I’ve addressed this topic before, but since I’ve started Song Stories Press I’m learning what it feels like to be on the other side of the desk.  You may not believe this, but as a publisher I WANT to publish your story.  That’s the reason we get into publishing in the first place (either that or we have a masochistic streak).  We want to find and share amazing new stories with our reading audience. However, in order for me to do that, you’re going to have to do some things for me first.

Read the Darned Guidelines

Kyle Aisteach recent posted a great article on failure to RTFM, and you will find hundreds more online. 

Because the average publisher doesn’t have time to answer every individual’s questions, we put a great deal of effort into writing the guidelines.  Therefore,  it tends to irk us when we don’t believe authors have read them. (How would you feel if you put up a "Keep Off the Grass" sign and I stomped right over it?) 

The guidelines are there to let you know what we need for the publication, what we’re looking for, what we’re not and how our vetting process works.


Some publishers can fudge a few hundred words, or so, with their world limits.  No publisher is willing to publish an incomplete story.  Some brilliant writers, or those submitting to experimental magazines, may be able to get away with alterations but in general these rules are stone-written. 

The main character must do something.  The MC meets an obstacle, no matter how subtle. The MC either overcomes or fails to breach the obstacle.  Perhaps he or she wins, but at a horrible price. 

Regardless, of the outcome, the character’s life has changed because of the events in the story.  (There are only so many nihilist stories that the average reader can stomach.)


Why do I care if Susie makes it to school on time?  Should I mourn the fate that befalls your  MC?  A reader can relate to the idea of a character not wanting to die, but they are not likely to care about a character that they know something about. (Eh, let 'em die, Jersey Shore is on.)

If I were to interview your MC, what would they say?  How would they react to personal questions about their past?  How about their loved ones?  What values do they have that they are willing to die for?  How has compromise affected them in the past?

You should know far more about your MC than the reader, but give them enough to form a relationship – even in short fiction.


What about your world is different from a white room with no windows?  A dialogue with minimal description is a play.  Granted, this can be used to great effect in flash fiction. Over the course of a longer story, you are asking a lot of the reader.  They want to stay engaged, but white rooms are very boring. 

This doesn’t mean to spend three paragraphs describing a blade of grass (*cough* Jean M. Auel)  or what Lorraine looks like in her dress.  Rather, the best writing incorporates the descriptions actively and naturally.


This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for new writers and even some seasoned professionals.  Proof your work.  If if the editer seas sew many mistakes that they lose track of the story, you are likely to have lost their interest. 

You must pay attention, not only to grammar and punctuation, but to the flow of your language as well.  Read it out loud.  Have someone else read it out loud.  If you, the writer, are stumbling over words, the reader surely will as well

Most (but not all) publishers prefer authors to use Shunn’s Manuscript format (http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html

Using crazy fonts or a specialized version of Word or WordPerfect may make it difficult to impossible for the editor to read.  Guess what, if they aren’t enjoying the reading experience, they likely to enjoy your story, no matter how well written.

Following these steps won’t provide an absolute guarantee of acceptance every time - different editors have different tastes and your style may not fit a particular publication.  However, I do promise you will greatly improve your percentage of acceptances if you follow these guidelines.

Leave a Reply.