Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Breaking Into Published Writing

Hi all,

To my best attempts at research, I haven’t found a thread about this topic as of yet. If there is, the link is appreciated.

Anyway, my question is simple. How does one break into publishing? What steps are necessary before you can get your work in print - let’s say for a paying, online magazine. What can I do, as a writer, to minimize my chances of the rejection emails piling up? At the moment, this very much seems like a wall I have no idea to break. I find myself asking whether I’m not writing to a specific formula, alongside the usual questions of making sure my work fits the publication. Any tips at all on dealing with, or just coping with the issue will help enormously.

Thanks for your support in advance.

This seems to me to be missing the point. Rejection emails pile up. But, the more rejections you get, the more acceptances you’re likely to get too. For my part, I had more than 80 rejections before I sold a story. I have more than 850 rejections now, but I’ve also sold more than 50 stories.

Nearly every successful writer has piles and piles of rejections. Rejections and acceptances correlate. So, don’t try to avoid rejections if you want acceptances.

Just get your stories out to markets, and, when they come back, send them off to different markets. I do recommend starting a spreadsheet or something similar where you keep track of where all of your stories are submitted to and where they’ve been submitted before.

A good place to look for markets is http://ralan.com/.

Also, you should know how to put a story in Standard Manuscript Format: http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html

Also, keep cover letters simple: http://www.strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-cover-letter.shtml

Also – it’s not like I stopped getting rejections at some point. I may get acceptances more often now, but I still get tons of rejections. I expect that I always will. Even if a story is excellent, it won’t suit every market, and the only way to tell for sure whether it suits a market is to submit it.

Learn to love the rejections. In my writing group, we get chocolate for rejections. We celebrate them. I like to think of my total rejection count as a sort of high score.

Thanks for putting this into perspective! Really, I knew to expect this about rejections, but believing it and not doubting yourself is hard in spite of this. I guess I will get a box of some nice food or the like to reward the rejections.

Ralan is a good resource, I use it often. =)

Do you think it’s a good idea in cover letters to say, for example, that I’m a student? Is it best to just anything that may suggest inexperience out of sight?

This is so true. The first rejection I got was really hard. My husband took me out to dinner, and then we walked around for a long time basically talking about how sad I was. Like everything, though, rejection really does get easier with practice.

As for cover letters… Mine usually read approximately as follows:

Dear Editor,

I would like to offer “[Story Title]” for your consideration. I hope you like it.


Sometimes I’ll add a single sentence listing three markets I’ve been published in. And, of course, if they ask you to include the word count, genre, or anything like that, definitely follow their guidelines. But, really, you aren’t going to hurt your chances with a simple cover letter, and there just isn’t any reason to include most other information. Your story should stand for itself.

I feel for you. I sort of had a strange introduction to it. I managed to get into the FC Conbook, which was the first every submission I did, even though I didn’t expect to get in. I then decided to go for other places. One gave me a nice email telling me that they’d like to hear for me, whilst the latest one was just a blunt “we’re going to pass” email.

Again, it sounds bad that the total there is only three. I needed perspective.

I also somethings feel that things are stacked against me, as I’m trying to submit things as a 21 year old, in a market that seems at least to me to be predominantly made up of older writers.

To a certain extent, the market is stacked against everyone right now. Many of the top markets receive ridiculously large numbers of submissions, so they simply don’t have the time or human-power to consider those submissions as closely as they’d probably like. This means that writers need to make it as easy for those editors as possible – format your story correctly, proof read carefully, avoid giving them any excuse to pass on your story and move onto the next.

That probably sounds dark… But, if you write well and are persistent, then it can still work out. And, these days, there’s always self-publishing if you have a work that you really believe in that doesn’t find a home in traditional publishing.

Another piece of perspective – I’ve sold stories that were rejected more than forty times. I’ve also sold stories that had been bouncing between different markets for more than eight years. Persistence can pay off.

If I can lend my experience to this one, Televassi, and probably jinx myself hilariously:

I have never had a rejection letter.

Not one. Ever.

This is not a point of pride for me. I’ve published for-money about, oh, ballpark it to 15 times, in my life. And I’m looking to do it a lot more.

Having no rejection letters is the byproduct of two things, one good, one bad:

  1. (The bad). I’ve chased some pretty low-hanging fruit, and not-very-competitive markets. I’ve spent some first-printing rights on some very low-paying, low-prestige work. Sometimes that bothers me. I’m deeply grateful to the people who’ve published me, but I’ve sold more than a few stories sighing, knowing that I could have, should have, pitched it higher.

  2. (The good). I write for the publication I target, and I target tightly. I pay attention to themes, wordcounts, preferences, and of course, submission guidelines. Most of all, I write the best stories I’m capable of in the moment, and I try to make myself cheerfully available to all opportunities to better the story, through editing and critique and beta reads.

I share Ryffnah’s perspective that “Rejections are my high score.” And right now my high score is 0. :-[

Having no rejections is nothing to brag about.

I have a copy of my first publishing paycheque framed. There’s room in that frame yet for my first rejection slip, and it too, you can be sure, will be hung with pride.

I don’t think you do break into publishing as such - in that getting published isn’t a magic key that will guarantee you keep on getting acceptances after the first one (as you found with the conbook). All you can do is keep following the rules I’m pretty sure everyone here knows: follow the guidelines for wordcount etc; if possible read a copy of the magazine to get an idea what they’re after; get your story critiqued by a few writers or friends or writer friends before you send it out. And keep plugging away at the craft. Writing improves with practice, but some stories just turn out better than others. You’ll know when you’ve got a good one.

Thanks for everyone’s responses so far! It’s very helpful to draw on your experiences - I haven’t had the opportunity to ask writers in the trade about this before.

I hear you there. The first rejection I got earlier this month was for exactly that reason. They’d had more than a thousand submissions, so they said regretfully very few pieces would be submitted. Still, the letter was pretty encouraging, as they said they wanted to hear from me again, so I didn’t feel bad about that. The one I got last night on the other hand, was just a blunt “I’ll pass.” I understand about giving no reasons for rejection, and both works had been rigorously proof-read by friends, and formatted correctly. But yes, the point still stands - give no reason for rejection that way. I know I stop reading stories that have issues in grammar, syntax or form in their first few lines, so I can imagine editors doing the same.

Yes, persistence can pay off. I need to start thinking that there’s more than one chance and place a story could be submitted, so I’ll keep to that. =)

Hmm, forgive my somewhat incredulous and slackjaw look right now about the lack of rejections. xD

I hear you about pursuing non-competitive markets. I’m very much new to the game of pitching work to markets, so I’m still learning and trying to find places through Ralan as well as FWG to pitch my work too. Part of the problem for me was that I went from being embarrassed about submitting a story to the FC Conbook (thinking it was not exactly worthwhile) and it getting in, to now pitching to paying markets that, in all fairness, are probably better run. In short, I was ambitious, perhaps too much so. Still, I feel more at the moment that if it pays, I should go for it. It sounds bad, but I steered away from furry publishing opportunities because I felt it wasn’t exactly prestigious, to be honest. Yet, if there’s a small market to pitch to, I should give it a go, and stop worrying about that.

  1. I’ve heard this advice before, and to be honest, I’ve never paid much attention. It’s more of poor organisation on my part, as I haven’t had the time to go through and read previous issues as research on the market. It’s probably something I should do, however, some markets are very unhelpful - either you have to pay for the issue (which as a student I can’t afford) or their submission call is incredibly unhelpful. The rejection I got a pass on had a prompt of ‘Lost Voices’ and I kid you not, those two words were all the details they had about the call’s theme. Nothing else - it was meant to be a new anthology, but no thematic details, nothing. Just those two words. Still, I should target my work better, which is hopefully what I’m doing for Sean’s Anthro Sports Anthology. I’ve been careful to make sure I’m pitching a story that fits with what he wants, and it helps because he’s been very consistent in updating what he wants, and how the anthology is changing as pieces are accepted.

Very true, though part of my problem is that I don’t actually have that sort of community around me yet. I know the guild is happy to do this sort of thing, but I don’t want to push work on people that I haven’t yet gotten to know. In some ways, being a newcomer trying to work his was into the community is intimidating, as everyone else already there knows each other well. Still, I would very much want to get involved, as I’ve been looking for a community of nice writers (that lacks drama and egos) to become part of, and I hope this is the place.


Hi there, I’m the new guy, stumbled upon this forum about two weeks ago and currently having the writing time of my life :slight_smile: trust me, come to chat every once in a while. You won’t be a newcomer for long.

I mean, look at me: I’m not a member of the fandom, I’m not a published author and English isn’t even my first language, and yet I love it here. The feedback you can get is AMAZING, and everyone’s more than happy to beta read your stuff or give you a hand with any plot issue you might have. Also, you can discover some pretty good books in here.

Just have fun with what you write, it works for me :slight_smile: throw it out there and see what happens.

Hey, we’ve all been the newbie here! I know I have. Maybe offer to do some beta-ing yourself, then call in the favour?

The easiest answer to this is something that many do not do:

People who have never submitted don’t realize how easy it is to do this one, simple thing.
Sure, you’ll get some anxiety, but if you’ve had people beta read your story, and if you have edited it a couple times, you should be fine.

Was just about to say this.

The hardest thing to do when you’re first starting out is to just submit, because you’re worried about that rejection. Just remember that the worst someone can say is “No”. If they do, then you go find someone else that may want your story (after getting some other opinions and making some adjustments, usually). If that doesn’t work, then maybe that story doesn’t have a good home right now, so you put it aside and spend time trying to find a home for another story. Not all of those stories may find homes, but some will.

There’s no real secret to writing and getting published other than: keep learning, keep improving, and keep submitting.

Just keep trying. You’ll get there.

I just want to jump in here and say, when people ask for a cover letter with a submission, they’re talking about the email you attached the story to. Don’t send a separate document as a cover letter unless they specifically ask for it.

Please someone correct me if this is wrong, but this is what I’ve seen and it’s an understandable confusion.

Honestly don’t feel bad or shame for asking people if they can beta read your stories. Just be polite and understand that we all have lives and sometimes we don’t have time. A good chunk of us will still try and make time for a quick read and feedback though. If asking people feels weird, then just post a public note on twitter or on the forum asking if anyone has time to beta read your story.

My advice as someone who’s helped edit a few anthologies and is now headlining his own:

Process for writing for an anthology:

  • Read the submission guidelines. Now read them again. Are you sure read to the bottom? Read them a third time, you probably missed something.
  • Unsure about something in the anthology? Reach out and ask the editor. Best to find out then guess
  • Write the story! <—Very important! Quite possibly the most key part
  • Edit the story! <—Second most important
  • Find people to beta read that story. It’s incredibly easy, when reading the slushpile of submissions, to tell who had someone beta read for them and who just did self-edits. GLARINGLY EASY.
  • Go back and read the submission guidelines again. Seriously.
  • Make sure your document is formatted in the method asked in the guidelines. No method? Then use Standard Manuscript Format (because it’ll be good practice)
  • Write a simple, quick email, make sure you include any information asked for by the editor. Remember to attach your submission

Other things:

  • Learn patience, you will be doing a lot of waiting.
  • Always be looking for ways to improve. Do this by getting feedback from others and reading other books and seeing what they did well.
  • Talk writing with writers. I learn new things all the time just by discussing writing with writers.
  • Continue writing. Don’t stop. You stop and you won’t get any acceptances.

This. Submit something then start writing the next, better thing!

I’m afraid that I have to disagree with some of this.

You should polish a story up to where you’re confident in it before sending it out the first time. Then, if it gets a rejection, that hasn’t changed anything. That story simply didn’t fit with that market. So, don’t waste time re-polishing. Just send it somewhere else. Do it right away. Don’t open the document and reconsider the story. You already polished it up and were confident in it, remember? So, send it straight out to another market.

And, really, there’s no need to put a story aside in order to focus on selling a different one. The writers in my writing group who regularly sell stories generally have upwards of ten stories submitted somewhere at all times. I believe I have fifteen stories out to various markets right now. You don’t have to retire a story to get another one out there. The more stories that you’re juggling through the various markets, the more chances you have that one of them will find a home and stick.