Saturday, June 22, 2013

Craft, Pt. 11(b) - Submitting Without Drowning

I had meant to touch on the specifics of actually submitting in my previous post, but it all got away from me. With this one, I'd like to suss out a few of the particulars, which I had to do some research about early on. Hopefully this will help out a future submitter later.

Multiple Submissions Vs. Simultaneous Submissions

Typically defined, the term "multiple submissions" means several unique submissions to the same journal, review, or publication place at the same time. During the course of my exploration, I've found a small number of places that accept multiple submissions. I imagine this is due to the fact that some writers simply can't help themselves and want to send a deluge of content to a place and see which they like. The problem with this is that it creates a mountain of submissions for editors to sift through. Especially considering how the next phrase works.

"Simultaneous submissions" is a term that means a single piece can be submitted to multiple places at the same time. More publications are open to this as long as they're notified when the piece is published elsewhere so that they can remove it from their own consideration pile. You can see now how the confluence of both multiple and simultaneous submissions can be problematic; submitting the same ten pieces to ten different places might up your odds of something being published, but it overwhelms and gums up the works all across the board. To say nothing of the fact that you'd have to go back and contact each of those publications if one story got published, much less all ten, a very small likelihood in and of itself.

Submitting Novel Excerpts

This one's tricky. Some places accept novel excerpts, but most don't. Why, you might ask? Because there are very few chapters of most books that don't require the chapters before and after it to make sense of the one in question. Even better, remove a chapter from your book. How does the removal of that chapter change the narrative flow of the entire work itself? If the change is so drastic as to make your book unreadable, then obviously you can't submit that piece for standalone publication. A general rule of thumb for my own personal use: don't submit novel excerpts, even if a publication accepts them on principle. It's highly unlikely the piece will make much sense without the corresponding chapters and if you're a writer, then you know you've got other pieces to submit.

Submitting Near/Around Due Dates

The vast majority of publications have cutoff dates for when they stop reading and considering submissions. I don't have much in the way of knowing how much more quickly a publication will make a decision on a piece the closer it's submitted to the due date. Personally, I try to submit a week or two before the due date, hoping I will end up hearing back on the piece sooner. But, it's just as likely that you'll hear back quickly if you submit early on when there's not such a wave of submissions coming in all at once. Perhaps the middle ground of submitting at the halfway point between the open submission date and the closed submission date is your best bet here.

Contacting a Publication on the Status of a Submission

So your piece has been out in submission land for five months. You've heard nothing back from the editors and you worry that they've somehow forgotten about your piece (because your piece being published is the most important you). Wait another month. Most publications that I've come across have blatantly stated "do not contact us about the status of a submission unless it's been over (x) number of months." Six months is usually the accepted length of time. Anytime before that and you may find yourself either blacklisted from that particular publication or have your submission summarily rejected. These are obviously worst-case scenarios, but it can happen. Don't be a douche; stay patient.

Paying to Submit

I used to only submit to places that were free and didn't charge a dime for anything; not for reading, not for editing, nothing. Now that most publications have gone to digital submissions, a few have begun charging reading fees. At first this bothered me, but more and more I realized how much paper these places were probably using to print up who knows how many submissions, so their costs were probably ballooning a bit. Since the writer wasn't submitting hard copies via post, this meant more costs in printer ink and paper. And a lot of places only publish digitally now, trying to keep their costs down while still trying to find that writer/writing that they want to highlight in their publication.

Most places charge just a two or three dollar fee to submit. This is completely reasonable. There are a few others I've seen that have charged upwards of $30, but this fee includes a deep critique of the submitted piece mailed back to the writer with notes on the manuscript. I won't say that's a high fee, but if you're just starting out and haven't had anyone look at your work before, try one of these once or twice to get a feel for the process. Each editor will read a piece differently, so it's good to get an in-depth look at your work whenever possible. Bottom line: fees are okay. Don't be afraid to pay them on occasion, but there are certainly plenty of other (free) places out there.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Craft, Pt. 11 - Submitting Without Drowning

"How you uh, how you coming on that novel you're working on? Huh? Gotta a big, uh, big stack of papers there? Gotta, gotta nice little story you're working on there? Your big novel you've been working on for 3 years? Huh?"

So yeah. You've put in the work. You've got a stack of stories you want the world to read because the world HAS to read these stories. Immediately. Now what?

I won't begin to tell you there's a single right way to do any of this; I think history shows us over and over again that everyone forges their own path to success and there's no better way to write a story than the way you write it. There's also no better way to try to get published and taken seriously unless it's on your terms. Having said that, I'll just go over my own process for the last year and a half. Don't take it as gospel, but feel free to use it as a trail map until you've found your own way.

When I realized I had several stories I could start sending out to various publishers, I googled these phrases to start off with:

- Literary Journal
- Journal
- Literary Review
- Review
- Fiction Submissions

You get a pretty good long list of places accepting work from both new and established authors. But one shouldn't simply barrage vast numbers of magazines in the hopes that something will stick. Like readers, each magazine has its own personal aesthetic and most implore you to read previous issues so that you don't waste your time submitting or waste their time reading that sci-fi/western piece you submitted to a place that deals primarily in turn-of-the-century, coming-of-age stories written in transcendentalist styles. But it's not always feasible to read a single copy of every literary journal out there just to find out whether or not they'll like your stuff.

What I found while picking up new story collections by authors I'd never heard of before was that each author typically had published some of their stories elsewhere separately first. As rational an approach as this was, it had never occurred to me to approach publishing this way. Short story collections that I found myself drawn to were typically of the weirder, more surreal, more slipstream/experimental and there was a pattern to where many of the authors had submitted their works to. Since I feel I write in this same vein, I began checking these sites and magazines specifically. I began submitting, feeling pretty firmly that I wasn't wasting my time or the publisher's time by doing so. What I soon realized was that I needed to have a system in place.

A great tool is Submittable (formerly Submishmash). If you don't already have an account here, you should get one as it's become almost the industry standard when it comes to writing submissions. Not only does it track the pieces that have been accepted, but tracks the ones that are currently being read, the ones that have been declined, so on. It's a really incredible resource that's helped me immensely. But supposing you don't currently have an account there? What would you do?

Almost like making copies in triplicate, I devised a few processes that help keep me from submitting pieces either to the same place twice or two pieces to the same place at the same time. The first is via my external hard-drive where I keep my files. Since every journal or magazine may have different requirements for submitting (pagination, contact information placement, etc.), each submission is a separate file. The letter (z) denotes pieces that are currently being considered, the letter (W) means pieces I've had to withdraw because they'd been accepted at other magazines, the letter (D) means the piece was denied or rejected, and the letters (AAA) means the piece was accepted. Not only is everything alphabetized, but each submission is dated as well so that I don't submit more times than is necessary during reading periods.

So that's two ways I've got my submissions info backed up, which is good because not every journal or magazine utilizes Submittable. Some prefer by mail, email,  or their own submission managers particular to their site. Either way, now I've got every submission (denied, accepted, withdrawn) completely accounted for in this file. A quick scan can show me all the places I've submitted to and which pieces have been denied where. But I needed to be more thorough, more ADD about the process.

I keep an online journal and began utilizing it to keep track of links to submission sites, all their pertinent information (dates due, page requirements, whether or not they allowed simultaneous submissions, etc.), and even as another way of simply showing which pieces were in which stage of review for publication.

And though it's a pain in the ass to keep updating, it's proven to be a wildly excellent system for me. The list of publications and the information I require grows every day and I keep adding publication opportunities to each story single story entry. When I submit to one place, I remove that particular link from that story's entry so I never end up resubmitting the same piece to a magazine twice. No one wants to be remembered as that guy that just couldn't take a hint after his first rejection letter.

There are PLENTY of places out there for every taste and genre of writer, so don't get too discouraged. And if you find yourself discouraged or waiting with bated breath to hear back about the status of a submission...stop. Go back to writing, go back to finishing half-cooked projects so that you can continue submitting to other places. By the time you've forgotten to check their statuses, they'll have already gotten back to you and you'll have already created new pieces to submit.

I genuinely hope this helps, even a little bit. Granted this is just my own laborious process, but it's been working thus far.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Books On Deck / Up Next

 Ben Spivey - "Black God"

"Ben Spivey's BLACK GOD is a surreal dreamscape of a book. To borrow from the book itself, 'There's something black in that place like it was untouched by God himself.... Or herself.' At its claustrophobic core, this book is a love story about time and memory, fear and death. At its dreamlike fringes, it is a book that might have been written by the son of Kafka and Braque. Like our best books, it is a love story in love with its own death."—Peter Markus

"In BLACK GOD there is a dream architecture that draws the aging narrator Cooper from his dying wife like a moth to its hard and gateless outer shell. With him we explore the received forms of daily life mingling with fluctuating dreams of the interior of eternity. Here, Spivey accomplishes the rare feat of investing Cooper's efforts with resonance though his motives obscure even to himself and the theater in which he operates is a dreamscape of mechanical islands, a wife retreating into silhouettes, and beaches of washed up clocks: 'I looked up and could see where I fell from—a house hanging in the sky like a new moon—the actual moon cast shadow on the home giving it celestial shape. I could even see the stairs I must have tumbled from hanging there like a limp wrist.' This is a visionary book, a genuine terror and awe."—Joe Hall

 Jeremy Scahill - "Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield" 

"In Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill, author of the New York Times best-seller Blackwater, takes us inside America’s new covert wars. The foot soldiers in these battles operate globally and inside the United States with orders from the White House to do whatever is necessary to hunt down, capture or kill individuals designated by the president as enemies.

Drawn from the ranks of the Navy SEALs, Delta Force, former Blackwater and other private security contractors, the CIA’s Special Activities Division and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), these elite soldiers operate worldwide, with thousands of secret commandos working in more than one hundred countries. Funded through “black budgets,” Special Operations Forces conduct missions in denied areas, engage in targeted killings, snatch and grab individuals and direct drone, AC-130 and cruise missile strikes. While the Bush administration deployed these ghost militias, President Barack Obama has expanded their operations and given them new scope and legitimacy.

Dirty Wars follows the consequences of the declaration that “the world is a battlefield,” as Scahill uncovers the most important foreign policy story of our time. From Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia and beyond, Scahill reports from the frontlines in this high-stakes investigation and explores the depths of America’s global killing machine. He goes beneath the surface of these covert wars, conducted in the shadows, outside the range of the press, without effective congressional oversight or public debate. And, based on unprecedented access, Scahill tells the chilling story of an American citizen marked for assassination by his own government.

As US leaders draw the country deeper into conflicts across the globe, setting the world stage for enormous destabilization and blowback, Americans are not only at greater risk—we are changing as a nation. Scahill unmasks the shadow warriors who prosecute these secret wars and puts a human face on the casualties of unaccountable violence that is now official policy: victims of night raids, secret prisons, cruise missile attacks and drone strikes, and whole classes of people branded as “suspected militants.” Through his brave reporting, Scahill exposes the true nature of the dirty wars the United States government struggles to keep hidden."

 George Packer - "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America" 

"American democracy is beset by a sense of crisis. Seismic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, allowing unprecedented freedom while rending the social contract, driving the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward. In The Unwinding, George Packer, author of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, tells the story of the United States over the past three decades in an utterly original way, with his characteristically sharp eye for detail and gift for weaving together complex narratives.

The Unwinding journeys through the lives of several Americans, including Dean Price, the son of tobacco farmers, who becomes an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a factory worker in the Rust Belt trying to survive the collapse of her city; Jeff Connaughton, a Washington insider oscillating between political idealism and the lure of organized money; and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire who questions the Internet’s significance and arrives at a radical vision of the future. Packer interweaves these intimate stories with biographical sketches of the era’s leading public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z, and collages made from newspaper headlines, advertising slogans, and song lyrics that capture the flow of events and their undercurrents.

The Unwinding portrays a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer working, its ordinary people left to improvise their own schemes for success and salvation. Packer’s novelistic and kaleidoscopic history of the new America is his most ambitious work to date."

 Richard N. Haass - "Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America's House in Order"

"The biggest threat to the United States comes not from abroad but from within. This is the provocative, timely, and unexpected message of Council on Foreign Relations President Richard N. Haass’s Foreign Policy Begins at Home.

A rising China, climate change, terrorism, a nuclear Iran, a turbulent Middle East, and a reckless North Korea all present serious challenges. But U.S. national security depends even more on the United States addressing its burgeoning deficit and debt, crumbling infrastructure, second class schools, and outdated immigration system.

Foreign Policy Begins at Home describes a twenty-first century in which power is widely diffused. Globalization, revolutionary technologies, and the rise and decline of new and old powers have created a “nonpolar” world of American primacy but not domination. So far, it has been a relatively forgiving world, with no great rival threatening America directly. How long this strategic respite lasts, according to Haass, will depend largely on whether the United States puts its own house in order.

Haass argues for a new American foreign policy: Restoration. At home, the new doctrine would have the country concentrate on restoring the economic foundations of American power. Overseas, the U.S. would stop trying to remake the Middle East with military force, instead emphasizing maintaining the balance of power in Asia, promoting economic integration and energy self-sufficiency in North America, and working to promote collective responses to global challenges.

Haass rejects both isolationism and the notion of American decline. But he argues the United States is underperforming at home and overreaching abroad. Foreign Policy Begins at Home lays out a compelling vision for restoring America’s power, influence, and ability to lead the world."

 Doxiadis, Papadimitrius, Papadatos, Donna - "Logicomix" 

"This exceptional graphic novel recounts the spiritual odyssey of philosopher Bertrand Russell. In his agonized search for absolute truth, Russell crosses paths with legendary thinkers like Gottlob Frege, David Hilbert, and Kurt Gödel, and finds a passionate student in the great Ludwig Wittgenstein. But his most ambitious goal—to establish unshakable logical foundations of mathematics—continues to loom before him. Through love and hate, peace and war, Russell persists in the dogged mission that threatens to claim both his career and his personal happiness, finally driving him to the brink of insanity.

This story is at the same time a historical novel and an accessible explication of some of the biggest ideas of mathematics and modern philosophy. With rich characterizations and expressive, atmospheric artwork, the book spins the pursuit of these ideas into a highly satisfying tale.

Probing and ingeniously layered, the book throws light on Russell’s inner struggles while setting them in the context of the timeless questions he spent his life trying to answer. At its heart, Logicomix is a story about the conflict between an ideal rationality and the unchanging, flawed fabric of reality."


 Ben Marcus - "Leaving the Sea"
(Out in Jan. 2014) 

"In the dystopian "Rollingwood," a divorced father struggles to hold on to his job while taking care of his ill infant son. In the hilarious "I Can Say Many Nice Things," a writer toying with infidelity teaches a brutal creative writing workshop on a cruise ship. In "Watching Mysteries with My Mother," a man spends time with his aging mother and meditates on mortality. And in the title story, told in a single breathless sentence, we watch as the narrator's marriage and his sanity unravel.

Surreal and tender, terrifying and life-affirming, Leaving the Sea brings us an utterly unique writer at the height of his powers."

Sandra Day O'Connor - "Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court" 

"From Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the United States Supreme Court, comes this fascinating book about the history and evolution of the highest court in the land.

Out of Order sheds light on the centuries of change and upheaval that transformed the Supreme Court from its uncertain beginnings into the remarkable institution that thrives and endures today. From the early days of circuit-riding, when justices who also served as trial judges traveled thousands of miles per year on horseback to hear cases, to the changes in civil rights ushered in by Earl Warren and Thurgood Marshall; from foundational decisions such as Marbury vs. Madison to modern-day cases such as Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld, Justice O’Connor weaves together stories and lessons from the history of the Court, charting turning points and pivotal moments that have helped define our nation’s progress.

With unparalleled insight and her unique perspective as a history-making figure, Justice O’Connor takes us on a personal exploration, painting vivid pictures of Justices in history, including Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., one of the greatest jurists of all time; Thurgood Marshall, whose understated and succinct style would come to transform oral argument; William O. Douglas, called “The Lone Ranger” because of his impassioned and frequent dissents; and John Roberts, whom Justice O’Connor considers to be the finest practitioner of oral argument she has ever witnessed in Court. We get a rare glimpse into the Supreme Court’s inner workings: how cases are chosen for hearing; the personal relationships that exist among the Justices; and the customs and traditions, both public and private, that bind one generation of jurists to the next—from the seating arrangements at Court lunches to the fiercely competitive basketball games played in the Court Building’s top-floor gymnasium, the so-called “highest court in the land.”

Wise, candid, and assured, Out of Order is a rich offering of inspiring stories of one of our country’s most important institutions, from one of our country’s most respected pioneers."