And sometimes, I sacrifice my writing time to become my own marketing department. Because I have not yet either reached the level of success that mandates that I need an agent nor yet found one with whom I mesh perfectly. And because writing is my passion, and it is also my business. One I would like to get paid for.
In spite of the fact that my blog is almost exclusively nonfiction, my strongest writing can be found in my fiction. I don’t harbor the illusion that many people want to pay a lot of money to buy copies of Sam’s Hide N’ Go Shit Report. I do harbor that illusion about my speculative, mystery, and ‘other’ fiction. But I have to hunt around to find those people. There’s a statistic that I can’t be bothered to find that says I have better odds trying my luck at major league baseball.
Today, I spent my time looking through various magazine guidelines to see who might publish my short stories. I started by combing through Writer’s Market, then I visited a bunch of potential websites, and I eventually narrowed the list down to five places where I might send one short story I’ve been working on. It’s a tedious process made more frustrating by baffling publisher websites.
When I’m shopping stuff around, I maintain an excel spreadsheet for each story. I keep things simple, logging the publication’s name, its web and e-mail address, the fiction editor’s name, the submission guidelines, and whether or not it accepts simultaneous submissions. Once I actually submit, I add more, but when I’m just planning, that’s it. An astounding number of journals and magazines can’t be bothered to provide me with these mundane details. I need a WTF column in that spreadsheet for the ones that explain themselves like this:
SouthTurn* is a shockingly original journal concerned with the postmodernist crisis of identity stemming from pantheistic atavistic anti-nationalism. Published on an unpredictable schedule. Circ. 3. Because only our parents would buy the thing. And not all of them.
We publish creative stories only. Things you wouldn’t find in another magazine.
Accepts submission only by snailmail with SASE, replies in 100 to 10,000 days.
No simultaneous submissions.
Guidelines available by SASE. If you can find the address.
I get it that magazines would like me to read them before I submit. That doing so is in my best interest and theirs. And part of my research process does generally include reading online samples from the publisher. (And sometimes getting so engrossed in those that, even though I have eliminated a particular publication as having potential for my story, I spend hours on the site just enjoying myself.) When possible, I order a copy and pay them something.
But I cannot afford to be part of the mill of writers that support a whole host of publications by buying copies only so they can figure out the submission guidelines. I am a working mother married to my kids’ working father. I do not have time to sit around the bookstore and browse copies. And we have to share the mail with Sam and Caroline. Pretty much anything that comes into the house has to survive their interest before it can get to Scott and I!
Moreover, this is the twenty first century. In the old days, “SASE” was the only way to get those coveted guidelines, many age spotted and faded from too much photocopying, some still showing symptoms of a close relationship with a mimeograph machine. In the old days, snail mail was the only way to submit at all. And in the old days, journals distinguished themselves from trade magazines with verbose semi-pompous self-descriptions.
But this isn’t the old days. The good journals have either developed a strong elite following for their niche or else come down off their high horses. Pretentious wording is just pretentious wording, and it doesn’t make me want to send in my work.
Beyond that, most of these journals have websites, but many fail to make appropriate use of them. Why the hell should people have to send out an SASE for writer’s guidelines when the publisher can put those online? Doing so will increase traffic to the website and save time for the editorial staff. Similarly, why not accept e-mailed or online submissions? Glimmer Train does it, so why not The N’oreast Nevada Review?** I can’t be persuaded that virus protections software isn’t effective or that it’s too much of a hassle for the editor to learn how to open webmail. Besides, it’s oh-so-easy to bounce back work to the people who blow off the requirements and even give them a link to the guidelines page!
Sometimes, lucky networking can be more effective than these fruitless searches for valid outlets. I actually found the folks who published Divorce: A Love Story by networking. The husband of a friend of a friend was starting a small publishing company with some lady in England, and I found out because we were Facebook friends. Seriously. And let me pause to say that Throwaway Lines is a very cool small press. The lady in England turns out to be this fantastic idea dynamo who is willing to put in time and enthusiasm to make things work. Jason and SJ have fought through some of the hardest things a small press can fend off, have completely lost the battle once, only to reform successfully in this current incarnation. I have no idea what their publishing future is, but I want it to be awesome. (The Throwaway Lines blog/website is currently under revision. I’m sure that when it is all prettied up, it will have all the things an author needs to submit, so stay tuned over there.)
Anyway, to get back to my original topic, I spent around five hours on a search today, and I really only found four or five potential matches for one piece. Another is weird enough that I have to pore over my physical copy of Writer’s Market (yes, I do still have one) before I decide my online search strategy. I plan to shop the first one around, see what kind of rejections I get, then revise it some more and repeat the process. And then do it again a few more times. If nobody accepts it, at some point, I’ll deem it revised to death and stop making changes. After that, at some other point, I’ll deem it submitted to death and stop sending it around.
I’ve got another piece outstanding. I sent it to two places last August. One rejected it sometime in December. The other made ‘drowning in our own inboxes’ squeaks, but at least took the time to contact me, meaning I’m waiting a little while before taking the next steps in this cycle. And the interesting thing about that last one is that it’s got networking potential, much like the novel did. I have an interested party, I know what guidelines to follow, and I’ll be sending it along there when the second place I actually hunted up and already submitted to gets around to rejecting me. I’d do it sooner, but I think I’ll get a guided rejection out of these other people, and I’d like to see what they say.
Although I’m a little bit jaded by the whole submission process, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a little bit jaded about everything. My handle is jesterqueen because ‘jaded queen’ sounded kind of stupid and I’m often too scathing to have any legitimate claim to the word ‘snark’. Mostly, I want to see my writing in other people’s hands. I devote a lot of research to that process, in addition to my writing and revision. While I really would like to see clearer submissions guidelines, there’s a nasty little part of my soul that revels in disambiguating a magazine’s requirements all by myself. I imagine that this somehow makes me a better match for it. And I harbor that fantasy right up until the moment I am rejected. For being 3,000 words over the upper limit. Because the guidelines mentioned nothing about that little detail.
* Magazine name and precise wording made up to protect idiots. But it’s pretty close to about six of them that I saw today.
Just take me back to the damned entry
** Yes, I invented this one, too.
And you brought me down here to tell me THAT?
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.