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Weekly Musing: Submission Sabbatical

When one decides to write the expectation is at some point you will submit your story in the hopes of getting published. If you’re a fiction writer you usually start off writing and sending short stories out. If you write non-fiction then essays are probably your best bet. In essence it’s how we build up our resume so that if and when we decide to take the next step to get to the big leagues, we can show others have taken a chance on us. It’s also a way to start building up our brand. It’s also a way for potential agent or publisher to see our previous works. With sending out work comes a huge amount of anxiety. Will the editor like it and accept it? Will it be rejected?

A few years ago I didn’t realize I had to worry about publishing credits because it could possibly up my chances of getting a novel published. I was under the impression the process was write book and figure out how to get it published. This additional wrinkle of publishing short stories to build up my street cred was curious to me.

On the surface this makes some sense to me. Yet when I examine it a little more, I see some cracks in the argument. If I’ve completed a novel to the best of my ability and send it around to agents and publishers, they’ll be reading and judging if that manuscript, and only that manuscript and me are worth taking a chance on. Of course in the query letter I will have the opportunity to brag about publishing credits so perhaps it will be helpful. But if someone doesn’t have previous publishing credits should they be automatically be excluded from consideration? Do previous publishing credits mean that one’s novel will be better than someone who has never been published? I believe the short answer to all of these questions is no.

Perhaps I’ve come to this conclusion because 2016 hasn’t been as generous as previous years. Yes, I’ve had a few things come out this year *INSERT LINKS*, but those were stories submitted last year. So far everything submitted this year has been rejected. Beyond boilerplate answers, I’m not completely certain why. Perhaps I’ve picked the wrong outfits. Perhaps I’m trying to make a story fit criteria that it truly doesn’t.

But with a year of rejections it’s been difficult to keep going. Some weeks I’ve received two to four rejections. For my self-confidence those weeks really suck. From the start aspiring writers are told to develop a thick skin. Realize not everyone will like everything you write. That rejection is a part of the industry and most of the time rejections do not mean you are a crappy writer.

When I look at how many places I’ve sent stories to, I guess it makes sense I’d receive more rejections, but my hope is more places = more chances I’ll get a yes. I keep track of my submissions so it would be easy enough to count up the rejections. But I don’t want to. I already have a visual with each rejection nailed to a wall, something I stole from Stephen King’s On Writing. I’m now on my second nail having run out of space on the first nail in mid-2015.

It’s unclear to me if having this visual is good for my self-esteem. While I accept rejection as normal, I am human. My skin has thickened over the years, but still rejection hurts. And honestly it is difficult not to take it personally. After all with each word I write I am sharing a piece of myself with the world. Unfortunately the wary my personality processes rejection is tell myself I suck. Don’t worry, though, this thought does eventually go away.

So as the year has gone on and I’ve received nothing but rejections, I noticed it was getting to me emotionally and mentally. I started finding it more difficult to justify writing even though it truly is the only thing I want to do. It’s the one area I can admit I have some natural ability. At times it’s been hard to find the motivation to put pen to paper, to revise anything in the hopes of making it good enough for someone else. I also wondered what happens to my chances of landing an agent or publisher if I don’t get another short story published.

Instead of continuing to submit my work I am taking a break. It’s not permanent and next year I’ll gather the courage to put myself out there once more. At first this decision was kind of scary and I questioned if I was being too sensitive. But I hope I know me. Know there are times when something isn’t working or is too painful, to not press through. In this case I’d become demoralized and any joy I got out of writing had been sucked out.

I don’t know what, if any, impact this will have on my career. I doubt it will because I believe I am getting better even if the number of rejections grows. At this point what matters most is 1) revising the novel I’ve been working on and off on for years. It needs to get done to send to beta readers and agents, 2) concentrating more on writing with a clear head without the weight of getting published, and 3) improving my writing. Any other thoughts need to be brushed aside.

Musings

Weekly Musing: End Game

Something I have thought a lot about this year is what is the ultimate writing end game? I’m not necessarily referring to my personal goals and fantastical dreams but what ultimate purpose does a story serve? Whom am I supposed to be writing for?

The genesis for these questions has been paying more attention to advice I read and hear about what an editor/agent/publisher wants and expects. It’s not that I necessarily disagree with certain points made┬ájust that it gets me thinking.

When I first picked up the pen everything I heard talked about writing for yourself first and foremost. At least in the first draft. Personally for me the first few drafts are like that since I fumble around a lot with what I think the story is. The other piece of advice I heard was as you revise, think of the reader.

But now it seems like more and more it’s about impressing a single person be an agent you’re querying or an editor who accepts un-agented manuscripts. Tons of information exists out there about how to write a killer first sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter. Some workshops offer the opportunity to have you work read in front of a panel of authors and editors who will raise a hand, ring a bell, squeal like a pig, whatever when they would have stopped reading. Books exist of how to write a great first 50 pages apparently forgetting most books are longer than that but again, it’s all about hooking an agent or editor.

Admittedly at this stage in my career I haven’t explored too much about the business side of writing (it will be a goal of mine for 2016). But this bugs me, it bugs me a lot. To me it sounds as if once you get to a certain point in your writing it’s a lot less about thinking of the reader and more about impressing a very small group of people. Yes, publishing is a business and of course the salability of a manuscript is an agent, editor, and publisher’s job. I also understand and greatly appreciate an editor and agent’s time is incredibly limited and valuable. After all they get inundated with hundreds to thousands of manuscripts every year. A person can’t possibly read each and every one in depth so there should be standards.

I worry this mentality is damaging to the craft itself. I wonder if the industry has always been like this or if the disturbing trend of the last decade of soundbites, 140 characters or less, too-long-didn’t-read has invaded the centuries old art of writing. If you can’t metaphorically punch an editor or agent in the face, you’re shit out of luck.

I also think this line of thinking may just be insulting to the average reader. Nowadays, because of the mergers of major publisher after major publisher, anytime a certain type of story becomes popular, publishers pop out book after book written similarly. Yet I’ve heard over and over a writer should not write to toward a trend because by the time your work is ready, the trend’s probably over. So where did they find all these people in the first place? Somebody’s gotta be writing to fit a trend.

When I think about older books, the classics, it amazes me because imagine if those manuscripts were presented today. How many would honestly get published? So many of them break the current “rules” of the trade be it shifting POV, or head-hopping, repeated words and phrases, purple prose, paragraphs that are too long, too many adjectives, too many adverbs, what have you yet those stories endure.

This is what makes me conflicted as a writer. On one hand we are to write for ourselves and for, hopefully, a readership that will be enthralled with our prose. On the other hand, if we can’t make that first line pop or paragraph or page or chapter infect an agent or editor, we may never get a chance to have a readership. But look at some of the bestsellers in the past few years. Some of them started off as self-published novels that found readership based upon the merit of the story which then got the attention of publishers.

What truly is the end game for a writer then? It’s certainly not to write for ourselves or even to entertain our reader. At this point it clearly feels as if it is more about what one person thinks of the story. And we wonder why some truly awful books become bestsellers while others languish in someone’s drawer or computer. Perhaps the focus should be once again on the writer and the reader and quality work.

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Another story getting published!

Somehow I managed to get another story published. I submitted my story, Secrets and Lies, to Hidden Animals. According to their website, the first issue is supposed to come out on July 16th but I asked them to confirm that. I’ll post the link to it when it’s available. This is free to download.

I’m excited and floored and find it bizarre but in a good way.

UPDATE: Here is the link to the Hidden Animals issue. It’s free to download and my story, Secrets and Lies, appears on pages 39-41. Enjoy!