Submit Yourself: What I Learned in 30 Days of Fiction Submissions

200152714-001Over the past month or so I made it my goal to submit fiction to thirty presses and publications. Now that it’s behind me, I feel as if I may have gained some insights worth sharing.

1. Getting Published Takes Time

And I don’t mean that writing takes time, though it does. Nor do I mean that the publishing process takes time, though that certainly does as well. I’m talking about the thing that makes publication possible: submitting.

Getting my short stories and linked story collection out to a total of thirty appropriate publishers took me close to eighty hours over the last month or so. This included researching markets, reading sample stories and back-cover blurbs, researching successful query letters and synopses, writing my own queries and synopses, snipping stray hairs on my manuscripts here and there, printing out the work, and purchasing mailing supplies–as well as, yes, actually dropping submissions in the mail and uploading them to Submittable.

2. Getting Published Is a Numbers Game

I thought I knew this before I started, but I realize now that I haven’t exactly been acting in accordance with that knowledge. My goal, before starting what I’ve come to think of as NaNoSubMo, was to have ten pieces under consideration at all times. Not a bad goal, but I’m beginning to see that it’s not necessarily that my work isn’t ready for the more competitive markets (see below)–it’s that the publishing game is many orders of magnitude bigger than the one I’ve been playing.

From here on out, I’m going to do my best to observe Ben Percy‘s advice to submit to three more places for every rejection I receive. And why not? These stories (and this collection) are not doing any good just sitting here on my hard drive.

3. You’re Better Than You Think You Are

This does not apply to writers who have not slogged countless hours through countless drafts. This does not apply to writers who’ve managed to remain 100 percent secure in the belief in their own genius. This does not apply to beginning writers in general.

But if you’ve put a stupid amount of time into writing, rewriting, and learning the craft, consider submitting to journals you think are above your level, especially if you’re a woman. For some reason, I think many male writers have a better grasp of this, maybe because men are so often expected to make the first move in relationships. You might think someone is out of your league, and sure, maybe they are–but if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

This month I received a rejection from Granta magazine letting me know that they read my story with interest and enjoyment, and though they ultimately decided it wasn’t right for their pages, they hoped I’d keep them in mind for future projects. The same story was summarily rejected from the Southern Indiana Review with a form rejection. The second rejection, as you can imagine, meant a lot less to me in light of the first.

Not only will I continue to send this story out to competitive markets, I’ll keep sending work to Granta until they tell me to go home. Because while I’ll continue to improve every day of my life as a writer, it feels as if I’ve passed a certain threshold. What remains is a numbers game.

4. Small Presses Respond to Submissions More Quickly Than Journals

These types of submissions are different critters, of course–but after years and years of submitting short stories, poems, and essays to literary journals, I expected to wait months to hear back from the first press I submitted my collection to. Not so. I received my first book rejection a mere week after submitting, my first full manuscript request within two.

Maybe small presses have fewer submissions. Or more staff. Or more paid staff. Or interns. Or something. No doubt there are smart publishing people who understand why this is, but I am not one of them.

Suffice to say, if you send out to a small press that requests a query, sample pages, or a sample chapter, make sure the rest of the book is ready to roll–you may receive a full manuscript request quicker than you’d think.

5. There Are People Who Publish the Type of Thing You Write

If your project isn’t on the map of the Big Five publishing landscape, don’t despair: the small presses are awash in weirdness. And by weirdness, I mean all the stuff that New York does not regularly publish.

In my research on small presses, I found houses that publish short story collections (by people who aren’t famous), linked story collections, novellas, hybrid forms, and experimental poetry, as well as those focused on work by people of color, LGBT writers, and writers from (or writing about) particular regions. There are also publishers focused on work that is socially and environmentally engaged, cross-cultural, countercultural, cross-genre, you name it.

I found this to be a huge relief, as I’d kind of bought into the idea that it would be quite difficult to find a publisher for the sort of book I’d written. Granted, I do not yet have a contract in hand, but the response I’ve received so far has opened my eyes to how diverse the publishing landscape really is. I’m increasingly confident that there’s a place for my book within it.

Here are some resources that have proven invaluable to me over the past month in submitting that may be useful to you as well. Consider it an early Christmas gift. =)

Database of Small Presses and Publishers (Poets & Writers): http://www.pw.org/small_presses

Examples of Successful Query Letters (Writers Digest): http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries

The Complete Guide to Query Letters That Get Manuscript Requests (Jane Friedman): http://janefriedman.com/2014/04/11/query-letters/

How to Format a Synopsis (The Editors Blog): http://theeditorsblog.net/2012/07/15/clear-the-dread-from-the-dreaded-synopsis/

Are you actively involved in the process of submitting? If so, please share your thoughts and experiences–I’d love to hear from you.

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8 thoughts on “Submit Yourself: What I Learned in 30 Days of Fiction Submissions

  1. “Because while I’ll continue to improve every day of my life as a writer, it feels as if I’ve passed a certain threshold. What remains is a numbers game.”

    You hit it there. I have the hardest time convincing some writer friends that one rejection doesn’t mean “go back and rewrite this” – it means send it somewhere else! And keep sending until it sticks! You can spend an awful amount of time trying to perfect something that is in reality a work of art, and as such cannot be “perfected”, or for that matter cannot even be improved beyond a certain point. You just need to get it into the hands of someone that it resonates with – and that person is out there somewhere.

    Thanks for sharing your NaNoSubMo experience. 🙂

  2. Wandered here from your link at Nathaniel Tower’s blog.

    This is a great post, and I agree with most of your learnings. I’ve come to some similar conclusions myself. Congratulations on the personal note from Granta! That sounds totally awesome!

    • Thanks for the kind note, Gargi! Here’s another link on this subject recently posted by a friend of mine, which I found pretty interesting–https://medium.com/@kelliagodon/submit-like-a-man-how-women-writers-can-become-more-successful-9031ffc6043a

  3. Thanks, Susan! Coincidentally I came across this link on Facebook just yesterday and found it quite illuminating. I totally agree with that article, and found myself nodding along because I do the exact same thing. To date I haven’t yet sent a follow-up submission despite receiving rejection letters that asked to do so.

  4. Yes! That’s where I found the article as well. I read something similar a year or so ago and so have endeavored to break myself of this habit–so far, so good, though I’ve not yet received any acceptances on resubmissions. Interesting, though–everyone says you should only send what’s appropriate for the journal, so if you write a lot of different kinds of things, shouldn’t you wait to resend until you have something appropriate to that journal? I don’t know–maybe not, because the journal will simply have forgotten your name by then.

  5. “..shouldn’t you wait to resend until you have something appropriate to that journal?”
    Exactly, and that’s part of the problem. Having a piece of work equally strong and ready to shoot off is rare, so that is probably the reason some writers dither.

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