Let’s Talk About S…

Submissions! Duh. What did you think I was gonna say?

Maybe you saw the tweet that went viral lately, about the woman who made it her goal to get 100 rejection letters by the end of the year.  She’s having trouble reaching her goal because she keeps getting acceptances instead! Which is awesome! Good for her.

This year I also set a goal: submit two short stories for publication.  I set the bar low on purpose; it’s been almost five years since I last published anything, and I wanted to keep the pressure to a minimum. Which was smart of me since I’ve been low-key stressed about it this whole time. I’m pretty high anxiety, if you haven’t noticed, and trying to hold myself accountable for something as beyond my control as short story publishing is a recipe for disaster.

nervous kermit

Before I get into the nitty gritty of how this whole process is going for me personally, let’s talk about how I even decided where the hell to submit in the first place. It can be a daunting process. You have a story, you’re proud of it. You worked hard, brought it life, fostered it into the best you possibly could, and now you want to share it. But how?

There are some questions you’re going to need to ask yourself:

  • What is my story’s genre?
  • What length category does my story fit? Micro? Flash? Short? Novelette? Novella? You get the picture.
  • What pay-rate am I willing to accept? Pro? Semi-pro? Token?
  • How long am I willing to wait to hear back from a magazine?
  • How many attempts will I make before I call it quits?
  • Am I willing to revise per editor feedback?

There’s probably more questions that will come up as you move on in the submission process, but these are some good ones to have a prepared answer for before you even begin. Once you have a good grip on the above there are some resources to help you wade through the incredible ocean of publication options.

First and foremost is The Submission Grinder. This website has it all! Authors create a free account to track their submissions, and the website compiles the results into numbers other authors can use to make educated decisions about their own submission process.

This is the data on a magazine I am currently submitted to:

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 1.49.03 PM
The black dot is my submission.

The site also keeps track of all your personal submission stats. Where you’ve submitted, how long it was out, the outcome, if you received your pay or not, etc. You can search for markets (publishing lingo for magazines/sites/publishers, etc.,) based on genre, word count, whether they’re currently open for submissions or not, and their pay-rate.

Really, the only negative for The Submission Grinder is that it is only as accurate as the information it is provided. Not all authors use the site, so you never know if you’re really seeing the whole picture. But, it’s still a fantastic resource and it’s been my lifeline this year.

The second resource I use most is Ralan.com. This is a genre specific resource, a catalog of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror publications that is updated constantly. It’s been active since 1996(!) and though it definitely still hangs on to its early internet roots, it has been a really great way to find markets I might not have discovered otherwise.  There’s also pages for writing tips, links, and all kinds of related media. Markets are organized by pay-rate, and then alphabetically.

I would suggest Submittable next, mainly because a ton of publishers use this software to accept and organize their submissions. Make an account (it’s free!), and then start trawling through the Discovery page. That’s where markets have opened their submissions, and you might find an opportunity you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Moksha is another submission management software/website that some publishers use. It’s very similar to Submittable, and chances are you’ll end up with account on both. Submittable is a little more author -friendly, whereas Moksha is publisher focused. You won’t make an account here until you try to submit to a publisher that uses it.

I’ll recommend a new resource to me: QueryTracker is a website that helps writers connect with agents. I haven’t used it much yet, mainly because I don’t have a novel ready to submit to an agent. There’s a free and a premium option, but since I’m not actively seeking an agent, I’m just using the free service. You can search for agents based on whether they’re open to queries, what they want to read, and where they are based out of.

A recent discovery of mine is a magazine called The Writer. I found it at my library, and I’ve really enjoyed it so far. They have a classifieds section as well as a segment towards the end of each issue that lists upcoming conferences, publication opportunities, agents, and workshops. It’s a rotating theme, so each issue offers something different. Maybe it’s not as comprehensive as some of the websites listed above, but I think it’s worth recommending.

So, I have all these resources… how’s the submitting going?

Well. I think. Although it doesn’t always feel that way. Rejections sting, especially when the story makes it into the final round of consideration. Generally my stories are performing well, but not well enough to get that acceptance letter yet.

yearly submission data

I’ve submitted thirteen times this year so far, two currently pending, four personal rejections and seven form rejections. The Cost of Rain has made it to the final round of consideration twice, and Lifelike has done so once.

The Cost of Rain submission data
This is why The Submission Grinder is the literal best.

As you can see, different magazines have very different turnaround times. I think that’s been the biggest challenge for me, personally, because the waiting is just killer. I’ve been submitting since March and The Cost of Rain has only been out eight times. Lifelike‘s been out for submission since April and it’s only been to five markets!

Lifelike submission data

It had a really great run right out of the gate and made it to the final round, but just got eked out of acceptance. That was hard. That hurt, because there was so much hope. The longer it was out the better I felt my chances were, and therein is my biggest challenge with submitting.

No matter how good the charts and numbers look the odds of rejection are just as high, if not higher, than those of being accepted. There are no guarantees, the statistics only mean so much. Publishing is not an objective endeavor. Your story can be great, but if you don’t find the editor that feels that same way, it won’t matter. Storytelling and reading are subjective by nature. Taste and preferences will always play a role in the selection process.

This is why you hear stories about authors submitting manuscripts dozens and dozens of times. This is why you keep submitting until you don’t have any other options left. What do you do after that? Well, I don’t know yet, but I’ll be sure to tell you once I find out.

IMG_20180822_145654
It’s a datapad! I got it in a themed LootCrate and I have no regrets.

Thanks to The Submission Grinder I have a list of markets that I can send each story to. I wrote them down, and once I send them the story I cross them off the list. That way, if I get the dreaded rejection, I can pick another one and send it right away. No lingering, no pained searching for the next thing. Just open my Mass Effect themed notepad, pick a market, use The Submission Grinder to be sure they’re accepting submissions, and off the story goes.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

My biggest takeaways from this process so far are:

  • Submitting takes a long time
    • Very, very few magazines allow for simultaneous submissions. You have to submit to one market at a time and wait for their response. This sucks. Just keeping it real. But it’s the way of things right now, so be prepared to know what markets are open when so you can plan your submissions accordingly.
  • Rejections hurt, but they do get easier
    • Form rejections suck. Mainly because it’s a form rejection. Your story wasn’t selected, and it didn’t stand out enough for the editor to offer any personal commentary. Laaaame.
    • Personal rejections are good. I mean, they also suck. Like, the big one. It hurts more, because they usually include the editor saying how much they “liked the story, but…” I don’t want to read “but”. I want to read, “We’re happy to inform you…” But, personal rejections are good because they almost always tell you why they decided not to take the story. There’s an explanation of what scene didn’t quite work, or why the ending fell flat, or whatever the case may be. There’s constructive criticism and it’s helped me make subtle changes to address weaknesses in my stories I couldn’t recognize on my own. So, yeah, personal rejections suck, but they’re also good.
    • If you prepare yourself, have your handy-dandy notebook with markets to send to, submitting gets easier. You’re armed with a list of opportunities, of potential. Oh, this magazine didn’t want my story? Well, here’s a list of 15 more that might want it! Hooray! So, enjoy your pity party ice cream/popsicle/alcoholic beverage of choice while you pick the next market, and then get on with your day.
  • Every author you’ve read has been here and done this
    • Okay. Maybe not literally every author, there’s always those weirdos that make it big out of nowhere, but the vast majority had to duke it out over and over again with their short story submissions. They had to earn those professional sales and wage wars with themselves to keep fighting on. Don’t believe me? Check out the #ShareYourRejections thread on twitter. You’ll bSam J Miller rejectionse surprised at the rejections some authors have received! 
      This is just you slogging through the story you’ll tell to a whole generation of newbie writers some day. So believe in yourself already.

Submitting this year has been a HUGE learning process. I’ve worked really hard not only on editing my fiction into a level of polish that I believe will earn a professional sale, but in organizing myself in such a way that feels… professional. Submitting is teaching me the skills I need to keep writing and publishing, the skills I’ll need to turn this passion into a career. Skills like time management, setting and meeting personal deadlines, discipline, fortitude, and strong organization, virtually (my files), physically (my desk/papers), and mentally (navigating this crazy publishing world).

I hope my tips and transparency in this process are helpful for you. I’m learning my lessons and want to share, because maybe they’ll help you when you’re feeling low at the hands of your rejections. And maybe this post will help you move on to the next opportunity.

Good luck, Bloggos!

 

BZ

2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About S…

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