Month: September 2017

Managing Short Story Submissions

Managing Short Story Submissions

An unexpected thing happened to me recently.

I typically send out 10 stories and each one goes to maybe 10 publications. Instead of shooting a single shot from a rifle and waiting to see if I hit the target, I take the shotgun approach, splattering the short story publication market with everything I’ve got. Since it’s all about fit, and you’ll never know for sure where your story will fit, you’ve got little to no chance of getting published if you only send out one story at a time. In the immortal words of Richard Thomas, “simultaneous submissions are your friend” (link). Simultaneous submissions make the difference between getting published twice a year and twenty times. On top of that, many publications prefer if you wait to submit something new. Take it easy and don’t bombard them with your work. But do carry a shotgun; send your stuff everywhere and anywhere at the same time.

As I mentioned in a previous post, more and more places don’t like it when you submit to multiple publications at the same time. I have this twisted theory that they like to reject writers, but they don’t like getting rejected. But that’s just my two sense [sic]. Sure, they’ll say they need time to plan out a publication, and when you let them know the story they are dying for has already been published somewhere else, well, they’ll blacklist you and call your grandfather a dirty-rotten-pig-stealer. But really, you have to eat too, don’t you? Would you go to a job interview and wait to hear back before applying at another company? The best thing to do is to let them know when you get published someplace else. (But, please, when you inform a publication that you’ve got a story happening somewhere else, be sure it’s for a story you really sent to them.)

Let me get back to the point. An unexpected thing happened to me recently. I’d sent out a story and two publications asked for it on the same day. I received two emails in a row requesting my work. What are the odds? I was stupefied. Should I go with the first email? Should I go with the publication that offered better compensation? Should I go with the website that looked better and probably attracts more readers? It turned out that one of them noticed a few typos in my story and the other one didn’t. I went with the guy who cared more about what I had written. He turned out to be a fantastic editor and got me to write a better ending. I learned to be a better writer from him.

Meanwhile, I had another story published at another publication and after it went online, friends pointed out the typos in my work. I contacted the publisher and they said they don’t edit anything they publish. I found that strange. They don’t care if they look bad?

ME: Can you edit my story?
THEM: I cannot change the texts by myself. I had problems with the authors in the past.

ME: Here’s the edited version. (Three months later.)
THEM: It’s amazing that it took you over three months to see that there were mistakes in the story but anyway, I uploaded the new story.

I definitely won’t send anything more there.

So what I’ve been thinking about is a better way to determine which publications are worth my time and which ones aren’t. Along those lines, I dug up some old responses I got when my stories were rejected, things publishers said that just caused me to stop and wonder. Now, I know, you don’t want to argue with these people. If they reject you, go someplace else. If the rejections hold merit, learn from them. If they say stuff like I’m showing you, run in the other direction. If they don’t edit anything you send them, take your work someplace far away.

Here’s one example. I wrote a piece called The Finale Days.

Reviewer comments: The story regularly struggles in grammar and spellchecking, enough to frequently throw me out of the narrative and making it difficult to continue reading at times. This actually begins in the title, where it seems like “Finale” should actually be “Final”.

I admit, it’s a bit odd. But unusual stuff like that catches the reader’s attention. Think of it like “The Dog Days”. Dog is almost never used as an adjective. And the same for Finale. But it can be done. And I did it on purpose. I went with “The Finale Days”.

Here’s another one. I had a story where the supporting character dies. On purpose. I was told this:

Reviewer comments: If you have an interesting character, for pity’s sake, don’t kill him! Accidents are a sign of weak plotting.

I was like, what?? How many great books are there that do just that? The Crossing is a prime example. McCarthy builds up your love for a wolf for the first 120 pages and then (spoiler alert) the wolf dies. I think I read those 120 pages about a dozen times. It was some of the most brilliant writing I’ve ever seen. Not to mention that McCarthy has since then won the Pulitzer Prize for the The Road, in which the wife of the main character has died. There are a handful of overriding emotions authors typically put in stories, such as frustration, sympathy, and remorse. McCarthy can throw all of them at you with the turn of the page.


And probably my favorite is this:

The monkey really likes your stuff, not sure I do. But what counts around this publication is the monkey, so…You’ve jumped the first hurtle. Congrats! May the Terminali treat you well, though, honestly, they probably won’t. But one can dream.

I have no idea who the monkey was. The story was rejected in the end. (Notice they wrote hurtle and not hurdle.) I give them points for being funny, but I won’t submit there again.

The point of this post is simple. I’ve decided to beware these warning signs and to avoid places that givestrange feedback when they reject a story. There are plenty of other oceans to swim in.


Clowns on the Run

Clowns on the Run

My story Clowns On The Run has been published as the Cover Feature in the September 2017 issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine. I’m deeply satisfied by this opportunity. I’ve never written much in the way of a mystery story before. In retrospect, probably I should have. And I’m sure in the future, I will write much more in this genre. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

This blog post is intended to explain some of what went through my mind and onto the page when I was writing this story.

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The story is based on four characters in clown suits. For names, I called them Emmett, Charles, Glen and Lou. This was intentional. For a story about clowns, I read up on some of the greatest clowns in history and found this information:

Emmett Leo Kelly was an American circus performer, who created the memorable clown figure “Weary Willie”, based on the hobos of the Depression era.

Charles Adrien Wettach, was a Swiss clown, composer and musician. Called “the king of clowns” and “the greatest of Europe’s clowns”, he was once the most highly paid entertainer in the world.

Glen “Frosty” Little was a circus clown who was one of only four clowns ever to have been given the title “Master Clown” by the Ringling organization.

Lou Jacobs was an auguste clown who is credited with popularizing the clown car, which has been a staple of circus clown acts ever since.

(This information comes mostly from wikipedia.)

For the title, I picked Clowns on the Run. I was thinking of the Wings song Band on the Run. Some of the lyrics go something like this:

Stuck inside these four walls
Sent inside forever
Never seeing no one
Nice again like you

Band on the run, band on the run
And the jailer man and sailor Sam
Were searching every one
For the band on the run

Well, the night was falling as the desert world
Began to settle down.
In the town they’re searching for us everywhere
But we never will be found

And the county judge who held a grudge
Will search for evermore
For the band on the run
Band on the run

(Credit to Paul McCarthy for the words. Some lines have been cut out here.)

I got this idea of clowns on the run from that song. So then it was easy to change the title from Band on the Run to Clowns on the Run.

I really wanted to use a metaphor, but so often they are cliches. For this story, I got the idea of breaking a metaphor down. Due to respect for the publisher, I won’t reprint the lines here. Go and read the story. Subscribe to the magazine while you’re at it. But let me give you another similar example of what I mean by breaking a metaphor down.

She’d never seen snow in the mountains. They said the snow there was thick like a blanket. But snow couldn’t keep you warm. Snow couldn’t hide you from the monsters at night. Snow couldn’t be washed when it was unclean. The snow looked more like crumpled newspapers to her from here. 

Mountain peaks lined the horizon to the west. Like folded newspapers soaking up ink, printed lines of dark blue streaked upward through snow-white terrain. This was unique to her, the particular way those mountains sat below the skyline, and how they appeared to have words written in the snow, snow falling down and the letters all jumbled up. She’d never seen anything like these mountains before.

And so in Clowns on the Run I turned a really common metaphor inside out and then at the end of the story I put the metaphor right again. This was my experimentation with breaking a cliche and making it more useful that way.

I hope you take the time to read the story and support Mystery Weekly Magazine by picking up a copy. And leave some comments there, too! Thanks.

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