Thursday, April 21, 2011

Five Reminders for Submitting Your Shory

I sent out a story tonight to an anthology open for submissions. I had beta readers go through it, read it several times myself, and felt it was ready to go.

And then it came time to send it.

I sat in front of my email program, story attached, submission email address typed in, and short, concise, polite cover letter all ready to go. Yet, my courage wavered. My mouse hovered over the "send" button. Trickles of sweat lined my brow.

And so the mouse hovered...

You'd think this wouldn't be a problem; after all, I've submitted nearly 40 different stories in the last year. I'm an "old pro" at this submission stuff.

But in the back of my mind, I think again: Did I miss something in the submission guidelines? Is "Courier New" okay as a font? Should I make it "Times New Roman?" Did they want it single-spaced or double-spaced? Header or no header?

...and Rorschach said, "What are you waiting for? Do it!"

All of these questions, of course, came despite having READ THE BLASTED SUBMISSION GUIDELINES AT LEAST FOUR TIMES. This particularly anthology was not rewriting the process of submitting a short story. Double-spaced. Courier, fine. Times New Roman, fine. Use William Shunn's manuscript guidelines. Underline instead of italics (an older practice, but some places still abide by it).

I did all that. I knew I did all that.

Yet, it was still hard to pull the trigger.

I think blowing up Alderaan is easier than sending out a submission.

I'm sending my story off to someone who may or may not like it. They may hit me with an immediate rejection letter that says, "Give up, (insert author name). Your (insert story title) stinks. You, (insert author name), stink. Please stop writing because the only thing that sucks more powerfully than your writing is a Dyson."

Sometimes they just send you a picture of a Dyson and hope you get the message.

They may love the story and send a letter that says, "You are a genius (insert author name). We loved (insert story title). We love you, (insert author name). Here's $500,000."

I will get neither of those letters. The rejection letters I've received are succinct and professional. One or two offered good feedback ("We liked your story...we just liked some of the others more"). The acceptances have held to that same trend with maybe a little more personalization ("Your story had an interesting perspective that helped it stand out among the others").

Yet, as the mouse arrow hovers near the "send" button, I'm opening a new Firefox tab to check the submission guidelines again. It's torture...I imagine it's like sending your kid to his or her first day of kindergarten. I can see the doe eyes and the lovingly-packed G.I. Joe backpack slung over their shoulder as I back away. You see, my kids will have Flint G.I. Joe backpacks, even if I have to make them myself.

Duke got captured by Cobra in like every episode. But Flint = WIN.

It's the big sendoff.

I've done it almost 40 times now with short stories. More than a dozen with book queries. Each time, I still feel a little bit of stress.

This is the part where I offer advice to keep you from becoming an absolute lunatic like me when submitting your work. God willing, I'll use it myself.

Know the guidelines. Please don't be like me. Don't read the guidelines 85 times. Read them two or three times and make sure your submission meets those standards. Unfortunately, there's no uniform format for submitting your work (that would be easy, you see). Therefore, pay attention to those guidelines. If you can follow the rules, you'll show you're a professional who pays attention. It won't guarantee an acceptance, but it will avoid an instant rejection (unless your submission is sooooooooo amazing that it jumps off the page and smacks the editor in the face).

Read the Market. Don't submit a superhero story to a romance market. Don't send normal crime fiction to a sci-fi publisher. If you're going to submit a short story or novel query, spend some time reading up on the market you're sending it to. Maybe the publication has a knack for quirky material that fits your style OR maybe the publication HATES quirky stuff. The only way to know is to take some time to read work that's already been accepted.

Manage Your Expectations. I haven't had anything published in a well-known market that would qualify me for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I would love to do that, yes, but those markets are highly competitive. Those publications receive top-tier stories...and even one of my best, most-immaculately polished pieces will garner the utmost scrutiny. A smaller publication, on the other hand, may receive fewer submissions. There's less "noise" to work around. That doesn't make getting published any easier--the standards are still high--but with less competition, your story stands a slightly better chance of rising to the top. Just have a good head on your shoulders regarding the place you're submitting to.

Put It to Bed. "Our average response time is 90 days." That means, in all likelihood, it will take at least three months for you to get a response. That email alert that just came across your phone two days after you sent your submission? It's not your acceptance note; it's a freaking offer from O'Charley's for their Bottomless Bowl Lunch. I'm an obsessive email checker, but if they tell me I won't hear from them until after their submission deadline, it does no good to stare at my email inbox.

This is neither an acceptance nor a rejection.

Get Over Yourself. If you're submitting to a larger publication, you're one of hundreds or thousands of submissions. To place your story, it's going to have to be terrific...and it's going to have to beat authors who may have more name recognition. The playing field is only level to a point. You're not that important; they'll get around to you when they get around to you. If you're submitting to a smaller publication, the editor is likely doing it on his or her spare time, writes, has a family, and holds a regular job. They'll get around to it, but they have other things to take care of. Let me put it this way: you sent ONE story. They have 500 to read and evaluate. Think about that.

One more thing: Keep writing! Keep sending! (Or is that two things?)

What about you? How do you keep from going spastic when releasing your work out "into the wild?"