Join guest columnist and author, Aeryn Rudel, every month right here at Dark Matter Magazine to get tips on writing, publishing, and the subtle art of rejection. Read more of Aeryn’s work over at his Rejectomancy blog.
THE BLESSED EVENT, OR WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE ACCEPTED
Column by Aeryn Rudel
June 22, 2021
Last month, we talked about rejection, that grim reality of writing and submitting. This month, we turn to happier times, and discuss what to expect when your story is accepted.
The Acceptance Letter
Acceptance letters vary in structure, but they should all have two things in common: they will inform you that your story has been accepted for publication, and they will instruct you on what happens next. Here’s an example:
Thank you for sending us “Your Awesome Story”. We are pleased to offer to purchase the rights to use your work in an upcoming issue of Somebody Likes Me Magazine. If the work is still available, let us know with a brief note to likeme(at)gotmail.com.
You will be sent a contract offer soon, and we’ll let you know the next steps in the process.
So now what happens? The next steps, of course. More often than not, those steps will include: details, contract, and editing. Let’s talk about them.
The first thing a publisher is likely to do is gather some information necessary to publish your story. Most of the time, it’ll be these three things.
- Short bio. This should be third-person and around fifty words in length. Some publishers may ask for something slightly longer. I covered writing a short author bio in this column back in November of 2020. Refer to that article if you need a few pointers.
- Payment info. Depending on how the publisher pays, this might be your PayPal address, or if you want a check, your physical address.
- Author photo. Not all publishers ask for this, but a fair amount do. There are many acceptable ways to take an author photo. My preference is a headshot in black and white against a neutral background. You can easily manage that kind of photo with your phone.
Return these items to the publisher promptly. They need them to publish your story. Some publishers gather this information up front with the submission, but may ask you to verify the information is still correct.
Since most publishers request these items, it’s not a terrible idea to have them ready to go and to update them periodically. That way, you can fire them off as soon as they’re requested and get the publication ball rolling that much quicker. I guarantee the editor will appreciate that.
At some point in the process, you’re going to receive a contract outlining the rights the publisher is purchasing, when your story will be published, how you’ll be paid, and what the publisher is going to do with your story. I’m not an attorney, so this isn’t legal advice, but I believe you should do the following before you sign your first contract.
- Familiarize yourself with standard terms. You need to understand the meaning of terms life first publication rights, non-exclusive rights, periods of exclusivity, and other things before you sign. These terms tell you what a publisher can do with your story and for how long.
- Compare to industry standards. In my opinion, you should compare the terms of your contract to those considered industry standard. Now that can be a tricky term and opinions may vary on just what industry standard means, but see below.
So where do you find definitions for those important terms AND what might be considered industry standard? Well, the SFWA model magazine contract is a good place to start. It’s generally considered fair to both author and publisher, and there are quite a few markets who use the SFWA model contract as the template for their own contracts.
Do not be afraid to ask questions about any element of your contract. This is your work, and you want to make sure you are treated fairly. If a publisher cannot answer these questions to your satisfaction, or is evasive in some way, declining the offer to publish is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
After you’ve signed the contract, the publisher may request minor changes to your story. Most publishers don’t buy stories they think need serious editing, so these changes are pretty light and straightforward. In my experience, word choice, streamlining sentences, and maybe very minor structural changes are the most common changes requested.
The editing phase is a dialogue between you and the publisher, so don’t be afraid to question suggestions or even decline to make changes that don’t work for you. I’ve found the vast majority of changes requested in my stories were ones I agreed with. On those few I disagreed with, I offered an alternate suggestion. In these circumstances, the editor was happy to oblige me, and we ended up with something we both liked.
It should be noted that many contracts will state the publisher can fix typos, grammatical errors, and other minor errors without notifying the author. Just something to be aware of.
Rejection is a reality every writer must face, but armed with a little knowledge and maybe a few writer friends to commiserate with, it doesn’t have to be a demotivating experience. Once you learn and accept what rejection means (and what it doesn’t), it gets easier to keep going and keep writing.
Check back next month for more advice on how and where to submit your work or head over to my blog Rejectomancy for oodles of overly analytical articles about the various and sundry parts of writing, submitting, and every author’s favorite subject, rejection.