A behind-the-scenes look at Write or Die's submission process
In noble pursuit of trying not to mess it up.
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Last week, Write or Die opened up for fiction submissions, and the immediate response was incredible. Within 24 hours of our Instagram and Twitter (X, whatever the hell) announcement, we received 115 submissions. As I’m writing this, six days later, we are close to 300. It feels like an incredible honor- to be trusted with a writer’s work. We don’t take that responsibility lightly.
In other words, this feels like a really big deal.
So, how are we handling this? What is our process?
How about a little behind-the-scenes tour?
Back in February, before Write or Die merged with Chill Subs, we took a shot at opening up for fiction. I asked my writing partner, Tamar, who you may remember from this previous post, if she would be open to helping me with fiction submissions. Tamar is one of the most generous and thorough readers I know. She is the first person to read most, if not all, of my own fiction, after all, so I can very much vouch for her. I knew that if we were going to accept fiction, I would need the help, and she enthusiastically accepted.
When we announced our open sub call, we were pleasantly surprised by the response. I believe it was something like 40 or 50 submissions that Tamar read through for that first month, until she picked the story she wanted us to publish.
“Like Saline and Sugar,” by Suzanne Grove, was our first Write or Die fiction publication in February of 2023, and we were both thrilled.
Tamar suggested we do a special interview with Suzanne to give readers an inside look into her writing process and how she built this story that we were so obsessed with. Tamar crafted 5 questions like “What is your favorite scene, moment, or line from your story? Why?” and “What do you do when you feel stuck in your writing? How do you work through blocks?” Suzanne gave us a generous interview with profound writing advice: “No one—absolutely no one—has your mind and your life experience. No one will ever be able to have your style, or bring what you bring to the page. So lean into that, hard.”
We closed submissions shortly as Tamar worked through them. By then, we were working towards the Chills Subs x Write or Die marriage and decided to put fiction on hold until a later date when we could give it all the attention we knew it needed. During this time, Tamar and Suzanne traded emails. Then, they traded short story drafts and gave each other feedback. Suzanne asked if Write or Die needed any help with fiction in the future, and after a meeting with the three of us, we asked Suzanne to come aboard.
Our fiction team was born!
One of the main challenges came when we needed to figure out the technicalities of actually receiving submissions. Since we don’t have a submissions manager (yet!), we needed to get creative. But not too creative because we wanted this process to be as simple as possible for both the writer and the editor. And no fees to submit, obviously, because we all know how shitty that is, and we are trying really hard not to be shitty overall.
We landed on Google Docs. Ben helped me create a form that spits out into a spreadsheet once a submission comes in. Suzanne goes in as the first reader and marks the submissions accordingly: “rejected” or “next round.” Tamar swoops in and picks the piece to be published. Writers will receive a response within 90 days. We know we are going to need more readers in the future, but for now, this works. Suzanne, who is also an editor at CRAFT, and has spent a lot of time with Submittable, said that this process was actually more organized than what she was used to.
“Sometimes there is just too much going,” she said. “This feels better, actually.”
Hmm, interesting. ;)
We also wanted everything to be accessible for the writers, especially our guidelines. We aimed to make them simple, clear, and concise in the hopes that it will not only make your submitting process easier but also let you know that we want to see you succeed. No digging through paragraph after paragraph of formatting rules and regulations.
“We aren’t reading these submissions with rejection in mind,” said Suzanne during our last team meeting. “We are reading because we want to accept you.”
Since we wanted to be clear about who will be reading your work, instead of adding a generic “what we are looking for,” each editor wrote out in her own words what she loves about fiction and what she is hoping to read.
Tamar is looking for character-driven stories with a strong central emotion. Don’t be afraid to break her heart. She is drawn to characters who make mistakes. She wants to read stories that make her look at life closely and see beauty in the shadows. She is looking for attention to details that are usually overlooked, and she isn’t afraid of surprises. - Tamar Mekredijian
Suzanne is most often drawn to character-driven fiction with a focus on interiority and a penchant for highlighting the surreal elements in everyday life. She most appreciates characters who are haunted in some way—by their pasts, by the hope and uncertainty of the future, by their own conflicting desires, and by the space between what they need and the achievement of those needs. Her favorite stories don’t necessarily adhere to traditional ideas about plot structure, but rather propel themselves forward via constant micro-tensions and questions raised on the page. She is looking for stories that allow us to step into the unknown while simultaneously holding up a mirror and pushing us to go deeper within ourselves. More than anything, she’s seeking stories driven by unique and diverse narrative voices and a strong sense of style at the line level. - Suzanne Grove
What happens when we publish
If we publish your work, our goal is to make a big deal out of you. This is why we will only be publishing one fiction piece a month. Because of the rest of that month, you are the star of the show. If published, you will receive $200. Your piece will be accompanied by original artwork by our brilliant Nikita, and Tamar will be conducting that special interview where you get to let us in on your process so we can get to know you better. Both your interview and your published story will be featured on the Chill Subs x Write or Die social media platforms, and we will give you a special media kit so that you can shout about your publication from the mountain tops, too.
With so much of the writer's life being about rejection, we aim to make you feel proud of your acceptance and show that we, as a magazine, are honored to be able to read and publish your writing.
This has always been a foundational question for me as the creator of Write or Die- how can we make writers feel valued and appreciated for their work?
Now that our team has grown, we are able to keep refining how we do this and are working hard to make it better and better.
So yeah, we are pretty damn excited to be publishing fiction.
Because Suzanne's story from February sort of got overshadowed by our merge, we have republished it and will be re-promoting it this month.
If you are a fiction writer and looking for a home for one of your stories, we hope you will consider us.
As Tamar so often says, “We want to be that one yes.”
If you’d like to submit to our fiction call, you can head on over to our form here.