Submitting A Story For An Anthology

by limebirdvanessa

I recently submitted a story to a book publisher for possible inclusion in an anthology. My story wasn’t accepted, but I thought I would outline the experience here, and what I learnt from it.

The anthology is being themed on a specific prompt, which is –

What if tomorrow didn’t happen?

What if today never ended?
What if you were 18, about to start your life and everything you’d ever hoped to be, to do, to experience …
could never be yours?
If you sat in a chair, that’s where you’d be …
If you were driving down the road, that’s where you’d be …
If you were in surgery
or jumping off a cliff
or flying …
that’s where you’d be … forever.
Unless …

In this YA anthology, give us the twist, surprise us with the most amazing answer to restart time.

The required word count was 5,000 – 10,000 words.

My story was called ‘Crunch Time’ and this is the pitch/blurb I wrote for it to accompany the submission:

When a slippage in space causes the universe’s expansion to increase at frightening speeds, 18 year old space enthusiast Melissa knows that she doesn’t have long to save the world.

A distant point in space suddenly becomes the focus for the world’s biggest telescopes. There, the acceleration has surpassed the speed of light, causing time to travel backwards. The effects are rippling down towards earth. There are reports of strange ghostly sightings, and when news of the space slippage is leaked, there is mass panic around the world.

When the backward traveling time meets the forward traveling time, everything, and everyone, could be frozen in a single moment in time for ever. The authorities are claiming that early leaked reports were a malicious hoax, but why then have they blocked data access to the world’s telescopes? And how do they explain the ghostly sightings which Melissa believes are reflections of people’s future selves? Melissa has four days, and a crazy idea that might just work. With the help of boyfriend Corbin, and physics teacher Mr Golding, she puts her plan into action. But will she persuade the right people to help her before it’s too late?

And this is the reply I received from the publisher after they had read the story:

Thank you for your submission of Crunch Time. Because of the large number of submissions we receive, we must be very particular in which stories we select. While we will not be pursuing the story for publication, here are notes received from our submissions editor:

– While the premise interested me, by page 6, the story just hadn’t progressed enough and the writing is both in an older-than-teen voice as well as shows a newness to the craft in some things such as stilted dialog, heavy telling instead of showing and heavy backstory early on. These are at a level which don’t meet our quality standards. I’m disappointed to not be able to accept this one.

We are, of course, just one opinion and others may and will disagree with our assessment. No matter what, we do wish you success with your publishing ventures.

It was really great to get some actual feedback rather than just a rejection. And I do think their comments are fair. I knew it wasn’t written well enough, but I think I secretly hoped that the story would be enough to carry it through, with the knowledge that it could be refined through the editing process. Of course I realise that’s a very naive thought (what was I thinking?!). I did get three people to read and critique it before submission, and they gave very helpful feedback which I took on board, and made changes, but I knew that really I hadn’t done enough.

The main problem was that I rushed it. Where the publisher put out the call for submissions to the anthology, they stated a deadline and then added ‘unless filled prior to the close’. Usually I do my best work close to deadline, but I panicked about them possibly closing it for submissions before the deadline and so submitted it before it was ready.

It seems obvious now, but on reflection, I could have contacted the publisher when it was getting closer to the deadline to tell them that I was working on a story for submission, and ask them whether it looked likely they would close it off before the deadline. It’s a fair enough question that I’m sure they wouldn’t have objected to.

I honestly wasn’t overly disappointed at getting a rejection. Often I intend to submit my writing to various places and then don’t get around to it, so I was really pleased with myself that I had actually done it, and it was good to get some feedback from them so that I can learn what to do differently another time.

The anthology will have six stories in it, and I’m really looking forward to reading it to see what other people have done with the prompt. I don’t think it was an easy prompt at all, but I’m sure I’ll be pleasantly surprised at the range of interpretations of it when the book is published.

Have you ever submitted your writing anywhere, knowing that it wasn’t really ready?

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43 Responses to “Submitting A Story For An Anthology”

  1. Love this post Vanessa, because I really like that they actually gave you real and proper feedback for your story! The good news is, they liked the actual story, so I definitely think you should rewrite and submit it again somewhere else. I fear that my Limebird project who may not be named will be like this. Eep! Frightened!

    • Thanks Beth. Yes, their comments supported what I felt about it myself really, that the story idea was pretty good, but the writing in places was not – this is good confirmation that I need to trust my own instincts!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I wish more editors/publishers would take the time to say why a piece is not being accepted rather than an outright no thanks.

    • I know. Even though they only wrote a few lines, it made a huge difference to me because I wasn’t left wondering which aspects of it weren’t good enough! Surely it’s in the publishers’ interests to do this so that people don’t keep resubmitting things to them with the same things wrong!

  3. Perhaps your story could be one entry in a Limebird Anthology? 🙂

    I submitted my NaNoWriMo entry, knowing I’d managed to kill off someone on the last page without having explained it anywhere… Can’t really compare though! Well done for getting to the point of submitting a story for an anthology. I feel inspired to try it myself.

    • Ha! You never know…

      I only heard about this through a blog I follow where the writer mentioned that she was submitting something for it. It’s worth browsing publisher websites to see if they are putting calls out for things like this.

  4. Fantastic, honest experience. Thanks for being bold enough to share it with your reading audience. Rejection is part of a writer’s life, and receiving such specific feedback will only help you improve the piece. I love how you reflected on the experience and can see the error of your ways (e.g. rushing through the writing, knowing it was rather substandard, etc.). Many writers would simply be insulted or outraged at the editor’s comments. I agree with you – putting work out there, even if it means rejection, are important steps in improving one’s writing. Great post!

    • Thanks Gwen. Yes, rejection is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of, as you say, it’s part of a writer’s life. Not only were their comments helpful, but it also reassured me to know that they had actually read it and considered it, rather than be left wondering if they didn’t get past disliking the title or something! I’ve definitely learned the lesson of not rushing to submit when I know it’s not really good enough!

  5. Any antho that gives feedback is one to admire!
    I’ve often written a story to an antho prompt, then not actually subbed to the antho. Sometimes, it’s because I’m not sure the story is ready, sometimes, I decide that the story could go further than that specialized antho–and I’d rather try it on the open market.
    With a call for subs as specific as this one, it might be hard to revise the story and resubmit elsewhere, but it’s worth a try to see what you make of the feedback in a new version. If you do, I suggest sitting on the story for a while (even a year)–because you’ll be competing with everyone else who wrote for the prompt and was rejected.
    And kiss of death? the fun writers game of incorporating three or four specific prompts into the same story! Now you have three places you can sub to, right? Except that the prompt elements rarely work smoothly together–and that the editors probably know about the other specialty calls out there. You’re also not the only clever cat who is playing this game. I was an assistant slush reader for a specialty antho a few years back–and we saw story after story that was written for ours, and two other calls at the same time. You should have heard the groans.

    • Thank you for your comments. I think you’re right about leaving it for a while before going back to it. If I do decide to submit it elsewhere, I will probably make some changes so that it’s not so specifically geared to the prompt. A couple of times when I was writing, I wanted to go in a slightly different direction, but had to pull it back to the prompt, so I can explore those other ideas more now!

  6. Thank you for sharing your experience. Hearing someone else’s experience helps to remove the “mystery” of the process. That kind of feedback is priceless and it would be nice if more publishers provided even that much of a response. Many lessons here for all of us to take away.

    • Yes, these things are always a learning experience and it’s good to share our learning experiences with other writers! I know, if a publisher has read our work, then how much time does it take them really to just give a couple of lines of feedback? It’s so valuable to the writer.

  7. Great post. I know about anthologies, but don’t know about how to find out who is looking for stories. How did you find out about the call for submissions?

    I agree with the other comments that getting feedback was a real plus and that you are very generous to share your experience with us. That’s who you are!

    I’ve only submitted a few pieces to writing contests and, while the reviewers may not have thought they were ready for submission, I always submitted with the notion that they were my best effort. Then, upon re-reading them, I realized that they could have been made better. Such was it always… 😉

    • I don’t know how to find out who is looking for stories either, I only happened to see that one because it was mentioned on another blog I follow. Sometimes I try and search for things like that but it’s never usually very fruitful!

      I was happy to share my experience here because we need to remember that rejections are all part of being a writer and if we learn from them then they are not wasted!

    • Hi Lorna,

      I follow various publishers and writers on Twitter and have heard about some interesting calls for submission that way.

  8. How amazing that they gave you a proper reply. Congratulations on actually going through with the submission as well. I’m super proud. Rejections don’t have to be sad forever. I do know they sting really badly at first, even with the expected result.

    I’ve submitted a few stories so far myself. All rejections, so far. I honestly am ok with that, because each step is a step forward, right?

    I knew one story wasn’t “ready’ when I sent it out. I think when i subbed that one, i just wanted to make myself do it, because I didn’t want to back out later.

    It’s all a learning experience. I know that that story will be really interesting when you work the kinks out.

    • Thanks Amber. It really was just mild disappointment when I got the email, getting some actual comments really helped because I felt they were fair comments, and it wasn’t all bad, ha!

      Even the most successful authors talk of lots of rejections along the way, so we’re in good company!

  9. Writers are optimists. We have to be. Or at least we have to be willing to go on living after all the rejection. Kudos to you for sharing, and I am pleased that the editors thought enough of your manuscript to jot down a few notes. So often the manuscript falls into the publishing abyss, the black hole of arbitrary, unexplained rejections.

    • Yes, that’s how I feel, at least it was worth them giving me an explanation as to why it was rejected! It would be interesting to know if everyone who was rejected received some comments like that. I would definitely submit to them again.

  10. Thanks for sharing this, V. I think that I could handle rejections much better if they came with reasons and explanations for turning me down. It’s hard to improve our writing on a ‘sorry, but this story isn’t the right fit for us.’

    While I’m sorry your story didn’t make the cut, I’m so happy that you are willing to learn and grow from their informative rejection. A lot of writers would be too angry to do that, and thus waste a chance at getting better. Of course, that isn’t to say these editors are 100% right, but at least you know more about your story than you did before you submitted it.

    • Yes, I’m sure I’d have felt much more disappointed if I’d just received a rejection with no explanation which seems to be the more common scenario. Because I knew their comments were fair, and confirmed what I was kind of feeling about my writing anyway, it actually gave me more confidence rather than knocking it. It’s made me realise that I need to go back to basics with creative writing and really hone those key skills.

  11. I would suggest that, since they gave you such specific feedback, they see something in your writing and may well accept a story from you in the future. Keep trying! And do fix your story up a bit and resubmit it elsewhere.

    • Thanks Angie. Yes, I liked the bit in the comment where they said ‘I’m disappointed to not be able to accept this one’ – it made me feel that they really did like it and gave it a good chance! I have nobody to blame but myself that the quality of the writing wasn’t high enough.

  12. First of all, well done for submitting your work. Shame it didn’t get through, but fabulous that you got some good feedback. I’ve only submitted a few things and felt at the time that they were ready. I entered my current WIP into the Crime Writers Association’s debut dagger a few years back. I thought that was ready, but when I did my creative writing course and re-read the first chapter I think it was probably rejected on the third line when the dialogue didn’t have the proper punctuation. I learnt my lesson. Feedback at the time would have been nice.

    • Thanks Pete. I don’t often submit anything anywhere, I intend to far more than I actually do. Recently I’ve been thinking that I’d really like to to do that OU creative writing class that you guys did – I’ve studied twice with the OU and really liked it, and I think I would really benefit from the course. Actually Craig was one of the three people who critiqued my story and he was really helpful, he made some suggestions for tightening it up, and looking back I don’t think I spent enough time going through and finding examples of the types of things he was talking about and improving them. LIke I said, I was rushing! It was Craig’s comments that made me realise how much I would benefit from doing a course because I could tell that the things he was pointing out were probably fairly basic mistakes that I should have known about!

      • Craig’s good like that 🙂

        I certainly enjoyed the course and learnt a great deal. I definitely believe I’m a better writer now because of it. The only down side is the cost. I think it now costs about £2.2m for one of the OU courses since the price rise. Scandalous!

  13. This is really useful information for us all, thank you!

  14. It sounds like a great story idea, Vanessa, and I hope you’ll follow through with it and submit it somewhere else. In retrospect, I wish I could say I thought I submitted something that wasn’t ready. Instead, I submitted a novel I thought was ready, and it wasn’t. I learned from that experience, though. Of course, now it’s possible that I’ll never think something is ready when, in fact, it is. 😉 I’ve got a ways to go before I cross that bridge.

    Getting feedback with a pass must be so helpful. Seeing what an objective reader thinks can really help us see where we’ve missed some problems. How else can we learn to improve our writing?

    • Thanks J. It actually took a lot of confidence to write the story because it seemed so huge to be writing about the possible end of the world as we know it. Usually we write about slices of things that only affect a few people, so to write about something that would affect everyone in the world seemed scary! I don’t know why. Like I said, really am curious to see what others did with the prompt.

      Yes, getting feedback made such a huge difference.

  15. Interesting story you came up with for that prompt, Vanessa!
    Funny you should ask that question. Just his week Jennifer M Eaton asked a similar question about editing to a word count for publication. Same answer: The novel I’ve been working on for the last 10 years was up to about 30-40k words when I found a novella competition with a theme I could shoehorn it into. But I had to cut it back to a max of 20k. It became a different story, the shoe broke and I needed a new shoehorn. I’m still clinging to the hope that the letter notifying me of my winning entry was lost in the mail. No, not really. It was certainly a rush job, getting it down to 20K.

    • Yes, I commented on that post of Jennifer’s because I have a feeling she was talking about the same anthology that I submitted this to.

      The word count thing is tricky isn’t it, sometimes cutting back can really improve it, other times it loses what made it good in the first place – that’s what Jennifer was feeling would happen if she cut hers back too much wasn’t it.

  16. I’ve only ever submitted one story and that was at the suggestion of my tutor at the OU. When I think back now, it could definitely have done with some polishing, but it was the first time I’d plucked up the courage to send anything off and I went with her comments. It was rejected but there was no feedback. Just that they weren’t looking for anything at that time or something along those lines.
    I don’t know how “unready” your story was, but I have to say it sounds very exciting! I really hope you finish it and it gets published elsewhere. The feedback you received was very constructive and far better than just “thanks, but no thanks”. Good luck with it!

    • Thanks Sharon! I think some people submit things pretty much on a weekly basis and so they get used to weekly rejections, but when you only submit something occasionally you place a lot more emphasis on it. It’s hard to take when you’ve plucked up the courage to submit something and then just get a ‘no’ back with no explanation. It’s far easier to accept a rejection when you know that they’ve actually read it and considered it enough to give feedback.

  17. Mixed feelings about this post, Vanessa. Not for quality or core, but because it raises a bunch of questions about my own writing.

    I think your story idea does sound cool. Complicated, but that’s the nature of time travel. 😉 Not having read the real thing, it’s difficult to reflect on the editors’ comments. But, it was great that they gave you all that specific feedback.

    The wordcount niggles at me, though. I know why groups set a specific cutoff point. I do it with my video contest because I just can’t sit through 100 30-minute entries in three weeks! But, some stories take time. You mention in another comment thread how cutting can sometimes make a story stronger…and, other times, it can break it. I totally agree with that. It’s a tricky balance to strike, writing both for story and for craft.

    Brave of you to post everything in its unedited form! It certainly offers a more personal glimpse into a world I don’t know I want to climb into, any longer. 🙂

    • Oh gosh Mayumi, I hope I haven’t single-handedly put you off the whole idea of a writing career here! 😉

      You’ve actually helped me realise something about my story. Where you pointed out that the story is complicated – I had to do quite a bit of research on the laws of physics before writing this because obviously I was going to be messing with those laws and you have to understand them before you can mess with them so that it all sits within a framework of reality. Within the story, I needed to explain the science but I was conscious of not wanting the story to sound like a science lesson, so I think my attempts to explain the science in a straightforward story way may account for why it ended up being too heavy on the telling rather than the showing, and probably the stilted dialogue too, where the characters were explaining the science to each other for the benefit of the reader! Does that make sense?

      You mention that it’s difficult to reflect on the editors’ comments without reading the story – you’re very welcome to read the story if it helps you with assessing your own position in all this writing lark!

      • I’d love to read a new sci-fi story! If you decide to post it, let me know where to find it! 😀

        And, goodness no, this has not put me off publishing. Basically, I want to tell stories, not run a rat race. I’m still enjoying the crafting and editing phases, but I don’t think I’m cut out for the business side of selling stories.

  18. I also had a very positive rejection experience!

    I submitted a Steampunk Shakespeare story for an anthology and got asked for a revision, they wanted more reference to the play it was based on. I did a re-write and was very disappointed to be rejected at that point. I’d had contacts with two of the three editors and both loved the story; but it was at the upper limit of the word count and I also used the play as the setting rather than reworking the original play – I thought that it would still fit the criteria. At the end of it, although I was very disappointed, I took from it that two editors loved it!

    The revised version was better and I used it as the opening story in The Poring Dark.

    • Yes rejection experiences can be positive, of course there would be something a bit odd if we didn’t feel a little disappointed, but if there is some kind of feedback or engagement with the publisher it makes a huge difference in terms of moving forward from it. I can see how your experience would be very disappointing because you were led down the path of thinking you had a good chance, and clearly you were in with a good chance, but no cigar. Glad you were able to use it elsewhere.

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