Short Stories, Release Forms, and Good Rejections

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by Bobbie Christmas

Q: I tried writing novels, but I found I was better at writing shorter things. I wrote some short stories, but they all come out as if they are a view into a certain event or something. They don’t really have a beginning, middle, and end. Are they still considered short stories?

A: You probably are writing what is called slice-of-life stories, which can also come under the heading of short stories. It is my understanding that many markets that accept short stories also accept slice-of-life stories.

Q: I am writing a nonfiction book and interviewing several people for the book. I have all interview subjects sign a release that states the following:

  1. They are aware that excerpts from the interview will be used in a book.
  2. They will not be compensated for the interview.
  3. They will receive no proceeds from the book.

Additionally I have all interview subjects record how they would like to be identified in the book on the release form, for example by name, pseudonym, or initials.

Is there anything else I should include on the release form?

A: This is a legal issue and I’m not an attorney, so I cannot answer in absolutes. Short of having an attorney approve the form, you might look for and copy a standard media release form to see if you missed anything. I found a general media release form that can be modified for your purposes here: https://www.tidyform.com/download/general-media-release-form-1.html.

I have two layperson suggestions, though.

I didn’t see your actual form, so it may already include what I’m about to say. Because the purpose of the form is to protect you and give you latitude to use the information, I would not use the word “will” under number one, but “may.” I also would add other options, so the wording would be more like this: “excerpts may be used in a book, article, promotional literature, or other printed or electronic matter.”

Q: I’ve been submitting my manuscript to several publishers and agents. Although I’ve had only rejections so far, some of them are very much “near misses.” One publisher gave lots of praise for the submission but said it didn’t accept unagented manuscripts. One agent said he “saw the talent,” but said he’d had problems placing similar proposals recently. Do these niceties mean anything, or are they just letting me down gently?

A: Most agents and publishers have little time to let people down gently. Most rejections are sent by preprinted letters, boilerplate emails, or in the worst case, rubber-stamped rejection notices. Agents and publishers have nothing to gain by taking extra time to write a nice note. When you get a personal comment of any kind, it is rare, and when that comment is complimentary, frame it! You have the rarest form of rejection letter, and it means you are getting close. Keep revising and submitting your work. Keep creating more. Ponder the point that similar proposals have been difficult to place. Think how you might revise your proposal or your entire book to make it more marketable. Look at bestseller lists to see what’s selling. Keep going, and take pride in the “good” rejections.

I have one more suggestion. Carefully research each agent and publisher before submitting. Publishers that don’t accept unagented material will rarely respond at all, so it’s a waste of time to submit directly to those companies. Not all agents are looking for new clients, either, and submitting to those agents would also be a waste of time. With the vast amount of information available on the Internet, writers can easily research each potential agent and publisher before going to the trouble of submitting a proposal or manuscript. Remember too that one of the most successful ways to find an agent is to attend writers’ conferences where agents are accepting appointments for pitches. The agents who go to those conferences are actively seeking new clients.


For much more information on hundreds of subjects of vital importance to writers, order Purge Your Prose of Problems, a Book Doctor’s Desk Reference Book.

Send your questions to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Bobbie Christmas, book editor, owner of Zebra Communications, and author of seven-award-winning Write In Style: How to Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, will answer your questions quickly. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.

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