Friday, December 16, 2011

A Juggling Act

Today handling my writing has felt like a real juggling act. I felt this way a bit once before, back around late-September, early-October. In brief, I’ve got so many short stories out on submission and so many new ones that I’m working on that my head is spinning. I had to sit down at one point and make myself some notes on what I was working on and prioritize things. Even after that, I felt like I was looking at quite a lot of things that were high priority!

I generally follow the dictum of “start at the top, work your way down” and also try to avoid having stories sitting around unsubmitted for any serious length of time. I’ve got 27 stories out on submission right now. That feels like a lot, to me. At least at the moment, it does. It also means that when I get a rejection in, it can be a bit of a struggle to find a market that I don’t already have something out to which would be appropriate for the story and which I want to submit to.

This led to me needing to do something embarrassing today.
I withdrew a story I submitted to a market last night because I flat out mis-read the guidelines. I thought they were paying for all stories they published; they were only paying for some stories they published. It’s doubly frustrating, because it’s a market which has some cool attributes. You know, besides the whole asking to publish things without payment aspect. (From talking with the editor, my understanding is that authors will be told whether they’re being paid or not before signing a contract. Which is good. But, it would sure be awkward for everyone involved to have someone decide to withdraw their story on acceptance because they weren’t being paid...)

The other thing that’s making my head spin today is trying to do the whole “Write 1/Sub 1” thing weekly. I hadn’t realized just how much planning would be required to have one story ready to submit each week by Saturday. It’s not just a matter of writing the story, if you’re planning to share it with a critique partner/beta reader, then you need to allow for time for that in there, too. I’ve made the tactical mistake of juggling a lot of different first/second drafts this month. Figuring out the “Sub 1” part for this week is going to be... interesting.

OK, so at this point, this sounds like just so much whining to me... Time to try to find the lessons here...

1) If you’re going to do weekly “Write 1/Sub 1” trying to just wing it might be difficult. Maybe other people are winging it and having it go just fine. It could be that once you run into the speed bump I’ve hit this week, you “get it” and don’t have a problem again.

2) When you submit to a market for the first time READ THE GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. Now, this is something that, you know, I probably learned 20 years ago. Well, it just goes to show that you can know something and still mess it up. And maybe it’s not a good idea to think you’ve read the guidelines carefully at 2 AM when you’ve been awake all day.

3) If you get to a point where you have a lot of submissions out, you need to budget time to manage those submissions into your writing time. Roughly speaking, I think saying that an average response time is a month isn’t a bad rule of thumb. Researching and performing submissions -- maybe 15 minutes on average? That seems fair. So for every four stories you have floating around, you should probably be budgeting at least an hour a month for submission management.

4) I’m using both Duotrope and a personal spreadsheet to keep track of submissions. This adds a tiny bit of extra time. But I think I’m going to keep doing this. If something happened to Duotrope’s database, I would hate to have to try to reconstruct my submission history. I’m sticking this one in the “time well spent” category.

5) This one might be a bit controversial... And, heck, I might change my mind on this a week from now. But I'm going to be a bit less "picky" about where I send some of my stories, particularly ones I wrote earlier in my return to writing. By all sorts of perspectives -- beta reader feedback, rejection comments (or lack thereof), my own attempts to be objective about my stories -- I can say with a pretty strong degree of confidence that some of those earlier stories just aren't that strong. I don't believe they're bad -- if I did, I wouldn't submit them anywhere. But there are several stories where I think I can reasonably move down to the semi-pro markets without hitting all of the pro markets first. My rationale here is threefold: 1) It means that the pro editors (or their slush readers) are seeing what I consider my stronger stories. 2) It means that I might get some more sales which means a bit of cash, a bit of a morale boost, and fewer stories to resubmit. 3) I come up with LOTS of short story ideas. More than I can write, sometimes -- as you can see from my comments about where I'm sitting with W1/S1 at the moment. Holding too tightly on to a mediocre-ish story isn't really doing anyone any good.

Anyone else have a large number of short stories out there on submission and have some insights on how to handle them?


  1. I'm afraid I'm a newby when it comes to submitting my work, so I have no insights to offer.

    Lots of good information here for ME to ponder, though, as I undertake w1/s1 next year. I've already started on a spreadsheet.

    How do you know when you are "done" with a short story, especially as you have a large number out? I mean, when do you stop revising and/or resubmitting?

  2. I rarely revise after I start submitting. By then, I've moved on to other things. I suppose if I received a personal rejection somewhere with a very insightful comment on a story I could see making revisions based on that comment.

    If by "done" you meant, when would I "retire" a short story and stop submitting it places, then I would say when I reached one of two criteria: I either decided the story wasn't one I'd want out there with my name on it (quality too low, in other words) or I ran out of paying markets to submit it to (in which case I'd temporarily shelve it and wait for new markets to crop up).

    I'm going to try to do a post on my overall short story "process" soon. Hopefully you'll find that of interest.

  3. It's been great following you both on twitter and here on your blog, so I wanted to nominate you for the versatile blogger award.

  4. Thank you, jaggedwriter! I'll post about this today!