If you want to get published – DON’T read on …

Sigh. It’s slush time. Yet another reader has reneged on her promise and a pile of short stories have just arrived on my desk instead of hers. For an absolutely miniscule fee, I have eight days to sort them into four piles:

  • Forget it
  • This person is spamming
  • Send a nice letter saying no, but try again
  • Consider for publication

and get them back to the editor.

If you would like to be in one of the second two categories, preferably the last of the four, there are some pretty straightforward rules. I seem to be saying this an awful lot but an awful lot of people aren’t listening.

Here’s how NOT to get published:

Send me a long-winded and/or pompous cover letter

Please, never describe the story you’re submitting, or other stories you’ve written or had published – if your story isn’t clear to me without explanation, you’re in ‘forget it’. If you have previous credits, state these briefly, very briefly.

Hassle me within weeks of submission or before the stated response time

Well you can if you like but (a) I won’t respond and (b) your story will go to the bottom of the pile. Pestering me means you’re a brat and you think you’re better than all the other writers in my slush pile, and I really don’t like that!

Please do contact me asap though, if your work has been accepted elsewhere, because if I read and consider a story and then get a message saying it was accepted somewhere else six weeks ago and you only just bothered to tell me (or worse, I google some of your text and find it elsewhere) I will be disinclined to trust you if I come across you again. Mind you, like most editors, my slush pile is big and my memory for names is not that good, so I’ll probably only hate you for a couple of months. If you send me previously published work though, I will hate you forever.

Forget your SASE or email address in the body of the email

Ooh, I love these. I am not going to spend MY money on stamps and evelopes for YOU, sunshine! Your story goes straight in the bin.

Equally – if you send an email – PLEASE put your email address in the body of the email. When I read slush for online sites, I quite often get three or four attachments and cover emails bundled into one big message from the editor or intern, so if you didn’t put your email in your cover note, I can’t get back to you without tracking you down via said editor or intern and that makes us all rather bad-tempered.

Send an electronic submission to a snail-mail only journal or vice versa

Gotta love ’em. Some people do just have to try. Some people also get their emails deleted unread. Amazingly, two e-journals I’ve read for also got snail-mail submissions from time to time, so those writers wasted paper, envelopes and stamps as well as our time …


I read for a lot of places. It’s one of the ways I pay the bills. Sometimes I read for love and sometimes for money, but whichever it is, when I come across your space-rat love story for the third or fourth time this month, or your memoir of having your first haircut at the corner barbershop, I WILL remember you.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should (to paraphrase a current advert on British TV) and just because you have a story that hasn’t been published, doesn’t mean you should spam it across the internet without regard for the publication preferences of the places you’re sending to – you’ll be in ‘this person is spamming’ before you know it.


  1. Anonymous
    23rd January 2007

    That last point worries me a bit Kay. If a story is rejected, then I will egotistically console myself with the belief it simply wasn’t a right fit, then keep sending it out. How many markets to I have to send to before I’m considered to be spamming?

    Regards Mark Hubbard

  2. Kay Sexton
    23rd January 2007

    Send it to as many markets as you wish, if you have reasonably confidence that your story is a good fit – I’m sure you’d never send a gothic vampire story to a hard science fiction venue, or a fluffy kitten story to the New Yorker, but people do …

    Spammers really do send their work out to something like a dozen publications a day, and it’s a nuisance to keep coming across them, or hear from other slush readers that we’ve all had the same story. And we can easily tell, usually because the story is addressed to ‘Dear Editor’ even when the masthead makes clear who the editors are, and the whole cover letter is anonymous to the point of insult.

  3. Anonymous
    23rd January 2007

    That makes me feel better. I only write ‘literary’ stories, and only send these to literary magazines (although still the problem of ‘fit’ within these).

    Your comments on the cover letter are interesting though. I suspect this is a real weak point with me. I hate the actual submission process, thus have developed a one paragraph (very short paragraph) cover letter that goes out with all my submissions, changing only the name of the magazine etc, in it. Are you saying I should be personalising to each magazine right down to the editor’s name? I’d never thought of addressing direct to an editor ‘name’ from masthead, unless responding to an email from same (should I be so lucky).

    I’m a bit worried my covering letter may be ‘anonymous to the point of insult’ now.

    So, I shall take from your post to search mastheads a bit more rigourously. Although what if there are, say, three editors? Do you address to all three by name?


    [Finding the best way around my problems commenting to this blog is not to try and log in under an identity, but simply post as an anonymous.]

  4. kathrynoh
    23rd January 2007

    Thanks for that. I’ve never thought to put my email addy in the body of an email as well but it makes perfect sense with what you say.

  5. Anonymous
    27th January 2007

    I’ve just submitted somewhere that specifically asked you to put your email address in the body of the email, and I just thought the editors must be technically inept! It’s all becoming clear now, so thank you!


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