Happy new year. I want to make some resolutions about my writing.
1. Write something every single day.
2. Make one fresh submission every single week.
3. Apply to the Clarion workshop.
4. Organize and begin writing a short, non-science fiction novel.*
*I’m thinking horror-western.
That’s it. I will feel satisfied in my writing year if I can accomplish these things. You’ll notice that I haven’t included “publish story,” or “get into Clarion workshop.” These are not things that I can control and when your goal is something where other people control all the outcomes you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
That’s where we begin in our discussion of what you’re going to do now that you have a nicely edited, exiting story safely on your desktop. It is time to start shopping your story around and this process can be difficult if you don’t know how to go about it. I’m going to make that process much easier for you right now.
Format your story: You wrote your story in copperplate bold. Whatever weirdo, you’re going to take the first step and go up to the ‘edit’ tab in your word processor and hit ‘select all.’ Now you’re going to the font tab and finding either courier new, or times new roman fonts. Choose one or the other. Most editors don’t care either way. Courier new is acceptable to every editor and these days I would be hard pressed to find a market that wasn’t okay with times new roman. I usually use the latter because it allows me to fit more words on a page which allows for easier editing. While everything is selected make sure you have double spaced! You should have picked this up by now, but I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you.
Put your info on top: Basically do the following, single spaced, at the top right of your first page only.
okay, so I can’t get this to format correctly. Basically you put your name on line one, your address underneath that, email next, and then phone number if you want or they ask, and finally word count.
Now go about halfway down the page and center your title. Double space and let the story be told.
No funny business: There is nothing you can put in a manuscript that is going to make an editor happy other than properly formatted text. 1″ margins, that means a one inch margin. Want to put a picture in? Don’t. Yes, i know Thomas Pynchon put pictures in Gravity’s Rainbow, but are you Thomas Pynchon? Is your story Gravity’s Rainbow? If so, I just want to say that I enjoyed Inherent Vice, Mr. Pynchon. Play it straight, sell the words, play later.
There is no standard format! What I’ve told you is the basic stuff. The margins and fonts I listed I’m confident telling you are definitive. Nothing else is. Page Numbers are usually fine, but some editors want them in the top right, others in the bottom middle. Most don’t care. Some editors want you to put your name and title on every page while others don’t give a fig. I keep a standard version of my stories with the above listed formats, but without a title and name on every page. Certain markets don’t want your name or information anywhere in the actual text body. Don’t get me started on section breaks! You will be asked for ***, or ###, and even ^_^ (that last one is a lie, it’s something that an editor I know puts in her emails that I think is cute). For section breaks I just make an extra space until I review the market’s specific submission guidelines. And that is the final word on format-
Read the publications guidelines: If you do what they tell you to, the editors will read your story and not hate you for being incapable of following instructions. Get your story into basic shape as listed above, but never assume your story is correct until you check the individual site. It may seem silly that an editor would care whether you put page numbers in the top right or bottom middle but you must understand that most of these people are reading several stories every single day. They are seldom paid to do this and if they are it’s not enough. You owe it to these reading machines to at least follow the formatting guidelines that make reading easier for them. If you miss some small thing, don’t freak, don’t resend your story. Editors are more forgiving than you might think, especially if the writing is good and the grammar is in shape. So make sure you are careful with your work in the editing process, it will buy you a drop of leniency in the submission process.
If you want a little more information on the formatting process the most linked site in science fiction is William Shunn’s thorough post on the subject. It is helpful, and I think he may cover the paper submission process a bit. Just remember, there is no definitive guide to short story format! As long as individual editors want different things you will need to be vigilant.
How to submit: Now that you have gotten your manuscript in shape it is time to put it out there. There are hundreds of venues that will happily publish a good short story of any genre. I am focused on science fiction, fantasy and horror, but whatever the genre the single best resource is Duotrope’s Digest. As I say on the sideboard, this is the metamarket source for publishing venues. On the opening page you will be prompted for what genre (science fiction etc.), theme (dark, political, ethnic), length, pay scale, and accepted submission types (electronic or print). My typical search is for Science fiction with no specified theme, novelette length (<10k words) semi-pro pay and electronic submissions. I vary this based on the story, of course. I don’t really try to make money on my submissions and the pay rate is just a good filter for readership and SFWA credit (which I have), yet that need not guide a search. Many outstanding venues pay nothing and count for zero with the SFWA (something that I believe needs to be remedied in that organization). Innsmouth Free Press kicks major butt, and the editors just had a fantastic interview at Tor.com, yet that venue gives neither guild credit or a big check. Remember, you are not doing this for the money! You are doing it for the glory… that quiet sort of glory that only you really know about and at night, when you can’t sleep, feels more like desperation- that’s what you are doing it for!
Once you’ve generated a list of appropriate venues, follow the links to their submission pages and do what your told. Remember what we talked about earlier. Simultaneous are generally a no no, but you can search for venues that are okay with them. Submit your story. Now wait…
and wait some more. Before I had a large group of stories collected I would often forget I had made submissions then one day, ahem, a rejection notice would show up in my mailbox/inbox. When you get turned down, send it out there again, and again, and again. Pay attention to the notes you might get back from editors. In most case these can help you continue to improve your piece. There is no end to rewriting, but don’t get obsessive. Look for themes that might play across several editor’s opinions and then go from there. Your story might be the best it can be, but an editor is ultimately looking for a commodity to resell to a public market. If they feel the story isn’t something their readers will enjoy, they won’t buy it.
Don’t get discouraged! It’ll happen! I love writing this blog because it allows me to use exclamation marks. I almost never use them in my writing… by that I mean I never use them in my writing. I should remedy that. There was a time when the exclamation mark sat at the high table in punctuation society, right up next to the curt period and the evasive question mark. Now, post internet, exclamation has lost its space to erratic ampersand and (the shame!) that sleazy drifter the backslash. I was at a club recently and saw exclamation mark at a table with an asterisk and a pair of French quotation marks. Exclamation recognized me immediately, apparently its a big fan of this blog. We chatted for awhile. “How you holding up?” I finally asked. It’s the inevitable question that people have for friends recently out of rehab. “Oh, I’m fine. Yeah, doing great. Hung out with % and & a little earlier.”
“Yeah, I saw them up in the VIP room.” I replied.
Exclamation hung its head, deflated, the balsam wood lattice work of its surviving pride cracking under the strain of humiliations. “You know,” he said breathing out a long exhalation of vodka vapor and shame, “I used to be somebody. When advertising got going it was me they came to when they wanted something to sell, when they wanted you to need something you had no need for, it was me. And I was in movies! You couldn’t pick up a movie without finding me on the back jacket. All those guys you see on madmen, they were my chums, my friends. Me, question mark, even period, these others, they were stuck in the back of some beatniks grammar manual. Have you seen a Netflix envelope? They don’t sell jack! It’s like they ask you nicely to consider, if you could be so kind, watching the movie.” Exclamation laughed, “Whatever happened to, ‘You’ll laugh! You’ll Cry!! You’ll Die!!!” People were staring now, and I had backed away from the sad punctuation. Exclamation seemed to sense this, “I, I’m sorry. It’s been a tough aught nine.”
“It’s okay,” I said, “next year’s bound to be better. You got a place to stay?”
“yeah, I’m staying at my cousin’s house. But thanks for asking.”
“You know oh-ten is going to get better.”
“I’m sure you’re right.”
Um, I mean- Don’t get discouraged, it’ll happen!!!!
I have made a point of publishing my myriad rejections on the premise that it might help you to not take them personally. Yeah sure, you’re a bad person for getting rejected, but so are most other writers. Stay with it. Don’t take it personal and keep on working. You’ll get it right.
In the spirit of sharing my rejections, I want to share the most brutal rejection I have received… ever. This is one of the first times I have taken a rejection personally in over a decade.
Thank you for submitting to Andromeda Spaceways. Sadly, we find that we can't use your submission at this stage. Thank you again, and we hope to hear from you in the future. Notes from the readers: -------- the writing style needs some serious slashing. The narrative uses far too many words to describe events. Sentences are too long and twisty. Try to be a lot more economical with words. ------- Hope that's of some help, and better luck next time!
Some serious slashing, huh? Sentences too long and twisty are they? How bout I come down to Australia and wrap something long and twisty around your neck and do some really serious slashing? Okay, that’s wildly inappropriate, and whoever this reader is they took their valuable time to read my story (I think). Regardless that person is working for the cause, and I’m supposed to be a professional, but squid’s sake that is much to swallow!
Andromeda Spaceway’s is a great magazine, and they really do wonderful things for the sci-fi communities in that part of the world. I just hope a dingo eats the person that read my story. Feh!
Well that is the science of fiction. I hope everyone enjoys the new year. As it is one year ahead where I am at I can assure you it will be interesting.
Next up: I talk with John Klima, editor and founder of the Hugo Award winning Electric Velocipede! Squid be praised!