Updated: Jul 6, 2021
Have you ever toiled over a piece of writing, be it a short story for a contest or a manuscript for submission, sent it off to wherever and wondered, 'is anyone going to read that?' We've all been there as writers, right? We click send and our soul-filled missives go off into the faceless, cloudy oblivion to be unopened and unanswered.
A few years ago, I discovered Hallmark Publishing was taking open submissions (they don't anymore). The deadline was February 28 and this was February 2. Well, it was winter in Wisconsin, and in the deep freeze of my mind I thought it would be a good idea to try to write an entire novel in a month (Don't try this at home, or anywhere). I am not even remotely exaggerating when I say, that by the end of the month, the joints in my fingers actually ached from typing. I was banging out 5,000 words a day between the hours of 9 p.m. and midnight and needed to ice my hands each morning. Still, by the end of the month, I had a book.
Okay, so the book needed editing - badly! Never underestimate the power of a good editor (Scout Storey). But, none the less, I had a story I was pretty satisfied with. The only thing was, it wasn't in my voice - it was in Hallmark's. What I mean by this is, when I sat down to write, I read their submission guidelines (always read submission guidelines before submitting to a publisher) and I thought, 'Wow, these are pretty specific guidelines.' If you've seen a Hallmark movie, you probably know what I mean - like 'there will be no swearing, kissing, sex - definitely no sex - or homosexuality of any kind in this movie (although I think Hallmark has started incorporating LGBTQIA storylines in their movies recently). So, that was their formula, which made it incredibly challenging for me to write how I write. But don't worry - there is an annoyingly happy ending here after all.
Hallmark did actually respond to me and I have to say it was, by far, the nicest rejection letter I've ever received - no lie. And, while I was disappointed because I worked so hard to write the book within the framework of their guidelines, I also knew they were right. I didn't write the book in my voice and I knew there were places that sounded forced and, frankly, unnatural for my characters. Hallmark and that rejection letter actually did me a favor.
I remember while I was writing the book I had an awful lot of feels about what my characters were being forced to do under this 'friendly' regime that was Hallmark's submission guidelines. I spent a lot of time trying to 'not' get characters together in steamy situations only seen on HBO shows. So, it dawned on me that I could take the manuscript that I wrote under someone else's stringent guidelines and turn it into something that was more like me. The result is Penbird Press Publishing's book, Thoughts of a Character Stuck in a Romance Novel (Okay, so it's my own publishing company too, but that's another story.)
Either way, I took the rejection and turned it into something I felt good about. I still thank them for responding to me. What they did very well in that letter was give me feedback on why they rejected the book, and that was a first for me. Usually after submitting something, writers don't hear anything at all, let alone feedback. It was welcome and helped me come up with something all my own.
There are things writers can do in hopes for feedback. Getting submissions in early is always a good rule of thumb. Also, if you are submitting something which requires a cover letter, it doesn't hurt to mention in the last paragraph that any feedback would be welcome in their response back to you. Also, if something requires a SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) make sure to include that so you can actually get your feedback. There are also several contests out there, looking for submissions. Check out Freedom with writing for a recent list of short story submissions:
If you don't hear anything back, don't get discouraged. Finding the right publisher is like dating - it has to be a good fit. And take the time to have your work edited before you send it (We offer editing services at Penbird Press). That also increases your chances of, not only getting feedback, but also getting published. And read those submission guidelines before you decide to write a book under someone else's rules. Write the book you want to write and find the publisher with submission guidelines that match your voice. Whether they read it or not is up to them, but you get to create the ending - happy or not.