My talk on short story submissions – 4/30/14

Hi everyone,

If you are a “local” reader in the Jersey City area, I wanted to let you know I will be giving a talk at the Jersey City Writer’s group (http://jerseycitywriters.org/about-us/) on 4/30/14 at our “IndieGrove” location. (http://indiegrovejc.com)

The presentation is called Submit It or Quit It – Short Stories. It’s an encouragement and challenge to the writer participants of our group to commit to submitting their work this year.

I’ll be discussing my journey as a published short story writer, sharing information on how to find markets to submit your stories, and providing materials to help keep you organized during the submission process from pre-submission, through response and post-submission.

After my presentation, there will be a panel discussion with 3 or 4 writers and a moderator. The panel participants haven’t been finalized yet, but from what I’m seeing so far, it should be a very exciting group of people.

To attend the Submit It or Quit It presentation, you can go onto the MeetUp website, and sign up. There are lots of events hosted by Jersey City Writers, so if you are a writer in JC… please join us!

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Ozone is coming and other news

  • Camroc Press Review editor Barry Basden has reached out to let me know “Ozone,” a story he accepted a while ago, has been assigned a publication date of October 16th. When the story goes live I will post the link.
  • In other news, I had the opportunity to revisit the work of Goran Djurovic and will be creating a second blog post dedicated to additional images from his show Prime Time, along with an explanation of how I came to acquire the images. Stay tuned that will be coming out shortly.
  • A good friend of mine is visiting his family in Europe, finalizing a novel mss he’s been working on for a while and which I have been helping him edit. I’m on tenterhooks now that we’re in the end stages with the mss. I can see a time in the near future when the book will be published. I’ve been working alongside him on this project for a few years now and I’m ready for it to be completed.
  • Also, while in California recently I had the opportunity to visit the bookstore in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. That building is probably the least tourist oriented building on the waterfront, thank goodness. The store is called Book Passages, and I purchased a short story collection by Joan Wickersham called The News From Spain based on a recommendation from one of the staff. I’m about halfway through it. One thing I like about it is that every single story is titled “The News From Spain” and it manages to work that idea into the story.
  • But I wanted to mention the bookstore too, Book Passages, because it is so well curated from both a selection and staff perspective. I want to talk to someone who is reading a lot, and knows what I’m talking about when I say I like “Lahiri but not Proulx so much.” Bookstores like that are hard to find anymore. We all know Powell’s in Portland, OR is a national treasure, and The Strand in NYC too. These are established places of literary worship and we’re losing them to hand-held backlit screen devices that can deliver the content of a novel, but that cannot deliver the experience of reading an actual book and those devices definitely cannot replace the encyclopedic knowledge of an amazing bookstore staff. Nuh-uh.
  • Call me old fashioned if you want; but I consider myself a “Gutenberg-ist.” (Yes, I just coined the word.)

Finding markets for short stories

I subscribe to the Gotham Writer’s Workshop newsletter, and in the latest issue, I found a link to an essay by Jacob Appel on Tips for Placing a Short Story.

One comment caught my eye:

In 1998, I won the Boston Review’s annual short fiction contest for my story, “Shell Game with Organs”—a breakthrough event in my career that led me to obtain my first agent. At the public reading sponsored by the Review, I informed the audience that more than seventy-five other journals, both large and small, had previously rejected the piece.

I commend Jacob Appel’s determination to get his story out. I marveled that it got rejected 75 times. I percolated on this, because it gave rise to an important question:

Is it possible that 75 markets could be a home for one story?

I spend a lot of time on Duotrope combing through the database, but I often find myself lost trying to figure out where to send my work. It takes homework to know a market.

There are a few things to know about a journal before you submit:

1. Editorial guidelines

2. The tastes of the editors based on real selections – read, read, read the stories

3. Interviews with the editor

4. If the editors are also writers, read their writings (optional)

Lauren Becker is a case and point for me. Her work as the Editor at Corium is tremendous, but there are many of my pieces I shouldn’t send to Corium because it’s not close enough to her editorial mark. And yes, she’s rejected my work because of that but her feedback has been helpful to get closer to the bullseye.

Editor Kevin O’Cuinn at Word Riot drives me (pleasantly!) batty with his wonderful rejection notices. Really I can’t thank him enough for the time and effort he puts into those notes. Alas for me, I still haven’t cracked the code on Word Riot yet. I will someday, damn it. When I do, it will be because of Kevin’s persistent guidance on what is appropriate to submit.

This leads me back to Mr. Appel. How is it possible to have 75 different markets that could have been the right place to submit the same story? Is it possible?

I don’t have THE answer, but I have MY answer: probably not.

The fact that Mr. Appel won a prestigious award from The Boston Review flies in the face of my comment, but I don’t think his experience is typical. If you got rejected for a story 75 times, chances are good you need to either rewrite it, or scrap it altogether.

After reading Jacob Appel’s essay I looked back over the list of journals I’ve submitted to over the past few years. I couldn’t say if there are more than 75 journals on the list. This year, even before I read his essay, I’d already begun combing through the hit lists of other writers as a way to introduce myself to new journals.

For example, I met Nicolette Wong, editor of A-Minor, on Court Merrigan’s blog. Later, I submitted to A-Minor … and yes, got rejected … but it was a great experience. Ms. Wong is an editor who certainly knows what she does and doesn’t want, which is always helpful.

I’ve raved on my blog before about Court’s “Failure” page, and he’s introduced me to journals like Neon, Revolution House, and Flywheel. I hadn’t looked at those markets before seeing them on Court’s list, but I’m glad I came to know of them.

There is no magic when it comes to finding the best markets to submit your stories. It takes upfront work to identify a market where a story could fit editorial tastes, and each interaction you have with the editor or staff is an opportunity to refine your understanding of that market.

After that, hopefully you can step back and watch your hard work and persistence pay off.

What is the future of the Small Literary Magazine community?

Short story writers and small press literary magazine editors are an important community.  This wasn’t apparent to me when I first started submitting my short stories around, “way back” in 2010. I also didn’t understand the majority of these magazines operated with volunteer staffs and a lot of love, fantatical dedication and sweat equity.

Think about that for a moment. The time it takes to create a short story and then the time it takes for a staff of dedicated volunteers to assess that work and determine if it’s a fit for a journal. We all keep doing it, in a positive reinforcing circle, and it’s produced inspiring work.

There have been several postings I’ve seen around the web recently about what it takes to run a small literary magazine (SLM). Most of these discussions talk about the financial, or lack of financial, support for the small literary magazines (SLM).

As a writer who has placed 15 of my pieces with SLM’s, and I’ve not gotten (nor expected) any payment from it, I can tell you I’m also personally unwilling to pay reading fees to an SLM to read my work. This would be the case for me if I got paid for my short stories or not. It’s also why I don’t participate in contests that charge reading fees. To me, that feels more like gambling than a contest. It’s more like a poker game where everyone puts money into the pot and winner takes all.

(As a side note, and my apologies to the U.S. Post Office notwithstanding, I’m also unwilling to kill trees to circulate my work. It boggles my mind that some of these ancient, old-guard SLM’s …The Paris Review, for example… still get away with living in the 19th Century when it comes to accepting submissions. Get with the program, people. The New Yorker accepts electronic subs, so there should be no excuse for others. Support Submittable and get a Submishmash account for your SLM and come into the 21st Century. You know, where the real people live with computers, email accounts and everything.)

I’m ready, willing and able to interact with a volunteer staff as a writer volunteering to provide my short story for free in exchange for publication, and I’m also ready to help publicize that SLM and encourage others to read it. I’m happy to see (some) advertising on the SLM’s website, or for people to pay for subscriptions, or merchandise, or door-fee fueled special events. I have no issue with SLM’s that solicit for donations on a voluntary basis either.

I volunteered for a short while as a slushpile reader at an SLM, and I’d be willing to do it again. I enjoyed it tremendously and I felt like, even for a brief stint, I was able to give back to my community.

Where does all this leave us as a community of writers, editors and staff, small literary magazine afficianados, readers and everyone else who participates in this wonderful machine we all feed every day of the year?

You may not like it, but it leaves us exactly where we are today. We have decided to participate in this thriving community because we are compelled to write and produce our work, and others are compelled to dedicate themselves to provide venues for writers, artists, photographers, etc. to showcase that work.

While it’s unfortunate that the economic climate for artists in the United States has never been fantastic, it’s never going to stop writers from doing what they need to do: write. Short story writers and SLM editors are no different. Their compulsion to support the community is real, and their dedication to it palpable.

I’m grateful to be a part of this community, and proud to count myself among their multitudes.

Court Merrigan’s “Failure” – Insight and Inspiration

I first came across a Court Merrigan story in PANK Magazine. The Cloud Factory is one of those stories I read, then re-read and thought WHOAthis guy is seriously talented. And so he is.

But even if Court Merrigan wasn’t as supremely talented and didn’t publish a passle of stories (29 pieces to date), you could go to his blog and learn a lot by reading his “Failure” page.

CLICK to check out The Failure blog page by Court Merrigan: http://courtmerrigan.wordpress.com/failure/

Yes, his stories have been rejected 279 times  between 7/31/10 and 1/14/12. He’s got a 9% acceptance ratio. He makes all of his stats publically available on his blog.

What is even more helpful is his detailed commentary, beginning in April 2011, from each market rejecting his work. His most recent set of rejections (14 grouped together in one post) talks about A-minor and then the editor of the journal put comments on the post in response to what Court wrote. Can you get any better than that?

As a short story submitter, insights into how an editor thinks is the key to the castle. You’re not getting into the journal unless the editor (or editors, or editors and readers…) line up behind your piece. Any opportunity to peek behind the veil is welcome.

I learned about the Rejection Wiki by reading through Court’s “Failure” pile. The Rejection Wiki is a Wikipedia site and a great resource. You can search through by the name of a magazine, and find out how a “standard” rejection slip is worded, or if a rejection is more customized. For those of us submitting regularly, this is important. You want to know if you missed by a mile or if you were just off by a hair’s breadth.

REJECTION WIKI Click Here: http://www.rejectionwiki.com/index.php?title=Main_Page

Carol’s Failure wiki

So, what about Carol’s “Failure” you may be wondering? Yes, I’ve tracked every submission and response since January 2011.

Thusfar I’ve gotten 183 rejection slips, which shocked me. I never counted them until now, and I hadn’t realized I sent my work out that frequently to be reviewed but I guess I have.

My work is currently submitted to 33 markets for consideration on about 12 different stories awaiting placement.

I’ve had to withdraw pieces from submission consideration 17 times when those stories were accepted by other markets for publication.

My non-failure? 13 stories: 10 published, 3 more accepted and forthcoming soon.

Anecdotally I do get commentary from editors fairly regularly, and it so helpful and encouraging. I revise my stories obsessively – whether I get feedback or not – but the feedback helps with the revisions.

I got very nice comments passed on to me from the Smokelong Quarterly staff when Myfanwy Collins guest edited about a week ago. She and I had a lovely exchange on her blog (I left a thank you note based on her comments,) now we’re following each other’s blogs.

Just today I receieved an email from Chris Heavener, editor of Annalemma with individualized feedback which resonated with me. I’d already been in the process of revising that story (6 times since I submitted to Annalemma in November) and Chris’s insights and comments made perfect sense.

So there you have it. Court Merrigan has inspired me to share my failure with you all, and if this is something you obsess about too, you should go to Court’s blog and read through his postings on the subject. Read through the commentary too, you might just find an editor’s name you know. You can visit the Rejection Wiki to see if you got the “standard” treatment, or if you are just one more submission away from getting the almighty acceptance note.