James Van Pelt

Writing Words Fantastical and Otherwise

Month: March 2016

Submitting Short Stories

writer silhouette

The standard advice to short fiction writers on submitting their work is to follow these steps:

  1. Write the very best story you can.
  2. Seek meaningful and educated feedback on the story.
  3. Do your final revisions.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the markets.
  5. Identify a hierarchy of markets that are appropriate for the story from most desirable to second most etc. (this might be based on pay rate or circulation, but it could also be based on how often stories in the venue are up for awards or who else appears in it–money isn’t everything).
  6. Correctly format the story according to the market’s directions, and then send it.
  7. Work on your next story while waiting to hear about the first one

That’s good advice and generally I’d recommend it.

However, what if you are prolific?  I often think of a story that I’d heard about Robert Silverberg: When he grew serious about writing as a young man, he wrote a million words a year for a few years.  That’s over 3,000 words a day without missing any days!  He had more markets to look at (although not that many more than what we have now), and he was writing fast enough to fill each of the top magazine’s entire table of contents every month.  Clearly the magazines wouldn’t make an all-Robert-Silverberg issue, so Bob wrote under pseudonyms.  Even doing that, though, he was writing faster than the top markets could absorb his work.  In 1958, he published 80 short stories!  That’s not just a good year; for many authors it would be an entire career.

If you want to have your mind blown, check out Robert Silverberg’s summary bibliography.

How did Bob do that?  He submitted work to a lot of places.  I don’t know this for sure, because I haven’t asked him, but I’ll bet that in 1958 he submitted more stories than were accepted for publication.  Yes, even Robert Silverberg saw rejection notes.  Also, I’ll bet that because he was writing so fast, when he looked at his hierarchy of markets, he could not submit every story to his top market because he already had a story under consideration there.  He had stories under consideration at his top twenty markets or more.  Because he was prolific, he could not wait for the top markets to open; he submitted stories everywhere.

Submitting stories everywhere is a different submission philosophy, but if you are prolific, I think it is a good one.

My other example of submitting everywhere is the late Jay Lake who was also hugely prolific.  The year before he won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, he was reporting a couple short story sales a week.

I bring these examples up to explain my current submitting philosophy, which I’ve come to think of as the shrapnel grenade school of submitting short fiction.  Right now, I have twenty-one manuscripts in the mail.  A month ago, I had thirty-two.  I also have thirteen stories at home waiting for more revision or for the right market to open.  (The opposite philosophy I think of as the cruise missile school of submitting, which has been perfected by Ted Chiang.)

The shrapnel grenade philosophy has a few advantages:

  1. Being prolific means that I’m practicing a lot.  Finishing several short stories a month makes my learning and growth curve steeper than if I was writing slower.
  2. Submitting often makes me familiar with the market.  Right now I have a good overview of who is editing where and what they are looking for.  I’m particularly interested when new markets appear or anthologies open.
  3. Submitting a short story is the moment when an author briefly interacts with the larger world of editors and publishers.  Submitting often means that there are more of those interactions.  The editors are more likely to remember me when my newest story crosses their desk.
  4. I feel more professional when I produce stories and submit them at a regular interval.  I feel less like a hobbyist.  This is not a dig on writers who are not prolific.  It is only a comment on how I feel.  Everyone’s path up the mountain is their own.

So, for right now, I’m trying out many markets.  This means that I’m following a piece of advice Dean Wesley Smith gave me a bunch of years ago, which was to “Pump the editors.”  I know, I thought that was an oddly phrased sentence too, but what he meant was to write a bunch and keep your work circulating.  The editors will eventually figure out that you are for real and serious about what you are doing.

And that’s a good thing.

P.S.  I forgot to add where I’m finding all these markets.  I lean heavily on ralan.com (every writer who uses his site ought to send him a donation), and the Submission Grinder.  I also learn about market via networking with writers and editors I’ve come to know over time.

Sunday Writing: Fun, Work and You’re So Talented

writing illustrationThe frequently wise Richard Parks did a nice post on relating learning to play the guitar to becoming a writer.

I think just about anyone who is good at something, who is also not an elementary school kid being patted on the back, flinches a little when told, “You’re so talented.”  Almost everyone who has become way better than average at any activity, whether it’s painting, playing the violin, running long distances, or writing, got there through a lot of applied effort.

“Talented,” in this context sounds like “You have a gift that was given to you.”  It’s possible that the person you’re saying it to will feel you’ve demeaned their achievement rather than praising it.

The secret for most is that a great deal of the effort that allowed them to create the work others admire now was fun then, and a great deal of that effort may have happened before the person even recognize that it was “effort.”  For example, one of my best friends is a fine artist.  He’s sixty-three and sells some of his art to large organizations who want public art installations.  That means that when he sells a piece, he gets a good-looking paycheck, but he also has to work a long time to produce the piece.  I’ve heard people tell him that he’s “talented,” but he tells me that even when he was a little kid, he was sketching all the time.  He didn’t do it because he thought it would pay off by making him an artist later, or that he’d be selling his work later in life.  He drew because he enjoyed the act of drawing.  He still sketches every day.  He likes the activity.

For many writers, the “effort” that happened before they even knew it was effort was reading.  For me, I started reading early, and I was one of those kids who burned through several novels a week.  I read during classes at school; I read at family gatherings; I read when riding in the car.  I read just about in any location and at every occasion.  I didn’t know that all that reading would be the background work that would help me as a writer.  I did it because it was fun.

I don’t think I am saying that to be good at something later in life that you had to start doing it as a child, but I do think that whenever you start, you’d better find that you like doing the activity.

You’d better be doing it because some part of what you’re doing fulfills you.

And for crying out loud, if you admire someone’s art, don’t attribute it to talent: recognize their effort instead.

My New Website

James Van Pelt, Jim Van PeltSo, here’s the deal.  My digital presence on the web so far has been a LiveJournal page, my Facebook account, an author page on Amazon, and a Goodread’s author page.  I used to have a website on SFF.NET, when they gave free space to SFWA members, but that option isn’t there anymore, and my page was an incredibly clunky, self-taught, HTML design mess that made real web designers squint with pre-migraine agony.  Even my sons, who are computer engineers, would look at the page and say, “Make it stop!”

Clearly I needed to up my game, so I finally bought a domain name (which was more of an ordeal than I expected–there is another James Van Pelt who had bought this domain a few years ago, but decided he wasn’t ever going to use it.  He offered to transfer the domain to me, but we both were clueless enough that the process took days).  I’m now the proud owner of jamesvanpelt.com.

In theory, given enough time and the patience of searchbots, this page will be the first one that comes up on search engines if someone is looking for me.  Also, the address is pretty easy to remember, so that may help.

The idea is that my career as a writer will expand, and this website will be useful for readers who are looking for me.  Of course, if the career goes downhill from my current status as a regularly publishing short story writer, then this page will be another of the dusty, never-visited spaces in the world wide web.

We can only hope.

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