Sooner or later it happens to every writer. The story that’s too weird in characters or plot to get past the sales force of a publisher, or has the wrong word count–too long for a short story sale (10,000 words or more), too short for a novel sale (less than 55,000 words).
It used to be when that happened all one could do was save those stories up for a collection of short stories or let them rot in a drawer.
And then after awhile, one reaches a point where one knows a story is going to be quirky after the first few pages, and an overwhelming urge would hit to just give up on it since there was virtually no market for it.
That’s why I’m so excited about the new distribution systems opening up through Smashwords, Amazon Kindle, and Barnes & Noble’s PubIt. Writers’ quirky stories are going to be able to see the light of day. I’m looking forward to seeing what some of my favorite writers do in this new world.
And these days I no longer get the urge to stifle a story after the first few pages, because I know if it’s of publishable quality I can find a home for it, no matter what, down the road. No story I write need sit rotting in a drawer–unless (like the first novel I wrote) it ought to. Bad writing is still bad writing in this new world.
I used to have what I nicknamed “submissions block.” I wrote, but I had a near phobia about submitting my work to editors or letting readers see it. To help deal with that problem I started this blog back in the fall of 2008.
And over time, this blog helped me deal with that borderline phobia and move past it. I began to submit my work to editors, and let readers see it. I’ve also been getting feedback behind the scenes these past few months from some of the best editors in my genre. As a result of all this work, what I need from this blog is changing.
I’m getting very close to being published.
So the focus and format of this blog will change over the next six months. I will continue to try to post on Sundays, but the topics will probably expand beyond writing subjects. The appearance of the website will also change.
I’ve really appreciated the emails I’ve received offline from readers of this website this past year.
Tiny changes over time can change a life beyond recognition. I am no longer the writer I was back in 2008–I’ve come a long way since then. I still have a long way to go, but I’m unstuck and moving faster and faster each month.
Fiction writers are like ocean divers. The watery depths run deep and dangerous, the pressures are intense, the hazards myriad. And there is no guarantee of anything being found of interest to those on shore. However, the silence and mystery of exploration itself becomes addictive to the writer. One eagerly awaits the next plunge into the depths.
Agents and editors are back on the boat, hoping you’re going to resurface with a pearl or a find a sunken galleon. But they don’t go beneath the water themselves (unless they also write or have written fiction for publication). So the deep ocean is this mysterious place that they never actually experience or have to survive in.
Their boats tend to cluster around places that are well-known and feel safe and predictable. No “Here be dragons.” This is to be expected. Publishing is a business, not a scientific endeavor.
So at times there’s a culture clash–what a writer needs to survive as a “diver” over the decades is different from what those in the boats and on shore need. Different personality, different set of skills. That’s why the advice of fiction writers who’ve survived in the business for decades can be invaluable–they’ve been in the depths as well, have known many writers over the years, have learned how to survive. And they’re sympathetic to just how addictive those oceanic depths can be.
It used to be that the short stories I submitted for publication got nothing but form rejection letters back. But in the last three months that’s been changing–the letters are coming back at times with personal comments from the editors. Considering how little free time editors have, if this happens to you, celebrate it, because it means you’ve gotten good enough in your writing that they want to encourage you. Editors are continually swamped with manuscripts and work–to take a few precious minutes out of their schedule to say something personal to you is a big deal.
And a few days ago, I got a letter of the “we really like this novelette, but it’s too long for us” variety from a major science fiction publication. Again, this is a milestone to celebrate if it happens to you. It means that story was good enough to sell.
So, I took those stories, found new markets to submit them to, and mailed them off. Why not just self-publish them?
Two reasons: 1) Quality control, and 2) audience.
Like any other writer, I am unable to be objective about my own abilities. So I like to submit my work for traditional publication to editors because it tells me how I’m doing as far as skill level. I want to know if I’m reaching “pro” level or not in my stories. If a story isn’t at a “pro” level, I’d rather it sat in drawer than self-publish it. However, if it was good enough to get a personal letter from an editor, but a hard sell due to length (such as novelette and novella), chances are that once I ran out of traditional markets, I’d look into self-publishing it.
The other reason to consider traditional publishing for a short story is the available audience. Think about it. If you get a short story in THE NEW YORKER, you’ve just reached a huge potential reading audience. Even the smaller periodicals will give you exposure to hundreds, even thousands, of readers who might not hear of you otherwise.