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Writing Update: Co-Editing Tesseracts Anthology

 

 

writing, Canadian anthology, Steve Vernon, Colleen Anderson, Tesseracts 17, Edge Publications

Get writing and send us your best.

I can now announce that East coast author Steve Vernon, and I (West coast author) will be co-editing the Canadian Tesseracts anthology. Subtitled “Speculation Canadian Fiction from Coast to Coast to Coast” Steve and I will be looking for stories from all territories and provinces. You have to have been born in Canada or currently live in Canada to submit to this publication so when you send in your stories, please tell us where you were born and where you live now.

Tesseracts has always been a bout Canadian fiction and many of the past Tesseracts have been themed. This one has no theme so we’re looking for anything that’s speculative: steampunk, alternate history, horror, gothic, SF, fantasy, magic realism, anything. I’m hoping that we’ll have a diversity of stories. Perhaps they’ll have that sense of Canadian where the elements and geography can play a great role, or maybe they’ll deal with cultural influences from First Nations, or early setters, or futuristic Acadians or even tales of the Basque who had a whaling station in the middle ages. Maybe the tales will deal with Wendigo or Sasquatch or Ogopogo and maybe they’ll take place in space or an underground warren.

Really, we want to see it all and we want variety. While we hope to have stories or poetry from all of

Steve Vernon, Tesseracts 17, Canadian fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, SF

Nova Scotian Steve Vernon will be co-editing Tesseract 17, a collection of Canadian speculative fiction.

Canada’s provinces and territories, it will be originality and quality that will be the final tellers. Yet another ghost story or descent into madness story won’t necessarily make it, unless (and that’s a big work) it is uniquely and well told, with deft language and a good twist.

In some senses, competition will be fierce because there are many authors in Ontario, for example, but we might only be able to accept one story from that province. While authors of smaller provinces and territories have a better chance, there is still no guarantee if the story isn’t great. You have until Feb. 28, 2013 to submit. Read on for the guidelines.

ABOUT THE EDITORS:

Colleen Anderson has been nominated for the Aurora Award, Gaylactic Spectrum Award, finalist in the Rannu competition and received several honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, the Year’s Best SF, and Imaginarium. Her poetry and fiction have been published in Britain, Canada and the United States. She has attended both the Clarion West and the Centre for the Study of Science Fiction (CSSF) writing workshops and has a degree in creative writing. Colleen is a member of the Horror Writers of America and SF Canada.

Steve Vernon has read on CBC radio, Breakfast Television, Global Noon and at schools and libraries across Nova Scotia. His high voltage storytelling production, Word of Mouth, was written under the auspices of the now dissolved Nova Scotia Arts Council and presented two years running at the Halifax Fringe Festival.

Steve has written several ghost story collections for regional publisher Nimbus – including the bestselling Halifax Haunts: Exploring the City’s Spookiest Spaces – as well as a very popular novel for young readers Sinking Deeper and a children’s picture book Maritime Monsters. Steve’s latest ghost story collection is The Lunenburg Werewolf And Other Stories of the Supernatural. Blog: www3.ns.sympatico.ca/stevevernon

SUBMISSION DETAILS:
  • The Tesseracts Seventeen anthology will reflect as broad a spectrum of stories as possible; highlighting unique styles and manners.
  • Submissions must be speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, dark fantasy, magic realism, slipstream, supernatural horror, weird tales, alternate history, space opera, planetary adventure, surrealism, superheroes, mythic fantasy, etc.
  • Submissions may be either short fiction or poetry.
  • The maximum length for stories is 5,000 words, with shorter works preferred.
  • The Tesseracts anthology series is only open to submissions from Canadians, landed immigrants living in Canada, long time residents of Canada, and Canadian expatriates living abroad.
  • Canadian authors who write in languages other than English are welcome to submit an English translation of their work, provided it otherwise falls within the parameters of this anthology. Translation into English is the sole responsibility of the author. Please supply details of original publication for any submission that originally appeared in a language other than English.
  • Deadline: February 28, 2013 (midnight).
  • Do not query before submitting.
  • Email submissions to: tesseracts17@edgewebsite.com
  • Emails MUST contain the word “submission” in the subject line, or they will be deleted automatically by the server. Please also include the story title in the subject line.
  • Submissions MUST come in an attachment: only .RTF and/or .DOC formats are acceptable.
  • Emails MUST contain a cover letter in the body of the email; for security reasons, email attachments with no cover letter will be deleted unread and unanswered.
  • Cover letter: include your name, the title of your story, your full contact information (address, phone, email), and a brief bio. Do not describe or summarize the story.
  • If your address is not within Canada, please indicate in the cover letter your status vis-à-vis Canada.
  • Reprints (stories having previously appeared in English in any format, print or electronic, including but not limited to any form of web publication) can be considered but will be a hard sell; reprints must come from a source not easily available in Canada. If your submission is a reprint, please supply full publication history of the story. If your story appeared previously, including but not limited to anywhere on the web, and you do not disclose this information to the editor upon submission, you will be disqualified from consideration.
  • Submission format: no strange formatting, colour fonts, changing fonts, borders, backgrounds, etc. Leave italics in italics, NOT underlined. Put your full contact information on the first page (name, address, email address, phone). No headers, no footers, no page numbering. DO NOT leave a blank line between paragraphs. Indent paragraphs. ALWAYS put a # to indicate scene breaks (a blank line is NOT enough).
  • ALWAYS include your full contact information (name/address/email/phone number) on the first page of the attached submission.
  • Payment for short poetry is $20.00. Payment for short stories is prorated as follows: $50 for stories up to 1,500 words, rising to a maximum of $150 for stories up to 5,000 words (longer stories are paid a slightly higher fee, but in order to exceed the word length limit of 5,000 words, the editor must judge a story to be of surpassing excellence.)
  • Rights: for original fiction, first World English publication, with a two-month exclusive from publication date; for all, non-exclusive anthology rights; all other rights remain with the author.
  • Spelling: please use Canadian spelling, as per the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.
  • Response time: initial responses (no / rewrite request / hold for further consideration) will be prompt, usually within fifteen days. Please query if you’ve not heard back within 30 days. Final responses no later than 15 April 2013.
  • We do not advise that you submit more than one story.
  • Simultaneous submissions are not encouraged but are acceptable. Should you receive a “rewrite request” or “hold for further consideration” response, please indicate immediately whether your story is under consideration anywhere else.
  • Publication: Fall 2013 (trade paperback & e-Book).
  • Email submissions to: tesseracts17@edgewebsite.com

    Canadian fiction, speculative ficiton, horror, fantasy, dark fiction, SF

    My reprint collection is available through Smashwords and soon through Amazon and in print.


 

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Writing: Rejection Letters

Ah rejection letters, how I hate thee. Who doesn’t? We all want to be perfect and have all our pieces sell first time out. Chances are that if I was writing in the 50s I would be selling most pieces, but then probably some of my stuff would be banned since mindsets have changed since then.

One thing you can usually depend on when writing and submitting work is that you’ll receive back some indication as to whether your piece is rejected or accepted. A rejection might not be more than a boilerplate email, where the same message is sent to all rejectees. It might be a short personal note, with even a brief indication of why the editor didn’t accept it. Sometimes rejection letters are a combo of boilerplate with a personal note. And some editors have different degrees of rejection letters, from no thanks ,to no thanks but send us your next.

There are a few magazines that don’t send rejection letters, such as AdBusters. Personally, I find this rude and if I can go to the effort of sending my work in they should be able to go to the effort of hitting reply to send a response. I find I don’t really tend to send to magazines where I can’t gauge when they’re done with it, or I might simultaneously submit (sending to more than one publisher at the same time).

Interesting to note that as I was recently throwing out old rejection letters I found long talky rejections from editors. These were

writing, stories, writing submissions, rejection letters, rejections, editing, anthologies

Ah, rejection, too constant a companion. Creative Commons: http://gettingpublished.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/coping-with-rejection/

from the 90s when the internet was still a youngling and letters actually came in the mail, and I guess, editors had time. I didn’t even remember being on first name basis with some of the editors who took time to tell me what worked and what didn’t. Maybe some day I’ll do a post with the best of those letters, because you know, I had keep those ones.

But, I ran into another area of rejection that turned out to be grey where I thought it was black and white. Some publishers will do reprint anthologies. A regular anthology might be all unpublished fiction, a mixture of published and unpublished or all published pieces. The reasons for a full-on reprint anthology could be it’s the best of starfaring giraffes or the year’s best bizarro fiction. It might also be done because the publisher can’t afford to pay high enough rates and reprints are often paid at a lower rate, or because the topic is small enough there just might not be enough material without having old and new, or as a retrospective. There are different reasons but reprint anthologies are handled differently.

In some cases, such as the Year’s Best that Ellen Datlow edits, she will have read a galaxy of stories already (I think she might be cloned). If you have a piece you think she might not have seen you’re encouraged to send it in to her. For other reprint anthos the onus is on the author to send the piece. With Ellen’s it could be either the publisher or the author. They run the gamut.

I’ve had some honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and the Year’s Best SF. In those cases, either the publisher submitted or Ellen had already read them. I found out about the honorable mentions in most cases from the editors, though once, for my story “Hold Back the Night,” which received mention in both Year’s Bests I only found out about three years later when I was doing a google search.

With other topic specific ones I’d send in my story and get either a rejection or an acceptance. This year I’d submitted to a couple of others, and in one case I received no letter. I just happened to see the list on another group. I sent an email, since it was a friend and said, “What, not even a rejection letter?” To make the long story short, the editor believed one doesn’t send rejection letters for retrospective anthologies, like Ellen Datlow’s, but then I don’t know if I sent her a story if I’d get a note or not. I was under the impression that if I submitted work I’d get a notice, even if only a group email of those in the antho. The editor was under the impression that no notice was necessary.

We actually both had reasonable expectations of what we thought was standard. Neither was really wrong. I suggested though to save on time and annoyance for everyone that it would help to clarify guidelines so that people aren’t emailing constantly wondering if they missed the notice. Making guidelines clear and succinct helps writers know the rules for each publication. So saying, “Do not respond before four months have gone by. If you have not heard from us until then, please query.” Or “Due to the volume of submissions we will not be sending out rejection notices. Table of contents should be listed by X date.”

So there you go. Just when you think you have it figured out, some new twist let’s you know there’s still room to grow. Now if I could only have it all figured out on how to be a millionaire in my writing. 😉

 

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Selling Manuscripts and Formatting

I  have just started up as a slush reader for ChiZine Publications. This is somewhat different from the reading I do on poetry for Chiaroscuro (Chizine), the magazine, or the stories I read as fantasy editor for Aberrant Dreams. CZP publishes books and collections so a person is asked to send in a synopsis and the first three chapters of their book. By the way, I’ve been asked before what slush means and it is the submissions sent into a publication. There are usually several readers before the submission gets to the editor, the person who makes the decision on what is ultimately kept and what is rejected. Because most publications get hundreds of submissions a month, it can take time to get through them all and to move efficiently there are assistant editors or readers. These people determine if the manuscript is interesting and good enough to be sent on for consideration. In most cases, everyone starts in the slush pile, unless you’re an established and well-known writer.

One of the first things anyone wishing to sell a manuscript should do is research the markets. Make sure you’re sending to a company that publishes the kind of stuff you write. You would not believe how many people pluck names off of the internet like seeds in a sunflower and send out their manuscripts without actually knowing the market. Second, read the instructions. And follow them. There is some tiny leeway such as if an editor asks for Times New Roman and you do Courier font. They may take the manuscript and they may not. If the fonts are similar enough, you’re probably okay but the more errors you make the less likely it is that you’ll get to the stage of even having your submission read. Editors read hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts and they read them quickly to stay on top of the pile. If a goofy font or strange formatting slows them down, they get irritated and rightfully so.

So far, I have only looked at four queries. Not one has actually submitted a manuscript in the correct format. We only ask for a few chapters, but there are several problems one or all of these people have done. Here is what you should avoid in your cover letter, your synopsis and your manuscript:

  • rambling, incoherent run-away sentences
  • bad grammar
  • spelling mistakes
  • single spacing…double spacing is the industry standard–it makes it easier to read
  • not indenting. See that little Tab key on the left…that’s what it’s for, indenting. Or in some cases you can set up automatic indenting in some programs.
  • adding an extra space between each paragraph. No no no. That’s what indenting does. It tells the reader that there is a new paragraph. Didn’t anyone take this in school?
  • hitting return (or the Enter key) at the end of every line. Absolutely NO NO NO. My gods, this takes so much time to write this way. Computers are somewhat smart. If you write and write and write and just keep going, guess what, the sentence doesn’t run off the page but will pop down to the next line. Only when you have finished a paragraph, and only then, do you hit “Enter” and proceed to the next paragraph, not the next line.

Do not, when we send you a rejection letter and suggest that you proofread your work and correct the grammar and typos before sending it elsewhere, send a whiny letter back saying, why can’t you just read the story and ignore that? We can ignore a few typos of a bit of awkward grammar but a whole book of it is unreadable and means a rewrite. We’re not  going to buy anything that takes that much trudging. We will not do that much editing. Fix it and use a spellchecker. But remember, a spellchecker is not that bright and will suggest what it thinks your sentence should be so you better know your words.

Treat writing like any other skill. Would you want a doctor who just happened to be sloppy but knew he had the heart of a surgeon? Would you ride in a plane where the pilot had read about flying but never had done it? Writing is a skill and it takes practice. It also takes following some simple rules once the writing is done and you’re trying to sell your piece. Always read the guidelines. I’ve made mistakes when I submit stories. It’s easy to gloss over but when you get to submitting a manuscript you need to be even more careful. What I posted about is the standard but some publishers ask for different formats. Follow them.

http://www.chizine.com/chizinepub/submission_guidelines.php

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Writing: The Great Wheel of Publishing

 This wheel is large and ungainly, held together with sweat, tears, slush pile manuscripts, spit, unbought or returned books and elbow grease. It lumbers along, turning ever so slowly, sometimes looking more as if it will tumble over then keep rolling. But roll it does, usually, sometimes losing an author, or a novel, some staff or advertising revenue. It does not turn smoothly but continues until the gap of lost material becomes so big that the wheel must be overhauled.

Such is the case with various publishers along the long road of years. Ten years ago I was trying to get copy editing work with US publishers. This Herculean task met many difficulties. Publishers and the editors in charge are over-busy, always reading and procuring manuscripts and then going through the myriad phases of production. Send a letter and if it isn’t imperative to answer (we want your manuscript, pay our invoice) it never gets answered, not even if you include a SASE and you’re looking for employment. The next stage is to phone and hope you get the right editor in the right department. Should you call and only get their voicemail, presume they won’t return your call. And if you live on the west coast and have a three-hour time difference it will take early hours and a crystal ball to figure out the best time and day to try and catch and editor. Give up on Fridays altogether.

Should you get through these first layers of the publishing house inferno, you will most likely get a copy editing test. Once that’s done you send it back. I did two over two-three years with Tor, where they subsequently lost the test both times. Then said oh well you have to go through St. Martins as they’re our boss. Uh, they didn’t know this beforehand when they gave me the test? And Ace gave me the test; I sent it back and heard nothing. When I queried twice they said, oh we can’t hire Canadians. I didn’t know that when I sent you a test. Great, I’ve had a lot of practice with editing tests.

With Harper Collins, I passed the test. Then they sent me disks because they used a specific computer-based editing system. (This was about ten years ago and I’m not sure Word’s track changes feature was that developed then.) So, I received the disks but then had to buy a new computer because I didn’t have the memory capacity. At that time the guy who was going to train me was on holidays for a month. When he got back, he quit. So they were then trying to find someone else. In that time, they also bought out Avon books.

What ensued was two years of frustration and nary a job out of it. The editor I was dealing with was transferred to a different dept., then let go. Others came and went. I was given various names of people and would call every month. Each time I had to explain the situation who I had talked to, where it had changed, what area of copy editing I specialized in (SF/spec fiction) etc. Each time, it was a different person, a new department, a new system. Two years of calling every month after being told I would be hired as a freelancer and I never got one job out of it. But I had a bigger, better computer.

Over the years I have edited for a few US publishers and Canadian publishers but the sheer frustration of getting New York publishers was enough to stop most people. You really do have to live there. The longest stint I had copy editing with one publisher was three years or so with Byron Preiss book packagers (now gone the way of the dodo). And I got my first job because I was at the World Fantasy Convention standing in the lineup for the hotel. The guy in front told me he had just got a promotion to editor and I said, hey do you need any copy editors. He said send a resume when you get back but before I could he called because he had a rush job. Keith DeCandido gave me my first real break in copy editing. He quit before the company imploded and I had stopped doing work form them before that because getting paid was becoming difficult. He now writes novels. I now think of writing my novel, still copy edit and still write.

Other hurdles in the publishing world are managing editors who ask you to copy edit but don’t clarify by how much. Some publishers (or working on some authors) means that you’re required to only correct typos and punctuation. Copy editing is more than this and includes correcting sentence structure and continuity. It can be structural editing, which looks at the overall structure of chapters, pacing and flow, or very close to proofreading. Over the years I have found most companies who wanted proofreading really wanted more than that.

It’s common for individuals looking for an editor to say they want proofreading when in almost all cases they mean copy editing. It can be confusing for the new writer but just as confusing for the freelance editor. I’ve had publishers cancel a project in the middle (they were moving into movies, but did pay for what I’d ) or wanting a book padded (requiring that one line paragraphs be left in and the worst sentences be reworked but not deleted).

Publishing houses usually have a house style and often a style sheet. If they don’t give me one, I usually ask if they have a house style as it can affect the overall product. I’ve started to see some weird things in some books of late. Tor is an American publisher yet I’ve seen a book or two done with British spellings. In one case it may have been to give it the flavor of an earlier era as it was about a world in the 1800s.

But editing and acquisition of books are just a couple spokes of that great wheel. There is design production, advertising, marketing, distribution, return and paying the employees, artists and authors. Some spokes seem to have more weight, or, if you were looking a wooden wheel, some would be sturdier or decorated, but without all of the spokes the wheel fails. And to carry the analogy to the end the hub of the wheel is the writer and the publisher. Without the writer there is no story to sell. Without the publisher there are still stories but it’s harder to get them out to the public.

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Writing Update March

I’m way behind this year on submissions. Normally I do a blitz in January. But this year I was working on a large editing project for a client. I just seemed to busy to hunker down. Right now I’m trying to get a story rewritten for one anthology and write a new story for another anthology, as well as work on my novel. And I’ve been trying to get my taxes done. So I don’t think I’ve submitted anything new yet this year.

I’ve received some rejections for stories sent out from last fall, but yesterday saw some reward. I arrived home to find a letter from Barton College saying my poem “Finding Dionysus” was awarded second prize and will be published in Crucible. As well, there was an email from Shroud magazine saying they had accepted my story “A Kind Hand” for publication in issue #6.

Yesterday I said that perseverance is a large part of writing and becoming published. I’ve also talked about revisionist poems. Although “Finding Dionysus” is from Persephone’s point of view it’s not as revisionist as some of my others but is part of a series I’ve done on Greek gods. The poem was written about six years ago but as is often the case with submissions, an editor’s preference can be for a particular type or style of writing. As well, magazines may have themes or just published a piece with a similar theme. I was once told by one magazine that they had just published a torso story and they couldn’t take another or they would be seen as a fetish magazine.

“A Kind Hand” is a tale of perseverance in the writing. I started the story probably ten years ago, wrote a bit and let it sit. I liked the idea but for a while wasn’t sure where to go with it. I was basing it off of a Germanic folktale about Berchta (a hearth goddess) so I had the plot but I wanted to give it a more human aspect. Some stories flow out easily and all at once. Others come out in fits and spurts and seem to be a jumble. “A Kind Hand” was somewhere in between and when I wrote on it, it came out fairly smoothly. However, taking so many years to write the story meant that I had to keep rereading it to figure out where I was going. Also, one’s style can change from story to story and year to year. I had to try and continue in the style in which I had started, which I really liked.

Once it was done I sent it out but also sent it to a friend to read. He made some good comments so I brought out the threat aspect a bit more and once it was rejected, sent the story out again. I think I had only submitted this one a few times before Shroud.

Looking at start to finish on the poem was probably seven years. The story was ten or more years in the process. I have ideas like this, that I start because I had an image in my mind, but perhaps no plot, or no ending. They sit and sometimes I do finish them. There are those stories that I complete but am not satisfied with so I maybe send them out once and then they wait for a rewrite so that I can figure out how to make them better. Rarely does a story or poem flow out quickly, all in one piece, with minimal rewriting. And rarely does it go from creation to publication quickly. My quickest was probably “The Fishwife,” which flowed out in no more than three days, needed a minimal rewrite and sold to the first or second place I sent it. Still, with the time taken for submitting and the selection process of the magazine, it was about a year.

This doesn’t even include the time from acceptance to publication. The tardiest rejection I ever received was seven years. Some pieces that have been accepted may be  a year (or more) from acceptance to actually being published.

And last, as fantasy editor of Aberrant Dreams, I have released all stories but one back to the authors. The magazine is going through some structural changes and it was becoming far too long in holding stories. I hate giving up good stories but it wasn’t fair to hang on indefinitely. I have two letters to send out, releasing one more and letting one author choose if he wants his accepted story to sit in the to be published pile or if he’d like to withdraw it. Then we wait for the restructure.

Time is not linear in the world of writing and submitting, nor on the publishing end of a magazine. Patience and perseverance really help.

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Writing: The Life of a Writer

I try once a week to take my laptop and go off to a local cafe/restaurant, have a couple of drinks and work on a novel. If I don’t do this, I tend to get distracted with many other writing projects.

I’m not writing any poetry at the moment but rewriting a bit, trying to redo a story for one anthology, finish a new story for another, and work on my novel. Sometimes ideas flow and sometimes it’s stop and start, the idea complex, the world taking some thinking. How much to put in of the world without veering too far from the story becomes a balancing act. It’s almost time to go through my bookmarked literary and speculative markets again, tossing the broken links and moving the ones that take online subs into a separate folder. I’m behind on submitting because of some freelance work and the writing.

An example of a submission night: I sit down at 8:00 pm and start going through the markets, continuing from where I left off the last night. By 11:30 I’ve weeded through the markets and sent out poems to about four magazines. That’s about four poems per magazine and they’re already written. I also submit two stories to two other magazines. But just doing that, searching through, finding the right poems, reading through them, making a few changes, reading other guidelines took three and a half hours.

When I submit stories/poetry in paper format it takes even longer because I must take the template letter, fill in the titles on each one, print the poems and letters off, match them up, fill out envelopes, make up SASEs, put stamps on, put the material inside, seal them up and take them to the post office. Usually I’ll do a batch of about ten magazines at once and it will take me three solid nights to get everything sorted.

Although I could keep track of where my stories and poems go on an Excel spreadsheet I find that I need a tactile, visual aid. I still use index cards. For the markets I have a 5X7  index card and I write the editor, magazine name, address, pay and type of writing that they accept at the top. Then I write the title of the pieces I’m sending and the date I sent them, usually just the month and year: 03/09. When the story/poem comes back I write the return date. If they’ve accepted a piece I put a circled P beside the piece and the date.

I have a separate 3X5 card for every poem and story. I have categorized these cards by color: pink for erotica and mainstream, green for fantasy, yellow for SF, blue for dark fantasy. That’s for stories. For poems I have them on white cards or green for the speculative poems. I put the title and the length at the top of the card and then list the market and date sent on each one as I send them out. When I have sent to the market, I put the market card at the back of my large index box. When I have submitted a story/poem I put that card to the back of the story/poem box behind a paper-clipped card. I have one box for poems (I have that many) and one for fiction. One larger box holds the markets. If a story/poem has been out too long I will send a query and I mark that with a Q and the date. If I hear nothing after a couple of months, I put the card back into the submission flow again.

I confess to not having a card for every market. If they’re fairly new or a one-of anthology, I sometimes don’t make a card. I’ll wait to see if they continue and if I submit more than once. But I do have one for every piece I’ve written. It lets me see how often I’ve sent a piece out, where I’ve sent it and which ones are becoming trunk stories; the ones that keep going out again and again and again.

I tried computerized index systems before but I found that if I wanted to find a poem about deadly flowers for market X that was doing a theme issue, and SF stories dealing with a dark future for market Y, that it was easier to sort the cards back and forth and match them up to the best market. Say that I have one futuristic SF story and there are three markets. I look at the story, make sure I haven’t sent it to the markets and then will try to match it to the highest paying one first. But if I have a secondary story, SF but Utopian and only one magazine likes that type then I may switch them about. To me, this is far easier with the cards than by clicking through various screens.

Writing is about 40% creation (breaking that down to 15% writing and 25% rewriting) and 60% perseverance. It’s true that if you persevere long enough, you will get items published. Some stories have sat for years and then ended up at the right market at the right time. But it also means you must be willing to rewrite and drop your favored line or character. Some editors will give a short statement of what worked or didn’t. You can get contradictory statements so take them with a grain of salt, but if you’re saying the editor was out to lunch for every rejection, then you’ll probably continue to get a lot of rejections.

The advent of computers meant suddenly that everyone could write. But not everyone can write well. It takes practice, and magazines are inundated with good works as well as bad. The more polished a piece, the better the chance of acceptance. Continuing to submit and not give up is half the battle.

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Writing: Rejection Letters

On one of my writers’ lists we started discussing rejection letters. These have ranged from the ones that say, “I love your novel but have no idea how I would market it,” to form rejections.

In the range of rejections I’ve received is the acceptance letter from a new magazine that said they had “excepted” my story. I thought they had rejected but they hadn’t. Though the magazine didn’t make it to the first issue, I did get paid.

I have had many form rejections along the vein of “Thanks for your submission but it’s not right for us.” Fairly banal and doesn’t tell you anything of why they didn’t accept your poem or story. I have had the form rejections that are annoying and less than helpful. They’re usually the ones that say something like: “Thanks for your submission but we have decided not to accept it. The reason we reject pieces could be grammar, spelling, we’ve seen the plot before, flat characterization, not enough conflict, the editor was drunk, the editor hates stories about X, bad phase of the moon, we’re not paid enough to care, we don’t like you or your little dog too, etc.” Okay, maybe they don’t say all of these things but they may as well because, really, it’s a shot in the dark for any one of the reasons.

Asimov’s used to have a super irritating one for slushpile authors. It inspired me to write a poem about it that Starline published. I gave Gardner Dozois a copy when I met him at a convention, and I did eventually get out of that slushpile and that annoying letter. There have been a few that were downright insulting and snobby. Why editors think they need to do this to authors, I’m not sure but it usually bespeaks of nonprofessionalism in the magazine too.

I received one from a humor publisher done in the form of a breakup letter. I’m sure they thought they were being cute and funny but I would have rejected it for not being humorous at all and I found it more annoying in its coyness than anything else.

Some rejection letters use a checklist where there are boxes with such things as: plot has been done too often, grammatical issues, not enough conflict, characters flat, dialogue unbelievable, etc. The editor then checks the boxes  that pertain to your submission. Many of these letters also have the box that says, just not right for us, which is a valid reason. These rejections are marginally better because they may give you an idea of what doesn’t work in the story. I haven’t seen any of these for a while now. Either I’m getting personal rejections or the places I send work to just don’t use them.

The best rejection is one that says something about why the editor is rejecting a piece. Although this can often be subjective and once in awhile, downright stupid, (editors are people too) more often it will give you an idea of what is stalling the piece. An example of receiving some information and trying to correct the story is displayed by this one piece that I have never managed to sell. It takes place on an alien world with insectoid and larval creatures. I’d send it to one magazine and would be told the story was too alien and the reader couldn’t relate to the creatures. I’d rewrite and send it out to another magazine and receive back a rejection saying my aliens were too human. I did this for a bit, always having it rejected. Then I didn’t bother to rewrite the story in between the submissions and sure enough, one editor would say “too alien” and another “too human.” I’ll probably never sell that story until I’m a famous chestnut. So rejections must be taken with a grain of salt.

In the writers’ group, most of the writers said they’d prefer an informative rejection. Sometimes that rejection, after editors have held the story for a second reading, seems to be less preferable, but then it means I’m getting close. A no-no is to write back to editors and lambaste them for rejecting your piece. Professionals take it as part of the process and we chalk the annoying ones up to part of the experience. I always try, as an editor, to give a reason for rejecting as it hones my own skills and I know how much writers appreciate it. And so far, I have had letters of thank you but no one calling me names for rejecting their piece of genius.

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Writing: Managing Markets

Every writer has a way of tracking their submissions. If they don’t, they run the chance of embarrassment; sending a story to the publication twice, sending the same story to more than one publication when simultaneous submissions are not allowed.

In the past, I know there have been software programs for tracking submissions. Places like www.duotrope.com track submissions to a particular publisher, though it’s not yet easy to use and many market listings still don’t show the average number of days to an acceptance or a rejection.

For tracking where I send my own submissions I use a double card system. My publisher markets go on a 3X5 index card, where I write the name of the publisher, editor, address, types of subs/genres, pay and whether they take email submission/replies or not. On each card, I’ll write the story name and date: The Trials of Lemons 7/08. I never get as specific as putting the actual day.

Each story and poem is on a smaller index card. I started color coding them: blue=dark fantasy/horror, yellow=SF, green=fantasy, pink=erotica/mainstream, white=poems (except the spec poems are now on green). On these cards I’ll write where I sent them to. So for “The Trials of Lemons” (a poem), I’ll write: Chizine 7/08. When the story/poem is returned I mark the month: 9/08. If it’s an acceptance I put a “P” and circle it, meaning published. Actual date of publication isn’t put on the cards but on my vitae.

Ungainly? Perhaps. I could put this all on an Excel sheet, and once did try a computer generated card system, but I’m a fairly visual person and I find that I need to have the cards in my hand when I’m matching markets and submissions. Once I’ve matched things and submitted, I put my “sent” cards at the back of the box, with a paperclip separating sent and unsent material. I have a box for markets, one for fiction and one for poetry.

In recent years, I find I’m not using the market cards as much. Now that there are good and reliable sites like Duotrope and www.ralan.com, which keep information very up to date, I tend to always go to Ralan’s to check what the status of the publisher is. They sometimes close to submissions and may not always mark it on their own website (annoying) but it will be on Ralan’s, so in fact, his site is more up to date than the publisher website. If a market is a one-off anthology I don’t make a market card. If I’m also trying them for the first time, I wait. But now there are markets where I don’t bother making a card right away and then I run into trouble if I don’t read the story card close enough. This happened last week when I had already sent a story to a publisher and then sent a second a week later. I realized it right away and sent a withdrawal notice.

Some day there may be a computer program that’s visual enough for me, but for now I shuffle cards and can see at a glance where I’ve sent a story or poem and how long it’s been with a publisher. I can also count in a moment, how many submissions I have out but I’m not that anal. Really.

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