Post #29 – Do I or Don’t I?

7/12/18

The 2018 Golden Nib contest of the Virginia Writers Club is upon us. Chapter level entries were due by June 30. The winners from each chapter are judged and sent on to the state level by August 13, with the winners announced at the annual meeting in November.

As mentioned in Post #8, I question the rationale for submitting to this contest. On the one hand, there is the chance of being dubbed an “award winning author.” On the other hand, winning means I can’t submit that story to another market, unless the market accepts reprints, because the Virginia Writers Club asks for first publication rights. The problem is the Club hasn’t published the winning stories in years, not even as a PDF on the Club’s website.

One of the reasons I joined the Club last year when I did was to submit to this contest. I feel I’ve gained so much more by joining the Club while the contest has diminished in importance. I’m reluctant to give up first publication rights when there is no guarantee of publication.

When I addressed this issue previously, I noted becoming an award winning author doesn’t get me closer to my goal of being a member of the SFWA. If that truly is my goal, then other possible accolades are irrelevant.

An additional factor to weigh when submitting is the story length. The limit for the Golden Nib contest is 3500 words. That’s fairly short for the stories I write. One thought I had was to write the story I mentioned in Post #22 that fit a specific call for submissions, the deadline for which was the end of June. If I could have hammered that out in June, I expected it to be 3500 or less. That story likely is too specific to the call for submissions to submit to other markets. While I had the story idea, unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to write it. I focused on my novella instead.

The contest has three categories: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. A Club member may submit one work in each. So what did I do?

First, I submitted a poem. It’s the only poem I’ve written since high school, and I’ve never submitted it anywhere.

Next, I submitted a nonfiction piece, again, my only one to this point. I’ve submitted this piece a couple of times and received the corresponding rejections. It’s currently out at a market that accepts simultaneous submission, so I decided to submit it to the contest as well. If it’s selected by either venue, I’ll withdraw from the other.

What about the fiction category? I decided not to submit. The choice was made easy for two reasons. I either didn’t have a story short enough to fit, or for those that were short enough, they currently are under consideration at markets that do not accept simultaneous submission. As I mentioned in Post #24, read and reread the submission guidelines.

Let me know in the comments if you think I should have tried harder to submit a fiction piece (i.e. write a specific story for the contest), publication rights be damned.

Photo credit: qimono via Pixabay

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 #16 – How Much Do I Write?

4/12/18

Given my limited amount of writing time, I’m obsessed with productivity. I’m not alone. Most writers I’ve read, who talked about the craft of writing, discuss either how they track their output or their productivity goals.

Mike Resnick in The Science Fiction Professional states each night (remember he writes between 10p and 2a) he writes one chapter in a novel or one entire short story.

Stephen King in On Writing starts at 9a and keeps writing until he reaches 2000 words. Sometimes he is done by lunch; sometimes it takes him until dinner or longer.

Leah Cutter, author of The Healthy Professional Writer, says she tries to write 1000 words hour. She claims to be able to write 2000 words in an hour when the words are flowing.

M.L. Humphrey (Excel for Writers and Excel for Self-Publishers) advocates tracking productivity for each writing session using Excel, noting the time spent and word count. For me, comparing year-to-year writing metrics or shorter periods is a fun exercise. Humphrey believes it is a useful tool for the professional writer because it allows the writer to calculate potential writing income. In other words, if the writer knows s/he can write this many words in this amount of time and sell it for this amount, then their income will be this.

Aeryn Rudel, a fellow short story author and blogger, lately has tracked his weekly word count towards a novel in progress, as well as the number of his short story submissions, acceptances, and rejections both weekly and monthly.

I’ve only tracked two time periods of my productivity, last year’s and last quarter’s.  Last year, starting in June, I wrote 42-43,000 words with a goal of 50,000 words. I have the same goal this year. I have no official short term goals, though I wouldn’t be upset if I hit 12,500 words each quarter just to stay on track.

If the story is flowing, I usually get about 800 words an hour. I often hit 1000 words in one sitting when I have a little longer.  Problem is I’m not writing something new every sitting.  Most sittings are devoted to editing and submitting. I’ve complained about that before in Post #15, but it must be done. The alternative of only finishing rough drafts and never submitting is not attractive to me.

Since seeing Aeryn track his submissions, I included that tally in my 1Q18 update and plan to continue to do so in future updates. I can’t reach my ultimate goal of three short stories published in SFWA-qualifying markets if I don’t submit. And you can see how quickly I’ve had to accept rejection.

Let me know in the comments how much you write and how you track productivity.

Post #13 – Am I Procrastinating?

3/22/18

I realized I titled several recent and forthcoming posts as questions.  But unlike an author writing a character, my audience does not have any insight into my thinking to answer.  Also, unlike many of those posts, I’m not sure I know the answer to this one.

Long time readers (those of you who’ve been with me for all of 2-3 months) may recall that I have an idea for a sci-fi novel.  I’ve jotted down notes about this novel — characters, major plots points, settings — but haven’t written anything yet.  In the interim, I’ve written 12 short stories and children’s picture book manuscripts, all of which are out for submission.  I also have three more short stories in various draft form.  Long time readers also will know my first writing goal is qualifying as an Active Member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  There are a couple ways to qualify.  I selected publishing three short stories in a SFWA-qualifying market, but another way to qualify is by selling a novel to a SWFA-qualifying publisher.

Am I pursuing SFWA membership through short story sales, and writing those stories, as a way to procrastinate from writing my novel?  Good question.  I’m glad you asked.  I don’t think so because I’m not certain I know how to write a novel, though that may be procrastination-inducing self doubt right there.  I’ve long believed I needed to start with short stories to learn how to write.  Don’t forget, before last year, I’d never done this before.  I don’t have an MFA, and I never took creative writing at any level.  Overall, I think I’ve succeeded.  I believe my writing has come a long way in less than a year.  I attribute that not only to the amount of writing I’ve done in that time but also to the books about writing I’ve read in that time.  I couldn’t imagine having focused on my novel, written half of it, and then realizing I needed to go back a fix so many rookie writing mistakes.  Actually, I can, and it involves crying.  But that’s essentially what I’ve had to do with several short stories.  However, revising a 1000-6000 word short story is way less depressing than fixing a 100,000 word novel.  So I plan to keep plugging away at short stories (and children’s books, which are more for my kids) until I feel comfortable tacking the novel.  I’ll get there, but I believe I still have plenty to learn.

BUT (I bet you thought this blog post was over) am I procrastinating finishing one of my short stories?  In Post #10 – Inspiration, I mentioned reading two different calls for submissions and being inspired to write new stories for each.  Well that’s happened two more times since then.  I’ve written one of those subsequent stories already and am in the process of finishing the other.  The submission deadline for that last story is one week away.  Not my best idea—to decide to meet this deadline.  The idea for the story is awesome—and funny.

Before and while writing these other stories, I’ve worked on a sequel to an early story.  I’ve had the idea for this story since last year, even before I’d finished writing the story to which it’s a sequel.  At some point this year, I opened the file containing the first couple of lines I wrote back when sometime and realized since then I’d jotted down numerous notes.  It’s eerily similar to how the file with my novel’s notes looks.  That realization motivated me to finally tackle the sequel, and I made great progress.  In fact, I’m maybe a scene or two from completion; I estimate another 1000 words at most.  I could knock that out in one or two sittings.  So why haven’t I?

Another fine question.  Thank you again for asking.  This is the part I don’t know.  Ostensibly, it was to write these other stories matching calls for submissions with approaching deadlines.  This sequel has no deadline.  Maybe, I’m afraid I don’t know where the story is going.  That was true for a long time before I got past those first couple of lines.  Since then, though, I’ve pretty much had the story mapped out.  Indeed, the missing one or two scenes are in the middle of story, and I intend them to plug a couple of information holes.  I already know what info to plug in, so it can’t be that.

I think it’s a combination of two things.  First, it’s true these newer stories have approaching deadlines, but I think it’s more that they are shiny and new.  Usually, a story loses that shiny, newness once I complete the first draft.  Somehow, I think my sequel story lost that shiny, newness even before then.  Part of that I attribute to reason two.

When it was time to go back to writing the sequel after each interruption, I couldn’t just pick up where I left off.  I’d need to reread the entire story and get back in that mindset.  Unlike a story I’ve completed multiple drafts of, meaning I’ve edited it who knows how many times, I don’t know my sequel story well enough to jump into the middle and start writing.  I need to re-immerse myself in that world.  I need to get back into my characters’ heads.  All of that takes time, probably more time than I have to devote in a single sitting.  Anything more than a single sitting, I risk being distracted by life—or another call for submissions.

I do have a cross country flight coming up, where I’ll have a chunk of time on the airplane to devote to knocking the rest of the sequel out.  That is if I’m not working on my shiny, new story with the deadline one week away.

Post #7 – Submission Dilemma

2/9/18

I have a submission dilemma.  Electric Ethenaeum has a call for submissions with a deadline of February 15.  The anthology’s theme is For Future Generations and is about generation starships establishing new colonies.  I have a story that’s perfect.  It falls squarely within the theme and within the required length.  And it’s a story dear to me because it’s the first one I ever began.  (It ended up being the second I ever finished.)

My dilemma is Electric Ethenaeum does not pay a professional rate, which the SFWA defines as $.06/word.  If selected, I’d get 50GBP.  Factoring in currency exchange rates and my story’s word count, this would be the equivalent of $.01/word.  This makes Electric Ethenaeum a semi-professional market.

My original plan was to submit my story to Analog Science Fiction and Fact.  (I am in the final throws of editing the story.)  It falls more in the hard science fiction sub-genre, which Analog specializes in.  If rejected there, I have plenty of other professional market options.  But what if I don’t submit my story to Electric Ethenaeum, and it’s rejected by all the professional markets?  Did I squander a legitimate chance to be published, even by a semi-professional market?  Should I submit my story to Electric Ethenaeum and assume they will reject it, so I then could submit it elsewhere?  If I assume Electric Ethenaeum will reject my story, what does that say about its prospects with the professional markets?  If my goal is to have three stories published by SFWA-qualifying markets, should I even contemplate submitting to a semi-professional market?

Update: I submitted my story to Analog. Fingers crossed!