You’ve written the story, submitted, got the reply and – ‘….we recommend you read our publication to see the sort of thing we print. The next issue is out on…….available at…….’ But is this a kindness, or a con? Will reading what they publish really help you improve somehow? I suppose it might help you write something that that one publication will approve of, and if that’s all you’re interested in, then great. But surely, while being able to write in different ways (style/genre/audience/etc.) is a useful skill, you have to be careful not to loose what editors and judges always say they’re looking out for: your own unique voice. If you read what someone publishes and emulate that, won’t you be compromising your own style?
Then again, we’re always being told that to write well you have to read a lot, and the more the better, so why not read that. It gets me I suppose, that here I’m offering them something I’ve written and not only do they turn it down, but they then say ‘spend your money on this and see what these writers better than you have done.’ (Actually, no they don’t say that, but you get the point!)
Perhaps this is where experience and research comes in, not only in looking for an agent or a publisher for a novel, but for contributions to magazines or anthologies: you need to find out what exactly each place publishes and what they’re looking for, and maybe the best way of doing that is to buy and read. Then, if you’ve researched and read and you don’t like what they produce (or you feel you can’t write in a similar way) that probably isn’t the place for you. After all, not all writers are suited to writing all things! Even a writer of a particular genre may not suit all publications of that same – just because you’re a mystery writer doesn’t mean your work would suit all publications that print crime/mystery/thriller/murder type writing.
So, publishers recommending you buy their product before making another submission – con or kindness? Maybe a bit of both. They are trying to sell something after all. All you’re trying to do is find that one first chance……