Post #31 – Not Submitting Your Best Work

7/26/18

Have you ever submitted something that was not your best work? Maybe you were in a rush to meet a submission deadline. Maybe you knew a piece wasn’t working, but you didn’t want to spend the time to fix it. Or you didn’t know how to fix it then and didn’t want to put it aside for too long. Maybe you needed to meet a word count minimum and added unnecessary fluff to a piece to reach it. Or the opposite is true – you wanted to meet a word count maximum and cut prose vital to the piece.

I’m likely guilty of most of those.  I’ve rushed stories out the door before they were ready to meet a submission deadline.  I’ve cut words to meet the maximum word count for a writing contest.  I’ve sent a story out I knew needed its exposition rewritten to avoid the dreaded info dump.

I soon may be guilty of sending out a story that is not my best because I’m attempting to meet a word count minimum. As mentioned in Post #28 and #29, I’m working on a novella for a Tor call for submissions. The minimum word count is 20,000. I don’t have any one story that length. I did have three interrelated stories totally about 11,000. The last of the three was a flash fiction piece of only 1000 words. I decided to combine the three and flesh that last story out in the hopes of adding another 9,000 words to meet Tor’s minimum requirement.

I succeeded. The first draft of that fleshed out story came to 9,800 words. I’m currently editing the entire piece, and so far have only added, not subtracted, words. I expect the final version to be in the 21,000-22,000 range.

Here’s the kicker. When going back through the piece, I don’t think it’s my best work. I think the piece is better without the first of the three stories included. However, if I cut that part out, it eliminates 3,500 words, putting me under the word minimum.

What should I do? I could cut the first part and try to add a scene somewhere else to make up the difference. Trouble is I don’t have anything in mind, and the deadline is looming.

I could put off submitting, giving me time to devise further scenes, and hope Tor has another call for novellas in the future. Tor already stopped accepting short stories, so I wonder how much longer it will have calls for novellas.

Or I could submit what I have. I’ve submitted the three stories independently to various markets, all of which sent rejections. I’m not overly optimistic Tor will accept the combined work either. If it doesn’t, I may continue to submit the first part as a stand-alone story and the next two parts as a single story. Given the length of the latter, the available markets will be few. However, as I edit the combined piece, I’ve realized it’s not that bad. I think it will find a home somewhere, even if it’s not my best work.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve submitted something that wasn’t your best work.

Photo credit: blickpixel via Pixabay

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 #8 – Writing Contests

2/15/18

In Post #6, I mentioned how I submitted a short story to the Virginia Writers Club‘s 2017 Golden Nib Writing Contest.  I didn’t mention the results.  Each chapter sends one entry in the three categories (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) on to the state level.  The judges reviewing the Northern Virginia chapter entries could not decide between my story “May Science Be With You” and an entry by Michelle McBeth, so the chapter sent both our stories on to the state level in the fiction category.  Co-representative!  Unfortunately, neither of our stories placed.

The president of the Northern Virginia chapter announced the selection of my story to co-represent the chapter at the very first meeting I attended last year.  That was a huge ego boost.  To have even that little amount of validation so early in my writing career also was a great motivator.  I attribute at least part of my productivity last year to that achievement.

Then I got to thinking about what it would have meant to win the Golden Nib, and I didn’t like it.  Placing in the top three, first, means a small cash prize, but I’m not in this for the money.  And we’re essentially talking about a couple of dollars.

Winning also means possibly having your story “published” by the Virginia Writers Club.  That sounds great!  But… it isn’t.  At most that means having your story put in a “Virtual Anthology” (i.e. a PDF with the other winners) that the club posts on its website.  Maybe not even that.  The last Virtual Anthology on the club’s website is from 2015.  The website doesn’t even list the 2017 winners.

What winning actually means is you no longer can submit your winning entry to markets for publication, unless those markets accept reprints.  Most markets want the rights to your story’s first publication.  By winning this contest, you’ve ruined what might be a good chance of getting a story published in a professional market.

This may not be true for all writing contests.  Some may pay more, making it more worthwhile.  Some may produce an actual anthology available for sale or download.  Maybe you only want (or need!) the validation that goes with having your work selected as a winner.  If that is the case, go for it.  But my goal is to make three sales to SFWA-qualifying markets.  If the Virginia Writers Club had selected my story as a winner, that would be one less work I have available to achieve my goal.

Will I submit to future Golden Nib Writing Contests?  Probably.  But they will not be stories hot off the presses.  The works I submit likely will have been rejected by most or all of the SFWA-qualifying markets.  (That’s not a depressing thought at all.)  In other words, it’s a strong candidate to be a trunk story. And maybe I would sound less jaded if the Virginia Writers Club actually published the winning stories even if only on their website. If I won, then I could say I was both a published and award winning author. It just wouldn’t be a notch towards my writing goal.

To give the Virginia Writers Club some credit, it is producing a 100th Anniversary Anthology that actually will be in print.  Unfortunately, the selection process was in 2016, about a year before I joined.