Category Archives: Submissions

My Computer is Trying to Destroy Me (And Other Writing Fears)

Guest Post by Megan Grey

With Halloween only a few days away, this is perfect time of year to explore the fears we writers often face. And if my own experience is any indication, we writers have lots of things that can strike terror into our neurotic little hearts: Rejections. Pitch sessions. Criticism. Rewrites. More rewrites. Our laptops deciding to drunk-query our dream agents.

Maybe I should explain that last one.

With my first novel (at least, my first submission-worthy novel) written and rewritten and rewritten again, I faced the much-dreaded next step. It was time to query agents. I spent weeks crafting the perfect query, and researching which agents would (in my estimation) be the best fit. Then I spent a few extra weeks procrastinating sending it, for a host of what seemed like perfectly reasonable excuses at the time, but really boiled down to one: fear.

Late one night, after bolstering my courage with approximately 8.3 pounds of dark chocolate M&Ms (as a Mormon, I don’t drink alcohol or smoke, so I heavily abuse chocolate instead), I readied this perfect query email to one of my top agents, took a deep breath, and hit send.

I was pleased with myself for conquering my fear, and yet something—writers intuition? An extra power of foresight granted me by obscene over-consumption of chocolate?—made me check my sent folder to make sure the email went through.

A quick scan revealed it had indeed sent, and seemed to be formatted fine. I was just about to close it and ease my paranoia with a few extra M&Ms when something horrible caught my eye. At the end of my query, where I could have sworn I had written “Thank you so much for your time“, this email read “Thank yo.”

Thank YO?!? After about a millisecond of debating whether I had the street cred to pull that sort of nonchalance off (I don’t), I quickly decided to send another one. Surely if agents see two of the same queries in their inbox, they’d only read the most recent, right?This seemed my only option. I re-pasted my query into another email, read it through about a dozen times to verify that each and every word was in place, and sent it again.

This time, when I checked the sent folder, my horror doubled. Not only did this one also end with “Thank yo“, but my computer had somehow deleted the latter half of several of my sentences. So now I had two queries to one of the top agents in publishing, both of which made me appear that I was querying while intoxicatedOr a complete idiot. Or, most likely, both.

Full-on panic set in. In between planning the destruction of my laptop, which I was convinced was turning all Skynet for the sole purpose of ruining my writing career, Ienvisioned being blacklisted by every agent and editor in the business. Being unable to show my face at any writing conference, ever. Having to enter the witness protection program just to lead a normal life again.

After a fit of weeping and swearing off both computers and M&Ms forever (obviously not in a sane frame of mind), I crawled into bed next to my peacefully sleeping husband,who was frustratingly unaware that every hope and dream I’d had of a writing career was shattered. As I lay there in bed, it occurred to me to try one last desperate ploy to salvage things. I would send my query again, rewritten from scratch (no copying and pasting) on our desktop computer, one that I could only hope didn’t have some vendetta against me.

So I did. In the subject line of this email, I wrote “Query (please disregard my previous emails, my computer was having issues)”. I sent it. And, lo and behold, after checking thesent folder, this email appeared to have sent exactly as I wrote it. No sentences that mysteriously lead to nowhere. No awkward and ungrammatical uses of slang. Now I could only hope. (And totally run my laptop over with my car in the morning. That was still happening, regardless of the outcome.)

The most I felt I could hope for from this was that the agent would have enough pity forme to not put me on some industry watch list. So I was completely shocked when, only a couple days later, I actually got a partial request from this agent. And though I was eventually rejected, it was a very nice rejection, and didn’t include any kind of restraining order. Since then, my query (my actual query, not the one my laptop decided to send on my behalf) has gotten me several partial and full requests, so I think it’s safe to assume I’m not on an agent blacklist somewhere.

The moral of this cautionary tale (besides never trusting computers) is this: my career didn’t end because of a computer mistake. It didn’t end on my first rejection, or my twentieth. It won’t end if I flub a pitch session, or if some reviewer hates my work. My career will only end if I give in to my dozens of fears about writing. It will only end if I give up.

And the same goes for you.

Guest Writer Bio:lady_photo_home

Megan Grey’s fiction has appeared in FiresideSybil’s Scriptorium, and One Horn to Rule Them All: A Purple UnicornAnthologyYou can find out more about Megan by visiting her website at www.megangrey.com. 

When to Walk

Guest Post by Josh Morrey.

walkI’ve been writing for almost ten years now. And I mean actively pursuing the coveted title of “published author”. Early on I was bitten by the Writers of the Future bug—my first submission earned an Honorable Mention—and I’ve submitted more than two dozen stories to the contest over the years. I am pleased to report that my efforts have garnered three Honorable Mentions and a Semi-Finalist, so it hasn’t been entirely in vain; but I have yet to actually win.

Granted, for the first several years I didn’t seek feedback on my work before submission, or even write a second draft. I would crank out a story each quarter, read through the draft once making grammar and structural corrections, and then ship it out to the contest. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started actually making an effort to learn about the craft of writing fiction. I began attending cons, joined a writing group, became active on some online writing forums, and *gasp* even submitted stories to places other than Writers of the Future. And it’s been great. I’ve learned so much since I really got involved in the writing community.

One aspect of my new involvement that I really enjoyed for a long time was being active on the online forum for a short fiction podcast. On these forums, we would discuss the stories published each week on the podcast as well as writing in general. At one point, someone suggested creating a private writing forum where we could share our work with each other and receive feedback. This was a great opportunity for me, because several members of this forum were either professional editors or multi-published short story authors. It was a great way for me to learn from those more experienced in the professional field.

Over the next year or so, I submitted several stories to this group for critique, as well as critiquing many stories submitted by others. After a while I started to notice a pattern. To begin with, I found I didn’t connect with many of the stories I reviewed. Most of them were stuffed with metaphor and alternate meanings that I failed to pick up on. At the same time, not one of the stories I submitted was ever met with even a hint of approval. That’s not to say the critiques were harsh, most of the people on those forums I still consider friends. Nevertheless, my stories were never good enough.

Now, I’m the first to admit I’m still learning my craft. I’m still essentially unpublished. (I have one short story published in an online journal that has already gone out of production.) But, after more than a year of never pleasing any of these readers—even though my regular writing group really enjoyed many of them—I became very driven, almost obsessed, to write a story that would please the members of this forum.

Finally, I wrote the story that I wanted. The one I knew would wow them. It had depth; it had emotion. Members of my regular writing group hailed it as the best story I’d written yet. So, eager to finally get a thumbs up, I posted it in the forum.

Once again, it was met with apathy and criticism.

It crushed me. I mean it really took the wind out of my sails. I had worked so hard on this story, and had such high hopes for its reception, that another harsh criticism was more than I could take. I crashed hard. I spent the next several days in a depression, wracking my brain for how to finally please the members of this forum. Then I finally came to a realization. Though I very much enjoyed my time on these forums, and made many friends…these people were not my target audience.

I feel almost pretentious saying that, as if I’m crying, “You people just don’t understand what I’m trying to do here!” But the fact is, the members of this forum are much more literary in their writing than I am. And that’s ok. Some people enjoy literary writing. Me, I enjoy a good story told in a fun way. I’m not looking for deeper meaning, I’m looking for entertainment. And there are a lot of people out there looking for the same thing. Just look at Larry Corriea. Do you think he worries about allegory or literary depth? No, his biggest concern is how many monsters will die with the blimp explodes. And he sells a LOT of books. Some people just like that.

So, with this realization in mind, I made a very hard decision and I left the forum. I still keep in touch with a few of my closer friends from there, but for the most part I’ve moved on. See, my time there had shifted from productive to destructive. I wasn’t learning to improve my craft anymore; I was simply trying to please a very specific audience. And once you start writing for others, and not yourself, you’ve defeated the purpose. At least, I defeated my purpose; which is to write stories that I find fun and fascinating. Not to preach some deeper message or wrap my tale in metaphor and allegory.

Maybe I’ll never get published. Maybe my writing will always be too shallow and straightforward. Maybe no one will love my words outside of a few members of a small local writing group.

But as long as I have fun writing it, I don’t care.

JoshWriter, artist, gamer, husband, and father, Josh has been writing fiction for nearly ten years. He is a member of the Word Vomit Writers Group, which group blogs at The Writer’s Ramble. Josh has one story published in Issue 2 of Promptly and has earned three Honorable Mentions and a Semi-Finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. He is currently developing a space opera webcomic based on a short story he wrote for NaNoWriMo 2012. It will eventually be seen at www.lostintransitcomic.com. Josh lives in Utah with his amazing wife, two beautiful kids, and two tiny dogs.

Of Lightning and Umbrellas

Imagine that fool on the hill dreamed up by the Beatles. Now, imagine him sitting up there in the rain, with storm clouds rolling over, thunder pressing down, and the ominous flash of lightning a strobe in the black tumult above.

He’s tired and alone, the rest of the world pointing fingers laughing at what they believe are hopeless dreams. Now imagine him atop that hill, in the rain and lightning, surrounded by a forest of steel-shafted umbrellas stuck in the ground and as many as he can hold clutched tightly in each hand.

He plants another umbrella and stares at the sky. And another. And another… hoping that lightning will strike.

 

That is what it’s like to be a writer, to be that hopeful soul chasing his or her dream regardless of the scorn, the derision, the laughter… and the torrent of rain that comes in the form of rejection after rejection.

And those umbrellas?

Each one is a tale—a short story or novel crafted in solitude—raised from the limitless depths of imagination in hopes that more than our loved ones will find some sort of connection within the words. It’s the very definition of madness. Truly. Doing the same thing over and over in hopes that there will eventually be a different result.

It was Lord Byron who wrote, “If I Don’t Write to Empty My Mind I Go Mad.” He understood. Most writers understand. Those who aren’t possessed with the compulsion to pour out our words couldn’t possibly comprehend what it’s like to have an army of characters, a galaxy of worlds, all crammed together inside one’s skull. And yet, the ones who can’t write are often the ones who, every once in a while, crave the creative fruits of those who can. And those of us who can, love it.

Perhaps part of it is ego. Every writer wants his or her writing to be savored and then craved, to have an audience that hangs on the next word, the next story, desperate for more. Writers hunger for such adulation, and will endure all manner of trial and travail to find it. But there is more to it than just ego. We write even when we’re certain no one will ever read a story. We write because that’s what is inside us. And in some respects, the accolades from being read, particularly oft-read, are a happy circumstance, an accidental result of our efforts.

I suppose there’s a contradiction there… that man on the hill with all his umbrellas… he would place them in the thunderstorm regardless of whether he got struck by lightning or not. And he would do it again the next day… and the next.

We are writers.

We understand.

 

Q

Weird Antho Angst

It’s not the waiting the kills… it’s the waste.

One of the more common ways of getting into the writing business and building “street-cred” is to peruse the calls for submissions on sites like Duotrope.com, Ralan.com, and Submission Grinder. Those sites are great for providing loads of opportunity. The problem is that many of the themes listed are pretty specific. Most of them run along the weird paths of cross-genre or niche topics that are hell-and-gone from the mainstream.

Sure, it can be fun writing a story about zombie porn or purple unicorns, but it’s also exceedingly risky. And yes, I have a buddy who is in a zombie porn antho called 50 Shades of Decay, and I just had a story come out in a purple unicorn anthology titled One Horn to Rule Them All. I can say with confidence that the quality of stories in these off-the-beaten-track collections is on par with mainstream fiction, and can be even better as a result of the topic.

The problem stems for the fact that once you write the story, you have to wait weeks or even months to hear back on whether you made the cut. That’s the same as with any short story submission, certainly, but with one of these, the bar is sometimes a bit higher than “normal” fiction. With regular fiction the bar is established and fairly well understood by the community. With non-traditional anthos, however, you not only have to write a good story, you must more accurately discern the tastes or intent of the editor or publication putting out the call for submission.

It can be like trying to hit a kangaroo from orbit with a drunken koala.

(Just let that visual sink in for a minute).

Now, if you make it in, great. But statistically speaking, the odds are that you won’t make the cut. That’s where the real pain comes in. If your story isn’t selected, you have one to six-thousand words that you’re going to play hell placing elsewhere. I mean, what are the odds that Asimov or Fantasy & Science Fiction want something that was written specifically for someplace else? It can be done, but those are pretty long odds, especially if the story wasn’t good enough to make the cut for the antho.

There are no easy roads into the business, and while weird anthos are one of them, you may want to go with the more mainstream topics when you’re first starting. Once your writing is cleaner and you’re placing stories more frequently, or even at will, then it’s time to hit the weird stuff.