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Posts Tagged ‘submissions’

There’s a new post over at the SFWA blog entitled, “Don’t Tweet Your Rejections.”* My first reaction was: “Somebody did that?” I don’t mean to make anyone feel bad, but that really seems to me to be the apex of our self-driven society, along with people who have to post everything they do to Facebook, or tag themselves at every stop, or take so many pictures of their food that it’s cold before they can eat it. As explained in the SFWA blog post, tweeting your rejections is bad for your brand. Don’t do it.

As you can probably tell from the previous paragraph, I am not a Millennial. Actually, as I have mentioned before, I grew up when submissions were sent to magazines and agents on paper. There were, ironically, far fewer markets, yet sending out submissions was a lot harder and more expensive. And, of course, you couldn’t tweet your rejections, so that danger did not exist. Still, there were many ways in which you could damage your brand, particularly with magazine editors.

The three or four magazines that existed back then (depending on exactly when we’re talking about), each received about 1,000 submissions per month. When you figure that there were maybe six to eight openings per month per market, and you were competing with every professional writer who had written a short story that month, it’s easy to see that the competition was insane. So why, when your odds of success were about a thousand-to-one, would you go out of your way to antagonize an editor?

Yes, even though editors receive reams of submissions every month, they come to recognize some names. I had a market I subbed all of my earliest stories to (because it was the only one for those kinds of stories), and although I never came close to cracking the market, after a few tries the editor remembered my name. The first time I received a personal note referring to this story not being up to the standard of “your other pieces” I pretty much flipped. The editor knew my name! And for a good reason!

Bad reasons? There were plenty. Aside from simply being obviously and completely devoid of talent, I mean. Editors’ greatest bane is writers who can’t follow instructions. Writing your story in crayon, not the way to go. Sending the editor “presents” with your book (regardless of whether they are relevant), not the road to success.** Nor was folding down a page in the middle of your manuscript to make sure the editor actually read it going to win you points. Perfumed paper? Don’t get me started.

And then there are the cover letters and query letters. Entire convention panels have been devoted to the worst of these. Suffice it to say that short and to-the-point is always the wisest course. And for heaven’s sake, don’t argue with an editor after a rejection, unless of course you want to take the quick road to never having that editor reject you again.

These mistakes are easily avoided. Nowadays there are hundreds of resources that will help you avoid them. Because editors have memories. It’s your job to make them good ones.

*You don’t have to be a SFWA member to read the SFWA blog. If you’re a writer, you should.

**I have it on good authority that sending nude selfies will end your career spectacularly quickly. Your writing career, anyway.

#SFWpro

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Recently, I talked about how writers are forever doubting themselves, always comparing themselves to their own future potential successes rather than concrete accomplishments, creating a permanent class of (neurotic) fantasists, in more ways than one.* Just to prove my point, I also want to talk a little about how writers can believe in their work (if not themselves) to a degree that normal human beings would see as highly narcissistic, but which we know as a mere survival skill. Everyone knows that to make it as a writer you have to develop a thick skin; fewer know that you further need to develop the patience of Job at the end of a really bad week.

After you write a story, you submit it to a magazine (or a novel to a publisher). And then you wait. Nowadays, there are sites (like the Submission Grinder) which allow you to see average response times, so you have something to fret about when your story out is an hour past that point. (Kind of like teenagers.) This is a vast improvement over pre-email times, when you didn’t even know if your sub had been received, let alone when it might come back. But 95% of the time, you do get a response (which may well be much later than statistics would indicate, but that’s another topic). And 95% of the time, that response will be a “No, thanks.”

As you progress, that number improves, but we’re talking about stories that come back. And go out. And come back. What do you do with those? After a few “no’s” you re-read it. You tinker. You re-sub. It comes back.

Eventually, you have a choice: Keep subbing, or “trunk” it. Every writer has a “trunk” where stories go into deep storage. (Occasionally, one is brought out again years later and re-tooled.) If you truly believe in the story, you keep subbing. And this is where you need patience, because if you love your story that much, and no one else does, then you need to find it in yourself to keep pushing it. And you may keep pushing that story for years. Or decades. I have one story that sold only after collecting 35 rejections over 25 years. But I loved it, and I believed in it, and in the end I was right.

How can someone whose professional self-worth is built on tomorrow’s successes keep so much faith with yesterday’s (let’s be honest) failures? Beats the hell out of me. Maybe we’re just so obsessed with a better tomorrow that we’re willing to change yesterday to get it.

Or maybe we’re just that into ourselves.

*I also talked about how I had carved an additional 12% off a story that I had previously cut, I thought, to the bone. That story came back a few days later with a polite note expressing to me the reader’s belief that the story was too long. You can’t please everyone.

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