where the writers are
Not sure what to do with this knowledge
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Their initial email said:


Thank you for sending us your work. We appreciate the chance to consider it. Unfortunately it does not fit our editorial needs at this time. 

We enjoyed the concept of the essay and hope you might consider sending a revision. 

Sincerely, The Editors 



Which was lovely.  Glad they liked it enough to want to see it again.  Of course, the answer is yes, I'd be glad to revise.  So I wrote:


Dear Editors,

Thanks for your kind note.  What kind of revision do you have in mind?  I'd be glad to give it a try.


Weeks went by without response, so I assumed I'd answered an unattended in-box and went on about my business.  Just now I received this:




I'm sorry we read so many stories we don't have time to give lots of comments. But we felt it could use a few more rounds of revisions.



I don't know what to do with that (lack of) information.  I can look at the piece I considered finished enough to submit and try tweaking it at random, hoping to answer whatever they don't like about the essay without screwing up whatever it was they did like.

Or I could move on.

Since I'm not a mind-reader, I guess I do know what I should do after all.

4 Comment count
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Moving On

Ah yes.  Most of the time people who review the transome file don't really know what the publisher wants. What they say they want and reality are far apart. Essentially, they want to see a hook. This means they want you to pitch an idea based on something that has worked for them in the past and you have a better way of doing it. They have thousands of pitches a week. Yours has to be unique, so you have to build a pedigree for what you're sending them. My advice, find something similar they publish to what you are sending them, then use the book jacket or magazine article or whatever and revise it and make that same marketing language to position your story. So if you are writing a book, use the language of other published articles as your guide to the kind of story you are telling and then explain to the publisher why yours is a better fit.

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That makes sense

The funny thing about this particular submission is that it was to a non-paying literary magazine, which doesn't read submissions again until autumn.  So I could have months to revise it or I could just turn it around and send it somewhere else now...  The odds that the same grad student would still be at the magazine in September and would read the revision seem slim to me.

But I think you're exactly right about what editors generally want to see:  what they just bought, only different.

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What it means

That they took the trouble to make a comment, expressed some interest and invited you to try again is a huge victory. 

Appreciating the volume of submissions a publication receives, and the competition any writer is up against, can be very difficult for the writer.  After all, the only submission you're truly aware of is your own. 

What I think you can take away with some confidence is that the piece has merit and is worth working on, regardless of where you choose to send it next.  My suggestion is that you find several people who are willing to read it (the more the better) and provide you with honest feedback.  Ideally, these will be people who read a lot and who also write a lot. 

Or people who do one or the other.  Your friends and family won't be of much real help, and their comments may lead you in the wrong direction.


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I've been on the other side of the editing desk, so I know what you mean about the flood of submissions.  It can be competely overwhelming.  I learned (eventually) not to open a conversation with a writer without offering concrete feedback.  Otherwise, any response they sent was likely to waste their time and mine.  And then everyone got angry, which was completely counterproductive.

I am flattered that this particular magazine liked my work enough to want to see more of it.  Some days it's the little things that keep the words flowing onto the screen.

Thanks for stopping by to comment.