Columns > Published on November 13th, 2020

The BS Parts of the Submission Process

This is going to sound like the embittered ramblings of someone who’s been rejected by a whole lot of publishers, lit mags, and agents.

I guess this is the part where I explain why that’s not true. But I’m skipping that. Because, readers, if you’ve gone through a fair number of submissions, you’ll know that I speak the truth here. Once in awhile, an embittered jerkface, like myself ,gets it right.

And publishers, take some notes. Sure, this is a bitter version with too many swears. But you’re not doing yourself any favors with some of your nonsense.

Cover Letters

This is some job interview bullshit that doesn’t even work for the corporate hiring process, so why publishers insist on it is beyond me. What are you hoping to gain? Has anyone ever written a cover letter so dynamite that you published their shitty story?

Just replace this with “Three sentence summary of the work.” That and the work, that’s all you need.


If you can’t pay writers, you can’t take submissions.

Unless you’re publishing nonfiction about science shit, you don’t really need this. Someone with a life that sounds amazing might do a terrible job writing about it, and the person with the most mundane bio of all time may tell a story that’s way more gripping than it has any right to be. 

And by the by, if you need this so you can make sure you’re publishing diversely, just ask me to check some boxes instead of writing some flowery shit about where I grew up. 

Which brings us to...

The Diversity Statement

Watch, I’ll make one up now, on the spot, no editing:

Pete’s Fiction Hole accepts submissions from all writers, and we especially encourage women/BIPOC/LGBTQIA+ and other folx to submit their work. Pete’s Fiction Hole is a magazine that recognizes the colonizing and marginalizing role lit mags have played in society, and we are seeking to change that narrative.

I’m half-assed, I’m a dope, and if I can whip one up, I guarantee you that whichever lit mags are putting white guys on the top of the pile, their submissions site has a beautifully-worded statement about how they want to amplify diverse voices.

Save some time, save some keyboard strokes, grow some balls and just have some submission periods that explicitly exclude straight white guys. Or say who you don't want in your submissions. THAT’S a statement. If someone doesn’t like it, they can start their own lit mag and do it their way.

Next option: If you insist on a statement, gimme a list, or give me a number. “We’re proud that our publication history from 2015 on shows 50% of our published authors are POC.” If you can say you publish 50% POC, the value you put on diversity is evident in your practices.

If you’re not doing anything concrete here, stop wasting everyone’s time with your crafted statements.

“Simultaneous Submissions Allowed”

No shit. Isn’t that really MY choice anyway? How would you possibly know?

I just take umbrage with the language of it. “Yes, we’ll deign to allow you, peasant, to send your silly submissions elsewhere. We’re so allowing of your behavior.”

Just say: Let us know if it gets published somewhere else.

Oh, and tell me HOW I'm supposed to let you know. Email? Submittable? 


Well...I have a more nuanced view on this than yes or no.

I think it’s okay to charge to submit. Two Dollar Radio puts out good stuff, and they charge $2 for submissions. That doesn’t even buy the time of whoever opens all the submission emails. When we’re talking $5 or less, especially for a full book, everyone can just calm their shit.

Now, if you charge in the $20+ range, let’s do some math on this: You’re above an hour’s minimum wage here, so I expect you’ll spend an hour with my manuscript, whether that’s reading or providing feedback. And yes, I expect feedback for higher fees.

We Donate A Portion of Submission Fees To Charity X

Uh, begging your pardon, but if you donate my submission fee, isn't it ME that's making a charitable donation? Which I assume I can't get a tax write-off for, but maybe you do?

If you want to donate the entirety of the fees you receive, that's cool, just go ahead and do that. Just don't ask me to make a charitable donation and pat YOU on the back for it. 

Would You Like To Receive Our Lit Mag?

Well, this IS a pickle. Because I just waxed on about how much I love your mag in my letter, so I’ve clearly read it and don’t need a copy? Or maybe I should say yes?

Selling your lit mag to hopefuls is just barely, just the tiniest hair different from charging submission fees. Pros sell their lit mags to readers. Chumps sell their lit mags to potential contributors.

Included With the Price of Submission is a Copy of the Journal

Hey, great! This is like the time I ran the 400 meter dash in the Olympics, and though I didn't win, they gave me a signed picture of the guy who did.

Wordy Descriptions of Your Press

...don't ask me to make a charitable donation and pat YOU on the back for it.

C’mon. If you wanted to publish a manuscript, just do that instead of opening submissions. I came here to submit work, not to read your ramblings. This is like the part of the menu at a restaurant where it says "Our Story" and basically the story is "We decided to open a restaurant." No shit?

Little tip: Bullet points are free. And maybe if people are screwing up in the submission process, it's because they don't want to read a novel about how to do it. 

We Can't Pay Contributors At This Time

At this time? When are you planning to pay contributors? Because maybe I can submit then?

I’m sorry, but if you can’t pay writers, you can’t take submissions. Period. They are better off putting the work online themselves than they are submitting to something that isn’t going to pay them. 

The Artsy-Fartsy Pics On Your Submission Site

While I can never see enough pictures of a dilapidated set of stairs leading to the beach, a disused railroad, or a dilapidated bar, spare me the high-contrast, and god forbid, black and white photos of the encroachment of nature into suburban sprawl or vice versa. Enough already.

Stop Including Weird Symbols Like ( and * in Your Press’ Name

I die a little inside when I copy and paste this name, over and over, complete with its precious non-character characters.

Jokes In Your Submission Stuff

Notice I said “jokes” as in plural. One joke. That’s your limit. If you’ve got one damn good joke, lay it on me.

You Will Be Informed If Your Work Is Accepted

Which is their way of saying "We’ll notify the small percent of people we publish, otherwise, don’t expect to hear from us."

When a press starts up its submission process, there’s always a question of “How many subs can we take?”

The answer is “How many can we respond to?”

If I make the effort to fill out all your shit, the least you can do is send me a “No thanks.”

When I Click On Your Submission Link And Get Your Main Site

Get your shit together. 

The Bullshit About What You Publish

We publish transgressive and morphologically novel novels…

Let me make this a lot simpler: Tell me what your readers respond to. Link me to a couple of your most successful stories or the ones you feel best exemplify what you’re going for. How about that instead of the whole thing where you tell me a whole lotta words and a whole lotta nothing?

I Don't Need Options, I Need Rules

Double-spaced, 12 pt, Times New Roman, numbered pages, no author name anywhere on the manuscript. Anything else will not even be considered.

That's it, done.

Don't tell me you accept like 3 different formats, don't tell me that you accept a 3 or 4 different fonts. The time for me to explore options is in the work, not in the formatting. 

And that's all the BS that's fit to print. What parts of the submission process get your goat? Publishers, do you take umbrage?

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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