To Kindle or not to Kindle

A great start to the year – my story “Singapore City” has been published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal. Hop over and check it out!

On to the feature presentation:

Two years ago, I bought an iPod Touch. Why, you may ask, did I abandon all manner of Apple iPhones and stoop to the Touch instead? Well, I’ve owned my share of expensive cell phones, and the experience alerted me to the realization that Smartphones and I are not heading for a Happily Ever After. I don’t possess the maturity levels required to nurture a smartphone as much as it needs me to.                           

So I went ahead and splurged on the 16 GB iPod Touch. From the minute I brought it home in its carefully wrapped pristine white packaging, I surrendered all rights to my toddler. The speed with which she navigated the device amazed me. She swooped in on the phone and started using it as her own.

I considered buying a Kindle. From all that I’ve heard and seen, the Kindle is an ideal device for the voracious reader. Kindle boasts e-ink technology that is easy on the eyes and most closely resembles reading a print book. One can read it in the sunlight as well, similar to how you read a print book.

Though I didn’t buy a Kindle eventually, I settled on reading ebooks using the Kindle app on the iPod Touch. I’ve done almost half my reading last year on the Touch, which is a great surprise for one who thought you’d have to pry the print books from her cold dead hands.

Apart from the ebooks, I am a member of two libraries which combine to quench my thirst for books. The first is British Council, where I’ve been a member for almost a decade (minus the two years I lived in Singapore). The second is Just Books, which set up shop here a couple of years ago. Now I wonder how I ever lived without them. They stock every type of book, down to the latest Indian bestsellers and Nigella Lawson/Jamie Oliver cookbooks. What more could a girl want? I even read The Casual Vacancy by borrowing it from Just Books. Considering its price and bulk, I might not have purchased or read it otherwise, however brilliant it turned out to be.

Thanks to Just Books and British Library, I am slowly but surely building up to my pre-baby average of 2 books per week. Last year I read 43 books, which improved on the previous year’s total of 33. This year I hope to read 50 books by the time 31st December rolls around.

Do you read more print books or prefer to flip virtual pages on an e-reader?

Acceptances, Rejections and Everything in between

Any writer worth his salt is writing and sending out stories, essays and articles, one painstaking word document at a time. But submitting means opening yourself up to rejections and heartache. Once in a while, a rollicking acceptance mail lands in your inbox, rendering the previous rejections null and void. That makes it all worth it. Read on for what else to expect when you brave the big bag world of story submission.

The Good

The high that you get when an acceptance lands in your inbox is incomparable. Considering most writers log around 10 to 20 rejections per acceptance, the glow you get from reading the editor’s positive words has to sustain you for at least another few rejections. It has to tide you over for the stream of rejections that might follow this one.

My first reaction is to thank the editor for the good news, and then tackle the editing changes he has outlined, if any. So far, I’ve received minor edits for my stories which did not require much back and forth email exchanges with the editor.

If you receive a contract to sign, do look it over carefully and accord it the same importance reserved for signing other official documents. Important things to look for are rights (don’t sign all away!) and payments (if you’re getting paid).

You will also receive a final version of the story to proofread and check one last time. Ensure that you go through it carefully and not cast a cursory glance at your words.

In my email inbox, I label these as simply “Acceptances”. The best part about getting an acceptance – the editors usually write something like ‘I loved your story’ or ‘I really enjoyed your story’. Receiving and reading appreciative emails like these is rare. For the solitary art of writing, moments like this are few and are between.

The Bad

This includes personalized rejections, or those in which you find that your piece weathered several rounds of reading but just missed the final cut. These letters evoke a kind of sweet pain. You did good but not good enough.

You can do two things at this time:

  1. Send it out to another market immediately. The rejection could simply mean the subjective nature of the business did you in. Or,
  2. Go back to the drawing board and revise it. This is especially true if you received specific feedback on some aspect of your story which you had not noticed before. An editorial eye might reveal any number of flaws or inconsistencies that the writer or critique partners simply can’t catch.

Refer the Rejection Wiki to check which tier of rejection you received (form, personal, etc).

If I ever get a personalized rejection that mentions specific reasons for my piece not getting selected, I label these as “Good Learnings” in my inbox, and look over them retrospectively once in a while to make sure I’m not committing any of the same mistakes. Also the editor’s comments are important because (assuming they are positive) you can quote these while submitting to the same editor again, reminding him that you came close once earlier.

The Ugly

I once had a story rejected in three days. Its penultimate sentence states (and I paraphrase here to protect the guilty)

Your submission lacks the literary qualities necessary for our magazine…”

I have received my fair share of rejections and for the most part I feel a pang of disappointment when I read them, but this one stung. To add insult to injury, the last sentence states, “We hope you are not discouraged and will continue writing.”

This is like stabbing the writer in the heart and then drawing the knife out cleanly so you may dab ointment on the inflicted wound. The balm has no effect, and the damage has already been done. The heart of the writer is destroyed, stamped out, even if momentarily, for surely the scribbler will pick up the pieces of his shattered soul and send out submission packages with renewed vigour the following week.

After all, literary merit is highly subjective. Luckily this story of mine got placed in another well-paying magazine, so I didn’t shed too many tears on this rebuff.

How do you handle acceptances and rejections?

5 Tips & Tricks: Lessons learned from a year of writing and submitting

HNY Folks!

You know how great minds think alike? Around the time I was toying with the idea of publishing one post related to writing/reading every week, my friend Payal went ahead and built a whole thingie out of it! So I’m colluding with her in the grand 52 Weeks of Reading and Writing challenge! Feel free to join in!

Without further ado, here’s my first post of the series:

In 2013, I wrote and/or revised 12 short stories and essays. I made a total of 48 submissions (primarily short stories, with a few essays thrown in). For your edification, here are a few stats:

Submitted – 48

Accepted – 2 (+1 acceptance received in Jan-14)

Rejected – 31

Waiting on a response – 12 (-1 if I count the ’14 acceptance)

Withdrawn – 3

So my acceptance rate is 2/48 = 4.2% which is lower than the acceptance rate of most literary magazines! I’m not sure if this should thrill me or kill me, but the good thing is that I’m hooked to the ‘Write. Polish. Submit. Repeat’ pattern.

There have been a few lessons learned along the way. This is one of those moments where you go:

Life Lessons

But if you’re not learning, you’re dying. Well, at least, decaying/rotting/stagnating etc. So here are a few tips to help increase your chances of publication:

  1. Know the market you are sending to

Your chances of publication in a magazine of your choice vastly improve if you have read previous issues and can gauge that the tone/style of your piece matches theirs. Most back issues are available online, so there shouldn’t be any excuse for this. If back issues are available only at a price, then for once, splurge. It is a worthy investment. Trade with other writers or chip in to purchase. The time you invest in perusing the archives will be worthwhile.

My new policy is I do not submit to a magazine if I can’t picture my story fitting in. Note that this approach doesn’t guarantee an acceptance, but the probability of the editor liking your story climbs up a few notches.

More than anything else, this lesson carries the most weight.

  1. Maintain a calendar of upcoming deadlines/themes

Use Duotrope. It requires a paid subscription which I have taken for a few months and found it quite useful. Other free sources of listings include NewPages and The Review Review. I recommend signing up for The Review Review here.

You can use the themes and prompts for later stories if you are unable to submit by the deadline for that particular magazine, if for nothing else but to get the creative juices flowing.

Try Grammarly if you have issues with your grammar.

  1. Story Length

How long is a piece of string? Short stories lie anywhere between 1001 to 10,000 words. Probably anything longer would be a novella.

If your story is just over a thousand words, I suggest to boost it to 1500 words or more, or chop it to less than 1000 to make it flash.

  1. Literary value

This is especially a lesson for me. Earlier I tended to write more raw pieces, bereft of depth and beauty. I’ve consciously moved towards slightly more literary writing. Now I’m really immersed in the experience and after a long time, I’m enjoying my writing and am able to write purely for the pleasure of it.

  1. Critique partners

DO NOT hit submit on a story without getting it critiqued/read/reviewed by at least one other writer. We miss the most obvious and simple things in our story. Note that we would pounce on these mistakes in anyone else’s story without a second thought. Your Internal Editor may be awesome at catching grammatical mistakes, but I find that only a fresh pair of eyes can zero in on flawed plotlines, illogic and fallacies.

For further reading:

Nathaniel Tower, editor of Bartleby Snopes, has just written a great post on when not to submit a story. Check it out.