Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Submission Service

By Bonnie Stanard

Last week I received three rejections from literary magazines. I compared the rejection slips with my record of submissions. I had a rejection without having submitted a manuscript. Huh? What did I send to them? As meticulous as I try to be in keeping records, I’ve been forced to make a file of “mystery rejections.”

That’s one reason I contracted with a submission service. Writers Relief does the paperwork for me. As a client, I can go to their web site and see exactly what I’ve submitted and when; the responses (including personal comments from editors); and the dates these responses came to me.

The service has a schedule of six cycles per year, each of which produces about 27 submissions. This is an inflexible schedule, and I have to pay even if I don’t use a cycle. Writers Relief provides some editing, primarily punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. They have not identified things like clich├ęs, misquotes, inaccurate information, or illogical passages, in my submissions.

Their label lists are more generic than targeted to genre or subject matter. Many publications on my lists are literary magazines, often published by colleges. In particular, I’ve found that their labels for children’s stories and historic short stories don’t do enough to target publishers with those interests. Obviously, some markets are hard to find, but that’s one reason for going to a service for help.

At the end of each cycle, they mail me a final draft of my manuscript, cover letters addressed to 27 literary magazines, and corresponding labels. When their packet arrives, I go to Kinko’s to make 27 copies of my story (or poems), sign the cover letters and put labels on large white envelopes, which I provide. I then prepare the mailing by placing the cover letter, a copy of my manuscript, and an SASE in each labeled envelope.

When the responses come in (“not right for us,” “we get hundreds of submissions,” “try us again”), I mail them to Writers Relief and forget about them. If there’s an acceptance, I sign the agreement and mail it to the magazine.

Writers Relief comes at a cost, usually about $387 a cycle, or about $2,340 per year. I’ve never figured out how much it has cost to get my work published. I don’t want to know, for it’s in the hundreds of dollars per story/poem, not counting postage and Kinko’s charges. The service even charges clients for their office supplies—postage stamps (priority mail) and copies. My last invoice included $15 for copies. My suggestion that they keep computer copies instead of hard copies wasn’t appreciated.

In addition to being expensive they are surprisingly inflexible. I asked that they delete a couple sentences from my cover letter, and they agreed to do it to the tune of $25.

They send out cheery notes to their many clients about what their office staff is doing, as if we’re one big happy family. I wish some of that friendliness came across in email exchanges when I have a question or complaint.

As far as I can tell, we writers have this one choice if we want help making submissions. Two other writers in Columbia II have used this service, one was satisfied and the other wasn’t.

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