Queries, Contributors, and Common Terms
An A-Z glossary for submitting writing
As a new writer, you might feel like everyone around you is speaking a different language. Everyone already seems to know this lingo, like they’re a part of a secret club. Today I’m breaking down the words that we use as writers in regards to submissions (when you send out a piece of writing!) I hope that this little primer is useful to those who feel left out of the loop.
Top Terms for Writers from A to Z
Acceptance: The holy grail. An acceptance is when a journal, magazine, or press wants to publish your work. It usually comes in the form of an email from an editor. Your piece has been “accepted” to the publication.
Acceptance Rate: A journal’s acceptance rate is the rate at which pieces are accepted out of the slush pile (or queue of submissions). It is often listed in the guidelines or on Duotrope. For example, SFF magazine Clarkesworld has a 0.24% acceptance rate on Duotrope, meaning that 0.24% of stories submitted are then accepted.
AWP: The Association of Writers & Writing Programs is a collection of journals, schools, and writers. Each year they host “AWP” — a conference for writers. Attendees range in age and experience, but the majority are MFA students or academics.
Contract: A contract is an agreement between you (the writer) and a publisher. It will often state the rate of payment, payment schedule (when you will get paid), rights taken, and other legal matters. For more, check out this primer from Diabolical Plots.
Contributor’s Payment: What the journal pays. In general, genre journals tend to pay by word count and at a higher rate than “literary” journals. Some may pay in “Contributors copies” which means free copies of the journal in which your piece is published.
Defunct: A journal that is defunct is no longer publishing.
Exclusivity Period: The time in which you cannot sell your piece to another journal, post the piece online, or in any way publish the piece. Most exclusivity periods run from one month to six months, but may be longer.
Exposure: A four-letter word, exposure is often used to describe the benefit that writers get from publishing in a certain publication. Run away from anyone that offers you “exposure” in exchange for publication. However, exposure can be a real thing. Getting published in a reputable journal can increase your level of name-recognition as an author.
Fees: Many journals will charge a “reading fee” or an “administrative fee” of a small amount. Be wary of journals or contests charging high amounts, such as $45 or more. There are plenty of free-to-submit journals left out there! My guideline is never to submit to a contest that charges a fee unless a subscription is included.
First World Rights: This is the most common rights that publishers will ask for. As an author, you own the copyright to your work. But publishers need permission to reprint that work or post it online. To this end, contracts will often ask for “First World Rights” — meaning they have the right to publish your piece first worldwide, before anyone else. For more, see this fantastic run-down of different rights.
Hard Sells: This is a list of things journals do not want to see in their submissions, either because they are tired of them or they just don’t like them. Examples I’ve seen include zombies, mermaids, and other tropes. This is less common in journals that publish realistic fiction.
Hold Request: If a journal is debating accepting your piece, they may send you a hold request to let you know that they are still considering your work and would like more time to read it.
Hybrid: Hybrid works are those that cross genres in some way. This may be between commercial genres (such as poetry and fiction) or between speculative genres (horror and science fiction). Hybrid may also refer to hard-to-classify works such as prose poetry or lyrical essays.
Flash Fiction: Flash fiction is often called “short short” writing. It is any piece of fiction (not poetry) that is less than 1000 words. (This word count may vary by publication, some say 1500 words, some say 500.)
Market: This is a term that is synonymous with a publication. “Markets” can often be delineated by pay rate: Pro markets, semi-pro markets, and Token markets are examples.
Masthead: The list of editors. Try to check the masthead when you are sending a cover letter so you can address it to the right editor, i.e. the poetry editor. If there’s not a specific genre editor, send to the Managing Editor when in doubt.
Multiple Submissions: A term for when a writer submits multiple pieces to one journal. Most journals do not like this. Again, check the guidelines.
Page Count: Always check page count, i.e. number of double spaced, 12pt font, 1” margins. Journals also may use word count. Usually, they will have a limit, i.e. under 2000 words, or under 100 lines for poetry.
Personalized Rejection: When an editor includes notes on your story, this is considered a personal rejection. (Notes include specific suggestions, comments, or complements.) If you receive a personal rejection, you’ll want to bookmark that market to submit again.
Prose Poetry: Prose poetry is a form of poetry that uses prose formatting and syntax. An example is the work of Australian poet Lang Leav.
Pro-Payment: A common term in SFF circles, pro payment is any payment that meets the SFWA recommendations for per-word payment. Currently, it is .06/word, set to raise to .08/word in 2019.
Query (2 types: Nonfiction, following up): Querying a journal means sending an email. There are two types of queries: One is when you are writing nonfiction and you write a short summary or “pitch” of your article and send it to the journal to see if they want the whole article. The second is when a story has been out on submission to a journal for a long time and you “query” them, i.e. send them an email, to see if they have read it or not. Check guidelines on journal turnaround times before querying!
R&R (Revise & Resubmit): Used to describe when an editor asks you to make edits on a piece and then resubmit it.
Reading Period: Some magazines will only read submissions during certain times. Always check to make sure that you are submitting when the magazine is open to unsolicited submissions.
Rejection: A writer’s steadfast friend. When you receive a rejection, it means your story has not made it to the final round of deliberations and editors have decided not to publish it. Rejection is often subjective and should not be taken as an arbiter of whether a piece is good or not.
Rejection-Wiki: A fantastic resource that lists sample cover letters from publications. Often used by writers to determine if a rejection is “tiered” or personal.
Rejectomancy: The fine art of freaking out over submissions. This is a term that writers use to describe the ways they figure out whether/when/how/why they’re going to be rejected. It means mining Duotrope for submission stats, reading Twitter to see what an editors up to, and trying to divine why an editor rejected their work. Tread carefully, it’s easy to get distracted by this ancient art form.
Reprints: Sometimes journals take reprints, which means “previously published” stories or poems. This is rare and usually occurs in anthologies. Most journals want previously unpublished work only. The reason being that then they can say they discovered you first!
Response Time: The average amount of time it takes a journal to reply to submissions in the slush pile. Determined by users on Duotrope or the Submission Grinder. Can also be listed in guidelines as “average response time.”
Shortlisted: When a piece is very close to winning a contest, often judges will create a “short list” or list of finalists.
SFPA: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. This organization is a volunteer-led effort to further the field of speculative poetry. Their website lists markets and resources for poets. They also run several awards including a poetry contest, the Elgin Awards for speculative poetry books, the Dwarf Stars Award for short poems, and the Rhysling Award for best poem.
SFWA: The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. A membership-based nonprofit which provides support for SFF writers, including running the Nebula Awards, providing grants to writers & organizations, and setting guidelines for pro publications.
Simultaneous Submissions: A term for when a writer submits one piece to multiple journals. Some journals do not want writers to do this, and if that’s the case they will tell you in their guidelines. If there is nothing in the guidelines about this, you’re usually safe to simultaneously submit. If all else fails, send an email and ask!
Slush Pile: A term used to describe the queue of unsolicited submissions a journal has at any given point. It’s your manuscript in a sea of others, waiting to be read by an editor.
Solicited Submission: When an editor reaches out to a writer asking them to write a piece. If this happens to you, you have hit the holy grail of writing.
Standard Manuscript Format: Created by William Shunn, this method of formatting is the usual guideline for short story submissions. It includes formatting your manuscript to 12-pt font, double-spaced, with your name and contact information on the first page.
Submittable: A term for the website www.submittable.com, the most common submissions portal in use by journals. Also referred to as “Submishmash”.
Tip Jar: A “tip-jar” submission fee allows writers to tip the publication in order to help defray costs. Largely unused in SFF publications, this is more common in literary journals.
Token Payment: A small payment that is less than a pro rate and paid to the writer for publication.
Unsolicited Submissions: An open submission period when anyone can submit.
Vanity Press: A vanity press is any press which requires an author to pay a significant amount of money in order to publish their work.
Withdrawal: When submitting to literary journals, it is common to submit several stories or poems at once (simultaneously). When a piece gets accepted, it is expected that you should “withdraw” that piece from other publications. Other reasons for withdrawal might be a mistake on your submission, or if you change your mind about submitting.
Holly Lyn Walrath is a freelance editor based out of Houston, Texas. She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. She provides editing services for writers and organizations of all genres, experiences, and backgrounds, but enjoys working with new writers best. Find her on Twitter or visit her website.