Submissions as a screen for bad writers

(Note: This rant was previously published in storySouth.)

Consider this a dose of harsh medicine for wannabe writers. Consider this insight into how to become a professional writer and, alternately, how to eternally doom your stories to editorial limbo.

For six years now I've been editing storySouth, a literary journal focusing on Southern writers. I initially edited the fiction and nonfiction while my co-editor Jake Adam York edited the poetry. Whatever we were doing must have worked because storySouth grew to the point where we needed other editors to assist us. Now Scott Yarbrough edits storySouth's fiction, Dan Albergotti the poetry, while Jake and I continue on as overall editors and I still edit the nonfiction. If you read our guidelines or masthead, these facts are laid out for the world to see.

The problem is that far too many writers are not reading our guidelines, let alone our magazine. I know this because in the last week I've received nine fiction submissions snail mailed to my house. Our guidelines specifically state to e-mail submissions to the editors. Anyone who reads our ONLINE journal couldn't fail to note that gee, storySouth is an ONLINE journal! Perhaps they accept electronic submissions. Let me look at the guidelines. The answer: YES! And who edits the fiction? Why its a nice chap named Scott Yarbrough.

Obviously the writers who mailed these fiction submissions to me never even read our guidelines, let alone storySouth. They pulled up our listing in some print or online submission database and let loose their submissions. Several of them didn't even include SASEs for a response. Two asked that their stories be considered for storySouth's Million Writers Award, which is for PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED fiction (another fact these writers could have learned by doing even the most basic of homework).

Now comes the clincher. After looking through all these short stories mailed to the wrong editor without looking at our journal or guidelines, some without a SASE, all without a clue, one pattern becomes clear--they all stink. Not one of them is readable past the first paragraph. And that brings us to this simple truth about publishing: Good writers do their homework. Bad writers do not. If a writer can't be bothered to do even a bit of reading about the magazine or journal they are submitting to, know that the editor will see this. And editors know that the truth behind a lack of preparation on the part of a writer is that their story is likely bad, bad, bad.