Planning for the Worst

Practical. Reliable. Organized. Together.

I’ve been called all these and any number of variations by bosses, coworkers, friends. And each time, some part of me cringed. Whenever I received such a comment, I’d mercilessly silence the internal voice saying, “You fool, I’m the craziest girl ever for hoping I’ll be able to write for a living one day. How’s that for being rational?”

Of course, the people in my life had no way of knowing my secret aspirations to write, or the flights of fancy I indulged or my rampant imagination that so often took over. No, they just saw what I allowed them to see and nothing more.

But even though I chafed at such descriptors, I took a certain measure of pride in them nonetheless. Here I was, nursing perhaps the most self-indulgent dream of all-time, but I was still singled out as someone people could count on. To keep my word. To do things right. To get things done.

Over time, I started to own the fact that I was good at staying on top of things. It was an asset and did not have any bearing on my creativity. And once I stopped dreaming and started writing, I realized my organization skills, my ability to plan, were invaluable.

Now, when I say I’m a planner, I don’t mean I strictly adhere to a detailed outline when I write. In fact, I’d say I’m neither a planner or a pantster but a hardcore reviser. My planning has less to do with my actual writing process than it does with how I think about my writing. I plan which projects I need to focus on at any given time, how I should approach revisions, and what I should be doing with my stories in the long run.

I said in an earlier post Submissions Blitz how important it is to have a contingency plan when you start sending out your work. The whole hope for the best but plan for the worst. And that’s where I’m at. Now that it’s August, I should be learning the fate of some of my recent (non-novel) submissions. The tiny throb of hope in my heart hasn’t been crushed yet – and it won’t be until I learn otherwise – but the oh-so-practical side of me knows I need to plan out my next steps.

With a contingency plan in place, I am less likely to wallow in a dejected state after a rejection since I know what needs to happen next. Remember, you must be the mastermind of your fate.

How to do this?

  1. Search for possible venues. I find Duotrope’s Digest, a free database of submission guidelines for literary magazines and journals, one of the best places to start. You can search publications by genre, length, and pay rates, to name a few. Poets & Writers has another database worth checking out as well. 
  2. Assess potential venues for suitability. If they have a website, visit it. If recent acquisitions are posted, read them. If they are print-based, considered buying a copy or checking one out in the library (universities and major metro branches will be your best bet). Your goal is to see if your work would fit in with what they publish. You may even be able to determine from the art and styling of an online or print publication if you’re a good fit. If a magazine or journal comes across as too artsy or experimental or uses high-faluting words I don’t understand, I know I’m better off sending my work somewhere else.
  3. List potential venues in order of preference. You want to start with the most prestigious ones and target them first. You may think you’re not worthy or what not, but it doesn’t hurt to aim high. The worst they can do is say no and you may get some useful feedback in the process. Check out BookFox’s ranking of literary journals and Duotrope’s response time statistics to help you decide.
  4. Polish your work with an eye to the targeted venue. Sometimes you may have a sense of what hits the editorial staff’s buttons based on past stories they’ve published or an active call for submissions. Or not. In any case, you want to be sending out your best work. Also get your critique partners to look it over if they haven’t already.
  5. Set a submission date. This can be based on a reading period (especially for academic publications that are tied to the school year) or a personal deadline so you have something to work towards.
  6. Click send and repeat.

And regardless of what happens, always remember to hope for the best!

More to explore: Authors Marie Brennan and Amra Pajalic have a good overview of the short story submission process as well. If you are looking for a bit more inspiration, check out terriblemind’s post Operation: Your First Motherfucking Sale.

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3 thoughts on “Planning for the Worst

  1. Paulo Campos says:

    Good tips!

    I have a tactic that's saved me a lot of time during the past year.

    I spent a long time late in 2008 converting a lot of the info from Poets & Writers, Duotrope, and New Pages (another site with data on journals) into a Google Docs spreadsheet.

    I have reminders set on my calendar to review the reading periods every few months and usually sort it by submission reading period, then length to see what my options are when I have work I'm interested in sending out. I also update any changes to the submission guidelines.

    If you'd like to take a look at how I organize all that here's my spreadsheet

    Thanks for a helpful (and practical) post! 🙂

  2. Laura Marcella says:

    I'm described in those words, too! I don't mind it, though. A lot of people wish they had such great organization skills, so I'm grateful for my togetherness!

    New Pages is another really great literary journals database. I like Duotrope, too.

    These are terrific tips, Bluestocking. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Bluestocking says:

    Thanks Paulo and Laura for commenting and sharing your own submission tips!

    Paulo, your spreadsheet rocks! Haven't gotten to the point where I have one just yet. Rely on my nested bookmarks and google calendar so far, which works since I'm only sending out a handful of stuff but already I can totally see how it can get to the point where you need a better system.

    Laura, I'll have to check out New Pages. As you know, I'm always on the look out for more resources 🙂

    Thanks again to you both.

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