The Submissions Challenge Month Six, during which I discover, to my happiness, a list of Free Submission Search Engines, and to my slight dismay, the Rejection Wiki

Okay, I fell off the wagon and didn’t write a submissions challenge update during month five. Month five (December) I made twenty submissions and not much happened in the acceptances category. Well nothing actually. I did pass one hundred subs.

In month six, I really fell off the wagon, and only made fourteen submissions, with the same zero acceptances. But, in the desert, there are discoveries to be made, about the world and about yourself …

Most interesting news this period: I discovered with the help of Julie Reeser’s Patreon (follow her on Twitter at @abetterjulie) the dreaded Rejection Wiki. This is a website where writers have posted the various literary journals’ form rejections, and the truth is some of the journals invite everyone to submit again.  

Everyone. That means if they asked you to submit again, you’ve got to check the wiki and see if the invite means anything.

Does the invite suggests anything about their feeling toward you as a writer? Or, God forbid, do they just appear to be willing to read more pieces for an accumulation of the $3 submission fees?

I’m talking about you, Ploughshares.

On the other hand, some rejections were more helpful. Baltimore Review gets a shout out for giving me and all other declined submitters a nice roundup of online search engines for journals, so that we can continue looking for our literary-journal-soul-mate. I excerpt their email below:

“See long lists of other publication possibilities at New Pages, Poets and Writers, Every Writer’s Resource, Yahoo Neo Groups, and The Review.”

Thank you Baltimore Review. I appreciate this.

Finally, the question arises: Should one keep submitting? I haven’t really lost interest, and I steel myself with the memory of how Sylvia Plath submitted to Seventeen Magazine no less than forty-seven times before being accepted. But in the New Pages blog, I found a link to another perspective:

The Year I Gave Up on Submitting to Literary Magazines, in Women Writer’s, Women’s Books, by Annette Gendler. Gendler decided that literary magazines were to be given up on, because the acceptance rate was so low. She decided to concentrate on consumer publications and book publishing, which have worked well for her.

Well I can’t argue about the low acceptance rate. Although I do hope to see that improve for me sometime in the next decade. Nevertheless, I feel drawn to the freedom or writing for these literary magazines, which allow you So Much Latitude in what to create. So no, I have to say, I’m not close to quitting.

I kinda hope you’re not too. And if not, Gendler has a free Writer’s Workbook you can get for signing up for her email newsletter (request form at bottom of page). In this workshop there’s lots of reflections about projects, plans, what’s working, what’s not.

You’ve got to believe in yourself or it will all come to nothing

This has an application to writing and creative work, but you have to wait for it.

One thing that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I was not a successful teacher my first year, in fact I was so ineffective I almost lost my job. I could not control my class, and I was emotionally traumatized by the students’ responses to my efforts to teach them, and by their responses to each other, which were often mean and/or even violent. 

Colleagues and my mentor gave me daily support to help me survive.  I was put on a growth plan, which in Texas means you may be fired at the end of the year.  I cried and begged for help from the other adults in the building.  “Do you believe I can do this?  Do you believe I can be a real teacher?” 

My mentor sighed.  “I believe you can.  But unless you believe in yourself, you will not make it.”  And  I didn’t believe in myself.  I was an imposter, a housewife with a college degree pretending that, by taking a couple of tests, I could be a school teacher. 

Fortunately for me, something happened that changed me when the literacy coach asked about my reading scores.  “How are they doing?” she asked. 

“They’re coming up, almost all of them,” I said. 

She looked at me, surprised.  “Really?”

In that moment, I saw that she knew I had done something with my class, even as they threw paper at each other and played with action figures inside their desks.  I had taught them!  And when I saw that I could do that, I believed in myself at last and I began to improve. 

Back to writing:  When I was working in DFW Writer’s Workshop in Dallas, I watched other writers go to publication.  But I didn’t feel like a real writer any more than I felt like a real school teacher.  When I sent my novel manuscript out twenty times, and it got two requests, and the agents passed on the work, I felt like “I’m not a real writer and that’s why it got rejected.”  Others asked me why I stopped submitting.  I stopped because I didn’t believe in myself.

Now, today, I see things differently.  I believe in my writing, and I believe in the writing of others.  I think we can all find our way to communicating our best truth, and find a readership that appreciates us, if we take the time to do the work and persevere.

I’d be curious what readers feel about this believing in oneself. 

The WIP: The beginning 50 pages, and the rest of it

I was getting ready to make a pie for my son, and as I was standing in the kitchen peeling apples, I reflected that three agents have seen the full of my novel, and that I’m not sure whether they got past the first 50 pages or not. 

But it’s worse than that: I was reading at at and found that here, too, the first fifty pages of the novel were the focus of a class taking 6 weeks, in which instructor Sandra Novak posted “if those first 50 pages, which lay the groundwork for the entire plot, aren’t working, more problems will often mount up … “

The whole thing is a concern.  And while, I would argue, for the type of book that changes the world, the first fifty pages are rarely the focus (ever heard anyone claim that “that first fifty pages in War and Peace, without it, the book wouldn’t be the same) nevertheless, books which never get published never become the Great American (or Great Anything) novel. Thus, the first fifty pages merit special consideration. 

So what did I do?  Started rewriting my first fifty pages.  I wasn’t sure about taking the class (the temptation to do so was tempered by the $360 price tag) but I stored the possibility of the class as something that could be purchased with my Christmas money.

As for the rest of the novel, the last 250 pages, well … it’s better than the first part.  I don’t know if this is typical and I don’t know if it’s good or  bad.  But I knew this already, from when the book went through the workshop.  So … the goal is to get the first 50 pages up to the speed of the rest of the book.  And start submitting again. 

The Submissions Challenge Month Four, in which I get more positive overall results. A list of four things I’ve learned so far through this process.

The fourth month’s challenge, in which I decided to submit 30 stories in 30 days, was the most intense of all the challenges yet.  I can now report the stats:

I submitted 21 pieces to journals of various types.

Also, I submitted my novel query to 11 agents.

My results:

One literary journal acceptance! Also:  one agent request for a full of my manuscript.

Nine rejections, four with kind notes or invitations to resubmit.  Twenty items from the challenge remain in submission, along with a dozen or more previous subs.  The full of my manuscript was rejected after two weeks. However, the agent gave me some helpful advice and was quite cordial.

How do I feel?  I feel like I’m getting somewhere.

I went back and read my entire #submissionschallenge thread.  Seeing that I’ve gotten faster and stronger on submitting is really encouraging.  Important learnings in the last four months:

1) Sources for markets:  submittable, literistic, duotrope, and blogs which list magazines winning the Pushcart Prize such as this linked post at TheJohnFox.

2) You might want to consider paying for submissions since the economics of the situation have changed.  Then again, maybe not that often.

3) Multiple submissions, yes. It’s okay, really. If a piece isn’t submitted to four markets, the process of submitting, for me, is not complete.

4) Editors and agents are real people and they love literature as much as you do.  And yes, they are reading what you send them.  Perhaps the best introduction you can give as a new writer is that you know of their work and respect it.  I found this out by including what I appreciated about the literary magazines I was researching and by including details gleaned largely from @twitter in manuscript queries, particularly the #MSWL thread. 

It didn’t take very long for me to get ticked off at paying for submissions

Yeah, I have to admit.  The first month I decided to try it, I spent $73, most on entering three contests, which do tend to be pricey, but the rest on those $3 Submittable submission fees.  And after doing it, I didn’t feel as good as I hoped. 

The stats on the paid for subs aren’t really promising, yet, either, although I have yet to hear from most of them: 

Paid subs:  8, one rejection, 7 still out.  That’s 13% rejection, and 87% still in submission. 

Unpaid subs:  28, 5 rejections, one requested manuscript, 22 still out.  That would be:  17% rejection, 4% acceptance (count manuscript request as acceptance) and 79% still in submission. 

The contests still haven’t been called, and they could be a big deal, or no deal, but at this point, the pay-for-subs plan is still unproven.

As for my emotional response to putting almost my whole allowance in the submission payments pile, well, that’s just one more hurdle faced by being a writer.  As is Monday morning ennui. 

Need to get up and go to the library. 

How will I know whether it’s time to send the Manuscript out? And what will I do once it is?

Since I started querying my novel last week, I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends on twitter and everywhere else too about the querying process, when you should send out you book, how many people should you query at a time, how long might it take, how will you feel, and how will you know if this is the final edit, the final agent, etc … it’s left me with the feeling Whitney Houston sings about in her famous song:  How Will I Know?

I found a blog post on The Debutante Ball this morning by Martine Founier Watson, debut author of 2019, who tells us of her own experience of getting an agent, including within the post all those intangibles (not how to write a query, but how to get the fortitude to send one out, for example) that you and I need to know to keep querying and keep revising.  I heartily recommend this blog post.  I have read a lot of blogs about writing and this one really delivers the goods. 

Thank you Martine!

Should he give up writing? Not so fast, colleague …

ABC_man_overboard_cruise_ship_sr_140116_16x9_992I was reading Twitter last night when an unusual tweet showed up on my stream.  It was a cry of despair, it appeared, and reading it, I had the sensation of a being passenger standing at the rail of on an ocean liner, looking out over the sea and seeing someone in the water, waving frantically to be seen before it was too late.  The tweet was:

“See you later everyone. I’m giving up writing officially. It’s going nowhere. As a hobby it’s a waste of my time if I can’t survive off of it. I’ll be around for another fifteen minutes before I delete my Twitter … “

Man overboard! I thought.  I tweeted back, “I hope you’re kidding … ”

“Nope. It’s a complete waste of my time. No one besides my mom, my brother and two other people (hyperbole) have read my book or cares … “

Oh my gosh.  Yeah, I know.  It’s tough, the rejection, the indifference, the feeling that what you’re doing *ought*  to be getting more attention than it is.

I know. My ego, too, has at times been pulverized, my self-image, regularly diminished.  And yet.

I replied: “I understand.” I wrote:

“Just tonight, I was wondering: what if I just publish a couple short stories, and nothing else, what then? And I thought: well, what else was I going to do with my time? Knit socks? Ride horses? “

I mean, writing is easy and cheap compared to riding horses.  And I prefer, on average, writers as good-time companions to riders.

I tell myself I have to adjust my perspective. Writing is a lifelong journey.  I think most of us intellectually accept that there are no guarantees, in writing as in elsewhere in life, but we have to accept this emotionally as well. I have a vision of the work I want to complete, but I don’t get a guarantee that my vision will be fulfilled.  I wonder every day if by wanting to be a novelist and see my book read by thousands, I am not suffering from grandiosity of a clinical nature.

I said to my daughter, “I want everyone to fall in love with Carl (my WIP’s hero).”

She didn’t say “You’re out of your mind,” but I think her eyebrows did rise a bit. Meanwhile, I vacillate between confidence and self-doubt. A year ago I told my husband, Leo, that I was in despair because I wasn’t sure I could ever be the Writer I Dreamed of Being.

Leo, who has again and again in my life given me good answers to seemingly intractable questions, said “Look, you write, you always write, whether you journal or you direct your energy towards publication. So why not work to realize your vision? You’ll be writing anyway. Try to make something of it.”

He then went on to tell me the story of Nietzsche, the great German philosopher and classicist, who was rejected by the professors of his day because his ideas were, let us say, a little too progressive. He came up with, among other things, the idea of the Ubermensch and the Death of God, which while controversial have become worldwide philosophical koans after his death. But Nietzsche didn’t live to see his work become canonical. He never made any money out of it.  When he died, his books were published in vanity press editions only. No paying editor would touch them. There was just one professor in the entire world who was teaching Nietzsche’s philosophy.  That one man told him he was a genius but the rest of his colleagues said he was an idiot, or worse, irrelevant.

This discussion with Leo made such a mark on me that I can remember it a year later, and since then I have never stopped trying to be the writer I dream of.  I have also come to believe, as I look at the world, that as education expands, and the world expands, there are more readers than ever before, and therefore, there is room for more writers than ever before.  So I think that as I do not allow myself to quit, my twitter friend should not quit, and neither should the readers of this modest blog, almost all of whom, I think, are writers as well.

I concluded my communication with a tweet that for me is the end of the discussion:

“At the end of the day I think the majority of the joy is in the writing itself not being published.” I should qualify that by pointing out that I’ve had work published — short form only, not books — hundreds of times.  So I’m not guessing.

Now that does not mean that I don’t do everything I can to write work that will satisfy my greater vision. It does mean that I understand that as Mr. Spock said, “No man can summon the future,” and I can’t force a solution.

I noticed that this morning my fellow writer who had neared despair was back at work and wrote that he had composed another 1000 words.  I commend all writers on their many journeys. May you all be read, and far more and far longer than you expect in your darkest moments.

Nietzsche certainly was.