It may take a while, but if the story is good and you keep pushing it out there, someone is going to accept it. The second happiest moment in the life cycle of a manuscript is when the acceptance arrives.
Be prepared for is the possibility of a long wait between acceptance and publication. Some publications turn things around in a couple of months. Others can take a couple of years. Publishing is a slow business.
How much editing?
The more professional the magazine, the more likely they are to edit the story, although some of the semipros have excellent editors as well. A professional edit is not something to be afraid of, or to regard as an assault on your artistic integrity. A good editor is a joy to work with and invariably improves the story.
Before getting stuck in, it’s worth making sure you know exactly what the process is. An in-house editor is likely to be flexible in how many versions you work through, so it can be best to agree on the structural issues first and then move on to polishing up the line-by-line. If the publisher has contracted an external editor, it may be for one or two edits so you need to address every issue in every edit. In either case, agree a plan of action with the editor before starting work. It saves everybody’s time in the end.
I find that most editorial suggestions improve the story, so I accept most of them and think very carefully before rejecting any. A good editor won’t expect you to slavishly implement all their suggestions, but they will expect a good reason for rejecting something. A good reason is something rooted in the construction of the story, not a demand that they keep their hands off your vision.
Most semipro magazines don’t have the staff or the budget to employ an editor. The most they will do is send a galley proof for your approval. Seeing the proof can be a mixed experience. It’s satisfying to see the story looking like a finished product, but I often itch to rewrite large chunks of it. Apart from the fresh perspective conferred by not having seen it for a while, my writing skills have probably improved since I wrote it and I can see how to do it better now.
That’s not what galley proofs are about. The publisher has accepted the manuscript as it is and I’m getting the proof because it’s already well on the way through the publication process. They won’t appreciate a lot of rewriting now, and the only changes to suggest are obvious typos and grammos.
Some semipros don’t even send the galley proofs, which is why it’s important to make sure the manuscript is publication ready when you submit it.
Publication and after
The happiest point in the manuscript life cycle is the day it gets published. Enjoy the moment. You’ve worked hard enough for it. Share it with your friends. Put it on your blog. Do whatever makes you happy.
It’s usually only at the point of publication that the author gets paid. A couple of months ago, I received a cheque in the post for a story. It made me feel distinctly nostalgic. The vast majority of payments are through Paypal, so you’ll need an account. In spite of the grumbles that tend to circulate, I have never had a story that wasn’t paid for. I’ve occasionally had to politely nudge an editor. While the amount of money doesn’t come to much, it’s an acknowledgement of the value of my work and part of the agreed transaction. I have sometimes waived the payment to support a magazine, but there’s a world of difference between my choosing to do that and the editor forgetting to send it.
After publication come the reviews. Now that we’re surrounded by blogs and social media, even fairly low profile publications get reviewed somewhere. People might advise you not to look at your own reviews, but you’re superhuman if you can take that advice. The nastiness that lurks in some corners of the internet rarely finds its way into reviews of short stories. I’d rate the worst reviews I’ve had as mildly soothing compared to the average critique.
We’ve now followed the life of a story from concept to publication. What happens to it next is in the lap of the gods of posterity. Meanwhile, we have more stories to write.