Okay, so you’ve used your prompts and followed your sentences; you’ve harnessed the power of objects. Now you have a story you think is good, but you aren’t sure. What’s next?
Inevitably, most of us turn to other writers when we need feedback about our work, either seeking them out individually or by joining writing or critique groups.
What is the proper attitude to receiving criticism in an endeavor that chases excellence in the absence of right and wrong? Trust your subconscious, a mentor once told me, but that hardly seems enough. There is gut and there is craft.
I used to study Zen and one day in the meditation hall the teacher yelled, “Don’t seek from others!” I think he meant that, though we are inevitably affected by others, we shouldn’t be swayed. As writers, we should listen, but shouldn’t tamp out every flicker of criticism we’re given. In doing so, we can easily lose our way.
We need to have healthy egos, to believe in our talent and our work. How else could we begin to string words together or find our stories? How do we cultivate that ego, but not fall into defensiveness? Of which I am guilty as charged. Just ask anybody in my writers groups.
My last critique, I came to one of my writers groups expecting my usual flogging, which I got, but this time I didn’t say a word. (Okay, one time I did make a telling hand gesture. I’m not perfect.) What happened was interesting: A lively discussion. The writers in this group are smart. They’ve wrestled with aspects of writing that I haven’t even heard of. By just listening, I came to feel this deep discussion about the elements of fiction was not so much a mark of the wrongness of the piece, but of its potential. What of their criticisms will I use? I’m still wrestling with that.
Maybe my Zen teacher was right. I’d like to find out. I’ve decided to apply for a one-month residency next summer. I want to write for once without my hat in hand. Until then, it’s like the joke Woody Allen tells at the end of “Annie Hall.”
This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” And the guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.”
Now your story is polished like a diamond. You’re ready to see it in print. Paper or digital, you don’t care. You just want that byline.
It’s time to switch hats. We writers don’t like being business persons, marketing our wares door to door. Like it or not, get ready to have them slammed in your face.
As a short story writer, I submit often. That means many rejections with arcane language like “this piece is not for us,” or “we regret that it does not meet our present needs,” or “unfortunately it was not a right fit.” I enter the rejection in my spreadsheet, patiently waiting for the next.
Which brings us to the mechanics of submitting. I’m talking about submitting short stories, but much of it, I suspect, could be applied to other types of writing.
1. THE RULE OF 100 – You have to submit your story to 100 publications before it gets picked up. It’s best to tier your submissions in groups of 25 to 30, sending them to the better journals first.
2. IDENTIFYING PUBLICATIONS
— Make lists: Look at the contributors’ bios in publications you think might be a good match. You’ll see publications that come up repeatedly. These are good bets.
— Use the Internet: Most people I know use Duotrope. It’s free. You can search for genre, word count, subject and find information on the resulting journals such as publication frequency, reading period and response time. You’ll also find links to submission guidelines. Poets and Writers and New Pages also have lists of publications although their search capabilities aren’t very robust.If you can spend some coin, try the Writers Market. Their web site, a companion to the print publication, features a searchable database.
— Use a submission service: For some serious coinage, try a service like Writer’s Relief. I’ve found them personable and helpful. They can proofread your piece, select publications and print cover letters and labels. You need to do the legwork, but if you have the budget, this can be a great way to build a publication database and history. As you become knowledgeable about the process, take ownership of your submissions—give them options where and where not to submit your work. Success is your responsibility, but they can assist you.
3. WAIT – Response times vary from three to eight months. Sometimes up to a year. Add this to the up to eight months before it’s published and the eight months it took to write the piece. That can be two years from when you began to when you see the piece in print. By then, it’s almost an archeological artifact. You’re a completely different writer.
4. POP THE CORK – Toast yourself, do a little dance, then get back to the piece you’re currently wrestling with. It’s the only one that matters.
Lucian Childs lives in Anchorage, Alaska where he makes his living as a graphic designer. He was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s April 2012 Family Matters competition. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cirque, Compass Rose, Quiddity, Sanskrit and Rougarou.