What is Fit?

After my post Resolve earlier this month, writing friend Sandra Renee asked me to clarify what I meant about the “right fit” in the comments, since I talked about how important fit is when submitting your work.

My first reaction was you know it when you see it, which isn’t very helpful. So in this post I’ll try to dig a little deeper.

Fit is Doing Your Homework….

In order to know where your work fits, you have to have some understanding of what you write. This isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds. Maybe you wrote a story that straddles two or more genres. Maybe you wrote something so different from what you normally write, you’re not sure what to do with it.

Next comes research. In the first case, you’ll need to figure out which markets accept genre-mashups or at least don’t autoreject them. In the second case, you might have to do a bit more hunting around. Ask writing friends how they would classify your story (especially if it’s in an area you are ignorant of) then try to find other stories similar to yours and see where they were published.

Duotrope.com is the single best tool I’ve found for researching literary markets. Their search tool allows you to search markets (including small presses) on a variety of parameters including genre, payscales, and length of work. I would also encourage you to sign up for their weekly mailing list, which includes information on new calls, markets’ openings and closings, and interviews with editorial staff. I make a point to scan the calls every week to see if there’s something that either piques my interest or would fit with a story I have yet to place. The interviews are also helpful in discovering markets you may not otherwise run across.

If you are hunting for the perfect agents, the Guide to Literary Agents’s Agent Advice column is great for learning more about agents. You should also take a look at their Publisher’s Marketplace page to see their current client list and recent sales. If you don’t like the look of the books/authors you see there, maybe another agent is better for you.

…And then Exceeding Expectations

After you’ve zeroed in on your list of potentials, it’s up to you to do your best to make your work shine. Sometimes this means taking out the red pen one more time to ensure you’ve caught everything you possibly can before submitting. Or workshopping it with trusted readers. Or sometimes you may have to tweak it just a bit to fit the market or the editor’s preferences based on your research. Remember, half the battle is not giving the editor (or agent) an excuse to reject you right off the bat.

But above all else, follow the submission guidelines, even if they ask for ridiculous things (except money—never that). Some places are sketchy on the specifics, so when in doubt, stick to standard manuscript format.

And then cross your fingers. Because the rest is out of your hands. You have to trust that you did the best research you could and sent in your best work. Take comfort in that. Not all writers take the same pride in the submission process—as any editor or agent can tell you.

For more on the submission process, check out my post Planning for the Worst for short story submissions and my latest Resource Roundup post Querying Your Masterpiece.

Stages of Fit-ness

I will say that I’ve noticed differences in how I approach short story markets over the course of my writing journey.

Find the Fit – In the beginning, I was desperate to find any place that accepted stories that were remotely close to what I was writing. I took my square stories and tried to shove them into round markets. Sometimes it worked, but a lot of times it didn’t. I wanted to get published right now to justify and validate my work. I was also immature enough in my craft that the market had to fit my piece, not the other way around, since I wasn’t confident enough in my abilities as a writer to make the needed changes.

Make the Fit – Time passed, and I became more confident in my work and my abilities. I started targeting specific venues, primarily speculative fiction markets with themed calls. And I’ve had a lot of success in that department (more of which I *should* be able to share with you soon). I think it’s a confidence issue, but it’s also taking the themes and putting your own unique twist on them. Give the editors a story they didn’t even think about when developing the call, and make sure they can’t say no. The next step, for me at least, is to have a story accepted for an open call.

Be the Fit – I’d like to think at some point in a writer’s career fit is not something you have to worry about anymore. Markets seek out your work instead of the other way around. You no longer have to worry about where you fit in the market because you already have a place. Must be nice. But in the meantime, keep writing.

How do you determine fit?
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Query-Go-Round

When this year started, I promised myself I’d start querying my historical romance this summer.

Umm…that didn’t happen. I was too busy incorporating feedback from my writing group and fretting about, well, everything.

Then I said I’d query this fall for sure. October came and went. (Where did October go? I really want it back.)

Then I told myself I’d query before December—because everyone knows agents automatically discount December queries as half-baked Nano novels and if that’s true, I didn’t want that to happen to my story.

I started querying last week.

Delight or Terror. That is the Question.

And the last few days have been full of Exhilaration (A request? They like me, they really like me!), Despair (Form rejection? Form you!) Second-Guessing (No auto-reply? Maybe I should send again.), and now impatience as the holidays take their toll on the industry.

But that’s ok. I met my (oft-modified) personal goal for querying and know the novel is the best I can make it right now. And for that, I’m thankful.

What are you thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!
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The Story behind the Story – Eclectic Flash Edition (part 2)

The Story behind the Story is a blog post series where I share the behind the scenes info for each story I’ve had published.

Last time, I talked about my story Summer in Exile, published in the September 2011 issue of Eclectic Flash. Well, I am fortunate enough to also have another story in the issue—Elegy, my first published speculative story, which is also available online.

Elegy explores the use of implants – think wireless devices linked to your brain – in a religious context. Implants are something that both my speculative fiction WIPs deal with in some way, but I never looked at them through a religious lens. Then on one March 2010 evening, my prompt-based writing group chose to do a writing exercise on religion, and I thought aha! here’s my chance.

I then took my draft, polished it up, and shared it with my now-defunct writing group at the time. Every one liked it, but they wanted more. I’ve talked before about how my writing friends sometimes think my short stories are really novels in disguise, and feedback suggested Elegy was the same.

Later that summer, a different writing friend was visiting me and I was lamenting how people kept telling me to expand this story and how I didn’t want to. He told me, “You are the author. It’s your story. You know best.”

In subsequent months, I tried expanding the story, but nothing seemed to work. I remembered my friend’s advice and focused all my energy on revising that original scene that got me excited about the story in the first place and made it shine.

I started submitting the story in Spring of 2011. On May 3rd 2011, I sent the piece off to Eclectic Flash, and it was accepted the same day as Summer in Exile.

The Numbers:

First Draft – 326 words
Final Draft – 878 words
Days from Idea to Acceptance – 420
Rejections – 2 form
7-day acceptance

The Lessons:

Know what advice to accept and what to reject – This kind of thing can only come with time and experience, but remember that not all feedback you get on a story will necessarily help make it stronger.

Remember that YOU are the author of your work – Sometimes determining the size or focus of a story is as simple as deciding what story you want to write, and then concentrating on every aspect of craft to get it there. Simple, yes, but not always in practice.

No revising or redrafting is ever wasted work – I wrote a couple thousand words trying to expand Elegy, and then threw those scenes out when I decided they weren’t working and that the heart of the story I wanted to tell was in that initial draft. But I wouldn’t have come to that realization if I hadn’t taken the time to try to expand the story in the first place.

Happy writing!
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The Story behind the Story – Eclectic Flash Edition (part 1)

This post is the first in a new, irregular series where I talk about the path to publication for each story I’ve had accepted.

Thanks to the response I got from my post Pen Names and Other Problems, I’ve decided to go ahead and share my writing credits. I haven’t officially linked my name to this blog, but baby steps. We’ll see how it goes.

Anyway.

My story Summer in Exile was published in the September 2011 issue of Eclectic Flash, which is now available online.

I first drafted the piece at my prompt-focused writing group way back in late November 2009. The particular prompt had each of us select a phrase from a book that we would then later incorporate into our story. The phrases were as follows:

  • A. S. Byatt’s Little Black Book – “whistled oddly in her petrifying larynx”
  • Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima – “his big horse eyes looked up at me nervously”
  • Margaret Atwood’s Dancing Girls and Other Stories – “what the bloody hell was he doing on top of that sixty foot tree”
  • Mary Doria Russell’s Children of God – “Sometimes if he kept still people would go away.”
  • Wallace Stegner’s Collected Short Stories – “Shame made him turn over and lie face down”

I was pretty happy with how my story came out and decided to tinker with it a bit before sharing it with my now-defunct crit group. The other members were positive about the piece, and their only suggestion was to try to incorporate some backstory to make the character more real. But after a few attempts, I felt I was changing the heart of the story too much, reverted back to the original version, then went ahead and submitted it to a few markets starting in Fall 2010.

Rejections.

One market was kind enough to offer me some personalized feedback and again pointed out the issue of character. By now, some time had passed and I reworked the piece again, trying to flesh out the main protagonist. I shared the story at a local open mic night, tinkered some more, and finally found a good balance between character and story.

On May 3rd 2011, I sent the piece off to Eclectic Flash, and it was accepted.

The Numbers:

1st Draft: 441 words
Final Draft: 692 words
Days from Idea to Acceptance: 520
Rejections: 4 form, 1 personal
7-day Acceptance

The Lessons:

Get other people’s eyes on your stuff – My critique group at the time was able to pinpoint what I needed to do to take my story to the next level, even though I was unable to execute their suggestions to my satisfaction.

Stories take time to get right – I am convinced the iterative process of revising, submitting, revising, submitting is what led me to the version of the story that was published. This means waiting for each market to get back to you before submitting it somewhere else. I was/am too new a writer to think I’ll get my story right the first time, so trial and error was a great way for me to learn and grow my craft.

Don’t expect overnight success – 520 days. Enough said.

Intrepid readers will note that I have another story in the September 2011 issue of Eclectic Flash, but I’ll talk about that piece in another post.

In the meantime, happy writing!
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Family Vaction or Why I’m Still in the Closet When It Comes to My In-Laws

Tomorrow we leave for a two-and-a-half week vacation of sorts, which includes two weddings, a trip to the beach, and visits with college friends. It will be fun and exhausting, and there’s an excellent chance I won’t get anything done.

But I’m still looking forward to the trip. Even though I need to make some tough decisions as to which books to pack. Frankly some books are simply better on a plane versus on the beach. Or read on the couch in front of in-laws instead of before bed at night.

And of course any time spent with extended family can lead to awkwardness as to just what do I do all day. Now that I have two stories forthcoming from Eclectic Flash, the temptation is there to finally say I’m a writer.

But here be monsters.

Why? Well, for starters, They May Not Value Writing. I have evidence that could go either way here. If they aren’t big readers or value only extrinsic measures of success, they just aren’t going to get it. But I am a member of the family, they are generous people, and they respect me. So maybe they’d respect the writing too.

They Also Have No Clue Just How Difficult Writing Can Be. And this goes for a healthy chunk of all non-writers. So much thought goes into word placement, structure, characterization… The more I learn about writing, the trickier it is to get words down on the page that I’m satisfied with.

Because they don’t understand how hard writing is, They Will Ask Me Why I’m Not Published Yet. You know, as in what really counts when you are a writer – a book deal. Short stories are, well, short, and no one is making millions on them. Publishing is a molasses-slow process, just as writing something worth publishing takes a looong time. They won’t understand milestones like getting a CP, or querying that first agent, or getting a full request. They just want to see a book.

And there’s the whole They Will Want To Talk To Me About My Writing Projects. They might ask out of courtesy or maybe they are genuinely interested. Which is great. I can appreciate that, even though I don’t like talking about my work until it’s far enough along that I’m comfortable sharing it with others. Ideas are just that, and until they get to the page, I don’t have a strong sense of how things will turn out. A careless word by someone else can destroy a story before it even starts. Plus, can you imagine me discussing the finer points of love scenes in my historical romance with my father-in-law? Neither can I.

But I guess it all comes down to the fact that They Will Stop Thinking I’m A Mystery And Start Seeing Me As A Dreamer With No Prospects. In some sense, the question of what I do – do I stay at home all day? Do I volunteer? Do I watch soap operas? Do I secretly want to have babies and be a stay-at-home mom? – protects me and keeps them from knowing the truth. Rejection is writing’s constant companion. I don’t need someone telling me writing is impossible, that I’m a dreamer for even trying it. I already know that. But I do it anyway, and that can be hard for some people to understand.

So yeah. Not telling them. Yet.

My husband and I discussed the best time to tell them the truth. And we decided that a professional short story sale or an agent would necessitate telling folks about me writing and all that. You know, which ever came first.

(cough) yeah, right (cough).

But for now I’m optimistic that one day I will be able to share this part of my life with them. I am a dreamer. Or a masochist. It’s hard to tell some days.

***
Because of all the travel, blog posting and commenting may be spotty, but I wish you all happy writing! I’ll be back for sure by the second half of the month.
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