us, what would encourage you to submit more?

S: That’s the best way to figure it out: ask.

T: Ok, going to do some reading. Starting with the flash. I liked the first one I read; voice and setting were interesting/unusual. Putting on consider list. Next!

S: I usually start with the flash, then poetry, then CNF, then fiction. Not just because it’s longer but because I have a more black-and-white reaction to the other submissions. Fiction sometimes needs to sit with me for a while before I label it “no” or “consider.” I have rescued submissions from the “no” pile after I’ll be baking cupcakes or something and a character or setting I read creeps in there while I’m leveling flour or something.

T: I love subs that stick with you. And ones that grow on you the more times you read them.

S: So what do you think of the flash submissions, in general?

T: Hmm. A lot of the time, I think the flash is well-written, but insubstantial. Like, more of a beginning or an anecdote or a sketch. I think, so what? When I read flash I need to be able to picture the whole story even though there are only a few words. It’s the Hemingway/iceberg thing. What’s on the page is the one-eighth of the iceberg that’s above the water, but from that, as a reader I need to be able to extrapolate what’s underwater. If the piece doesn’t imply anything beyond what’s explicitly laid out then it’s a no for me.

S: I think there’s some weird idea that flash is about word count and nothing else. Recently—maybe this reading period?—we had a flash submission that was too long for our parameters and wasn’t flash anyway, which was doubly frustrating. Then we had a fiction submission that fell under the flash word count limit but was rightly submitted as fiction because it wasn’t flash. I wanted to kiss that writer.

T: I also think humor is really hard to pull off, and that’s something a lot of people try in flash pieces. I’m not saying don’t try it, just that it’s a lot harder to do well than being serious. I think it’s because humor is such a personal thing—what one person loves another will hate. Example: I hate punchline endings. If you want to write jokes, do stand-up. But at the same time I’m sure other editors love them.

S: I don’t like anything that sets up to a punchline. I’m in the Monty Python Club. We used to get more humor pieces and I think it’s because we have some levity on the site and we have a fun title. But we’re not a humor magazine. Maybe people are reading us and discovering we don’t have a satire section.

T: I love writers who read through the archives before they submit. Three cheers for you!

T: Then there are the (long) stories masquerading as flash. You know, a story that clearly needs to be longer, but the writer has tried to cram it into 500 words. Reminds me of when I was a kid and all my stories “had” to end when I reached the bottom of the page. This type of story is recognizable by an abundance of detail (e.g. all the characters are introduced by their full names) that’s unnecessary unless it’s actually meant to be a longer story.

S: As a sidenote, if I see a full name in line 1, the story is on notice. I’m looking for reason #2 to slush it by that point.

T: Oh, me too! I’m not saying characters shouldn’t have full names, but a line 1 mention is definitely a red flag for me.

T: I am never enthused by work submitted by a third party (i.e. someone a writer has hired to submit for them). Just saying.

S: I don’t get that. Half the rush is clicking “send” and then sitting there waiting for a response, having your nerves tingle every time you open your inbox. I only get it if it’s a case of “I think this is brilliant and he never submits his work so I’m trying to prove a point.”

T: *ponders stealing Steph’s novels and subbing them for her*

S: *leaves them to be stolen*

T: Let’s look at some poetry. A common reason for saying no is poems that are strings of pretty words with no substance behind them (why are you telling me this? what’s the point? where’s the meaning?). A poem is more than than just description. Also a poem is not just a chunk of prose chopped up with (random) line breaks. Speaking of line breaks, sometimes I really like the content of a poem but the line breaks baffle me. If you’re not sure where to end a line, the best advice I’ve heard is to end on a strong word (not “of” or some other meaningless word).

S: Yes: end on a strong word. That’s one of the criteria I use on first read. Line breaks that end with “of” or “the” don’t say much to me. Rhyming poetry turns me off too. Sometimes a rhyme will slip by if it’s well done but usually the lines are forced to fit a rhyme and/or meter. That said, when we get a great poetry submission, it’s usually my favorite submission. Of all the things we’ve published, the poetry is what stays with me over years.

T: Like humor, I think rhyming poems are a genre that’s really hard to do well. More often they end up being cheesy.

S: Or sentimental to the point of saccharine.

T: The number one piece of writing advice I give students (with respect to essays) is to start by writing about concrete things not abstractions. Anchor your ideas to an object and your writing will immediately be better than if your ideas are just floating around unattached to anything. I feel like the same advice could be applied to many poems. Writing is interesting in its specificity. A poem that consists entirely of vagueness isn’t.

S: Specificity is the key across the board. A moment. An object. A character. Most of the submissions I put through to second read have elements of softness or vulnerability but they all have a hard edge.

T: Oh, crap. I just read a story I really liked and then noticed it’s a simsub. Blargh.

S: You had to go and like it, didn’t you?

T: 😛

T: Too much telling.

S: That’s still a huge problem in the writing world. I see it a lot in stories published elsewhere and I wonder if those editors aren’t getting good submissions or what’s going on that that’s what they choose to publish. Maybe I’m old school.

T: And then… there are the stories that almost have me until they abruptly careen into the ridiculous. I think this is a variation on “I’ve reached the end of the page; must end this story.” It’s like the writer gets scared of where the story could go, so they back off and go for melodrama instead. Disappointing.

S: I have a specific groan for when I read a story that falls apart at the end.

T: It’s the worst. Seriously, I hate it when that happens.

T: Some things are just not a good fit.

S: That’s especially frustrating. I want to include a note that says, “This is good. I can’t wait to see it published elsewhere.”

T: All dialogue. This is almost always going to be a no. A story is not a script.

S: I admit, not only have I done an all-dialogue stories but many moons ago, I submitted one. I was the “wtf?” of that month’s slush pile, I’m sure. But it wasn’t doing me any good sitting in my “finished” folder.

T: Ahhh, it’s a dead person story. At least he seems to know he’s dead (twist!). I hate stories with dead protagonists, to be honest. We get so many of these, so it’s a cliche, and it’s just not an interesting premise to me in the first place.

S: I had to specifically put it into Dead of Winter’s rules. We still get them. And The Sixth Sense is, what, 15 years old now?

T: I know, right?

S: Tell me/us something that will get a story marked “consider” on first read.

T: I like stories where I can’t immediately tell where they’re going.

S: I have a specific gasp for stories that surprise me in a good way.

T: The best.

T: So, I’ve reached the end of this month’s subs, and I literally have more subs in my DQ folder (mostly for attachments) than I do on my consider list. Just saying.

S: And the frustrating thing, if I may presume to speak for both of us and probably most lit journal editors out there, we want a huge consider list. We don’t like DQs and we don’t like to say “no” on first read. Very often, I start to say to myself, “Self, let’s reconsider this submission” and then a new submission comes in that’s exactly what I wanted and it reminds me not to change where I’ve set the bar.

T: Ideal number of DQs: 0. I mean, I’d much rather spend our time arguing about how to cut down a long shortlist than grumbling about people not following the guidelines. Ya know?

S: Too much of a good thing would be wonderful.

“You Shortlisted My Submission… Why Didn’t it Make the Final Cut?”

Absolute Blank

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

I want to begin this article with a word of encouragement. Please don’t give up on Toasted Cheese as a venue because your work is rejected once (twice, three times…). Be persistent! Many people submit to us only once and we never hear from them again. I obviously don’t know their reasons, but I hope it’s not because they think a single ‘no’ means ‘no’ forever. The ‘no’ applies to the submitted piece only and not to anything you might write in the future. Keep trying.

There is a much smaller group of writers who submit to us again and again, even when they repeatedly hear ‘no.’ If you fall into the former group—the writers who meekly retreat—you might think such writers are gluttons for punishment. But here’s the thing: eventually many of these persistent writers hear ‘yes.’

If we shortlisted your submission, we saw something in it—we think you’re on the right track—and when we say we’d like to see more work from you, we mean it. Keep writing, keep revising, and keep submitting.

Background Image: CC-by Patrick Slattery/Flickr

Background Image: CC-by Patrick Slattery/Flickr

Type A: Eager Beavers


The piece is well-written, and it’s the quality of your writing that caught our attention. What you have submitted is a polished piece of work. Yet, it’s incomplete. If nonfiction, it’s more of an anecdote than a story. If fiction, it’s a beginning without a middle or end. It’s the short-story version of polishing the first chapter of your novel to perfection, while failing to write the rest of the book.

Bellman says, “For me, it’s often that something feels like it’s missing—it doesn’t quite hold together, or something doesn’t make sense, or, in some cases, the writing is good, but it doesn’t seem to tell a story.”


The piece is complete, i.e. the whole story is present, but you’re not done with it yet. This is a first or maybe second draft that hasn’t been polished yet. Were you so excited to share—or so afraid you’d chicken out—you submitted the minute you typed ‘The End’? Did you spot a typo or realize you wanted to make a change immediately after you hit ‘Send’ and dash off a breathless addendum to the editor? If so, your piece is likely unfinished.

  • What these two issues have in common is writers who are impatient to get their work out there. We love that you’re excited about your work. But remember, part of writing is giving your work time to breathe. When you think it’s done, set it aside for a while. Work on something else. When you give it time, you can come back to it with fresh eyes and look at it more objectively. Alternatively (or in addition), take the time to run it past your writing buddy or group for feedback before submitting.

Type B: It’s Not You, It’s Us


You’re probably familiar with the term ‘fit’ from job interviews. While we don’t have preset themes for our issues, themes often arise organically during the selection process. If all of the pieces save one fit the theme(s), then that oddball piece might not make the cut. This isn’t something that’s set in stone—obviously if the piece is exceptional, it’s going in regardless of how well it fits with the other pieces—but if it’s something we’re waffling over, fit is definitely a factor taken into consideration.


Each month, we shortlist about ten submissions. Think of this like heats in track events. During each reading period, we read three months of shortlisted submissions. Think of this like the finals. When all the shortlisted pieces are read together and compared, inevitably some are going to rise to the top and others are going to fall to the bottom. The ‘bottom’ in this case is still good (you made it to the finals), but on this day, others were better. In addition, there’s an intersection between quality and subject matter. If two people have written pieces on the same subject (this happens more often than you think), we’ll likely choose only one of the two.

  • What these two issues have in common is that there’s an element here that’s beyond your control. You have no idea (nor do we) what other people are going to submit. If you’re going to write, you will have to accept that there’s an element of luck or serendipity to successful submissions. But there are some things you can do to improve your odds. Read back issues to familiarize yourself with what the editors are looking for. And always, continue working on your craft, making your writing the best it can be.

Type C: Houston, We Have a Problem


Sometimes a piece we might have accepted doesn’t make the cut because there are simply too many technical errors. Our staff is all-volunteer and we don’t have the time to do a line-by-line edit of your piece. While typos and minor usage errors are not cause for rejection, problems that occur throughout, and would require an intensive edit/extensive rewrite of the piece, are. Common problems that fall under this rubric are tense shifts (shifting back and forth between past, present, and future tenses) and point-of-view shifts, which can mean either head-hopping (jumping from one character’s point-of-view to another when you’re not using third-person omniscient) or shifting randomly between first- and third-person or first- and second-person.


We’ll call this one cobwebs, after a poem I wrote in eighth grade that included the phrase ‘cobwebs of mist.’ Superficially, this poem was ok. It had some nice imagery. But that’s all it had. It lacked depth. It wasn’t about anything. There was nothing for the reader to make a connection with. This is perhaps the most common problem with poetry. Poems will contain imagery that makes them appealing at first glance, but on closer look there’s no substance—much like how when you try to grasp a spider web, your hand goes right through it. A good poem is more than just a description. What are you trying to say? What do you want to convey to the reader? Make sure there’s a there there.


With longer fiction, and sometimes nonfiction, often we’ll be intrigued by the opening of the story, the premise. But somewhere along the line, things break down. The story becomes convoluted or impenetrable, bogged down by the writer trying too hard to be clever, mysterious, or deep—or goes off the rails completely (scary clown deus ex machina!). Remember: We’re readers, not mind-readers. We have no idea what’s in the eight-ninths of Hemingway’s proverbial iceberg that’s still in your head. All we have to go on is what is on the page. When you ask for feedback on your work, do you find yourself jumping in and explaining what you meant when readers say they didn’t understand where that clown came from or that the whole ‘clown thing’ didn’t make sense? Stop. Instead of explaining, listen to your readers. Then read your story again and ask yourself: is it really possible to figure out what the deal with the clown is knowing just what is on the page? Make sure readers can understand your story without an author’s note.

Bellman says, “I go for strong characters and a compelling tale that hangs together. If you are going to send me on a treasure hunt of meaning, at least give me a map.”

Ocean ChartNot this one.

  • What these issues have in common is they are all problems that can be solved by working on your craft. You have something to say and/or way with words, but writing is a process; as long as you are writing there will always be more to learn. Books on the craft of writing abound—make use of them. Pro-tip: your public library will have most of the popular writing craft books. Check out a wide variety for free first, then purchase the ones you find most useful to keep next to your desk. If you prefer more interactive lessons, sign up for a writing class, workshop, or conference. Classes and conferences are a chance to get a fresh perspective on your work, some feedback, and best of all, meet other writers, i.e. potential writing buddies or groupmates.

So there you have it: some common reasons why submissions don’t make it past the final cut. We hope you find this information helpful and look forward to seeing another submission from you soon!

Final Poll Results

A Guide to Designing Assignments that Require Students to Submit their Work for Publication

Absolute Blank

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

Because Toasted Cheese is open to new and unpublished writers, we often receive submissions from students at all levels (graduate, undergraduate, high school, and occasionally even middle school). Some are writing students, but others are not. Some submit work of their own accord, while others have been required to do so as part of an assignment for a class. For those who submit on their own, their student status is usually incidental. They are writers first and foremost; they have something to say and their goal is the publication of their work—just like any other writer.

In contrast, those who submit because it’s required of them may not self-identify as writers, and in these cases, a desire to fulfill the requirements of the assignment is frequently their primary—and sometimes only—motivation for submitting. Oftentimes, a student’s reluctance to share their work and discomfort with the process can be painfully obvious.

On its own, “because it’s required” isn’t a great reason to submit. Students may end up frustrated and discouraged by a process that can leave them feeling embarrassed and rejected. The publications to which they are submitting may be annoyed by, or perplexed with how to deal with, a glut of inappropriate submissions. Teachers may be disheartened that a great idea in theory didn’t turn out as expected in practice. With that in mind, in this article, I walk through how to design a submit-for-publication assignment that is satisfying for all involved—teachers, students, and editors.

Background Image: Johannes P Osterhoff/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

The Big Idea

Let’s imagine I’ve decided to assign my students the task of writing a story, poem, personal essay, opinion piece, or the like. Since I want students to see that this assignment as something that has a real-world application, I think it might be a good idea to require the students to submit their final work for publication. As I design the assignment, I want to keep in mind the answers to the following questions:

  1. What’s the education level of the students? Are we talking creative writing MFA students or ninth grade English students?
  2. What are my goals for the students? What do I want them to learn from submitting their work for publication?
  3. How much time will be devoted to this assignment? Is it going to be a semester-long process or is it something that needs to fit in a one-week window?


Like any assignment, a submit-for-publication assignment needs to be tailored to the abilities of the students. While MFA students are presumably capable of submitting a piece of work on their own without guidance, ninth grade English students are not. The less experienced the students, the more time I’ll need to put into guiding the submission portion of the assignment, to deciding what the ultimate objective of the assignment will be, and to following up after the submission process. I don’t want to make the mistake of spending the majority of the allotted time on the writing portion of the assignment and neglecting the submission portion. If there’s not enough time available to do anything more than have students submit their work for publication at the same time as they turn in the first draft of the assignment to be graded, I should rethink the assignment.

A submit-for-publication assignment should include at least one round (preferably more) of critique and revision prior to submitting. From a submissions perspective, this is important for a couple key reasons. First, submitting to real publications involves third parties: the editors of those publications (who, keep in mind, are often volunteers). It would be thoughtless of me to require students to submit without first assuring myself that they are sending their very best work. Second, I want my students to feel confident about the work they are sending out. After all, the reason many students, including writing majors, don’t submit on their own is because they feel insecure about their work. Asking them to submit before they’ve received any feedback on a piece is likely to make them feel even more uncomfortable about submitting. A few rounds of feedback before the actual submission will go a long way to polishing their work and instilling them with confidence.

I will also need to consider how to direct the submission portion of the assignment so that students target publications that would look forward to receiving their work. For students, submitting their work isn’t going to be satisfying unless their submissions have a real possibility of being published. Similarly, if editors are to look upon student submissions favorably, they must receive submissions that are appropriate in style, genre, and quality for their publication.

Finally, I should ensure there is sufficient time remaining after the students submit for a debriefing stage where students reflect on what they’ve learned from the process and how they might put that to use in the future. Depending on class size and the time available, the debriefing stage might include class discussion, teacher-student conferences, and/or a journaling exercise. Topics for discussion could include similarities and differences in submission requirements, common errors made by the students, reasons for choosing particular markets (and whether those were the right choices), which publications were student-friendly, etc.

Goal: To Familiarize Students with the Submission Process

I now need to decide what specific goals I want to accomplish with this assignment. One common goal is to get students comfortable with the submission process. Accomplishing this goal breaks down into two key components: researching and finding a suitable market to submit to, and learning to write a cover letter and follow submission guidelines. Depending on the students’ level and abilities, I might focus more on one or the other aspect. For example, with younger students, the main goal of the assignment might be to have them learn how to follow guidelines and write a formal business email. With graduate writing students, it would make sense to focus more on market research.

When it comes to the mechanics of submitting, I know younger students need more guidance than just “follow the guidelines” or “submit via email.” Most will have never written a business email and as this is a transferable skill that all of them can use regardless of whether they go on to become writers, it’s worth it to spend some time on this step. Some points I should cover include: using a professional-sounding email address, filling in your name on your email account so it appears in the “From:” line, locating submission guidelines, filling in the subject line as per the guidelines (never leaving it blank), sending submissions to the correct email address, and addressing submissions to the correct person.

If I’m focusing on this aspect of the assignment, I’ll have the students practice submitting by sending their complete submission to me, along with a copy of the submission guidelines they are following. This will give me the opportunity to give them feedback on their cover letter, as well as to ensure that they have followed the guidelines, before they submit. If I ask students to provide me with proof of their submission by sending me a copy of their email, I will instruct them to BCC (not CC) me, so that my email address does not appear on the email. While the receiving editor being aware that the submission is for a class assignment may have no effect on the outcome, there is no reason to unnecessarily put the students at a disadvantage.

Market research involves students finding and reading various journals and magazines in order to find suitable publications for their work. At this stage of the assignment, I might have students write reviews of their top three or five choices, explaining why they would like to see their work appear in these publications, why they think certain pieces were selected for publication, and why these venues are the best fit for their work. To accommodate a shorter time-frame or less-advanced students, I might modify the assignment by providing the students with a list of potential journals to start from. Regardless, before the students submit, I will ensure that the submissions are spread out over a number of journals, perhaps by having students declare their intended market on a first-come, first-served basis. I will not make the mistake of allowing fifteen students submit to the same journal, as this serves neither the students nor the targeted journal.

Finally, if I don’t think the students’ work is ready to submit yet, I will not have them submit to an external publication. Instead, I will consider an alternative such as having them put together their own anthology. Depending on the time available, this could be as simple as compiling all of the pieces into a PDF ebook or as complex as having the students themselves design and edit the anthology, and have it printed. With the many print-on-demand options available, this would be quite doable.

Goal: To Have the Submitted Pieces Accepted

Another common goal is to get the submitted pieces accepted. To accomplish this goal, I will of course require one or more rounds of revisions during the writing phase of the assignment. Ideally, students will receive feedback from their peers as well as from me.

Preferably, students will complete more than one writing assignment before attempting to submit anything. In a course with several writing assignments, I won’t require the students to submit every piece. Rather, I will have the students to choose one or two of their best pieces to submit. Every writer knows that there are projects that are best left as practice efforts, ones that don’t turn out as planned making them unsuitable for the intended market, and ones that need to be set aside to rest before being revised once again. Building in room for failure, experiments, and mistakes will improve students’ chances at success, both because the writing process will be less tense and because they’ll have confidence in the pieces they choose, an empowerment which will show in their cover letter.

I also need to keep in mind the students’ level and abilities. While a ninth grader’s C-grade story is definitely not ready for submission to The New Yorker, an MFA student’s A-level story is not necessarily either. There can be a difference between an excellent job, given the time constraints and guidelines of the assignment, and publishable quality. More importantly, there’s a distinction between work that’s so exceptional that it’s publishable anywhere and work that’s publishable, given the right market. Unless I have Alice Munro or one of the 20-under-40 in my class, it’s unlikely my students will have success submitting to The New Yorker. My role at this stage is to judge each student’s work honestly and to guide them toward publications where they will have the greatest chance of success. This will mean different goals for different students even within the same class. Maybe I do have an exceptional student who should try submitting to The New Yorker. Great. But for most students, it makes sense to have a more modest goal, particularly if this is their first submission.

Young students will improve their chances at success by aiming for markets that are only open to or that openly solicit work from young writers. Some ideas:

  • School-affiliated publications. Some school magazines/newspapers accept work only from students at the sponsoring school, others from similar-age students regardless of the school they attend.
  • Other publications that only publish young writers.
  • General-interest publications with calls for work from young writers (for a young writer issue, for example).
  • Writing contests that are only open to writers up to a certain age or enrolled at a certain level of education.
  • Community publications, particularly if the student has written a non-fiction piece on an issue of local interest.

There is no denying that facilitating a submit-for-publication assignment is labor-intensive, but done well, it will be a rewarding and positive experience for all.

Markets and Other Resources for Young Writers

Literary Journals that only publish Young Writers:


Online Communities for Young Writers:


Additional Resources:

My thanks to Liz Baudler for sharing her insights as a creative writing student and editor.

Final Poll Results

Writer’s Glossary, Part III: The Business of Writing

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

This is the third installment in the ongoing Writer’s Glossary series. Part I covered Elements of Fiction Construction and Part II covered Genres, Subgenres and Supergenres.

Background Photo: SpeakingLatino.com/Flickr (CC-by-sa).

Background Photo: SpeakingLatino.com/Flickr (CC-by-sa).



  • Hook: the opening sentence or sentences that involve a reader. A narrative hook may be found in a novel. The hook of a query letter is a single sentence that intrigues the recipient.
  • Synopsis: shares what the work is about, including the major characters and plot points (including the ending). Synopses can vary in length. Some synopses should be two or three paragraphs; some should be two or three pages. Synopses are most often used in query letters. (See: 10 Secrets Of A Synopsis That Sells)
  • Pitch: usually a single paragraph, a pitch is used to “sell” a novel to an agent or publisher. Pitches are often spoken synopses and allow for flexibility as they’re a form of verbal communication. Include the opening conflict, the journey and the opposition. Pitches come in handy at conferences and other face-to-face interactions with agents or publishers. (See: Your First Writers Conference: A Guided Tour)
  • Query: a letter (increasingly in e-mail form) asking an agent or publisher if there would be interest in reading a full manuscript. Query letters generally include a synopsis, contact information, and a brief biography, including publishing credits (if any), a.k.a. “backlist.” Every agent is different and many are strict about what to include in (and exclude from) a query. (See: The short, sweet guide to writing query letters)
  • Cover letter: accompanies a submission, including contact information and a brief biography. Summarizing this story or poem is not always necessary; check the submission guidelines of the publication. (See: Please and Thank You: The Purpose of a Cover Letter)

Word count standards:

These vary by publication but this is a basic guideline. Always check on the expectation of word count with the publication. For example, Toasted Cheese has a maximum word count of 500 words for flash, 5000 words for fiction.

  • Micro-Fiction: up to 100 words
  • Flash Fiction: 100 – 1,000 words
  • Short Story: 1,000 – 7,500 words
  • Novellette: 7,500 – 20,000 words
  • Novella: 20,000 – 50,000 words
  • Novel: 50,000 -110,000
  • Epics: Over 110,000 words


(See: Five Quick Tips for Getting Your Story Published )

  • Page Counts: industry standard preferred length is 250 words per page (ex: a 400-page novel = 100,000 words)
  • Simultaneous submission: a single piece sent to several publications at once
  • Multiple submission: more than one piece sent to a single publication at once
  • Slush pile: a collection of unsolicited manuscripts
  • Lede/lead: the introductory sentence; this term is most often used in journalism
  • Byline: a printed line giving the author’s name
  • WIP: Work-in-progress
  • Manuscript: the raw copy
  • (Un)solicited manuscript: When someone asks you for your manuscript, either via your query or other means, it becomes a “solicited manuscript.” Otherwise, it is “unsolicited.”
  • Partial: A portion of a manuscript. The length varies. Standard is up to 25 pages or perhaps up to 10,000 words, likely less. Partials are usually requested or you will be given other indication as to what the length of your partial should be.
  • Pseudonym: a false name under which an author’s work is published/credited


  • Copyright: the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc.; as a verb “copyright” means “to secure a copyright.” Copyright is automatically created with the creation of the work. (See: Automatically Yours: Introduction to Copyright)
  • First Rights: the right to be first to publish the material in either a particular medium or a particular location
  • FNASR: “First North American Serial Rights.” When submitting a piece for publication, the author sells or gives the publication the right to be the first in North America to publish the material once. Unless the author grants other rights or licenses as well, all copyright to that material reverts to the author.
  • First American rights: the right to publish a piece first within the United States
  • First Canadian rights: the right to publish a piece first within Canada
  • First British rights: the right to publish a piece first within Britain
  • First Australian rights: the right to publish a piece first within Australia
  • First World English rights: The right to be the first in the entire English-speaking world to publish the piece including Australia, Canada, the UK and the US (including FNASR)
  • One-time rights: the publication is purchasing the right to print the piece once and only once (not necessarily first)
  • Reprint Rights, or Second Serial rights: the right to print as a reprint
  • Nonexclusive Reprint Rights: the right to sell reprint rights to the same piece to more than one publication, even at the same time
  • Anthology Rights: the right to publish a piece in a collection or anthology, often as a reprint
  • Translation Rights: the right to print the piece in a non-English language
  • Excerpt Rights: the right to use excerpts from the piece in other instances (example: an educational environment, such as a standardized test)
  • First Electronic Rights or First World Electronic Rights: the right to be the first to publish the piece on the Internet, via e-mail, as a downloadable file or program, on CD or tape, etc. FER/FWER are negotiated separately from other First Rights like FNASR.
  • Archival Rights: the right to archive or make archived works available on the Web
  • All Rights: the author remains nominally the copyright holder but without economic rights left to exploit including reprints, anthologizing, electronic publishing and further sales without further remuneration
  • Moral Rights: include the right of attribution and the right to the integrity of the work; generally, moral rights cannot be assigned to another party like economic rights can, but they can be waived
  • Work for Hire rights: “work for hire” rights apply to writing done within the scope of employment (such as a newspaper journalist or textbook writer) wherein the actual copyright belongs to the employer
  • Exclusive rights: the publisher asks that the piece not appear anywhere else while they are exercising their right to it, usually a set period of time
  • Nonexclusive rights: the piece may be displayed, published, copied, transmitted, etc. elsewhere while under right.


  • Print Run: a batch of copies of a book, produced by the same single set-up of the print equipment
  • Lead time: the time between the undertaking and completion of a project. For example, the lead time on a newspaper article would be from the assignment of the story until the print deadline.
  • Advance: payment given in anticipation of the completion of a project
  • Royalty: a percentage of sales given to the creator of the work (i.e. the author)
  • Self-publication: the publication of material by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher, vanity presses, or print on demand (POD). Many authors began or continued their literary careers as self-publishers.
  • Vanity Press (a.k.a. “subsidy” or “joint venture” presses): appealing to the “vanity” of authors, these publishers make the majority of their money from fees charged authors rather than from sales, paying little to no attention to quality of the work or of the published product
  • POD: Print on Demand, a form of technology that allows small print runs of media. Unlike vanity presses, POD publishers generally have connections to booksellers and have a reputation for creating quality finished products but also pay little attention to the quality of the content. Sales and fees are both sources of income for POD publishers. (See: Publishing and Print-on-Demand: What POD is, what it isn’t, and when it might be right for you)
  • ARC: Advance Review Copy; a type of galley
  • Galley: an unformatted version of a manuscript, usually distributed for review purposes
  • ISBN: International Standard Book Number. Defined by ISBN.org as a way to “establish and identify one title or edition of a title from one specific publisher and is unique to that edition, allowing for more efficient marketing of products by booksellers, libraries, universities, wholesalers and distributors.”


  • Sell-through: the percentage ratio of the number of copies produced/sold to the number of copies returned to the publisher for credit. Basically supply and demand.
  • Modeled: A book is “modeled” when it remains available in a store, typically on the shelf. “In line” generally refers to a store’s available stock, including their warehouses or possibly other locations. So while the book might not have a full table of copies near the door, a single copy available for purchase on a shelf in its genre section means it’s “modeled.”
  • Remainder: a book no longer selling well, reduced for sale by the publisher, distributor or bookseller and marked in a distinctive way (usually with a felt marker slashmark on the page edges near the spine)
  • Stripped book: a mass market paperback stripped of its cover and meant to be pulped or recycled. The covers are returned to the publisher as evidence that the book has been destroyed although “stripped books” may not always be pulped
  • Chapbook: a small, pocket-sized book, usually with a flexible cover (of cloth or paper). Most often chapbooks are collections of poetry although they may also contain short stories or other creative media, usually with a unifying theme.
  • Zine: a small circulation publication usually created by hand instead of by a press; cost of creation usually exceeds profit. (See: Been There, Zine That)

Final Poll Results