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To Those Who Have Submitted Work to Recent Anthologies (but who haven't heard from me yet)...

I haven’t yet been able to write at any length to those who sent in submissions for recent anthologies but whose work wasn’t accepted. I don’t normally like leaving loose ends like that, and I will try to catch up with everyone as soon as I can, but there are some general comments which I feel should be made about anyone whose work doesn’t make it into a Clarendon House book. These remarks might prove valuable for everyone, even accepted authors, as they might apply to all contributors at some point.

In selecting work to appear in a Clarendon House book, I have in mind one vital point, which is that writers in general, both today and in the past, have one primary thing lacking in their careers. That single thing is true for every writer, not only those whose work is rejected, but also those who may have been published in the past.

What is that single thing?

The opportunity to be published.

Writers generally write to be read. Some write as personal therapy; others do it to be read only by a small circle of family or friends. But the largest common denominator amongst those who write is that they want their work to be read. Today’s marketplace is such that there appears to be more opportunity than at any time in history for such a thing to occur: if one can’t get published by a traditional publisher, the technology to self-publish is available and simple to use. But whether or not getting one’s book out there actually equates to getting read is another matter. Hundreds of thousands, millions even, of books are printed each year; only some small proportion of them ever get read. In fact, the market is so saturated with material that sending one’s work out into it without any kind of guidance which will get it into the hands of readers can be counter-productive.

But my point is that, when I look over submissions sent to Clarendon House, I am very aware of the burning hunger of each author to be read. So I view each work in that light: is this readable? Is it of sufficient quality to produce an effect upon a reader? Does the author have something to say, even if that message may not be fully assimilated even by the author? Would I be happy to publish this under the Clarendon House banner?

That’s not the only lens through which I look at submissions, though. I also have in mind the question ‘Does this submission fit into the category required by the particular anthology for which it has been submitted?’ At times, I have found submissions which, satisfying the first points entirely, fail because they are simply not appropriate for the anthology for which they have been submitted. Indeed, there have been occasions when, finding a worthwhile tale, but noting its inappropriateness for a particular book, I have recommended to the author that I forward it on as a submission to another collection. Some such stories have therefore been published in books for which they were not originally submitted. But such occurrences are rare. It’s absolutely a priority for authors to study the submission guidelines for each anthology and to make sure that their story fits, as much as possible, the requirements for a particular anthology.

A large percentage of the submissions for Enigma and Miracle - probably the largest grouping - had achieved the criteria arising from the question ‘Is this readable?’ but were not accepted because they just didn’t fit the anthology for which they were sent.

This happens all the time in the world of publishing and is probably the biggest reason behind so-called ‘rejection letters’: the work in question wasn’t a good fit for the anthology. Then, resubmitted for another book, it suddenly gets accepted. Yes, editors and publishers have different tastes, different levels of competence and different ways of assessing value, but putting those things aside, one of the most important criteria they all have is ‘Does this fit?’

For writers whose work wasn’t readable, there are tools to hand which can be used to improve their understanding of the craft of writing, notably my book How Stories Really Work and my course How to Write Stories That Work - and Get Them Published. That there is such a thing as ‘craft’ shouldn’t need to be said: those who write in ignorance of the technology of stories simply add to the barriers between themselves and success as writers.

For writers whose work didn’t fit, there are plenty of other publishing opportunities. Part of the career of the writer is the ability to recognise that one must keep on sending out a piece of work until it finds its place. A professional writer can sometimes be a bit like a fostering agency, sending out ‘children’ time and time again until they find a comfortable home. The process can be speeded up if the writer carefully studies beforehand the 'homes' to which he or she is sending material.

So please take heart, those who submitted work for recent anthologies. Part of your task is to persist; and in all likelihood your work didn’t make it this time because it just wasn’t suitable, not because it was horrible.

Please write to me if you have particular concerns about a story you have sent in. I will try to offer as much support and advice as I can.

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