magazines

The pitfalls of story submissions

You’d think after more than ten years of submitting short stories to magazines and anthologies I’d have got it down to a fine art. Satisfied with the finished piece even after you’ve left it alone for a couple of weeks? Great, now slap the right formatting on and send it in, awaiting the inevitable acceptance with your feet up. Five minute job, right? Wrong, particularly if you’re prone to procrastination (most authors) and worried that a submission that fails to follow the guidelines to the letter will send you straight onto a blacklist. How is it so difficult, I hear you ask (pretend you asked). Fellow writers, prepare to nod along in recognition. Readers, let me tell you a story…

I’m not even going to talk about picking the right place to send a story to, that’s a whole different hours-long process. Particularly with online magazines, I can’t always remember where I’ve read something, so even if I think this piece would be perfect for the one that had that story about dancing hippos last month, I’ve still got to find which one that was. Let’s assume I’ve decided, by whatever process, that War Story needs to go to the Bumper Book of War Stories, it fits their requirements on length and subject matter, they’re still open to submissions and they don’t need me to send it through the post (temperamental printer, amazing disappearing envelope stash, and remembering to go to the post office? No thanks). Even if I’ve submitted to them before, I need to check their guidelines because a) they might have changed and b) I might misremember.

Now comes the tricky bit. A few bewildering places don’t specify much other than that it’s legible, so inevitably I spend five minutes looking for the checklist of guidelines I must have overlooked somewhere. Most want 12-point font, the odd few want 14-point, and most want double-spaced. Times New Roman or Courier are the standard fonts, some want another specific font, or don’t mind as long as it’s not Courier. Some want anonymised manuscripts, some want name and address at the top of the first page, with name and page number in the header. Some want a word count at the top of the first page, some want it in the header, some at the end of the story. Some want you to write END at the end. Some want indented paragraphs, some want no indents, just a blank line between. Some want italics as italics, some want them indicated another way.

Some places want a 3rd-person author bio at the start or end of the manuscript, some want it in the cover letter, some don’t mention it at all (and then accept the story, don’t ask for one, and leave you as a detached name with no background information or links. Some even ask for one and then don’t use it). Some want a proper cover letter, some say it’s optional. Then we’re onto how they want it to reach them. The two main choices are Submittable or email. With email there’s then the question of do they want an attachment (and what kind), or the story pasted into the message body, and do I have to lay the subject line out a certain way, e.g. SUBMISSION: JY Saville, War Story. Some places ask for submissions via a form on their website, with all the usual pitfalls there (looking like it hasn’t submitted anything, going through endless rounds of I Am Not A Robot photo-clicking).

Submittable is a bit like Paypal for stories. The writer has a Submittable account, which stores name, address, email address so you don’t have to re-enter them each time. A magazine that uses Submittable for submissions will have a button (like the Paypal button on a shopping site) that lets you upload a file and fill in the title, sometimes a cover letter too. So, I would log in to my Submittable account, state that it’s War Story I’m submitting, upload WarStory.odt (unless they’ve specified a different filename structure, like Fiction_WarStory_Saville.odt) and ignore the optional cover letter box, because I never know what they’re looking for. That sounds reasonably simple, but .odt (open office format) is rarely accepted and I mostly have to convert to .doc or .docx which means headers and footers aren’t always as I expect them to look, and one particular story often acquires a page break. There’s also a problem with Libre Office or Open Office .doc files in Submittable losing the last line, so I have to remember to add blank lines at the end without adding an extra page.

Once I’ve gone through all that and updated my submission spreadsheet, I’ve usually had quite enough and declare myself through with story submissions (until the next time). This is why, despite dutifully noting which markets accept simultaneous submissions, I rarely end up sending the same story to more than one market at once. Despite that, I’d made more than 100 submissions this year by the end of September and I’m still plugging away at it when I’m feeling particularly patient. Here’s to the patience of magazine and anthology editors too, I know there’s usually a reason for the rules (like email subject lines used to filter messages to the right folder) and they’re not just being arbitrary. Except of course the evil ones.

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Success all round: new story and a litfest connection

I have a new story in a magazine, and some hot off the press litfest news. I can feel the excitement from here.

First of all, I have a long-ish short story in the latest issue of Romance Magazine. Yes, I said romance, though as this is me the heroine’s reawakened passions are for literature and her husband, in that order (though she does nearly get carried away by a holiday friendship). It’s set in the Lake District in the early 1980s and here’s a taster via wordcloud:

ReawakenedPassions

If you enjoyed any or all of The Little Book of Northern Women, you’ll probably like this.

The other news is that the writing group I belong to is going to be appearing at the Ilkley Literature Festival fringe in October. I’ve seen some great stuff at the fringe over the last few years, all for free, so that’s going to be an exciting event to be involved in.

Phew! What with all that and the heat as well I need a bit of a lie down now. By which of course I mean I’m off to put the finishing touches to a couple of stories. Honest…

The bright side

I’m cultivating a positive outlook at the moment; maybe it’s the cold affecting my inner curmudgeon, but there you go.

Strange, Weird & Wonderful has published its final issue, just before the one that my story was due in. So while that’s a sale I won’t make (payment on publication, not acceptance), a credit I can’t chalk up on my scoreboard, and a story that’s back to doing the rounds, if I was looking on the bright side I’d say at least I don’t have to produce that audio version after all (though I’d actually started to feel good about the challenge).

NaNoWriMo is going slowly, probably even slower than I’d anticipated, but if you know you’re not going to make it to 50,000 words, any number’s an achievement and you don’t end up feeling stressed and guilty if you do other things for a while during November. Such as a 2-day comic convention.

Thought Bubble is less than a week away which is a bit scary (in an exhilirating way). I also know that I’m not going to get an early night before it, and I’ll probably have had to put up with a late-night long-distance taxi ride. The bright side of that one is positively dazzling though: we’re off to see The Damned on Friday. Excuse me while I touch up my black nail varnish.

The criminal career takes off

Or, I have a detective story available in the brand new e-zine from New Zealand, Comets and Criminals. I urge you to check out the issue, it has some good stories in, an interesting mix of thrilling genres from authors whose other work has already appeared in some quite impressive places. My contribution is The Dovedale Affair, in which a murder in a small Yorkshire town causes panic in the mother of a disturbed young man – what does he know about it, and how?

New genre excitement

It’s reasonably apparent to anyone reading this blog that (Anthony Trollope aside) I go for genre – count the references to sci-fi, fantasy, the occasional bit of horror, and detective stories, and…actually you’d be bored quite quickly so I wouldn’t bother, but you get the gist. OneMonkey likes a similar mix, and my dad got me into both Raymond Chandler and Philip K Dick. So for all of us, and those with similar tastes, Comets and Criminals sounds like a good plan. Starting in October, this New Zealand-based outfit will be offering up sci-fi, crime, adventure and westerns in a quarterly package. Why am I telling you this? Well, the eagle-eyed will have spotted earlier in the week the new ‘forthcoming’ line on my list of successes, though this post is scheduled for my usual weekend sort of time (at the weekend I will probably be writing the detective novel: 24,000 words and counting). Ladies and gentlemen, I have sold a detective story; all that wearing of a trilby at a rakish angle was not in vain.

Impersonal efficiency

Another story rejection (I could start getting a complex) – but this one got me thinking. Gavin Broom at The Waterhouse Review had taken the time to write some words of encouragement and some constructive criticism, and sent it off to me via Submishmash. Quite a few magazines seem to be moving to online submission via something like that, and I imagine it makes the whole process easier from their point of view, as well as allowing the lazy or time-squeezed writer to input their contact details just the once and check the status of a few pieces at a time. However, it introduces a middle-man, and instead of pressing reply on my email and writing a quick thanks to Gavin (not something I make a big habit of, I admit, but the personal touch from a small or new set-up like The Waterhouse Review will sometimes provoke me into courtesy) I just had to think kind thoughts.

I’m not saying the efficient online systems are a bad thing, and I can only guess at the inbox-clogging flood of email some editors were getting in the past, and how in a way those quick emails of thanks were probably a bit annoying if they were busy. But still I can’t help feeling slightly sad and like we’ve lost something, like when you go to the supermarket and no words are exchanged between you and the checkout person because speed is of the essence and you’re paying by card (or worse, using self-service tills).

Great view from here

My long-awaited contributor copy of  The View From Here arrived this week, to much excitement in the Monkey household.

Illustration credit: Conor Tarter, Gavin Schaefer.

I thought I’d share with you what it looks like (I’m quite pleased with the layout and illustration) but you’ll notice that the words have been tampered with in the gimp (that’s the gnu image manipulation program, for those that don’t follow me on deviantArt) so if you want to read it, you’ll still have to buy a copy.

As further enticements, there is an article about and interview with Booker-shortlisted Damon Galgut; an article about the changing nature of literary coverage by the literary editor of The Guardian (and Observer, and website); book reviews; poetry; and of course, short stories. I enjoyed (and would imagine anyone who likes Gwendoline Riley’s style will enjoy) Thanksgiving by Meredith Miller, a slow gaze across friendship, closeness and dreams; that was the other short story which was only available in the print edition (there is also part 2 of a serial by Kathleen Maher, which I confess I haven’t read yet).