Ask first; submit later

So I have this short story that I’ve been shopping around casually for a couple of years. I think it’s a good story that just hasn’t found the right publication. In the half dozen rejections I’ve received for it, the story has garnered some chatter from the editors, which makes me think it is interesting and viable. (It’s a mild science fiction piece with a humorous ending. It involves time travel, though that’s not really the point of the story, and several editors have gotten hung up on how “it couldn’t happen that way” as though it wasn’t a piece of fiction at all. *heavy sigh*

I visit Duotrope’s Digest occasionally to troll for new markets that might be suitable for it, and I turned up a new one recently that I want to try. I visited the magazine’s site and read the submission guidelines, and I was surprised to learn that I must query the editor before submitting a story by email. (There is no such requirement if I submit a paper copy of the story by snail mail, which they also accept.) I have seen this before, but I’ve never understood the point of it. I don’t object; I just don’t understand.

What could the editor be screening for? Why are only email submissions screened this way? Could I possibly say anything in a query that would influence the editor to allow me (or not allow me) to submit my story? I did send the query, and I listed some of my credentials as well as linked to this humble blog. I suppose that gives some credibility to my proposal, but I’ve always thought that a story’s worth stood on its own merits and not on ancillary things like publishing credentials or the writer’s hobbies.

Still, maybe this method has a value. If the editor does welcome my submission, he or she might therefore be favorably disposed toward it before it even arrives. I believe I was polite and cordial in my query, so perhaps I have smoothed the path to publication a little that way.

Another thought is that this initial screening is a way to reduce spam in their email inbox. The instructions were specific about how I needed to write my SUBJECT line. That would allow the editor to identify legitimate queries and skip spambot emails. Perhaps then the editor will give me a dedicated email address for the actual submission. I’m guessing, but that makes sense.

Response time is reported as a month. I suppose that is for consideration of the actual story and not for review of the query. As usual, I’ll be sure to let you know how this little adventure unfolds.

Update: I received a response from the editor later in the same day I’d sent my initial email. She (or he? the first name is Sandy) welcomed my submission, reiterated the formatting and content requirements, and noted that response time should be a week rather than a month. I got my story together and sent it in.

Further Update: The editor declined the story. She wrote a nice email explaining her concerns with it and welcomed me to try the zine again should I have anything else. I may.

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2 Comments on “Ask first; submit later”

  1. Pete Says:

    All they’re doing with that policy is trying to slow the flood of story submissions (not just spam). By requiring a query first, they’re making submitters work a bit harder, by which they hope to increase the number of serious submissions. I co-edit a small online litzine and can barely keep up with the submissions. I wouldn’t mind if we also had just such a policy – given that most of the stuff we get is either terribly written or not a good fit for the zine, I wouldn’t mind getting a query instead, which would probably let us know in advance that the story doesn’t work.

  2. paullamb Says:

    Pete – Thanks for that input. It makes sense, especially since the magazine is related to the Mensa organization in some way: clever people there.


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