The UK has a fantastic small press scene. To celebrate the people behind the imprints - and help out the writers that are looking to them for publication - we've quizzed a number of editors about the nuts & bolts of their submissions process. This week, we've cornered Joanne Hall, who works with a number of independent publishers.
Joanne Hall: Hello! My name’s Joanne Hall, I’m a fantasy author and slush reader for Kristell Ink, a specialist fantasy and SF publisher based in Oxford. I’ve also co-edited a number of anthologies for Wizard’s Tower Press, including Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion.
PK: Generally speaking, what are the stories or the novels that you like to publish?
JH: Personally, I have a soft spot for heroic fantasy and post-apocalyptic SF stories – Kristell Ink publish all kinds of fantasy and SF, as well as dark fantasy on their sister imprint, Tenebris. But whether I’m looking at novels for potential publication or short stories for an anthology, I’m looking for some quality that lifts a story above the rest of the submissions, whether that’s because it’s funnier, or smarter, or more moving. I wish I could tell you what that quality was, but it’s elusive, and it varies from story to story.
The main thing I’m looking for is something in the story that makes me want to keep reading it, and if that doesn’t happen in the first twenty or so pages for a novel, or on the first page if it’s a short story, then I’m afraid I’m not going to consider it any further. I know it sounds harsh, but when you’re swamped with submissions and can only take a few, you want to pick the ones that are most engaging.
PK: Practical stuff! I've seen strange formatting on submissions in the past. Do you have any advice for authors on the physical part of submissions - type, etc?
JH: I know different publishers want different things, but as a general rule I’d ask for a double-line spaced document in a nice simple 12pt font (preferably Times New Roman or Arial), with numbered pages and the authors name, email, title of the story and word count somewhere on the document - you’d be surprised how many people send stories without their names or contact details on them! And in a format I can open, preferably RTF or .doc.
You’d also be surprised how many people think formatting instructions are vague guidelines, rather than Rules To Live By. Basically, if I have two equally brilliant stories and I’ve only got room for one, I’m going to take the one that’s easiest to read and doesn’t involve me googling the author to find out how to get hold of them. If a writer sticks to the guidelines, they’re slightly improving their chances of getting an acceptance.
PK: What about cover notes?
JH: Something along the lines of :
Please find my story, “The Most Brilliant Story in the World”, which I hope you will consider for inclusion in your anthology “Brilliant Stories of Brilliance”. Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you,
Then a short (100ish words) bio if they feel the urge. I think it’s important to be polite, but remember that the cover letter is less important than the story. I don’t want to read cover letters, I want to read great stories. Having said that, an obnoxious or rude cover letter will get your story winging towards the rejection pile pretty quick. Editors don’t want to work with people who might be difficult.
They should include a short bio if a bio has been asked for, but try to keep it under 200 words. Mention your 3-4 most recent or most prestigious relevant acceptances - an acceptance from Interzone is more interesting than the article you had published in Tractor Farming Monthly, unless you’re submitting to an anthology about space farming. Same with awards – tell me you won the BSFA award, don’t tell me about the award you won for knitting tea cosies. If you have experience relevant to the theme of the anthology, or in the field of SF/F, I’d like to know, but keep it short.
JH: If you submit to me in a font I can’t read, I’m not going to read it. So no Freestyle script, no tiny fonts and no weird colours, please. Also, and this might be a personal bugbear, but I hate it when people describe their characters in terms of height and weight. Starting your story with “Karn was a 5’7” 120lb warrior with green skin and blue hair” is pretty much an auto-reject. And, as I said before, don’t be rude in your cover letter!
PK: Should writers follow up after submitting a story? If so, when?
JH: If a writer hasn’t heard from me three months after submissions close, a short, polite note asking about the status of the story is fine. But some editors don’t like that, so check the submission guidelines. In fact, that should be tattooed on your eyeballs if you’re submitting – read and adhere to the submission guidelines, because they’re there for a reason. And they’re not guidelines, they’re Commandments. Calling them guidelines implies that they’re optional…
What about the dreaded rejecting stage - any advice for authors after they receive that email?
JH: Turning down stories is horrible! It’s the worst part of taking submissions, knowing that you won’t be able to accept them all. Especially when you have to turn down people you know and like. I would love to be able to send a personal rejection and advice to everyone I’ve rejected, but there just isn’t time. If I feel a story has potential, or might fit another market, I try to add a few lines of encouragement with the rejection.
As for what writers should do when turned down – look at the story again, take on board any advice offered, tidy it up and send it somewhere else. You can make a voodoo doll of the editor who has rejected you, but don’t email them to tell them they’re wrong or stupid, and don’t take to social media to slate them, unless you want to guarantee never having anything accepted by them again. Be nice. And read the submission guidelines. Those are the two golden rules.
Any other tips for writers that are submitting work to you?
Send me brilliant stories, be polite, spell my name right because then I know you’re paying attention. As an editor, I want to form a good working relationship with you if I accept you, so be friendly and easy to contact. But start by sending me brilliant stories.
PK: Are you looking for stories right now?
JH: Kristell Ink are currently closed to submissions, but I know that when they re-open they’re very keen to see some high-quality urban fantasy, so that’s something to bear in mind.
Tenebris, who specialise in dark fantasy, are open for submissions of short stories and novelettes on their Tenebris Nyxies imprint, which can be found here - good luck!