Working my way through the latest anthology submissions, I’m noticing something interesting: a significant number of writers have submitted work which would better fit in another genre. This means that soon I will need to writer letters to those people explaining that I can’t accept their work for publication — so-called ‘rejection’ letters. But the recipients of those letters will be discouraged and possibly introverted upon receipt — needlessly so. The only point upon which they diverged from requirements was a technical one: they submitted the work inappropriately. In all other respects, in most cases, the work submitted was of sufficient quality to merit being published — it’s just that it didn’t fit with the anthology under question.
Steve Carr covers this point in his manual Getting Your Short Stories Published: A Guidebook:
Every publication has submission guidelines. The importance of following the guidelines, along with submitting quality stories, was the most frequently mentioned issue by the editors/publishers who contributed to this guidebook.
I have also discussed this many times in this blog and elsewhere.
Why submit something that doesn’t fit?
Imagine ordering a pizza and the delivery driver arrives with a hamburger. It’s probably a perfectly delicious hamburger, but it’s not what you ordered. You would send it back. The fast-food place would not then become anxious about their food as a whole — they would (hopefully) spot that it was an error in getting the order right.
It’s the same with fiction submissions. Get the order right. The editor/publisher has asked for a certain type or genre of story for a particular anthology. Send him or her what has been asked for. But, if you get it wrong and get a rejection slip, don’t immediately conclude that there’s something flawed about your writing: recognise instead that you simply got the order wrong.
Of course, some stories are rejected because they aren’t well-written enough, just as some fast food places aren’t popular because the quality of their food isn’t great. That happens and it’s a factor. But if the publisher has pointed out to you that it was simply a genre error, please believe them and keep writing, while fixing the way you assign your work to submission opportunities.