#AmWriting it’s all about editing and submitting

When I first started writing and submitting stories, back around 2005, you had to really mean it when you submitted something. You had to get an envelope, print the story, get the address correct (they were usually long and weird), and include a self-addressed stamped envelope or post card. If you didn’t want your story back (which I always felt suggested you didn’t care about it), you didn’t have to include the S.A.S.E, just a note that said “please recycle!”

Many places didn’t want any creases in your story, the one they’re going to recycle, so you had to buy special manila envelopes. These cost several dollars for about five of them and also required that you go to the post office unless you owned a machine that weighed mail, put enough stamps on to cover the cost, then had a mail box big enough to not crease anything. You also had to keep detailed spreadsheets of where you had sent things and when so as not to overlap reading periods and anger an editor who would (surely) remember you and your repeated submissions. Or, a story would be floating in some black hole, having been submitted months ago with no response, but you only knew thanks to that spreadsheet. And made you mad (see previous paragraph).

*brief pause for headache*

But to get mail back. To receive that letter from a press — it was like magic. It was better than Christmas. And, if you were like me and lived in your very own apartment and all the mail was your own, your own, dammit, then it was even better. Of course, they were all rejections, but whatever. Get creative! Save the rejection letters in a metal Beetlejuice lunch box, like I did! Keep stuffing them in there until the lid barely closes. One writer who has been very kind to me, who now has 27 books published, used to paste his bathroom wall with rejection letters. That gives me hope.

But how did young writers find places to send their stories? The Writer’s Market. A fat, expensive book that told you which magazines were still open for business, their brief history, the magazines aesthetic, famous people who had been published by them, when they took submissions, and the chance of you actually being accepted (percentages were usually 0.5% to 5%). You had to buy a new The Writer’s Market every. year.

But then everything went digital. Magazines accepted writing largely through a site called Submishmash, which allowed you to upload a single cover letter, brief bio, and contact info. No more tailoring everything how a certain publisher wanted it! Publishers previously had demands about using/not using staples, paperclips, folding, pagination, font, spacing, including personal info, etc. — and no publisher ever agreed on what they wanted! You got to Submishmash by visiting every magazines’ website.

Even better, Submishmash turned into Submittable — one site with all the magazines listed. Everything is streamlined, and the site keeps track of what you’ve submitted! Stories are marked as “received,” “in progress” (whatever that means), “declined,” and “accepted.” While I used to send out one story, get it back 6 weeks later, put the story in a new envelope and send it somewhere else, I can now submit the same story to dozens of journals at once and see who bites. If it’s accepted, simply digitally recall it from all the other publishers.

So, today, I spent my writing time editing a story I wrote who-knows-when. It goes back and forth between the present, where Melissa and Eric have an organized life, to the chaos of Melissa’s childhood. I’m not sure I nailed the ending, but I also didn’t want the piece to turn into a long story when I always envisioned the content being worthy of a short story. #NoBloat

I submitted it to a journal called storySouth. I also found a magazine called Meow Meow Pow Pow Lit looking for crow-themed flash fiction (most magazines have themed editions), and I just so happened to write an Ojibwe-inspired crow-themed story in 2010, so I sent it in. I submitted a poem — I don’t know how I feel about poetry yet — to a magazine called Inklette. Finally, a submitted a flash piece about high school to a magazine called Glassworks. *fingers crossed* The poem is labeled as “in progress” (again, no idea what that means).

And in case you were wondering, a quick Google search tells me The Writer’s Market is still alive and well.

See you next Saturday!

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35 comments

  1. I am so glad to hear that you are submitting stories again! We will have to see about more summer writing retreats. 👍

  2. Thanks for sharing your submitting experiences. I think it really helps us as writers (and I ought to do it more!!) to search out new places and submit. It helps us stay self-disciplined, and hone those editing and revising skills.

    • VERY few places included encouraging notes. Most a form letters (and not even a whole piece of paper). I once got an encouraging note from social intern, who said they had almost picked my story. Then, when I enquired the editors about what she said, she emailed me and stated that the editors did not know this intern had written a note about their conversation and she almost lost her job over it.

  3. I love how dedicated you had to be to send a story! I suppose that is one way of making sure the slush pile stays smaller?

    My library has copies of The Writer’s Market still. So at least you don’t have to buy every year?

    Good luck with your submissions!

  4. Good luck with your submissions! It’s interesting to see how much the process has changed. I’ve only submitted one piece of fiction for publication (unsuccessfully to a magazine in 2010). The entire process was online.

  5. As someone who teaches writing and fiction in higher education, are you required by your contract to have stories published regularly (the way I am to get scientific papers out)? I ask because it sounds like the process is pretty similar, though I do at least normally get helpful feedback if rejected.

    • Well, because I’m an adjunct, there’s nothing expected of me contractually. I had a few rough years, though, and thus there is a three-year gap on my CV right now, which I’m not happy about. In general, though, my college is SO small (about 500-600 students) that faculty are more so expected to teach a LOT (some have a 5-6 course load and run a department) than publish.

  6. Well done, and good luck! I must admit I rather like the idea of having to meet all those publishers’ requirements, and the excitement of getting real mail! Somehow an email is never the same. But the new system definitely sounds easier, even if it’s not quite so romantic… 😉

  7. We so often curse technology (when it doesn’t work) that we forget just how wonderful it can be in terms of making life easier. That system in place in the early 2000s was so cumbersome I’m surprised it lasted that long.

    • I think the system of submitting by mail has been in place a very long time, though I don’t know how long. How did people get published in, say 1920? I know in Anne of Green Gables she just submits her stories to all the top magazines in Canada!

  8. I wasn’t expecting posts like this as part of your #AmWriting series. I expected more reflections on what you’re writing and how it’s going. But you know what? I *love* this piece!

    My mother is a published author, did I ever tell you that? She only has one published children’s novel called The Russian in the Attic. She has a ton of manuscripts which never got published. But I remember, when I was a child, she would always have the newest copy of The Writer’s Market sitting around. I think she still has issues from the 90’s in her office at home! I am super familiar with that book. It was really useful before the internet, wasn’t it?

    I’m glad the process has improved significantly for the authors. I wonder if this has improved the process just as much for the publishers? Also, now I assume you get digital rejection letters? 😉 Do you print those and store them in your Beetlejuice lunch box as well? Because, obviously, you should.

    • I think the pressure to constantly write as a writer before the other parts of the job–editing, submitting, etc–and so it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I think counting all of it as writing is important to morale. I never knew your mom wrote. Is she still writing? I’m so pleased to know that your mom had all the Writer’s Market books. It’s a nice connection 😊

      • Sadly, my mother no longer writes. She stayed at home and cared for us chilin’ when we were under 7 years old. When we were at Kindergarten or Preschool she would write. Eventually, she went back to work full time and that sorta ruined it. She is a journalist who writes and produces stories for the local news. I have hope that someday she’ll start writing again.

        • That’s a tough spot for me. In reality I write all the time for Grab the Lapels. But fiction writing has taken a backseat over the years, and I’m trying to change that. Some writers, though, consider all writing the same, thus, they are writers. So, your mom would still be a capital W Writer to some!

          • Indeed– and that would make me a Writer, too! Though, I don’t really think of myself that way. Honestly, I’d love to take some class which helps me shore up my writing a bit, but I am hesitant as I don’t know how I can find a class which helps with the sort of writing I typically do. Business writing? Social media writing? It’s certainly not creative writing…

            • One of the guys who was at the writing retreat mentioned that he wanted to take a class to learn how to write poetry better. I was thinking about it–I have 3 degrees in creative writing–and I can only think of one class in which I actually learned the tools of creative writing. The rest of the expect students who have signed up for the class to already write things, and then we just workshop. Super sad! *tooting my own horn* I make sure my students learn all the basic tools of creative writing, give them parameters, and then have them write.

  9. It’s pretty amazing how much the submission process has changed over the years, I agree. Remember when something published on the ‘net just wasn’t considered having been “really” published? But every now and then you come across a market that still follows those old-fashioned rules. Although now, even when they require a printed story to be submitted, they are, at least, willing to correspond via email. *grins* Ah, part of me prefers that old-fashioned mailing though…I can choose when I want to visit the mailbox and pick up a rejection note (even leave it sit until I’m ready to open it) but when it comes by email…there’s no avoiding the reality of it!

    • Sorry I didn’t see your comment sooner! I missed it somehow. Yeah, I’m still not totally sure people consider online publications prestigious because most don’t also have that print edition. Also, anyone with a website can create a webzine. In the other hand, webzines often do cooler things, are more for the common people, and can publish more stories BECAUSE they’re not printing.

      • S’ok, I’m used to rejection! *grins* (Actually, that’s down to my commenting on the later side, I’m sure.) And, yes, I do still feel like it *matters* whether the publication credit is digital or print, but at least you’re not inwardly wondering whether to include the credit (as though it’s something shameful) which it seemed to be “back when”. I’m not the artsy type but I love all the visual stuff that is included nowadays in digital mags – used to be that the cover was the artsy bit and that was that.

        • If you’re looking for job and have to have a C.V., they definitely care if the magazine is published in print or not because it’s pretty much the prestigious folks still printing.

  10. Oh wow, not being a writer myself I had no idea any of this existed! Thank god for technology. Also, good for you for a) not giving up and b) submitting so many things. You are truly destined for success!

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