Small does not mean amateur

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I sent a submission to a market whose name I will not reveal on July 15th. Acknowledgement was received on July 17th, which I’ve included below, modified only to anonymize the publisher. There are enough mistakes contained in this experience that I think it’s worth examining, both for writers, editors, and small press publishers.

Thank you for your submission.

I expect to begin story review for Name Withheld in late July/early August and you should hear from me no later than September 15th.

We do not send out “short list” emails.

However, we do send rejections as we go along.

So, if you don’t hear back from us for a while, it’s a good thing.

I look forward to reading your story.

Cool, I thought, mentally filing this away. I make a point of not obsessing over my Duotrope stats, only checking once a week or so. Yesterday, for some reason, I decided to take a look at their Duotrope entry and, within their five recent responses I see five acceptances (in itself a red flag) but some of them were for stories submitted as little as four days earlier. Surprising on both counts, so I took a look at their twitter feed and see that they just announced the table of contents for said anthology, with the electronic version available within the next two days.

What?

I did my due diligence. I checked my spam folder, which I scan for errant emails regularly, and for any reply I might have missed. Nothing.

You bill yourself as an independent press and I was okay with that distinction. I’m a fan of small press (I don’t see the distinction between that and independent). That’s why I submit to and support them. Normally I would be leery of submitting to any market with a high statistical acceptance rate. You passed my filter initially, by lack of data or whatever, but that doesn’t excuse unprofessional behavior.

Small press, more so than their larger peers, rely more on authors to submit to them. It’s simple market force at work. The more you pay, the more likely you are to receive submissions from pro and semi-pro authors. We’re not opposed to submitting to markets new to us, but we do expect a certain amount of professionalism. You did so well with the acknowledgement. And then you tripped over your own shoelaces.

First, communicate. I don’t know how many submissions you received but I know it only took you a few days to acknowledge each of them. Sending out form rejections might be a little time consuming, but it’s respectful of the time those authors took to submit to you. Especially in light of the fact that you told them to watch for rejection emails. I’m lucky that I found out when I did, the day you released the table of contents. You notified some authors of their sale on July 31st, more than 10 days ago. Others writers may wait another 30 days, per your email, before coming to look for information and finding out they just lost a month of time they could have resubmitted elsewhere. Judging by Duotrope, there are still several people pending notification so it’s not just me and one email going astray.

Second, a point of pure conjecture: the length of time between story review, acceptances, the posting of the table of contents, and the final version being released for sale is astoundingly short. I have no idea how much time you actually spent with the accepted authors on edits but it does not match my experience with semi-pro markets.

Having these red flags raised, sadly after the fact, my attention turns to your acceptance rate. There isn’t enough data for Duotrope or myself to be satisfied statistically with this anthology, but now that I’ve taken the time to look at the other anthologies you’ve listed there, I see you have an average acceptance rate greater than 80%.

As a writer, these things give me concern for the quality of the work being presented. It reflects poorly on you the publisher but also on the authors who you’ve published. I dodged a bullet, frankly, not having to face the decision whether to back away from an offer of publication.

If you’re a writer, do the best due diligence you can. We are taking more of a risk (of the time we spend on a story and its life cycle, and our reputation, which we have to cultivate among sometimes rocky soil) but small press can be our best friends.

If you’re an editor and/or publisher at a small press, remember that, in the ideal situation, we form a symbiotic relationship. We want to write great stories, as much as you want to publish them, as much as readers want to consume them. We can do that together but no one likes to be bullied or ignored.

If you’re a reader, leave honest reviews of the stories you read, online or off. Your voice is what supports us, and keeps everyone honest.

Posted on 11 Aug 2011 #professionalism #small press