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Will You Pass the Test?
On a warm, sunny Friday afternoon, Mr. Blanch (name changed to protect the innocent, but honestly, at my age, the man probably passed on long ago) spoke those dreaded words to our last period biology class: Pop Quiz!
He had only one comment as he handed out the test papers. “Read through the entire quiz before you answer the questions.”
I remember glancing first at the clock on the wall, then at the paper in front of my poised pen. Twenty-five questions in ten minutes? Impossible, especially since every question was short answer plus one essay on the back of the page.
My eyes skittered left, then right. The nearest classmates in my limited vision scribbled furiously. I didn’t dare lift my head further for fear of Mr. Blanch’s immediate Cheater Response Yell.
I took a deep breath, determined, too, to finish this quiz in the allotted time.
I had only completed seven questions, and by the groans when Mr. Blanch picked up the quiz ten minutes later, no one else finished either.
He sat in his large, black leather chair at his desk and rifled through the papers one by one. Finally his hand came down on the desk with a clap of thunder and he rose to his feet, one paper held high above his head, shaking in triumph.
“Yes! One person passed this test!” he proclaimed.
The man who roamed the halls of the high school between periods, arms outstretched, weird mechanical airplane sounds droning from his lips, had flipped out again.
“Mr. William!” He pointed at a student in the first row. “What were the instructions?”
The boy eased down in his seat. One shoulder jerked. “Answer the questions?”
Another shrug. “Finish in ten minutes?”
Mr. Blanch sneered. “Mr. Durk?”
Durk stood next to his desk, shoulders back, head held high. “Read through the entire quiz before you answer the questions.”
Mr. Blanch tiptoed to Durk’s side, holding out his quiz paper. “And would you kindly read number fourteen to the class?”
Durk cleared his throat. “Answer only question number seven, then turn your paper in.”
Who would have guessed we learned a life lesson from the wackiest teacher in tenth grade?
To this day, I’m a rule follower ninety-nine percent of the time. It takes long thought and strong reasoning for me to defy a rule, but I’m solid when it comes to submitting a work for publication. I’ve heard about works tossed in the reject pile because of one word over requirement, or the theme didn’t quite fit, or the genre edged into obscurity.
As an editor and reader, I’ve done my own share of tossing—followed by the emails.
“What did I do wrong?”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“My work was better than the one you chose!”
You. Didn’t. Follow. The. Rules.
When it comes to submissions, rules, well, rule; they put a parameter around what is allowed or not, right?
Just think if there wasn’t a word count restriction. The story could be anywhere between 50 and 8000 words. Not a good idea, if the publication is a small magazine that features flash fiction.
Gear your story to the rules. Without a rewrite, don’t pull a work from the depths of your hard drive that you wrote ten years ago and expect the publication’s editors to make an exception for you. Get ahead of the curve.
Definitely don’t submit a chapter from your current WIP when they ask for a complete short story. I can’t tell you how often that happens.
But beyond the actual guidelines, you also have to read the fine print in the submission rules. Not long ago, a colleague of mine submitted a story to a contest. He neither won nor placed, so he looked for another home.
Imagine his surprise when he was notified that his story was in a book listed on Amazon, and would he please take time to promote its sale?
When he checked the fine print of the original submission rules, it stated: “By completing a Registration, Contestant grants to Sponsor, its agents and others working on their behalf a royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive right and license to use the Registration and any related Qualifying Story for advertising and marketing purposes, including on the Promotion Site, without additional compensation, unless otherwise prohibited by law.”
Ouch. Another lesson well learned.
It’s easy to cross the fine line between professionalism and emotions. After all, the words you string together to make a story become your baby, and, like the song says, “…letting go is hard to do.” When you finish all those lovely words, sit back, take a deep breath, and read through the rules again—twice.
Katie Stephens BioK.T. Stephens writes YA and children’s books and works as editor, publisher, and author on her pet project—Seven Deadly Sins, A YA Anthology. She also pens adult literature under the pseudonym Katie Stephens. K.T. moved with her husband and two adorably obsessive felines from the green rolling hills of Ohio to New Mexico, where the sun shines an astonishing 330 days out of the year. Her financial investments now include suntan lotion and dark glasses.
Facebook Author Page: facebook.com/KatieStephensAuthor