What It Means When We Say “No.”

There’s a term for incoming submissions at a publishing house – the slush pile.

This is not a term of endearment. “Slush” conjures up images of dirty snow or water, runoff that gets in your way and can send you spinning out of control.

Muzzleland Press is, make no mistake, an independent operation. It basically consists of three of us – one senior editor and two other editors – who have to sort through a barrage of novel, novella, and short story submissions. Most of what we get is not very interesting, or not very good. That’s just the plain, simple truth.

Sometimes, when we refuse a submission (I don’t write form letters – I actually read everything that comes in), I give some feedback. Typically, I don’t get past the pitch letter – if there’s even a pitch letter in the body of the email. Sometimes, we just get attachments, or blank emails.

A good pitch letter should adhere to our submission guidelines, or at the very least, have a modicum of form, presentation, and professionalism. I’ve gotten some nasty responses from people when I told them why I didn’t read their submission – for reasons like using emoticons, not following our guidelines, or being generally obtuse or unpleasant – and such responses confirm my decision not to go into business with them.

Make no mistake – indie or no, we are a business, and we want to have good business and professional relationships with our writers. Your pitch letter is a good indication of how you view yourself as a professional, and how you view us.

Most submissions are impersonal. I can usually tell when they just copy and pasted our name into the “to” space on their email form. Customizing a new letter for us is not necessary, but a line or two about our site or our work goes a long way with us. Show us that you know who we are, and that you didn’t just skim Dark Markets and spam a ton of letters out.

If we do get past the pitch letter, we read the synopsis, then examine the writing. We might reject your work for errors in both, unpolished work, or for a disinterest in either subject matter or writing style.

Do not take this personally. I’ve had a few good submissions come in recently, and I had to say “No” because the concept just didn’t really grab my attention. If I wouldn’t pick up your book at a store or online, I’m certainly not going to spend my own personal money (I’m in education and publishing, and fund this press out of my own pocket – that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room!) to develop, publish, market, and sell your work.

So how do you get published here? The same way you get published anywhere: a combination of professionalism, interesting subject matter, and talent. This is subjective – but we can’t afford to not be picky. If you are professional, your work is interesting, and your writing polished, you will find success with your work.

It’s just that simple. You may not end up at an outfit like ours – we have to be picky and particular – but we’ll at least tell you why.

So get out there, get writing, and most importantly – respect both yourself and your target markets as professionals.

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