What do we want?
A five-book publishing contract!
When do we want it?
Ah, that goal lusted after more heartily than sex. Or chocolate. Or both at the same time.
With a few recent successes with short stories in small presses, a lot of people have been asking me lately how I can send out so many stories. I don’t know the recipe for success, but here’s the simple 3-step program (with four easy payments of $19.99) that I am using right now.
1. Quantity counts. I’m a recovering perfectionist. It took me years to get out of the mindset that I couldn’t do anything if it wasn’t relentlessly perfect. Perfectionism took a severe toll on my mental and physical health, made me unhappy with everything I attempted to accomplish, and ultimately accomplished nothing.
It’s not true what they say—that quality is always more important than quantity.
I’ve heard some famous speakers say that in order for the writer to get past the ‘awful’ stage and into the ‘publishable’ stage, they need to write 100,000 bad words. Ira Glass says it another way: there’s a gap between taste and talent while an artist is beginning to create art. Some people give up early, thinking that they’re not that talented so they shouldn’t be making art.
But art takes work. Art takes pumping out a shitload of words, not just bad words, but the occasional well-turned ankle of a phrase, the occasional paragraph that, when you read, leaves you thinking, “Hey, that wasn’t entirely awful.”
I’m at somewhat of an advantage here, due to my “temporary retirement,” so I have a lot of time to write. I write whenever I’m restless, or tired, or hungry. I’ve signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in July and the Clarion Write-a-Thon this summer, both communities that help boost word count. But even those with full-time jobs can still sneak time at work (sorry, employers, writers gonna write), write on lunch breaks, write into recorders on the way home from work.
Basically: Write in any spare moment when you’re not doing something else. The more stories you start (and finish!), the closer you are to publication.
2. Ship it (no, not THAT kind of shipping, you SnapexDraco fans). This is sort of related to the first point, but I got lost on a tangent. Coming back to it now…
When you’ve spent a lot of time writing something, it only stands to reason that you want it to be perfect when you send it out.
And yes, you should spend a lot of time editing. Revising. Rewriting. Throwing things away. Putting new things in. Taking suggestions from your beautiful, talented critique group.
But then you have to ship it.
Nothing’s ever going to be perfect. Nothing is ever going to feel ready to send out. Do it anyway. Send out huge hordes of submissions. Submit a story to ten magazines (or agents, or publishers…). Write another story. Submit it to ten other magazines. This opinion is not going to be popular among literary editors, but you’re bound to eventually hit one that likes your stuff.
I think I had as many as 90 active, pending short story submissions at one time. It seems impossible, but really, it’s a combination of producing a huge volume of work and then not being afraid to send it out.
3. Read ‘em (the rejections) and weep. Then learn from it.
Are you starting to get more personal responses in your rejections? Great! That means you’ve garnered some interest among editors. Try taking their advice on some of your stories, and then send the revised versions out to other, similar magazines.
And if you get an acceptance? Read all the back issues of that magazine (if you haven’t already). Learn their mission statement by heart. This magazine has now become a part of your voice and style, and you can learn a little more about exactly what type of author you are. Find more magazines like this one. Now, next time, your submissions to ten new magazines won’t seem so random, and you’ll have a much higher chance of publication.
Bottom line: Keep pushing forward. Keep writing. Keep sending stuff out. The volume of writing and submissions really does matter. Revise and edit well, but avoid perfectionism. As author and writing coach extraordinaire Kristen Lamb says, “The world rewards finishers, not perfection.”
So, finish those stories. Finish tons of them. Then send them out into the world and never look back. And who knows? This might even land you that five-book deal you’ve been dreaming of.