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.

Submitting to journals: the Jo Bell method

So you need to improve, speed up, refine, reorganize or survive the emotions of your querying process?

Me too.  I reblogged this post because it gives a lot of useful reflections, including

1. Set one day a month for making submissions to your markets.
2. Nothing is ever really “done.” When your work is submission ready, however, send it off.
3. Editors are busy and don’t respond quickly most of the time. They may still want your work months later but not have gotten around to letting you know. This reminds me of Agatha Christie, whose first novel was accepted two years after it was submitted to a publisher, with no intervening communication.
4. The submission organizing file system itself is simple but ingenious. I’ve been writing for a while, but something resembling this system simply never has occurred to me.
5. Be nice to editors/don’t burn bridges/no snarky emails/be patient. That one especially.

The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog


[This article is now taught as part of the Open University’s Creative Writing MA, and I’ve had many many messages to tell me that people have increased their publication record, sometimes by 200% in a year. It’s also included in our new book How to Be a Poet]

I’ve spent some time lately with poetry journal editors – and also with the poor beggars who, like me, send off work to them. It’s struck me anew that many people, especially those at the beginning of their writing career, don’t have much idea of how submission works and what time span is realistic for an editor to consider a poem. Also, they’re wondering how to keep tabs on the seventeen different pieces that they’ve sent out, in order to avoid the no-no of simultaneous submission.

What follows is the Jo Bell Method; the method of an immensely, award-winningly disorganised poet who nonetheless has…

View original post 1,631 more words

Review: Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, with Notes on how to be your own Book Doctor

writing the breakout novelIf there is one thing I am trying to do, it is to write a really great novel. If that’s your goal too, and you’re running into snags, this might be the book for you.

The first thing Maass begins to explain is the way the breakout novel sells.  The breakout novel is the one that gets on the bestseller lists, the one that people know the name of.  There are lots of small novelists, he says, but only a few actually break out.  There is even a problem of novelists who’ve published 3 or 4 books and due to lackluster sales, their publisher is dropping them.  Who knew that getting your book published was just the bottom of the mountain?

This book also will let you see more deeply how the agent thinks.  Although I ‘get’ that agents have to sell books to make money, the finer shadings of how an agent looks for premise, conflict, stakes, and character were never clear to me before.  Maass illustrates his points predominantly using example books from the 90’s, many of which I have read.  His commentary took me directly back to the problem of what to do about my YA mystery novel The Lotus Eaters.

Now The Lotus Eaters was workshopped extensively in 2008 and submitted to twenty agents, of whom two requested fulls.  But they both passed on the manuscript, and the more prominent of the two said “I just couldn’t get close to Gemela (the heroine.)”  Since this had been a nagging concern of the workshop members who’d listened to the novel being read, I knew I had to figure out how to make Gemela likeable or at least compelling and interesting.

And I just had no idea.

At that time I went to teaching school.  As the years went past, with me concentrating on learning the craft of instruction in a classroom instead of the craft of fiction, I felt like Moses in the desert during The Ten Commandments.  But I learned a lot, teaching elementary students about stories.  I watched the techniques and effects that drew children’s interest, how writers made readers experience a vicarious life using emotional descriptions, plot twists, character details, describing an experience with the five senses and the way the narrative arc works on the reader/listener.  I saw that certain subjects – disaster and dogs are big ones in 4th grade – just had a draw on the students.

The details and practices I saw kids respond to in the classroom are very similar to the ones Maass writes about in his book. It began to become clear what I had done wrong.  I had skimped on Gemela’s emotional experiences.

I went through my novel and began to add my heroine’s emotional life, sentence by sentence.  This is a major rewrite and something that is not yet finished.  It is something that Maass gave me a roadmap to do, and, if I have to be my own book doctor, his book is something I truly needed.

If you’re struggling with knowing how to make your book more marketable, and you want to know what agents are looking for, I sum up by saying: Writing the Breakout Novel is the book for you.  And now, back to book doctoring.

Overheard During the Mayborn Conference ’17 Agent Panel

How Many Clients Actually come from the Slush pile?

Taken from my conference notes:


Who are Agents and Where do they come from?

“[Agents] have a relationship with publishers.  We know which editor is interested in which subject.

“We worked for a corporate publisher, but now we work for the good guy.

What to Know Before You Start Writing

“Publisher’s Marketplace.  Get it.  Although Publisher’s Lunch is free, at $25/month, Publisher’s Marketplace is worth it.

[Two of the agents say that social media is a colossal waste of time.  The audience applauds.]

The Book Proposal

“Almost all non-fiction is sold from the book proposal.

“Writing a 40-page book proposal can be more daunting than writing the book. The reason for the proposal is so the writer can write the book.



What Writers Need to Think About When Writing

“You should assume your reader is a highly intelligent person who has absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

Where do agents get their clients?

“70% come through referrals.

“15% come from agents reaching out to writers.

“15% come from the slush pile.

[This is followed by a discussion of whether the agents actually answer the queries of writers they don’t know.  One says “if they use my name, they get a response,” but other agents say that may or may not happen.  And someone says that they get queries addressed to “Dear Agent.”  Then one agent mentions receiving queries with a different agent’s name.  Overall, the picture is one where agents get more mail than they can reasonably handle, and where a huge number of aspiring writers don’t know what they’re doing.]

What Agents Look For in You:

“What are people looking for?  STORY + WRITING + CREDENTIAL.  [I do not know why I wrote that all in caps.]

“No one knows anything, really, about the future of a book, but I’m looking for someone to believe.  And a sense of command of the materials.

“I want to be transformed and I want to learn.  I’m looking for someone to tell me something more about a topic which which I’m already familiar.

“The digital revolution hasn’t changed too severely what writers have to do.  People still read hardcovers and paperbacks.

“What do we want?  We want the future.