Writer’s Relief

by Susan Henderson on November 4, 2006

Writer’s Relief is one of those writer’s services I’ve heard about but not quite understood. So when I found out that Mark Hughes has actually used this service, I asked him to give me the run-down so I could share the information with all of you. If any of you have experience with them, good or bad, please share your opinions.

Okay, here’s Mark ….


Mark Hughes

Aid for the Writer Who Wants to Write

Is this still the age of the do-it-yourselfer, or have I overslept? Years ago I remember skulking through the shelves of my local bookstore (this was in my deep underground period, just beginning to play around with short stories ”“ now I’m only a few fathoms from the surface and sun) and my zigzagging gaze came across a broad-backed book labeled Writer’s Market. I hefted one and fanned its pages. Clutching either the shelf or a startled patron’s shoulder for balance, my mind boggled. Here, I thought, giddily, was the Home Depot of publishing references. There were so many journals; I had no idea. Publishing regularly (every week or two, surely) was only a stop at Office Depot away. I carried my treasure to the checkout stand, the book heavier beyond its weight with possibility, no…certainty.

Pardon me while I wipe laughter’s tears from my cheeks. I hadn’t thought of those days for so long; my therapist would be proud.

How many hard lessons does the would-be writer learn? Probably a subject best not explored without the levitating aid of modern anti-depressants. It seemed each editor’s comment in Writer’s Market recommended obtaining sample copies; the mind boggled again. And again. Won’t they really just print anything that’s good…clamor over the nascent works floating in my head?

Let’s TiVo past the intervening years, shall we? This past spring, a woman in my writing group mentions Writer’s Relief. What? we ask. A service, she says. They target your work based on their experience and knowledge of the markets. Over the next few months, she reports placement of several of her stories through the service. I looked into it.

Here’s how it works: you begin by submitting samples of your work for consideration, which are reviewed by the Writer’s Relief board. If accepted, you are sent a package of information about getting started and the next deadline for submissions. There is a fee, of course, to get things rolling, we’ll come to all that later. Your job is to come up with a standard cover letter, conform your work to their specified layout standards, and send these to them, on both disk and hard copy. They proofread the work (you are told that they have never yet, in twelve years, seen a submission that couldn’t benefit from their proofreading. This, I can assure you, was taken as a challenge), and then e-mail you a PDF version with marked-up suggestions, which you approve or disapprove. You also approve their work-up of the cover letter.

Once all this is in place, you await the return of your ready-to-submit manuscript. One day a big packet arrives, stuffed with (in my case) 29 individually addressed cover letters, a sheet of corresponding address labels, a hard copy of the manuscript, and detailed instructions regarding the usual requisites ”“ SASE’s, 9 x 12 manila envelopes, etc., and the need for speed in getting these out into the great wide world, as the cover letters are dated three days hence.

You create the necessary number of manuscript copies yourself and then set up the kitchen table assembly line: creating SASEs, stuffing manila envelopes with manuscript copy and cover letter, applying matching address labels (quality control required here), sponging the envelope flaps, sealing, and stamping with return address. Then bundle the eager stack off to the post office. People in line behind you may groan, but the clerks seem to be used to dealing with this mini-avalanche. My guy weighed one, took my word they were all the same, and printed out a sheet of tailor-made stamps, which I took off to the side and processed in a matter of minutes.

Writer’s Relief puts you on a treadmill. Every two months they encourage you to submit, or re-submit, manuscripts. Note that they also work with non-fiction writers, poets, and novelists. When you submit a manuscript, you fill out a form that allows you to help them target various kinds of general markets; they figure out the specifics. In my humble case, for my first submission with them, the twenty-nine targeted publications spanned a range from small circulation to upper-mid level water journals.

Following submission they encourage you to submit your rejection notices to them and they keep track on their website, maintaining a personalized, password protected screen so you can see your history. It’s all very organized and responsible. In fact, everything in my experience with WR has been professional and responsive.

It is not cheap. You will establish the market price for your vanity…or your seriousness about your work and time. Figure that for the first submission you will kick in around five hundred, which includes the startup fees. After that, it’s three hundred per submission, give or take.

Having published nine stories in the past on my own, I know well the disorganization I brought the process…and I’m a disciplined engineer. I was ready for a better idea and so far, this is it. I heard recently that another writing associate published a story through WR too. As for my first submission using WR, I’ve received two rejection slips so far. I sent them my second submission two days ago and I’m preparing for more in the future. Will there come a time when I won’t use WR any longer? Can’t say for now. Probably, but then, that may be cause for another round of laughter, years from now. Things have a way of cycling around.



Mark Hughes lives with his wife, Karen, in San Diego. He is a mixed breed of some sort, having a mechanical engineering degree with a minor in literature, an ambassador from one world to another, and vice-versa. Now that he’s entering the second half of his life, engineering is gradually tapering down and literature and writing are in their ascendancy, filling more days lately than engineering work does. There is, he believes, a grand unification theory between the two, somewhere down in the depths of each, and this, he labors to find through the vehicle of fiction. That and an understanding of why Brussel sprouts would appeal to ANYONE.