This is part three of my impromptu series of posts about running an ezine.
So here I would like to give a little inside look at how I handle submissions at Theme of Absence, including my reading schedule, and how I make the final decision on whether or not to include a story on the site.
But let’s start with some stats and some bragging rights…
Theme of Absence (in its current form) opened up for submissions in May of 2014 and the first story was published June 13 of that year. At the time of writing, we’ve received 560 submissions and have published 138 stories, resulting in a lifetime acceptance rate of 24%.
The site has also had the honor of being listed as a Top Ten Finisher for Best Fiction Magazines / Ezines in the 2017 Critters Preditors & Editors Poll and is consistently listed in both the 25 Most Approachable Fiction Markets and Most Personable Fiction Markets at Duotrope.com.
Now onto my reading schedule.
I receive anywhere between zero and three submission each day, averaging around one per day. Since I keep the site open for submissions year round, and do not have any reading periods or deadlines, I read one story every day. In the past this had kept turnaround as low as a week or two, but I’m still catching up from a few huge months in April and May, so lately turnabout has been around 60 days.
It should be noted that in most cases, I send an acceptance or rejection letter immediately after reading. There have been a few stories where I decided to put it aside for a few days and think about it, or send a rewrite request to the author. But like I said, in most cases, every story gets either a thumbs-up or thumbs-down right away.
So with the acceptance letters, I have a form letter of sorts, that notifies the author of acceptances, gives a publishing date, discusses pay, and if it’s the author’s first acceptance at the site, an invitation to do the author interview.
With rejections, I try to include two things. First, I like to point out what the author did well, and second, I include a sentence or two telling them why I passed on the story. I think that’s important to share why I don’t accept a story, even if it’s a quick note saying the style didn’t work for me, or I’ve seen too many similar stories. With my own writing, I’ve received nearly 130 form letter rejections, and I know what that’s like, so I try to personalize each rejection.
I should add that it’s a little different for the annual Halloween Contest. With that, I do actually wait until all of the submissions have been sent in and the deadline has passed before I began reading. I try to read everything in one day for the first round and make two quick “maybe” and “no” lists. I reread everything on the “maybe” list, and then make a decision. This year, I did run a top three by one of the artists and we both agreed on the winner.
The other thing I do differently with the Halloween Contest is that I do send form letter rejections. This is mostly because of the time frame involved. Since I don’t start reading until October 10, I like to get those rejection letters out there as quickly as possible in case there are any other Halloween contests the authors would like to submit to.
So what makes an acceptance?
It varies, but let me be completely honest here: It’s all totally subjective. I shared some reasons I may reject a story in the last couple of posts, but for an acceptance, it really comes down to one question:
Did I enjoy this story?
I know that’s not very helpful for anyone looking to submit for the first time, but I’ll say, I really do “read to reject,” meaning I’ll read a story looking for any reason to reject it that I can find. I feel that’s a fair way to do it. If I find reason to dislike a story half-way through, so will a reader.
And the easiest way to tell that? While I read a story, I’m looking forward to the end. Either 1) Because I’m so interested that I can’t wait to see how it ends, or 2) I can’t wait to be done with the story.
On a closing note, I would like to add that I judge almost entirely on story and characters. If I find a few grammatical errors, or misspelled words, I’m not going to turn down a story with a great plot. For one thing, that stuff is easy enough to fix when I post, and for another, I can estimate about half of the story submissions come from outside the United States. Of those, a small portion are from writers who do not have English (or American English) as their native language. There is no reason to punish a writer for that when most of it can be cleaned up on edits, and I have yet to find a writer who isn’t willing to work on edits with me if need be.
So I think I’ve rambled on quite enough in this post. I hope you enjoyed the last few days of getting a glimpse of my editor side, and I hope some of this stuff can be useful to you no matter where you send your fiction to.
Take care, and I’ll be back tomorrow with another episode of the podcast.