Submitting can be easy. Very easy. I imagine a writer could put a dozen publishers on a wheel, spin it, and submit to whatever publisher the needle landed on. Or, you could spam all the publishers with complete disregard to what each publisher is looking for, submission guidelines, specified formats, names of editors, word counts, genres...
Apparently, this is a common tactic. If so, good luck with that. Doesn't sound like a successful tactic, but to each their own. I, for one, don't see the point in sabatoging my own name and all the work I just put into crafting my perfect short story by telling every editor in my market that I'm an idiot. Maybe I'm crazy.
Here's my strategy when it comes to submitting: A. Don't disqualify myself before the editor ever gets a chance to read the actual story. B. Find a publisher who is looking for something like what I wrote. Or, write something that an editor is specifically looking for. Let's take a look at each of these in turn.
A. Don't disqualify yourself. This should be simple, but doing the simple things right distinguishes those you have a chance to be published between those with no chance. What are the simple thing? Read the submission guideline. Format your story the way they wants it formatted. Address the editor by name. Don't prove yourself an idiot with a rediculous cover letter. You know, the simple stuff. Sounds easy, but I've read plenty of editor's rants about writers who refuse to nail the basics.
B. Find a market for your story. For me, this is the harder part. Got a realistic horror story? Well, filter out all those spec fic/horror publishers. Got a story that's 4,000 words? Well, that's not flash fiction. Have a PG13 horror story? Time to weed out all those horror publishers looking for extreme gore and eroticism. Most publishers aren't too keen on multiple submissions, so you're really weilding a sniper's bullet. Sure after each rejection you can (and should) reload and take another shot, but when you're submitting to one publisher at a time it pays to make every submission count. Editors appreciate this too. After all, they don't enjoy having to reject a thousand stories that don't fit their brand just so they can find ten publishable stories. I'm sure they'd rather read ten stories that nail it, publish those ten, and not bother with the 990 others. A lot of submission guidelines contain a phrase similar to, "Read our magazine to see what kind of submissions we're interested in." I think some readers see this and think, "Well, they just say that so their magazine gets more subscribers." While I'm sure every mag out there would enjoy a bump in subscribers, I think any good magazine is really just looking to find good writers that fit their niche brand. Chuck Palanuck could submit to Scholastics, but why would he, and if he did, why would they care? Both are very successful in the publishing biz, but they're not a match. Editors need that match. Writers need it too.
So about this short story I wrote, this Miley Cyrus inspired realistic horror piece. I happen to come across an open call for an anthology with themes and a readership that fits what I got. I read their submission guidelines. I read some other things they published. I formatted my story to the font and pica they asked for. I addressed the editor by name. I resisted the urge to bloviate in my cover letter. I think I did the simple things right. I think I have a story that matches what they're looking for and one that their readers will enjoy. Time will tell.
And if I get a rejection? Hey, reject letters are like water on a duck. They don't mean a thing other than telling me I can submit to the next publisher. We have to be that way. Let the rejections roll right off your back like rain drops on a duck already swimming through a lake. I've got a few acceptance letters. I got a few contests I've done well in. Hang on to your successes. Ignore the rest. Don't believe me? Take it from the King: "Talent is a wonderful thing, but it won't carry a quitter."
It's tough out there fellow writers! I won't say it's easy. But write as best as you can, do the simple things right and don't quit. I'm keeping my chin up and with a little luck, hopefully my next entry in this series is a link to a mag with my story in. Good luck!
The Writing Process: Editing
Remember that Jameson and water I mentioned in my Actually Writing post? This is where I pay for it. I am TERRIBLE with typos. Especially when I use a touch screen tablet instead of a keyboard. Especially when I'm drinking Jameson instead of Caribou Coffee.
But editing isn't all copy-edit grammar and typo fixes. When I start to edit and re-write I first like to take a step back from the work, for at least a few days. Then when I'm ready to really dig into it I tell myself, "Okay. Now make it awesome." That's all the editing and re-writing really is: taking something you've done and ramping it up to the next level.
That's where my beta-readers and writing group come in. Without them, I'm flying blind. Until my writing sees the light of day, I truly don't know if I have a dud or dynamite. Fortunately, I got some good feedback. "Good" meanwhile, "Hey, this is pretty good," but also, "Here's where you could make it better." That second kind of feedback is the really good stuff. If all I was looking for was a "Good job!" I'd just have family and close friends read it. You know, the kind of people who will tell you that everything you write is just wonderful, amazing, Hugo-worthy masterpieces. I'd never get published, but I'd never get my feelings hurt either. Now, I won't say that kind of feedback is worthless. I think we all need an ego-boost every once and a while. However, if you're looking to get published and maybe one day get paid for what you write, it's not really helpful. What every serious author needs is other good authors who are willing to tell the truth. "This could work if..." "This doesn't work at all." "This part fell flat." "I didn't see much of an arc." "Where's the hook?" Sometimes, it hurts. Sometimes it is demoralizing and crushing and maybe even enough to convince you to give up, almost. But listen, if you want to write you have to have thick skin and the professionalism to see critiques for what they are: other people doing their best to make you a better writer. This real, honest, sometimes harsh feedback is invaluable in the writing process.
If you don't have a writing group that can do this for you, get one. If you don't know where to start, I recommend Litreactor.com. It's an online workshop full of talented writers who will provide that brutally honest but constructive criticism necessary to forge your writing into something better. If you have a writing group that does that for you, great. If not, get one. Now on to the next step, actually listening to them.
Not everyone who comments on your work will be brimming with good ideas. There's plenty of bad advise and some feedback will be off the mark. But watch for trends. Keep an keen eye out for different readers giving you similar advise, either on your style or about a specific piece of writing. Because, let's face it. This isn't about writing one story. It's about getting better with every story you write. Sure, good feedback will help you tweak your current work, but great feedback will make all your future writing better.
Re-writing is writing. Editing is writing. Cutting out what doesn't matter is writing. Like a sculpture with a chisel, chip and hammer and polish until whatever story you started with is the best it can possibly be. Editing might not be as fun as dumping that initial flurry of imagination onto paper, but it is required work. Let me phrase the first sentence of this paragraph a little differently: If you're not really re-writing, you're not really writing.
So I re-read my story. I read it backwards. (Seriously, it's a good technique.) I hunted out those typos with a little (maybe A LOT of help) from my friends. I carefully considered each critique and took the advise nine times out of ten. I re-wrote. A little spit and polish and I'm feeling pretty damn good about this little tale I created.
Now on to the real soul-crushing work: Submitting.
What are your tricks and tips for taking that rough draft and turning it into a final draft? Comment below!
Writing Process: Actually Writing
I have my inspiration. I have my idea. I have my outline and some characters in my mind. Nothing is concrete yet and I have no clue whether or not it will turn into something worth while. But, I have all the things I think I need to make a story. Including: The Vibe.
The Vibe is my own term for how the story feels. It's something between theme, style, voice... all those loose, slippery, intangible elements that go into writing. Without Vibe, a story has no life to it. It's all just telling.
But I got Vibe. Really, this story started with a Vibe: that bizarre, empty drone of that song. The lyrics repeating in my head, "Baby, can you hear me?" sounding so forlorn and desperate. I heard a story completely separate from the story the song writer was trying to tell. Now it was my job to relate that story to you, the reader.
But first, a confession: I have used and will continue to use performance enhancing drugs. Strictly large quantities of caffeine and moderate amounts of alcohol.
So I settled down into an easy chair with my tablet and a whiskey and water. Jameson on this particular night. I had my outline already open in a word doc. I hammered the Enter key four times to move the outline down the page, and I got to work. I already the hard stuff figured out. Now it was just a matter of making it cool.
I came out the gate quick, hard charging and wrote for a solid couple of hours, all the time I had to write on that day. I saved my work and went to bed satisfied.
The next chance I had to write, things went a little slower. Less 90's-movie-hacker-key-hammering and more contemplation and Delete button. Still, I got some things down. Some good things. Some things that felt okay...?
By my third session I was struggling. I suspected I was working on a dud. A stillborn confused mess. A lot of times I can write a whole short story in one session. I'll sit down and three or four hours later I'll have a completed rough draft. This was not one of those times.
As a matter of fact, if it wasn't for this blog series, I may have put it aside. But I'd already made the first entry, already tweeted about it, already bragged about my ability to pull a compelling story idea out of a random pop song. There was no going back. I had to finish this beast whether I wanted to or not.
I spent sometime back at the mental drawing board. Usually, when writer's block creeps up on me, it's because I've lost faith in the idea. And sometimes for good reasons. I think that sometimes I can sense a dud coming, and once I'm convinced of that harsh truth, why waste any more time writing something that's not good? But I was committed to this, and so I reminded myself, I don't always know what will work and what won't.
After some time at the mental drawing board, I came up with a fix, an extra punch for my ending. And that was all it took. One more writing session and a little more coffee and I completed a 5,100 word first draft!
But is it any good? Is it salvageable? Spectacular? That is yet to be seen. Stayed tuned for the next post where I discuss bringing this creature I created out of the darkness and into the light. Comment below!
So I have my inspiration, (thank you Miley), I have my idea, I've had a long car ride to flesh out the idea inside my head. Now it's time to finally put things down on paper and really take a look at it.
Step One of creating any story: get an idea. I think the best ideas come out of the either, unprovoked, prompted or even asked for. I love it when a story idea comes to me fully formed, ready to be written. These are the kind of stories that just write themselves and seemed to do really well. But I could be biased because they also require the least amount of effort on my part.
Most ideas require more work than that. Sometimes, that fickle muse is stubborn and just won't cough up that precious "good idea." Prompts are useful in these times. For me, prompts with a deadline are particularly helpful. If I know I have to write a story in two weeks about a golfer with a time machine on the run from the FBI... I can do that. Might not be any good, but when push comes to shove, if I have a deadline and a need to produce a product, I can do it. Sometimes these result in duds and sometimes they're gems. This is also why I believe in writing a lot of short stories and throwing them at the proverbial wall. It's a great way to learn what sticks.
This particular story I'll be writing in the coming days was the result of a prompt, albeit, a very loose prompt. I was listening to a Writing Excuses podcast (www.writingexcuses.com or on Twitter @writingexcuses ) when they gave a writing assignment to brain storm story ideas from various sources. One source was media: movies, books, music, etc. I love music and have been inspired by new unfamiliar songs fairly regularly, so I pulled up my Apple Music and found an album that I'd never heard before. Didn't matter what album or what kind of music. I'm a metalhead, but I'm open to other genres. Rock. Punk. A little reggae or rap every once in a while. My favorite new-to-me-bands right now are The Dirty Heads and Rival Sons. They're both great. I highly recommend them both. But what would Apple recommend for me? I tapped on the first "recommended" album to come up.
What's the worst that could happen?
Miley Cyrus' "Bangerz."
I pinched the bridge of my nose and whispered with deep resolve, "You can do this, Joe. You can do it."
I had a long car trip and a full finished cup of coffee. I turned off the podcast and let Miley rip. The first song on the album was a tune called, "I Adore You." I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, it was a run-of-the-mill love song, but it has this haunting vibe to it. Real eerie and empty, like she was in love, but there was definitely something empty and missing about it all.
And low and behold, an idea came. Something that might even be a "good idea." That might be a little premature. We'll see what comes out of it. But I think I got something I can sink my teeth into.
Now the real work begins... fleshing out that idea, adding some characters, creating a setting, building a structure and eventually actually writing. Follow along and let me know what you think of my idea-generating technique. Comment below!