All right, if you don’t have something to do this weekend, and you’re interested in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction, or you just want to listen to some very cool and inspirational writing videos by some knowledgeable and admirably-published writers, MFA teachers, and industry insiders, here’s your gig. And you don’t even have to pay for it. Unbelievable.
The move to Colorado has left me absolutely busted, financially and to some degree emotionally, even as I feel a sense of victory and liberation to relocate to “the freedom lands.” To sooth my jangled nerves, I have taken up listening to a biography of Proust while knitting. Although admonished by a Facebook friend that doing so was “like [reading] a Cliffnote’s version of A La Recherche du Temp Perdu (more conventionally known as Remembrance of Times Past).” I couldn’t find a full copy of the famous memoir-novel for free online listening, so I had to make accommodations.
The act of knitting while listening to a book is both relaxing and an extreme meditation on the writing.
Important writer’s knowings from Proust:
“An I that is not I:” Proust created this formula for his masterpiece. It was at the time a new innovation. First person narrators had been used before, such as by Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre, but it seems that no one had yet created what I might called a semi-memoir: A work which is partly factual, and partly fictional.
Finding material: Proust handily changed a young man, Albert, into a young woman, Albertine, for the purpose of his love story. Masking real people into characters, he combined others and renamed still others, basing whole families of characters on their real counterparts. The anger and objections of people involved were predictable. Yet in this way he was able to write the semi-memoir and claim it to be fiction. It seems few were fooled.
Rejection. Proust was devastated when the first part of his work, Swann’s Way, was rejected by the foremost French publishing house of avant-garde works at the time. But it seems the rejection was personal: the editor had met Proust and was offended by his social climbing and his dilettantish ways as a young man. Thus the work didn’t get an unbiased reading. This rejection occurred even though Proust proposed to pay for the publication. Proust was crushed and had to go with a newbie publisher. This reminds me of how much matters extraneous to the work, such as personal impressions and thematic or subject specifics, can impact the reception of one’s writing.
I was reading along a Google search thread which I generated in my quest to find out how much it actually costs to use Submittable if you’re a literary journal (best info: $180 to $1100 a year, depending on how many subs you get) where I turned up this really thought-provoking blog by Jane Friedman, which builds on mine of last week, when I admitted to become willing to pay for subs. The essence of Jane’s blog post is:
You totally should read this. In fact, if you haven’t, probably a lot of the questions you’re asking yourself and the writing universe are answered on this well-developed blog by a magazine and book publishing insider (worked at both Writer’s Digest and Virginia Quarterly Review). Talk about working both sides of the fence.
Jane also offers a writer’s coaching service that looks pretty reputable, and the charges are right there in digital print, no request form needed. Best blog find of the week, perhaps month. Thank you Jane.
It may be a huge reversal in writer philosophy but I have dropped my refusal to pay for writing support services, having joined Literistic ($8 a month) and Duotrope ($5 a month). Under Literistic’s advice (given in its free, and excellent, Submitting 101 course) I also decided that it’s okay to pay to submit to contests.
Why did I change my mind about paying for writing services? The argument made by Eliza Robertson (Twitter: @ElizaRoberts0n) in Submitting 101 was overwhelming: the potential return on paying for submissions was much more than the cost. The reason for not paying to enter contests at this point, I began to see, was pride, the money being hardly significant.
For me, this is because years ago I went to teaching school for the purpose of making money. Using this strategy, I reasoned, I would never surrender creative control on topic or design of my writing work in order to get money from editors. I had been working in magazine journalism and had seen more and more crossover of “the wall” which is supposed to exist in magazine publishing between the advertising department and editorial. I felt my artistic integrity was being compromised; the ‘giving the people what they want’ was taking over, and it was not the readers but the advertisers who were the people some editors cared about.
That being the case, paying to get information or even paying to enter contests is a small concession. I rate my time’s value by the rate I’m paid hourly as a teacher, and if I measure it that way, there’s no question that both Duotrope and Literistic’s charges are worth the time I save.
I stop short of saying “this is my hobby, and it’s not an expensive one when you think about it” (having sold my horse after five years last spring, I know what it is to have an expensive hobby. ) This is placing a premium on making art. It’s more like what I told my younger brother last week, when he asked if he should take time to do art:
“Always take time to do art whenever possible,” I said. And I mean it, not just for him, but for every person who feels so inclined.
And spending a few bucks so you have more time to do art, and less time researching publications, is totally worth it.
On to the Submissions Challenge Number 3: Since during the first challenge, I submitted seven times, and in the second, 16 times, for the third I will try for twenty submissions.
A report is due back from me no later than October 22 … we’ll see how this goes.
Yes, it’s true, I did it: 15 submissions in 30 days. How? I concentrated on writing short stories and re-writing old ones and finding potential markets. It did help that I submitted my novel to four mentoring teams in #pitchwars. And all this while working full time and conducting a deep reading of Mary Dearborn’s Hemingway biography.
I don’t want to lie. At times, I thought I might go a little crazy, obsessively building my MsExcel submission tracker, with its color coded boxes that tell whether something is in submission, out of submission, rejected, or still being developed.
I subscribed to Duotrope and Literistic (more on that later, I had planned to do a blog post talking about these two, along with Submittable, and which of them you need and why) and tried to match my stories with magazines that might, theoretically, find them interesting.
I submitted to The Sun again. They have rejected me a number of times, and I don’t know if my theory of literature and what it should do is 100% compatible with theirs, but then, I don’t know that it isn’t and I at least was able to pick the least likely to fail of my stories, because I know them and I’ve read their journal over the years. And my father, who is quite infirm, said he wished someone from our family would publish in the Sun, his favorite magazine. This week is his birthday.
My stats so far: Four rejections. Eleven items still in submission. No acceptances. Some of the pending subs have a better chance than others. But even if ultimately if none are accepted, for now, I’m pleased. You have to do things wrong, sometimes, before you do them right. I learned a lot, I submitted my work over a broad range of journals, and at the very least, I can tell myself that I’m in the game.
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 Editorial Team”
“Dear (name of editor I looked up on their masthead)
This morning Scarlett and I, the two participants in the mother/daughter writer’s retreat of last January, had coffee. She wanted to discuss the script she has been working on for an animated fiction short about a family of dragons. Scarlett wondered if adding another character was advisable or not. Clearly it would broaden the tale, but on the other hand, with animation, every second adds work to the process.
I agreed that the new character would add a desirable depth to the dragon family’s situation, but her concerns about extra time for animation on an already challenging project were valid as well.
“You just have to decide whether, in your vision, the addition is worth the extra development time,” I reasoned. “Use your judgment.”
“Sometimes I just don’t feel like my judgement is that good,” she said.
“Ah, the Internal Editor,” I replied. “Yes, Judith Cameron talks about that person. Sometimes it’s good to have an internal editor, but sometimes it gets out of control and destroys or causes you to abandon good ideas.
“You need to believe in yourself, and also you need beta readers or a writer’s workshop, to shut up the Internal Editor sometimes. And sometimes you have to just accept that not allof your work is going to be first rate, and that sometimes the only way to find out if it is, is to write it, let it cool off, and then decide.”
I asked her if she’d read Charles Johnson on the Craft of Fiction from this blog. He says that the fiction structure is in all of us, it’s our job as writers to work until the structure develops its complete shape. For Middle Passage, Johnson wrote about 3000 pages, but only kept about 300. He said it took years. Then he finally had it done, and it won the National Book Award.
Meanwhile, Scarlett asked me why I’d taken out one of the characters in my novel. She thought the character added something important. “Oh Scarlett, the way I had it was too close to home,” I said, referring to the real life murder that had inspired the novel.
“Maybe so, but there’s an important doubling between the two murder victims and your protagonist and her boyfriend,” Scarlett said. I began to think that, regardless of the extra work, I might have to put the character back in.
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.