If you’ve been hanging around here, you’ll know that I have a recurring series where I highlight short story publishers and give you the low down on what they accept and how to submit. Today I’m proud to introduce a new series highlighting video essayists.
Why video essayists? Well I, like many others, binge-watch an awful lot of YouTube. Lately, my favorite content has involved some sort of meaningful dissection on the art of writing which helps me better understand myself, my process, and how to improve as a writer. I’ve learned a lot from these channels, and I wanted to share some of their work with you.
First up is a channel called Storytellers. The following essay on how to write like a professional is what first drew me to their site. I go back to this video time and time again for a pep talk when I feel like I’m not generating the content I want to at the rate I’d prefer. It reminds me that yes, writing is hard, and lots of other writers feel this way too. But it’s not an insurmountable problem, if you can overcome that resistance.
Highlights from this video:
“The professional knows that the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work sets in motion a mysterious process that produces inspiration. The amateur waits for inspiration. The professional knows that it will come after he starts.”
“Playing for money is the device he uses to adopt a working man mentality. As Pressfield states, the muse of inspiration loves a blue collar work ethic. She loves the working stiff and hates prima donnas.”
If you love this video, check out more Storytellers content on YouTube.
If you love this video and want to pay them money to produce more content, consider supporting them on Patreon.
Want to know more about Steven Pressfield’s thoughts on professionalism? Here’s the book that’s quoted on Amazon.com. Feel free to pick out your favorite quote on Good Reads and tack it to your writing inspiration board.
I am over-the-moon excited to announce that I placed first (!) in the 2017 Bards and Sages Annual Writing Competition! I got the news a couple days before we crossed over into 2018 but couldn’t share until the official announcement went out this week. Suffice it to say that I needed those days to collect my thoughts, lest my post on the matter be a series of excitedly jumping gifs.
(As opposed to just the one.)
Anyway, I’m really excited about this one because in addition to being my first win, the piece I wrote, Confessions of a Post-Modern Galatea, was one of my very first completed stories. The original version wasn’t much more than a flash piece, but over the years it was revised and revised and revised until about a year ago, when it settled into its own at just over 6k. I’m very proud of all the work I put into it, and extremely excited to share it with the world.
You should be able to read it as part of the Bardic Tales and Sage Advice X Anthology, set to premiere in August of 2018, most likely. (I’m guessing based on past release dates.) And if you want to get in on the action yourself you should check out information about next year’s competition, due to post in about April.
I’m really glad I kept working on this one for as long as I did, and I’m incredibly thankful for my writing group for giving me advice, edits and support over the last few years as I worked on this and many, many other submissions.
A strong start to 2018; here’s hoping it continues.
It has been quite a year. I admit that I had a rough…oh…six months or so…. when it came to submitting my stories, but I’m slowly getting myself back together after falling off the wagon. I haven’t been out of the game that long, but some recent experiences prompted a conversation on best submission practices. Today we’re going to look at some of the most common problems from both authors and publishers.
Not Following the Guidelines
Let’s start off with the number one frustration from publishers: not following their guidelines. Literally every publication has guidelines for what they’re looking for. Guidelines usually encompass the following specifications: genre, content, length, and manuscript formatting. They will let you know who to send it to, what to include, how to include it, and some will even let you know when to expect an answer and how much you’ll get paid. Every publication is a little bit different, and even ones you’ve submitted to before might update their preferences. Read the guidelines, follow the guidelines.
Not Posting the Guidelines
I’m a proponent for equal opportunity bitching, so let me take a moment to address the publishers. Dear editors: how are we supposed to follow your guidelines when you hide them, or worse, scatter them across multiple pages? I don’t know who got the bright idea that formatting instructions should be separated from content guidelines but apparently that’s a thing lately. If you must do this, such as in the event of a limited-time content call that’s separate from your usual slush pile, at least link the pages to each other. The harder the authors have to work to research your guidelines the more likely they are to screw it up.
Too Many Guidelines
This goes with the above point, but suffice it to say that if your guidelines ramble on for longer than your max accepted word count, you’re doing it wrong. Authors don’t have time to wade through a wall of text trying to figure out what you want and don’t want. I don’t care why you think Courier is the devil; you do you. And frankly, you don’t owe me an explanation. But if you ramble on about it for three paragraphs I’m going to miss your note about single spacing and headers and then we’ll both be pissed. If your formatting is really that specific just ask for a plain text file and copy/paste it into your preferred style. Or learn to love Shunn, your choice.
Improper Sim-Sub Etiquette
When I first started submitting, simultaneous submissions were a huge no-no. For those who haven’t heard this term, a simultaneous submission is a story that you’ve sent to multiple publishers. At the time, most publishers wanted to be the only one taking your story under consideration. If they rejected it, you were free to send it somewhere else and await their answer. As an author, this was frustrating because the wait times could be arduous.
Nowadays most publishers (but not all – again, read your guidelines) are okay with sim-subs if—IF—you let them know if it’s been accepted elsewhere so they can remove it from their list. That said, you know what’s coming, right? You have to keep track of where you sent the story and let them know if it’s off the table. And don’t be shady – if a publisher says no sim-subs, don’t try to get away with it anyway. You’ll just piss them off if you have to withdraw it.
Arguing with the Publisher
Just… just don’t. The publishers don’t owe you an explanation regarding their inner workings. If they say “no pdfs” assume they have a good reason for it and move on. If they reject your story without telling you why, accept it and move on. Most won’t give anything more than a standard rejection anyway – they don’t have time to give you notes and doing so will only mean you’re more likely to argue with them. Rejections are non-negotiable.
Note: Arguing is not the same as asking for clarification. In the case of unclear (or, ahem, missing) guidelines it’s acceptable to send a quick note to the appropriate contact e-mail address, although commenting on a post or tweeting at them might be faster. Don’t pester. Please God don’t threaten. What are you, an asshole? You want to get blacklisted by that editor and everyone she talks to? No, no you don’t. Stop it.
Poor Communication Skills
Publishers, answer your email. Update your site. Tweet once in awhile so we know you’re still out there. It doesn’t bode well when there’s a long period of radio silence. Did the magazine fold? Are they behind schedule? Why haven’t they updated their slush pile queue list since 2013? We get it, you’re busy. We’re all busy. But if queries go unanswered we’re pulling our subs and going elsewhere. You’re only hurting potential business by not having an active presence.
Same goes for terse, rude communication. Most publishers are professional enough that if they don’t have anything nice to say about your writing, they won’t say anything at all. As a writer, that can be frustrating, because you don’t know if you were close to hitting the mark or whether your sub was passed around the office for a good laugh. Still, rude rejections are not the same as constructive criticism, and as a publisher it makes you look unprofessional, not helpful. Writers compare notes too, you know, and you don’t want the good ones walking away because you trashed-talked a newcomer.
Thinking that You’re Special
This goes for both authors and publishers. Neither of you has time to bullshit around. Publishers have thick slush piles to wade through, and authors want to find a home for their piece so they can get paid. Authors, don’t ask for special treatment. Don’t expect special treatment, especially if you willfully ignore the guidelines that the publishers have posted. You get precious little time to make yourself stand out and you don’t want any of that attention to be negative.
Publishers, hate to break it to you, but you’re not all that special either. If you make things difficult or put excessive burdens on your authors to do all the layout formatting (or market your publication for you…) then they will go somewhere else. Authors have more opportunity than ever before to self-publish, or to find another market. If you’re going to compete with the various online publications and $0.99 kindle downloads it’s important to attract and retain quality content. Try to meet them in the middle and you’ll get better submissions – you know, ones from people who actually read and follow your rules.
All right folks, there you go. Did I miss any irritating habits? (Probably.) Have I ruined my chances for ever getting published again? (Depends on if publishers have a sense of humor about themselves. …So yeah, this was probably a terrible career move.) Are we sick of rhetorical questions now? (Most certainly.)
Anyway, if you feel like getting in on the action feel free to post your own pet peeves and guilty confessions in the comments, and let me know what habits REALLY needs to be corrected.
I’m pleased to announce that my latest short story, “The Shipwrecked Sole Survivor” has been published in Phobos Issue Four: Deep Black Sea! This issue is now available in print on Amazon.com and should be available later on for Kindle.
If you’re interested in dark tales of what lies beneath a calm sea then you will love this issue! It contains thirteen short stories, flash fiction and poetry including one by yours truly. Check it out and be sure to leave a review so others know what you thought!
You may remember Phobos from the Publisher’s Spotlight feature for this issue nearly a year ago. They are currently closed for submissions but be sure to check out their website and follow them on twitter for updates on their next theme.
I’ve seen a number of articles discussing what not to do when it comes to writing, but when it comes to habits to emulate the advice seems to dry up. After all, every writer is different – what works for some may not work for all. So rather than habits, let’s talk about three virtues that all successful writers seem to have and how to translate those into success for yourself.
A Diligent Work Ethic
“I don’t like to write, but I love having written.”
It’s a common sentiment among writers to prefer accomplishment to the work that goes into actually writing something. But if you’re ever going to be successful you have to learn how to finish what you start. “Finishing” can mean any number of things from polishing a not-quite-there piece to actually sitting down to write in the first place.
It takes self-discipline to practice your craft, and not just the writing part. You need to read your contemporaries as well as the classics. You should have an idea of the history of your genre and be aware of where it’s headed with new publications. You have to market yourself and engage in writing communities. You have to research possible publishers and polish your work until it’s ready to submit. Successful writers put in the work.
Successful writers acknowledge their flaws and want to improve their craft. You can’t do that without a dose of humility. It can be tempting to write off publishers because they don’t understand your genius, but is it really helpful to tune out legitimate criticism? When publishers tell you “No,” respect their decisions and use it as an opportunity to reflect and improve. Listen to your editor, your beta readers, and anyone who is willing to read your work and offer helpful suggestions. You don’t have to take every piece of advice you get, but humility means accepting that your work may not be perfect as it is.
In the same vein, humility can mean respect for fellow authors. Sure, we’ve all read something we didn’t like and secretly wondered “How on earth did this get published? My stuff’s better than that!” But with some humility you can take a long, hard look at what it is that made them successful and learn from it. That will translate into success for yourself, rather than jealousy. And as you get more experience, respect the up-and-coming authors who are trying to break into the market. Successful writers pass on what they’ve learned to those who share their aspirations, rather than viewing everyone as competition.
A Resilient Spirit
This is sort of the opposite of humility. It takes a lot of self-confidence to stare down a contest and say “Yeah, my story could win that.” Submitting is an act of bravery, and perseverance in the face of rejection is the most important of all virtues. Success does not come easy. As I said above, you have to put in the work. You finish what you start. You revise. You take advice where you can get it. Sometimes you do it all over again and the answer is still “No.”
Successful writers don’t give up, even after all that. The great thing about writing is that you can do it for your entire life. You never stop learning. You never stop improving, so there’s no reason to get impatient with a lack of success. The submission you send out today is bound to be better than the one yesterday because you’re always improving and evolving. And if you put in the work and are humble enough to actively seek to improve yourself it’s really only a matter of time before that effort is rewarded. But you can’t give up before that happens – not if you want to be successful.
What say you, readers? Is there anything I’ve missed? Anything you disagree with? Leave your suggestions below in the comments so we can all learn from each other!