Post #24 – Submission Guidelines

6/7/18

Aeryn Rudel addressed some of this on his Rejectomancy blog post titled New Author Starter Kit – Submission Prep. Here are my thoughts.

For starters, I will echo the first thing most editors include in their submission guidelines: before submitting READ THESE GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. Do it. Don’t skim; read all the way through. Then go back and read them again.

Like the pebbles on the beach in this post’s featured image, every set of guidelines is different. Even if I’ve read them five times, I read them each time before I submit in case they’ve been updated. Then I read them again. On the second time through, I make each required formatting change to my story as it appears in the guidelines, just so I don’t miss any. For example:

Editor prefers Times New Roman. Check. Editor wants all identifying info removed (author name and address, byline, last name in page number header, author listed in the metadata). Check. Editor requires document saved as an .rtf or .doc file instead of .docx. Annoying but check. Editor accepts submissions only via email with “[New Submission]” in the title. Check.

There are too many permutations to remember when, like me, you’re submitting 15+ stories to a dozen or so markets.

I also recommend periodically double checking that the editor for a market hasn’t changed. It can’t look good if you address your cover letter to the editor who left the magazine two months ago. Editorial teams change, and submission guidelines often change with them.

Submission guidelines are a great resource. An editor is telling you exactly what he or she wants, which means your submission will have the best chance at acceptance. If you’re a salesperson, which we writers are, in what other industry are you able to know your customer’s personal preferences so as to market your product to them most efficiently? Okay, I’m choosing to ignore the new world of Facebook, Google, and Amazon where the sales companies know everything about us.

My only complaint is how much of a time suck reading and complying with the various guidelines is. I realize each editor has different preferences, so each editor’s guidelines will be different. But the time it takes to conform a story and submit it according to the guidelines is time I’m not writing or editing. Can’t they all agree to use the same guidelines, personal preferences be damned?

Many submission guidelines say to use a standard manuscript format.  Most cite Shunn’s manuscript format for short stories.  However, a few cite an alternate version posted on the SFWA website here.  They essentially are the same.  Luckily, the manuscript template in Microsoft Word follows these formats for the most part.  It’s when an editor deviates from the norm you must be careful.  That’s why you read the submission guidelines and then read them again.

Let me know in the comments your experiences with submission guidelines.

Photo credit: globenwein via Pixabay

Post #23 – Cover Letters

5/31/18

This should have posted Thursday. Apparently, I’m still learning WordPress.

Submission cover letters for short fiction are an often covered topic, so I won’t go into too much detail. Instead, two excellent posts by Aeryn Rudel on his Rejectomancy blog are Back to Basics: The Cover Letter and Back to Basics: More Cover Letter Components. As the titles suggest, he addresses the minimum content (and often the maximum content) that should be in a short fiction cover letter and then addresses the few occasions when additional types of information should be included. I won’t rehash those.

I will talk about my on experience.  Looking back at my first cover letters, I very much violated these tenets.  As one example, I often included a paragraph explaining the inspiration for the story.  Like I said, cringe worthy.  Luckily, I made such faux pas only the first couple of times.  Then I found valuable resources online that pointed me in the right direction, which is the less, the better. Half the submission guidelines I’ve read even say a cover letter is optional. I still include one to make me feel better.

In fact, I’ve written so many I keep a folder of previous cover letters for each market. When I submit a new story, I simply change the story’s name, genre, and word count. This saves me the time otherwise needed to look up that market’s editor (for addressing purposes) and what, if anything, that market specifically asks be included in a cover letter.

In contrast, the sources I’ve read state cover letters to children’s’ book publishers are completely different. Since I’ve written and submitted a couple children’s book manuscripts, I’ve had to pay attention to these entirely different expectations. Maybe the differences have something to do with these publishers still requiring paper submissions. Their slush piles are actual piles of paper, not an electronic inbox of files or a dashboard like Submittable or Moksha.

For children’s book manuscripts, the cover letter not only includes the story’s title but a sentence or two describing the story. The cover letter also should explain why the manuscript is a good fit with that publisher. The guides I’ve read recommend reviewing recently published books by that publisher and relating your manuscript to those.  Also, if you have any relevant experience in the field in which the manuscript takes place, or other publication history, that should be stated. It’s almost like a query letter for a novel manuscript. That’s a lot of extra work compared to short fiction.

My first submissions were of children’s book manuscripts, so maybe I can chalk up my short fiction cover letter mistakes to applying different expectations.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve made any cover letter faux pas.

Photo credit: slightly_different via Pixabay

Post #22 – Finding Inspiration 2

5/24/18

In Post #19, I lamented how I’d run out of ideas for short stories. In Post #20, I explained where I planned to find inspiration for new ideas but failed to address two important sources – my current writing projects and calls for submissions.

I think one of the reasons I have not had any new story ideas is because I haven’t written as much lately. I find when I’m writing one story, other stories often pop into my head. Sometimes these new story ideas are sequels to what I’m currency working on. Other times, it’s a completely new idea. Creativity spawns creativity. That’s certainly a motivating factor to get back to writing more.

Another frequent source of inspiration are calls for submissions. I’ve written three short stories specifically crafted to satisfy a call for submissions. One was a very general call for humorous speculative fiction. Up to that point, I had not written a funny story; so I wanted to take on the challenge. I came up with a 2000 word sci-fi story that incorporated dad jokes.  Feel free to cringe.

Another call for an anthology asked for fantasy stories with female leads and stated the anthology always ended with a short humorous story. Having tackled humor once before as noted above, I again tried my hand at it. I like the added challenge of crafting a fantasy story, a genre I hadn’t tried yet. This time I came up with a 2300 word story loosely based on a pun involving a well-known evil mythical creature.

The third time involved a ridiculously specific call from Uncanny Magazine. The full call is here. In sum, it involves a mysterious corporation, since vanished, that created a portal to other worlds and times on three interlinked tropical islands. Oh, and the islands are inhabited by dinosaurs. This time I ended up with a 3100 word story, which again was written to be humorous.  (I’m beginning to see a trend here.)

The results were mixed.  I enjoyed writing all three, and my beta readers all thought the stories were funny. That was heartening. Unfortunately, all three were rejected by their intended markets. That was disheartening. Regardless, I’ve continued to submit these three stories to other markets.

I realized, though, each time I read one of these calls for submissions I immediately started crafting a story in my head.  Why not do that more often?  Authors Publish releases a list of markets with themed calls about once a month. I’ve had to stop myself from going down the rabbit hole of thinking I can craft something by the deadline, which all too often is too soon for me to realistically draft something. I’m now contemplating the opposite. Why not let my imagine be spurred by these calls? Even if I don’t make the deadline, I’ll eventually have a story for submission elsewhere. It’s the inspiration that I need.

One call I recently came across that got the imagination going was from FurPlanet with a theme of The Rabbit Dies First. The call asks for anthropomorphic tales “centered around two concepts: the rabbit is going to die, and someone else is next.” How about that for stirring the imagination pot?

Let me know in the comments where you find inspiration for your writing.

Photo credit: Free-Photos via Pixabay

Post #21 – Who Do I Write For?

5/17/18

Another point I’ve read is every writer has a specific reader in mind when they write. Stephen King, in On Writing, states he writes for his wife. She is his intended audience, which also happens to be true. King always has his wife read a new work first.

In one of six writing tips attributed to John Steinbeck, he confirms there is no generalized audience for a writer; so forget about it.  Instead, he found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person, real or an imagined, and write to that one.

Michael Morpurgo likes to tell a story as if he is talking to his best friend or one of his grandchildren.

King also says a writer friend of his always wrote for the same person even after that person was long dead. If you believe King and Steinbeck, the audience a writer has in mind while writing isn’t necessarily the intended audience at publication.

The audience I envision while writing varies by project.  Like King, my wife frequently is the person I have in mind. She has given me a lot of support with my writing, so I want her to be entertained with the works I ask her to read.

I also often include names of family or friends in my stories. When doing so, I find I especially want them to read that work. Though I use their names, the associated characters are not necessary my friends. Nonetheless, so far that’s gone well. No one has come back saying they hate how they’re portrayed. That’s good since the characters aren’t actually meant to portray them.

One other I can’t leave out is my sister. She has read almost everything I’ve written and is a trusted member of my critique group. I certainly have pictured her as my audience more than once. Since I often use people and places from my youth in stories, I know she will recognize them like few others would. She also has appeared as a character in a story, along with a couple of her friends, which I wrote with her in mind. She’ll be the first to tell you they are nothing like how I wrote them.

For the picture book manuscripts, I always envision my little girls. While I like the idea of bringing joy to any child who reads a book of mine, I especially want my girls to be entertained as I see they are when reading other children’s books.

Let me know in the comments who you write for.

Photo credit: EvgeniT via Pixabay

Post #20 – Finding Inspiration

5/10/18

Last week, I promised two things: details of my unusual writing circumstances on April 29 and where I intend to draw inspiration.

On April 29, I attended the National Gallery Writing Salon with my fellow Northern Virginia Writers Club member and one of my beta readers, Michelle McBeth. Indeed, she has my gratitude for registering for an extra spot, which she then graciously allowed me to use. By the time I was ready to register, the salon already was wait-listed.

The salon was at the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art – East Building, and the topic was flash fiction. The idea was to view Edward Hopper’s painting Cape Code Evening (1939), which is the featured image for this post, and work through five writing exercises involving the painting. By the end of the 2.5 hour salon, the goal was to have most of the elements of a flash fiction piece written.

When the first writing exercise ended, I had the plot of my flash fiction story.  When the third concluded, I’d written most of the story. On the subway home, I wrote the introductory sentences to each of the three sections of the story. The next day I put it all together and had the first draft of a 500 word piece.

Did I find the salon useful? Yes and no. First, I’ve never liked group discusses where people talk about how they feel or what they think this or that means. That went double here where most of the writers attending do not write speculative fiction and were focusing on things irrelevant to my writing. Luckily, when we broke off into groups of two, I, at different times, teamed up with Michelle, who writes speculative fiction, and a gentleman, who also happened to write speculative fiction. That made at least pairing up bearable because we were all on similar wavelengths.  For example: “The darkness of the woods does not represent the sadness felt by the woman in the painting. The darkness is a non-corporeal being coming to eat them.” That’s my type of analysis! At the same time, I will give credit where credit is due. The painting and the salon did give me an idea for a piece that I enjoyed writing and one I hope gets published.

My other source of inspiration lately, like many sci-fi writers, is science. I may be one of the few people who still receive a physical paper every morning, the Washington Post. One of my favorite sections comes on Tuesdays, Health & Science. The health stories usually are interesting, especially the medical mysteries, but they haven’t inspired any story ideas yet.

The science stories, on the other hand, are great sources of information. Orson Scott Card, in Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-This-World Novels and Short Stories, says he usually does not rely on one idea for a novel, instead he likes to have two and weave them together into a single story. When I read that, I asked myself how does that work? Then I read a science article in the WashPo and thought that would make a good idea for a story. Later I read a second science article, thinking that too could be the basis for a good story. Both stories involve very unusual reproduction outcomes from two different animals. I plan to use both but in a single story. Like Card, I will mesh the two ideas into one story, hopefully making it better.

I envision the story will involve two alien races, each exhibiting one of these reproduction outcomes, meeting and cohabiting. I think it was David Gerrold, in Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, who mentioned a certain scientist’s opinion on how to make an alien race believable. (I need to dig this guy’s name out.) He advocated the unusual characteristics of the alien race should exist somewhere in the animal kingdom on Earth. Earth’s fauna are so varied they essentially encompass every characteristic possible in life anywhere in the universe. I’m not sure I agree with that, and what fun is it to create an alien race that exhibits elements we’re already familiar with? And what if the element present in an Earth animal is so obscure, like discussed in the two articles I’m drawing from, the average reader has no idea such elements appear on Earth? I understand the desire to ground a new race in what is known, but is it practical?

For me, at least this time, it doesn’t matter. My two alien races will have a solid grounding in obscure Earth fauna reproductive outcomes. Maybe I should include a bibliography with the story to prove the bona fides of my two alien races.

Photo credit: Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art