Back in high school when I started submitting to magazines, I for some reason thought it a great idea to include in the cover letter the fact that I was indeed a high school student. I don't know why, maybe I thought it would make editors nicer, less judgmental. The truth was that my pointing out I was a teen was cause enough for rejection (of course, I'm sure the stories weren't very good to begin with). Remember, while editors want to like and accept everything they read, they simply can't, and so they look for any excuse to reject said material. And while mentioning the fact I was a teenager wasn't a reason to outright reject something, I'm sure in many editors' minds it was an excuse just to glance at the first page and then ship off a rejection letter. One rejection letter in particular was dated back in 1997 (yes, yes, I've kept all my rejections). The response was ... interesting. Here's what it said:
I'm sorry, but I'm afraid we aren't interested in printing your story. You need a little bit more experience first. Write some articles for the school newspaper. Ask the local newspaper if you can do some freelance work for them. Get involved with the yearbook staff. And keep practicing at home. Finally, the best way to improve as a writer is to keep reading good stuff -- books, magazines, newspapers. Get a feel for what makes a good story, and practice those things.
So ... basically this particular editor thought my story and writing sucked. Or maybe not. Looking at it now, I can tell his heart was in the right place. And the way it was worded almost comes across as a standard form that he may have included with other submissions.
Anyway, I took his advice, started an independent newspaper with some friends at school, and even contacted the local paper to maybe write something for their weekly teen page. They published poetry but no fiction, and while I had no desire to write articles (even then I wasn't a fan of nonfiction), I pitched an idea where I'd write the first half of a story and leave it up to readers to finish it. I submitted two; one was published the next week.
From the guidelines:
Hey teens! Here is a chance to get your creative juices flowing. Write a 200-word ending to the following short story. Some entries will be published in a future edition of Freestyle. Be creative and imaginative. You must be between the age of 15 and 20 to participate.
Why am I mentioning this now, over ten years later? Well, because my parents are cleaning out their basement and my mom came across the section of the newspaper this was published in, one of my very first publications. It was dated May 9, 1998.
I had taken it home, laid it on the kitchen table, and when my wife looked at it she asked why I had it. I said because I'd had something published in it. She frowned, looking at every page, and said, "But I don't see your name anywhere."
And damned if she wasn't right. I'd forgotten. Those bastards hadn't included my byline!
(For those interested, a few weeks passed and nothing happened; apparently the paper recieved no submissions. So I talked a friend of mine into writing something. He submitted it, and the next week my first half was published again -- with byline included, thank you very much -- plus his ending ... plus my second story, which, unsurprisingly, was never finished. Seems nobody else in town was that interested in being published...)