My Writing, Writing

Mini-Update

I have been light on writing-related work this year. No Short Story Challenge, and definitely no other brand new work. I’ve spent most of my available free time on editing and whipping older pieces into shape. Per my records, I have about 28 of these essays and short stories that I need to whittle and carve to perfection, or at least start submitting them if I find I cannot revise and edit them any more.

Despite that I have a couple of acceptances to report. One was my short story targeted for a YA audience, titled Miss Quit which found a home in the lit mag Youth Imagination. I wrote this as part of the Short Story Challenge 2014, and it had been simmering ever since. When I did finally send it out I got a fairly quick acceptance.

The second was my article for writers, titled The Maturation of a Writer at Walrus Publishing. I wrote this last year on the spur of the moment one day, while reflecting on the differences I felt as a more experienced writer now compared to when I had started out.

Do read them and tell me what you think! Feel free to post links to your own recently published work in the comments below!

Writing

Paying Submission Fees to Lit Mags

In recent years, a trend has emerged of literary journals charging submission fees to writers. This is a sore point for most submitters. As it is, the number of paying journals is far fewer as compared to magazines happy to compensate with ‘exposure’.

When Brevity started charging a submission fee, they explained their rationale behind it in a detailed post.

Most journals charge minimal fees of the order of $2 or $3. This is meant to partially offset the costs charged by Submittable or other online submissions management systems, and also to pay writers whose works are found suitable for publication.

Some journals like Narrative charge $20 and upwards to submit, which seems too steep, though I understand they pay their writers well.

Though Brevity charges a fee, they pay $45 for essays up to 750 words. This qualifies it as a Professional payment as per Duotrope.

Another aspect to consider here is if emerging writers really stand a chance in getting published in such magazines. It’s possible that the writers’ fees that are collected go towards paying solicited writers for their works. That’s something you have to weigh with each magazine. Check the bios of contributors. If it’s filled with familiar, known names, then new writers might not stand a chance.

The really objectionable ones are the magazines taking money but not paying writers. I’m sure their business model demands or at least justifies it, but it’s difficult to digest that writers input their creative work as well as part with precious currency merely to see their name in print.

There’s lively debate on this topic at several avenues:

Authors Publish takes a stand against submission fees

Writers Relief breaks it down for you

Michael Nye at The Missouri Review says they introduced fees to reduce the number of submissions:

My own experience

I usually wouldn’t part with my cold hard cash, but I do make exceptions in certain situations. For me, I found it quite convenient to submit online rather than go through the hassle of putting together a submission package consisting of envelope, stamp and printed out cover letters.

I did submit to two journals – Brevity and The Missouri Review by paying the submission fees. At $3, it works out to approx. Rs. 180, which is how much I’d spend on coffee for two at Starbucks. Though the pieces got rejected, I received personal rejections with glowing comments and an invitation to resubmit in the future. This doesn’t bring out such a big high as getting an acceptance, but regular submitters would recognize the value of a personal rejection as opposed to a standard form one.

In other lit mag news, Nathaniel Tower has another useful post on finding sustainable lit mags that don’t disappear taking your publications credits down along with them. Do take a look.

Writing

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?

Writing

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.