Greetings, Authors and Horror Fans! This is the third and final post I’ll be making on how best to craft a submission and query and send to Crone Girls Press. If you’d like to catch up on the previous posts, check out Dear Editor: Part 1 and Dear Editor: Part 2. Before I get started, though, a reminder of the disclaimer for this process:
This is not a “how to definitely get accepted by Crone Girls Press” guide. Last submissions period we received about 1600 submissions for what was supposed to be 40 slots (it ended up being 48 slots.) These posts are for informational purposes for those looking to submit to our calls and are not a guarantee of any response.
Okay, so in the first parts I discussed an overview of the overall process of reading for submissions and crafting a horror anthology. Then, in the second post, I went over the nitty gritty of our submissions guidelines and explained why I included them. If you’d like to take a look at our submissions page, it contains the latest and greatest information. In fact, it may look different from the last time you looked at it. The reason for this is that I do constantly work to refine and clarify what we are reading for. I want you to be confident that you are sending your work to a place where it will fit, and I want to read work that will be the best possible fit. Make my job hard by sending me something that fits the genre and guidelines and punches me right in the face with its terror and disturbing impact. And, if you have a question, please reach out–that might very well be something I need to address that I haven’t yet thought of.
For this post, I’d like to address what comes after the submissions process in two parts–rejection and acceptance. Let’s start with rejection first and then go on to more uplifting things…
First, some common reasons for rejection. The biggest one, far and away (and this should not come as a surprise to anyone paying attention) is the failure to follow submission guidelines. Although there are a few, if you take a look, they’re not actually radically different from industry standard. If you copy and paste the subject line and query letter requirements in your cover letter, and submit a standard format (.doc/.docx) with a manuscript formatted to industry standard, you’ll be good to go. You will also then be ahead of about 50 percent of the rest of the people submitting. The next reasons aren’t really ranked as far as what I see more or less of, but they are all reasons that have run through my mind when I’ve sent a rejection notice:
- The writing isn’t ready. Either the story itself isn’t ready, or the writer themselves has more work to do in their journey. When I have a story that’s not landing, I will sometimes bring it to my writing group and see if anyone is open to a critique swap — that might be a solution to this particular scenario (but I am not able to provide that service, so please do not email me asking for a critique of your story.)
- The story began with a bang and ended with … well, it ended. While a good ending is critical in all genres, Horror is one of those genres where you MUST stick the landing like Simone Biles showing the world what gymnastics looks like. If you haven’t gotten the story to that point, it might need a little more work.
- The opening fails to pull me in. Okay, the opening fails to punch me in the face. Yes, these are some violent metaphors, but my point is, I need to be in your story from the get go. And I don’t mean craft a super hook-y first line and then continue with the exposition you started your first draft with. I mean, intrigue me, taunt me, haunt me–let me know that something is coming that I didn’t see. Does this sound hard? Yep, it sure is. I know. I am SUPREMELY sympathetic to how hard it is to craft an excellent horror story opening. Where can you find good examples? Join our ARC crew and ask for review copies of our previously published anthologies (as long you are willing to leave an honest review, please.) Also, find that critique group, trusted beta swap partner, etc., and workshop the beginning. And also the ending.
- This final point may seem counterintuitive, but make sure your story is actually horror. Here is a good deconstruction of the genre that I recommend checking out if you don’t regularly read in the genre: The Evolution of Horror in Fiction: A Brief Guide. I would also suggest checking out Tim Waggoner’s exquisite reflection on writing horror, All the things I wish I’d known as a beginner horror writer. If you’d like to read some more, check out Ellen Datlow’s books, especially her Year’s Best Horror anthology series, or Paula Guran’s work, especially her Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror anthologies. As Waggoner mentions in the linked article, there is a long and rich history of horror fiction; I have read large swathes of the books that make up this history. While I realize there are limited markets for dark speculation fiction (believe me, I’ve been there, it’s one of the reasons I decided to go for broke and publish in the horror genre), please ensure that you are submitting horror and not something that’s “close enough.”
Okay, so about that rejection email. Most of the time, I will send a quick note thanking the author for the submission and regretfully passing on the story if it won’t work for us. If I absolutely and truly could see publishing another piece by a writer if they sent one with a better fit, then I will invited them to submit more work in the future. If I (and at the moment, it’s all me behind the wheel) don’t include that last bit, then, although we do look at multiple submissions, for whatever reason, it is highly unlikely I will be interested in a future submission. If I do invite you to submit again, and you happen to have another piece you’d like to submit, please feel free to include a line along the lines of “Thank you for inviting me to submit again” to remind me that I’ve done so. (But listen, if you include that line and I haven’t, you’ll likely go to the “Never Accept” folder. I don’t have one. But I’ll make one for any writers engaging in these sorts of shenanigans…)
PHEW. Okay. Let’s shake that off. Let’s go to something way more awesome — acceptances! I LOVE sending acceptance emails. I WANT to send acceptance emails. Here are some reasons for sending acceptance emails:
- The author has used a classic horror trope, with all the benchmarks of the genre, but shown it to me in a new way — a new place, a new setting, etc. My favorite is when I read something that is at once familiar, but with characters I never thought about in that situation, that connects me emotionally to the story I’m reading.
- The story fits into the table of contents I’m crafting. It’s not too much like any other story, it has a unique and polished execution, and the author writes with confidence and authenticity.
- The author has established a presence that will make it easy for our promotions to interact with them and boost their signal. NOTE: I’m not saying that author has to have X amount of followers or sit at the super popular horror writer table or even commit to any sort of promotion on our behalf. What I am saying is that we do a lot of promo via social media, and we like to boost our writers’ presences online. That engagement is hard to do if the writer doesn’t have a platform for us to talk to or with. Additionally, it’s become a professional necessity to create and maintain an author platform, so if you have established one (or the beginnings of one), it shows me you are serious about your work. Don’t believe me about the author platform? Here is someone way more successful and established than I, namely, Jane Friedman, discussing how to go about it. Bottom line — when I’m nearly at the end of the reading and selection process, evidence that an author is taking their career seriously enough to begin building a platform is a factor that will come into consideration.
- I can’t stop thinking about your story after I finish it. I hate not being able to give concrete feedback about how to make this happen, but I did want to include this reason to highlight the fact that there is a personal element to the reading process. Currently, I’m the main editor reading our slush submissions. It would be disingenuous to claim that I am 100 percent unbiased and objective. I have my personal reading tastes, and editorial preferences, and those come into play when reading the many, many submissions we receive. I’ve done my best to touch on some of the stories and authors I’ve enjoyed, and my background as a horror fan; if you want to know more about the things I like, check out the things I’ve published (again, one way to do this is by signing up for the ARC crew, or using your Kindle Unlimited subscription to read our books.)
Once the acceptance email has gone out, and a writer has agreed to the acceptance (since we allow simultaneous subs, it’s happened that a writer has asked for a few days to think about it, or had to withdraw it from consideration and forgot to do it earlier), that’s when we’ll send the contract. My eventual goal is to send contracts and edits at the same time, but that’s more of an aspirational goal at this time… And yes, we will do some very careful and rigorous line edits on an as-needed basis.
Once the edits and contracting process are complete, I will begin the rest of the pre-publication process, to include formatting, cover commission, creating promo graphics, setting up the author interviews, scheduling the promo, etc. With the lifting of the COVID protocols of the last year, we will be adding in-person conventions to our typical online-focused promotion and engagement. Also, after launch, we will continue do promotion and engagement, submit to awards, etc. As the publisher, we’ll be taking the lead in these areas; anything that an author would like to do, or suggest that we do, is a bonus for which we’re grateful, not an expected activity.
When I started up Crone Girls Press, I knew a bit about writing, and I knew a bit about reading, and I knew a bit about working with authors. There were, however, large swathes of this business I didn’t know that I didn’t know. I am eternally grateful to my community, especially those who have served as mentors and role models, and all who have generously gifted their time and experience to help me get better at publishing great dark speculative fiction. I am also extremely grateful to the authors who have entrusted me with their work; when it comes to author talent, Crone Girls is punching above its weight class because of the writers who have found us a worthwhile publisher. My goal in publishing this series was to share what I have learned, and to make the road to submitting short stories just that much smoother for the writers heading out on their journey.
And, in the end, please know that whether I have sent you an acceptance or a rejection, we are all in this together. We are all people who enjoy contributing to the body of horror fiction, and no matter the outcome of any specific submissions call, the best thing we can do is to keep writing, keep sharing our writing, and keep making the horror genre the awesome, vibrant community that I love being a part of. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I can’t wait to read your story next!