Zoetrope All Story Contest Deadline Approaches

Well-known lit magazine Zoetrope’s annual fiction contest is coming up. 

What:  Literary fiction to 5000 words. First, second and third places will receive $1000, $500, and $250 respectively and writers will be considered for representation by William Morris Agency and other high-prestige literary agencies.  Entry fee:  $30.

When:  Submissions: Midnight, October 1, Pacific Time.  Results: December 15th.

Where:  Contest Website

Who will be the judge: National Book Award winner Colum McCann

How to Write a Cover Letter for a Submission of Completed work, and do you put a Salutation in the Cover Letter Blank on Submittable?

So, getting down to the submissions for the Query Challenge.  On Submittable, on most (not all) of the forms they ask you for a cover letter and you have to type it into the blank.  My standard cover letter is:


(one to two sentences about the work I am submitting and what the theme or intent of the work is)

(standard bio paragraph, which right now is most-noted publications plus professional affiliations and biggest current project, my novel)

(standard paragraph thanking them for considering the work)


But what should the salutation be?

“Dear Editor”

“Dear Editorial Team”

“Dear (name of editor I looked up on their masthead)

“Dear (name of journal)

or … nothing, just go into the letter.

Any thoughts?


Let us call this Day One of the Query Challenge … and should you pay to submit your work?

Or day 2.  I managed to make two submissions yesterday afternoon and so, if today is day 2,  now I am ahead!  The goal will be 15 submissions before September 22; however, I am secretly wondering if I can get higher.

Making these subs means getting used to Submittable, which they didn’t have back before I was teaching, ten years ago when I used to send stuff to literary magazines by mail, or sometimes email.  Seems like every small press uses it.

It’s a help, but a hinderance.  A lot of places charge money to submit!!!

In the old days, the creed of the freelance writer was you never pay anyone for anything.  But in the modern day, I guess, things are lightening up?  Anyone have an opinion?


Four Important Points on Submitting Your Writing

img_20180703_0758291061076920.jpgAfter completing my review of A Wide-Ranging Cost-Benefit Chart of Different Opportunities for Writers to Build their Craft and determining that my biggest challenge would be submitting my work more frequently, I was left with time to reflect on the act of submitting work itself.  Drawing on what I’ve learned from writing workshops, books on how to be a writer, and conferences, I have put down the following four important points:

1) You have to keep submitting even when it hurts.  I have learned this from teaching school, which is an action which you keep moving forward even on days when you don’t feel like it, when you don’t know what do to next, even when you are afraid. What I’ve learned through teaching is that, when we’re engaged in a long and difficult process, such as completing the 4th grade or becoming an author, our emotions dip very low at times, and it may appear that we are getting nowhere. This is not true.  Almost always we are making progress and we don’t see it.  The successful authors at the Mayborn Conference 2017 said this again and again:  submit, submit, submit.  

2) You should submit and re-submit to markets you know.  This can be so hard once they’ve rejected your work the first time.  But if you know and understand the market, your “voice” will be more and more right for them, and your article topics will hone in on what they’re publishing as well.  Also, if you show you care about the journal by submitting and re-submitting, the editor will notice.  Sylvia Plath submitted 45 stories to Redbook before they took the first one.

3) You should give editors 72 hours to respond, then send the work to someone else (this from the Mayborn Conference as well).  Usually if they’re interested, they will respond that fast.  If not, move on.

4) Multiple submissions:  take the risk (also suggested by the Mayborn writers.)  What is the risk?  It’s slight:  that in a game where a positive response to your query or submission could be coming 1/10, 1/20 or 1/100 times, you will send a successful piece out and get a double acceptance.  If that happens, apologize to the second editor and go on.  The chances are 1/100, 1/400, and 1/10,000, respectively, that you will get a double acceptance on any given piece.  Yes, it happened to me once, and the truth is, the editor forgave me.

I reflect on the findings of the Cost Benefit Chart of Ways to Improve my Writing Career — Using, Perhaps Improbably, the Newly Developing YogaMind of the Bikram Challenge.

yoga mat and water bottleNow that I’ve published the findings of  The Breakdown on the Cost-Benefit Chart of ways to Improve your Writing  the inevitable result is the reflection:  Am I doing these things?  Well … yes and no.  I read in my genre, I read about writing, I blog, I comment on blogs, I do social media.  But I don’t submit my work nearly enough.  Not nearly.

We’re talking … six submissions this year so far.

I was at yoga this morning, in a break between poses. I was doing workout 14 of the 30-day Bikram Yoga challenge.  And I thought:  you’ll do yoga for 30 days in a row, but what about submitting your writing 30 days in a row?

Wow, the idea has merit!  What if I submitted that much work?  What would that look like?

Well … I’d have to identify which work is ready to submit, for one thing.  Right now I have the following finished work:

  1. Almost 40, a travel memoir
  2. Lotus Eaters, a YA murder mystery
  3. An essay on how to pay for your kids’ college education
  4. An essay on my ex-husband marrying his third wife
  5. A literary humor piece that I could submit, but I feel it isn’t quite funny enough yet.
  6. A reflection on escaping from Houston during Hurricane Harvey

OMG my head begins to pound.  In order to submit full length book manuscripts, you have to research agents.  Otherwise, the agent will generally just blow you off, and, why shouldn’t they, you don’t know who they are, you’re like a door to door salesman.  Writing queries with agent research is work, hard work.

It’s easier to submit the short pieces, which are good essays, by and large, but its hard to figure out who would want them.  And it’s depressing to send them out to the wrong markets, it seems like sending your kids out into a blizzard in Bermuda shorts (that metaphor was stolen whole cloth from Steven King, BTW); it’s just cruel. Especially if you can’t stand rejection.  Even more than most writers.  That’s me.

But then, I go back into YogaMind.  YogaMind says ‘do it anyway. Do it even if it’s uncomfortable.  Do it because it’s the right thing to do.  Do it because you can and you know the odds are that if you keep doing it, something is going to change for the better, and if you don’t …

Nothing will.’

Thank you YogaMind.  The 30 submissions in 30 days challenge is on, starting today.  And if on some days I just show up, and don’t do a very good job, and just get something off to somebody, somehow, well, like with yoga, maintaining the momentum will still be the thing.

I”ll check back periodically and tell you how it’s going.

Update on the Mother and Daughter Artist’s Retreat: In which Scarlett gets a Commission to Paint

img_20180114_200421178632046.jpgLast January over MLK weekend, my daughter Scarlett and I went away for an artist’s retreat. We agreed to spend 2018 continuing the projects we were working on.  I was very excited to learn that Scarlett, who painted this orange while we were in Morro Bay on the retreat, has received a commission to paint a landscape for a friend’s redecoration project.  She apparently gained this commission by giving the URL of her website to a friend, who decided she was the painter for the job.

In addition, she is going to use pen and ink to contribute illustrations to a biology textbook written by her thesis advisor back in Ohio.  I couldn’t be more pleased.  I’m hoping that our little Artist’s Retreat was of some help with obtaining these results.

As for me, five months later what have I done?  Well … I’ve joined a writer’s critique group, I’ve rewritten the first hundred pages of my novel, I’ve gone to DFW Writer’s Conference and pitched my novel and memoir to an agent, she said she’d look at them and now I’m preparing the email.

We’ve set the direction, and now we’re moving forward.  In the fall, it will be time, we’ve agreed, for Artist’s Retreat part II — Joe, the host of the tiny house where we stayed by the beach, says we can come back any time he has space.

So … as the Italians say, “Piano, piano,” which means slowly, slowly, or step by step.  Intentionality, it’s the thing.

Should a writer join a writer’s workshop? Blog? Rely on their own genius?

pexels-photo-933964.jpegAround the start of the year, I joined a writer’s group that meets on a weeknight at a local coffee shop.  The result of this has been the reworking of the beginning of my novel, but it has also been the slowing down of the blogging and social media I used to do.  I’m assuming that this is a good thing — after all, blogs are digital and transitory, and novels are permanent (provided they get published). And if you go to a writer’s workshop, that gives you something to write on queries, right?

So I shouldn’t quit writer’s workshop.  Anyway, does a writer really need to blog?  My writing group colleagues don’t do it. At the Mayborn conference last year, a speaker got an ovation for telling the audience social media is a waste of time.  But I’ve read on more than one agent websites that you need to have a web presence.  I guess if you have Total Genius you might get away without a website and social media followers.  But these days I’m not sure I am a genius anymore.

Or, to put it a different way, genius seems to me more and more motivation and hard work and less and less a gift of the immortal gods.  I still like to blog, just not so often. I still think it gives me ideas that are valuable.  Writing inspiration seems to me to be more a mountain you can climb than a lightning bolt that hits you. I guess in answer to my title question, a writer needs to try all the different strategies he or she can and has time for.  Writing, like much else in this life, is a journey, not a destination.