writing portfolio of Stephanie Lenz

Toasted Cheese

Still 25%

I retrieved A Midsummer Tale entries for Theryn yesterday. What happens is that an editor who isn’t a judge of a particular contest gets the entries for the judge(s). Usually Theryn does this but since she judges AMT, another editor removes the identifying info from submissions and puts them into a Google Drive folder to share with her.

We had a round number and large pool of submissions so I could do some math off the top of my head when gathering the entries. Like I wrote about in my recent editorial, we had a contest entry from a female author which included a cover letter claiming we would delete and disregard the entry, which the author believed we wouldn’t like. Not true. Never true.

Beyond that, a simple count proved my ongoing statement that simply following directions gets you ahead of 25% of contest entries. With AMT 2017, 24% of entries were disqualified for being attachments. Some of the entrants who had attached entries said in their cover letters that they had found us on a contest listing site — which we love to hear — but then they didn’t read our all-caps NO ATTACHMENTS demand, maybe because they didn’t visit our site.

If we also DQed the stories that didn’t tell us whether the story was fiction or creative non-fiction, we would have between 5-10 stories left. Out of the original number of submissions, that’s tragic.

I found several entries that followed all of the guidelines, especially near the end of the submissions. This made me very happy. I love knowing that there are plenty of writers out there who were willing to jump through our hoops (as some writers have replied when receiving rejections).

All we want is for a story to stay inside the word count parameters, fit the theme, come in on time, and not have any attachments. It goes without saying that simultaneous submissions are also a no-no. Those might be “hoops” but they’re low-standing giant hula hoops, not elevated, flaming, oscillating hoops that are the size of an earring.

FWIW our entries came from all around the world. That’s something else I love to see.

Keep writing, keep submitting, and read the rules!


Into the garbage chute, fly boy

“Oh! This’ll impress you – I’m actually in the Abnormal Psychology textbook. Obviously my family is so proud. Keep in mind though, I’m a PEZ dispenser and I’m in the abnormal psychology textbook.

Who says you can’t have it all?”


With being sick since mid November, the holidays, and all things political and pop culture making the news, I’d forgotten about the essay I wrote for the December issue of TCLJ: Strive Toward the Light.

I knew what I wanted to write and once I got the structure set up, the essay worked. I sent it to Theryn around the 29th and hoped that her suggested changes would be few, both because of the time involved and because I hoped that it would be good enough. Her only comment was that she was glad I’d written it.

I assumed that it was the topic: one where we fall on the same side of the political divide. Then when I saw it posted, I remembered: I had written an ode to Princess Leia.

What I put in the article was true: she was my first heroine. I saw a woman on the screen, not much older than I was, who was leading a rebellion. Who looked at evil and didn’t blink. Who showed the slightest fear only when alone in a prison cell with a group of males wielding a torture device. That was the kind of girl I wanted to be.

Of course I had other heroines, some fictional (Wonder Woman) and some real (Gloria Steinem; I gave inspiring women’s lib speeches to the empty living room while pounding the coffee table) but none ever quite lived up to Leia. I was Leia for Halloween; I never went as Steinem, although that would’ve been awesome. (more…)

Simultaneous submissions

What follows is part of a response I wrote to an author who sent a note to TC after my latest Absolute Blank article about submissions:

I wrote as “I” not “us” so these checkpoints apply to my criteria for submissions.

Simultaneous submission means just what it says “simultaneous.” Many journals do not accept simultaneous submissions and TC is one of them. A simultaneous submission is one sent to several journals at once, the metaphorical equivalent of “casting a wide net.” The reason we don’t accept simultaneous submissions is that, too often, we shortlist or accept a story that has already been accepted elsewhere, sometimes published elsewhere.

This is clarified in our submission guidelines: http://tclj.toasted-cheese.com/submission-guidelines. We’ve embedded a link to the announcement of when we decided not to accept simultaneous submissions in our guidelines for those who are confused about what a simsub is.

We shortlist every month, as you know, and we notify authors of shortlisted submissions of acceptance or rejection on a quarterly basis, usually within 90 days of even the oldest submission for a particular issue. If a journal doesn’t communicate with you about the status of your submission in a timely way, I think it’s wise to consider it rejected. We’ve heard from authors who thought a piece had been rejected, then submitted to us, then had the piece accepted. That’s no fault of the author. That’s a shortcoming of the editor(s) of that journal. I don’t consider that a simsub.

Simsubs were a huge problem when we decided to be firm about not accepting them. The simsubs dropped off, then started up again. Theryn began to include in our shortlist notifications a note asking the authors to reply and confirm that the submission is not under consideration elsewhere. Some authors don’t reply to this (we note this lack of response when we do final read; personally, it factors into my consideration). Some authors reply that it is but they’ll withdraw it, either from TC or from the other journal(s). Most reply, quickly, that it is not.

In my experience, the authors we shortlist are excellent at following the submission guidelines. The ones whose work we accept have followed the guidelines to the letter. We don’t shortlist or accept them based on their ability to follow directions. It just so happens that the people who pay attention to a journal’s guidelines and respect & follow them are the ones who provide work we want to publish.

We’ve had another uptick in simsubs lately and the disappointment of “this was already accepted” combined with the frustration of seeing multiple journals as recipients of the same generic email got me thinking: what if people don’t know what a “simultaneous submission” is? So I added a quick & dirty definition to our submission guidelines, along with that beautiful explanatory essay crafted by Theryn more than 10 years ago. A search for “simultaneous submission” turns up the definition in big letters in a box from Writer’s Relief.

Some authors include “this is a simultaneous submission” in their cover letter. If I happen to catch that before I read, it saves me some time. That said, I appreciate the honesty. I would rather an author be upfront with the original submission rather than reply to a shortlist notification with “yes, I have it out to ten other journals.” I keep thinking of George Costanza’s “Was that wrong? Should I not have done that?” feigned ignorance speech.

Simultaneous submissions are such a black and white matter and so important to editors and literary agents that when we fill out forms about our journals or their guidelines, there is always a separate question asking “Do you accept simultaneous submissions?” Journals with a very long response time or high submission volume tend to accept simsubs. Journals with a quick turn-around or moderate to low submission volume tend not to accept simsubs.

I have absolutely no problem with an author sending a note asking to clarify our submission guidelines. I do have a problem when authors make no attempt to familiarize themselves with the terms editors and publishers use or when they believe that submission guidelines are for other authors, not them.

That’s why simsubs are in the #1 spot on my list of how to make sure your piece doesn’t make the cut. It means you either didn’t read our guidelines, disregarded them, or didn’t understand them. Our guidelines are standard. They have been our guidelines, with a few tweaks, for the 15 years of Toasted Cheese’s existence.