Thursday, October 02, 2008

Publishing "black holes"

Sean and I sometimes swap notes and reproduced below are excerpts from our latest exchange:
Also submitted to ---------- -------, but as I'm beginning to think, local publications are a black hole unless you have a "name."

They are. We're normally lucky to get so much as a rejection letter from them, I think. That said, they can't exactly tell you to stop sending them stuff, so persistent submission might actually bring up that "name" that they expect.

This arose from the rejection letters we got from the Alfars.

An acceptance letter, of course, is better than a rejection letter, but even a rejection letter is better than, well, nothing. Which is what you get -- or rather, don't get -- from other local publications.

Now, I actually have experience on both sides of the divide. First, as an occasional would-be contributor to the "prestigious" national magazines; and second, as a sometime-editor for a maybe-less-prestigious-but-I-won't-argue-about-it regional literary insert.

When it's my turn to edit Dagmay, I do try to make it a point to tell the contributors whether or not their works were accepted. If it's the former, I tell them when it will be coming out; if it's the latter, I try to give a short critique. Said practice raised some eyebrow among some of my co-editors, but I like to act the way I like to be treated.

That said, it sometimes takes me a while to do that. Sometimes, I feel that the work has merit, but I can't publish it yet, and I put off any note to the writer. (Note to self: in the future, at least write a short acknowledgment of receipt.)

And sometimes, well, the work is just so atrocious I'm afraid to write back at all. When I say atrocious, I really do mean it: bad grammar, overly creative formatting, rambling narrative, etc.

If I apply that to myself as a writer, though, I'd like to think that, while I may not be up there with the best of them, I can't possibly be that bad. So if I don't even receive a letter of acknowledgment, it's either the editor is a) too busy to write back; or b) just can't be bothered.

In either case, it gives rise to the question: how long should I wait before sending that work to another publication? What is the reasonable length of time between submission and acknowledgment, and between acknowledgment and acceptance/rejection?

The Duotrope submission tracker provides this valuable service, but mostly for stateside magazines.

From my own experience, I can only speak positively of two: the Alfars of the Philippine Speculative Fiction (PSF) annual anthology, and Ken Yu of Philippine Genre Stories (PGS).

For PSF, I normally get an acknowledgment from Dean within two days of my submission. The final verdict is dependent more on their schedule, typically two weeks after the deadline.

For PGS, my results so far have varied. My first submission, "Twilight of the Magi", took 18 days between submission and acceptance, with no acknowledgment in between. My subsequent submissions got almost immediate acknowledgments, but probably owing to the fact that they fell under guest editors, is taking a longer while for the verdict. I already have some indication of where the decision is headed (though it's not final yet). Regardless, it was heartening to have some acknowledgment.

But what of the rest? I've submitted to two magazines, but really, they live up to the reputation of being a black holes. Perhaps, though, "good 'ol gal network" might be a more apt description.

So what effect does it have on me as a writer? It means I know who I'll be writing for (and who I won't be writing for) in the near term, awards and exposure be darned.


  1. i wonder if there are international SFF "black hole" trackers we can submit philippine publications to. like perhaps this one? i haven't exactly looked into it myself, though...

  2. Hi, Bhex: to borrow a term from Wikipedia, we might have a problem with "notability" considering both the circulation and the content of our local publications. Probably only Story Philippines and PGS would count as all other publications are oriented towards feature.

    That said, maybe we should start our own tracker. Unfortunately, I really only have PGS to speak of.

  3. Back when I was a wee little bairn (okay, thirteen years old), I sent an unsolicited short story submission to the Philippine Panorama. I was surprised to get a response from the editor, Dr. Cirilo Bautista, along with a short rejection notice and critique... and I've always appreciated the gesture. (Sadly, the Panorama only seems to accept poetry submissions now.)

    While I do recognize the fact that a lot of editors don't have the time to send these out on a regular basis, I find rejection letters to be an indication of literary professionalism. It's a service to the writer, and a polite gesture besides.

    Now, the absolute worst thing that an agency can do, mind you, is steal ideas from rejected stories. While I have yet to experience any publication venues that actually do this, I've heard stories about certain media outlets...

  4. maybe we should have a tracker for local fiction publications, not just SFF? (would this be prudent? i'm really not sure, but maybe local editors and publishers of other fiction publications might not appreciate having their response times tracked?)

  5. I think a local publication tracker would be great, Bhex. Heh, who cares what the editors think (in this regard, anyway)? The end result of this is: the editors with the best response times will get first dibs on the stories.