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 fact, take the Ray Bradbury challenge. He says to write one story every week for a year. You’re bound to have a few gems in there when the year is done. I have found, though, that I need an additional week to edit each story, so I don’t write that fast. 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.
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, 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 there and they said they don’t edit anything they publish. I found that strange. But they said I could have my work edited somewhere else and they’d put the new copy online. Crisis averted.
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 about to show you, run in the other direction. If they don’t edit anything you send them, take your shotgun 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”.
To be fair, there were some typos in there that I hadn’t caught. But the title wasn’t one of them. I admit, too, 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 were one of the main characters dies. On purpose. I was told things like this:
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.
The point of this post is simple. I’ve decided to beware these warning signs and to avoid places that give bad feedback when they reject a story. There are plenty of other oceans to swim in.