Category Archives: writing news

8 from 8: Things I’ve learned in eight years of submissions

eight

In mid-2008 I decided to get organized around what had until then been sporadic literary submissions. A color-coded Excel spreadsheet was born (of course). Over the years it grew to multiple tabs, and the 2008 tab tells me my first submission tracked there was June 26th, 2008. Since today is June 28, 2016, cursory mathematics indicates that I have been at this for eight years!

I aim for a submission a week. I’ve hit something like 70% of that target, racking up 297 total submissions. My stats (so far) are:

stats

Besides getting published, and having lots of fun with Excel along the way, I’ve learned some things. Here, for your perusal, are eight lessons I’ve learned in eight years of doing literary submission:

  1. There’s a lot of research involved. Not all journals are created equal- Some publish only a fraction of a percent of what they receive, and may not be worth your time, especially if you’re just starting out. Some have a reputation for being dynamic, others conservative and stodgy. Some have particular preferences for style & genre, or focus on a particular gender, geography, ethnicity, or subject. I needed to learn to pay attention to all of this in order to increase my odds.
  2. The process has its own rewards. There are many ways to go about this research. Duotrope can help. So can New Pages. Pay attention to where your writer friends are submitting. (If you don’t have writer friends, get some! Writing is a solo activity, which makes community even more invaluable.) When you see a bio of a newer writer you like, look at where they’re publishing. Flip through journals to see what you like. Subscribe to some, or read their online selections. After I’d done this kind of research a while, I started to see connections between my writing, others’, and the publishing world. Ideas about where to submit, and even what to write, bloomed.
  3. A rejection with content is worth its weight in gold. I’ve written about this before, but rejection is not the enemy. Form rejection, with absolutely no clue a human being actually read it, is. The vast majority of rejections I’ve received have been via form letters/e-mails. The rejections that mention something they liked or didn’t like, and maybe even have a suggestion or two, are totally welcome to me now. Both for their rarity, and the fact that they give me something I can use to improve.         
  4. You may never hear back from some places. If you look at my stats above, you’ll see that around 25% of my submissions are still pending. Some have been pending for years. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, for example, the 25 submissions I still have pending from 2008-2010 probably aren’t going to get published. Some journals will tell you up front that they do not promise a response. Some don’t, and you won’t hear anything except the eerie whistling wind echoing through the dusty, abandoned caverns of the Internet…                                                                               
  5. Being asked to send something else doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get published. This one was a surprise to me. But, in fact, when I submitted something new to places that had passed on something earlier but said they liked it and wanted to see more, they more often than not didn’t publish my new submission. After editing at Mud Season Review, I have some sympathy for this. Whatever the intangible “it” was about the almost accepted piece, the next thing they send often doesn’t have it. Maybe the lesson for publishers is to take the first thing?                
  6. Having something accepted doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get published.
    This was even more surprising to me. But, things happen. Editors leave. Editorial schedules and directions change. Journals run out of funding for the planned issue. Or journals run out of funding, period. Which brings us to..
  7. If you keep at it, you’ll outlast some of them. More than once, I’ve had the experience of getting an e-mail (or even, in prior years, a letter) that turned out not to be an acceptance or a rejection. Instead, it was a journal announcing, regretfully, that they were hanging it up for one reason or another. It turns out it’s a tough gig for everyone, publishers and writers!                                                            
  8. It’s totally worth it. Somewhere in the midst of the vale of research, rejection, missing communications, vanished journals, etc., a real live publication happens. Then another. Eventually, you have an actual body of Published. Work. It’s not only gratifying to see yourself in print, it leads to connections with readers and writers that can be inspiring and rewarding. You have to submit to get there. It’s worth it!                   

So there are eight things I’ve learned in eight years. How about you? I’d love to hear from you about what you’ve learned from the submission process!

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My Year in Writing

Do you remember NASA’s “faster, better. cheaper” venture in the 90s? It was based on the idea that by designing smaller missions that could launch more quickly, the agency might get more done, more efficiently, than if it pursued grand initiatives. Some of the missions fell down and went boom, but it did get NASA moving again after a decade of relative lethargy. Well, in that same spirit, I’m continuing on my mission of getting out at least a blog posting a week this year, even be they quick and dirty. And so on to this week’s theme- my writing track record in 2014.

A few years ago, I settled on the goal of making a publishing submission per week. Short story, essay, poetry, whatever, just submit something to a journal, offline or online, once a week. That would, of course, be 52 for the year, which has never happened yet due to holidays, hectic work weeks, feeling under the weather, what not. My operating theory is that having the target probably gets me delivering more, even if I miss, then if there was no target. Turns out that 2014 was my most submittingest year ever, with 43 total submissions, as attested to by my tracking spreadsheet:

My tracking spreadsheet also informs me that I’ve had two acceptances so far from things I submitted in 2014. One should be coming out in the Spring, and since I have a superstitious peasant mind, I don’t want to jinx by saying any more. The other was two poems that appeared in Misfit Magazine in October.

I also had several “near-misses”, i.e. places that wrote back to me and said something wasn’t quite right for them, and why, or that I was a semi-finalist but not a finalist. I actually find these to be nearly as motivating as acceptances. They’re kind of proof-of-concept of being on-track, and provide a lot more feedback than the form “Dear [insert name here]” rejections one usually gets, or the even more unnerving whistling silence of places that never answer back in any form. 

In addition to the regular weekly submissions, I’ve also been submitting two larger works to presses and prizes: my unpublished poetry collection Pushing 40, and my unpublished novel Out in the Neon Night. I sent out the poetry collection ten times last year, and the novel seven. I’ll keep you posted on further developments…

My other major writing focus over the last year was to get more regular and disciplined about writing time, always a challenge for me given full-time work, a full-time relationship, recovery, other interests (including serving as a Poetry Editor at Mud Season Review), etc. In other words, life. Shout-outs to Tarin Towers for telling me “shut up and do it” (it was phrased more elegantly than that, but just as firmly) and my talented and lovely wife for helping me brainstorm about the how/when. I targeted 6 hours a week. And came not even close!

Excel informs me I ended up with 65.76 hours of writing time, which works out to an average of an hour and a quarter a week. Again, though, I have to believe that aiming got me further than winging it would have, and resulted in less of a sense of anxiety and drift. So what does 65.76 hours get you? In my case:

  • Completing the (hopefully) penultimate draft of my full-length screenplay
  • Revising a short story to get it down to a word-limit that will work better for submissions
  • Starting a new short story
  • Writing a personal essay looking back on Generation-X as seen through the lyrics of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” which I’m quite pleased with and currently submitting hither and yon
  • Completing a challenge to write 40 poems in 40 days
  • Writing a sestina, because the idea intrigued me     
For 2015, I’m aiming for 5 hours a week, on the theory that if one wrote for an hour a day every weekday, that’s what it would equal to. Because, math. We’ll see how I do, but for this week I have one hour down, thanks to writing this post for you. So thank you! 

August 2010 Writing News

Greetings friends! I haven’t sent one of these updates out in a while. I could tell you all kinds of reasons involving holiday travel, the time and energy-draining misadventure of being both a director and producer on a short film, work getting annoyingly more hectic throughout the year-to-date, etc., etc. But I’ve found I’m usually best served by getting back into action. So here we go with a new update on my latest creative doings!

Film
In June, The Buddhist News, a film that I co-wrote and helped produce, screened as part of the latest round of Scary Cow, the independent film co-op I’m part of. Don’t be sad that you missed it, you can watch the film (and my brief appearances therein) here. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on post-production of Ave Maria, the film I wrote, directed and produced (hence being too batty to post much the first half of this year). It will be screening at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco on Sunday, October 10th. I want EVERYONE there, so I’ll be letting you know when tickets go on sale.

Performance
Per my being distracted, batty, overworked, etc., I haven’t done any readings in months. But the drought is about to be broken when I take the stage to read tortured poetry from my teenage years for Mortified. You can get tickets here for the performances at the Make-Out Friday August 20th and Saturday August 21st.

Publication
The biggest news: an essay I wrote on my student experience at Berkeley, “Bachelor’s of Armageddon”, has been published in the anthology When I Was There! Should you be so inspired, you can buy it on Amazon. Since last you heard from me, my prose poem “Young Karl Marx” appeared on Opium’s website. I’ve also been writing song reviews for the website Song O’ The Day.

Novel
I’ve submitted my novel Out in the Neon Night to a few independent publishers over the last few months. While they review it, I’m considering getting more input from a freelance editor and/or starting a new round of inquiries to literary agents. In the meantime, you can read a sample chapter.

Blog
My blog has not blogged overmuch so far this year. Perhaps it will more now that I’m sending this out and feel some pressure to have content for people to see!

Chris out for now, but I look forward to sending you more updates soon!

November Writing News

I didn’t think enough had happened since the last one for me to put out an update last month. That still may be the case. But the show must go on! Accordingly, here is my November Writing News for your reading enjoyment:

Film– “Deaf, Dumb and Blind Date”, one section of the three-part short film I wrote and produced, “Triptych”, screened at the Victoria Theatre on October 4th. For the upcoming round of Scary Cow, the independent film co-op that I’m a part of, I’ll be directing a film based on a short story I wrote last year, “Ave Maria”. It’s my first time as director, which should be interesting for everyone… While we wait for that, “Deaf, Dumb and Blind Date” isn’t up on the Scary Cow website yet, but you can check out the previous installment of “Triptych” that screened in June, “Geek Wars” (it’s listed as project #33): http://www.scarycow.com/videos/round0008/round008.html

Publication– I’ve cooked up a few things since last time, including a run-down on fall arts events and musings on freedom and responsibility in DIY culture for LEGENDmag: http://legendmag.net/thelegendonline/2009/09/22/independent-arts-high-holy-days/ , http://legendmag.net/thelegendonline/2009/10/20/what-are-we-diying-for/ . I’ve also become a regular contributor to a website named “Song O’ The Day”, you can check out my song reviews so far here: http://www.songotheday.com/?cat=352

Performance– At the beginning of the year I challenged myself to read in public once a month. I won’t quite make that pace, but I have read several times. The latest was something I’ve done before, performing tragic poetry I wrote as a teenager onstage at Mortified (http://www.getmortified.com/ ) on October 23rd and 24th. I’m not sure yet what I’ll get up to in November, but I’ll let you know…

Novel– I’m contemplating revision suggestions I got from a manuscript evaluation I had done by a freelance editor earlier this year. They would mean some major structural overhauls, which I may or may not be up for. While I ponder, you can read the first chapter of my novel, Out in the Neon Night, on my blog: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/2009/02/first-chapter-of-my-novel-in-neon-night.html

Blog– One of the biggest traffic generators on my blog the past month has been a piece I did on the increase in right wing violence in the past year. You can see it here, along with other bloggy doings: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/2009/09/rising-tide-of-right-wing-chris.html

November out, stay tuned for December!

September Writing News

Now that I’m back from safari (more on that later) I figured it was time for another monthly update on my creative doings:

Film- “Deaf, Dumb and Blind Date”, one section of my three-part short film “Triptych” will screen at the Victoria Theatre on October 4th. I wrote and produced this one, for the next round in Scary Cow I’m thinking of directing a new project as well. While I ponder that, you can check out the previous installment of Triptych that screened in June, “Geek Wars”, on the Scary Cow website, project #33: http://www.scarycow.com/videos/round0008/round008.html

Publication- I just put together a portfolio of things that I’ve had published in the last few years. To my surprise, it reached almost 50 pages. Maybe I’m not as much of a slacker as I think! The latest additions are more musings on hipsters for LEGENDmag: http://legendmag.net/thelegendonline/2009/07/16/invasion-of-the-hipster-bodysnatchers/ , the short prose piece “relapse in 26 lines” for Slouch Magazine: http://www.slouchmag.com/?p=245 , and two poems for the science section in Umbrella Journal’s school-themed issue: http://www.umbrellajournal.com/fall2009/school_contents.html

Performance- I read at Magnet’s “Smackdab” reading series on Wednesday July 15th and at the Gallery Café poetry series on Monday August 3rd. The Magnet audience was mostly gay, which means they were literate and paying attention. Love it! The Gallery Café was also excellent, one of the largest and highest quality reading series I’ve been to, I definitely plan to go back some time. As for September, I’m not sure where I’m going to read yet, but I’m pledged to try, so stay tuned for details…

Novel- Still not sure what I’m going to do with the revision suggestions I got from the manuscript evaluation by the freelance editor I met at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February regarding my novel, Out in the Neon Night. Until I figure it out, you can read the first chapter on my blog: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/2009/02/first-chapter-of-my-novel-in-neon-night.html

Blog- The biggest doing on my blog has been my updates from my three-week trip to Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia in August. I finally have my pictures up too! Check it out here: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/2009/09/my-africa-pictures-are-online.html

So there you have it, with more to come…

July (and June!) Writing News

Yes, we’ve gone into extended two-month issues for the summer. You know how it is, what with family visiting and being out of town and moving in with girlfriends and all. At least that’s what I did on my summer vacation! In between, some creative activity has occurred as well. To whit:

Film- “Geek Wars”, one part of my three-part short film “Triptych” (formerly “Three Conversations About No Thing”) screened at the Victoria Theatre on June 7th. The audience seemed to enjoy it. You might too! You can see it on the Scary Cow website, project #33: http://www.scarycow.com/videos/round0008/round008.html . You can also catch me playing the pizza delivery guy briefly at the beginning of #22, “Just Super”, which I did set management & costuming for as well. The crew is currently working on editing the remainder of Triptych, which we’ll screen during Scary Cow’s next quarterly screening this fall. I’ll announce more as the time approaches…

Publication- I’m at 22 submissions for the first half of the year, not far off my goal of one a week, and already higher than all of 2008! The acceptance rate is currently at 9% versus 2008’s eventual 14.3%, for those of you with a statistical interest. Two of the latest fruits of this labor to appear are “Post-separation alone at night listening to Patti Smith sing “Dancing Barefoot” while thinking of mistakes I made while living in Hong Kong blues” in Lit Up Magazine (posted May 30th): http://litupmagazine.wordpress.com/ and “Twelve Steps to the New Israel of the Beats” in the July issue of SoMa Literary Review: http://www.somalit.com/New_Israel.html


Performance- I read at the Café Brainwash open mic on May 18th, my fourth public reading so far this year. It was a really fun, boisterous venue, and I got to be all prophetic by reading a new poem on autoerotic asphyxiation before that whole David Carradine business. My next targets are to read at Magnet’s “Smackdab” reading series on Wednesday July 15th and at the Gallery Café poetry series on Monday August 3rd. See you there?

Novel– I’m currently absorbing the manuscript evaluation feedback from the freelance editor I met at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February regarding my novel, Out in the Neon Night. What she advises would be some significant structural reworking, but it is intriguing, I just need to figure out if I agree and if I’m up for it. Until then, you can read the first chapter on my blog: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/2009/02/first-chapter-of-my-novel-in-neon-night.html

Blog– Did I just say Blog? Yes I did! You can catch up with my attempt to write 40 poems in 40 days, musings on Dylan, and other topics at: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/ Definitely check it out in August, when I’ll be traveling in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia and doing updates from the road as frequently as time and technology allow.

I look forward to sharing more with you in all these areas now that we’re in the second half of the year!

May Writing News

And now the year is one third over! Don’t fret, though. Good things are afoot creatively, which I shall share with you forthwith:

Film- We finished seven days of shooting in April for the short film that I’m writing and producing, “Three Conversations About No Thing”. This month the crew is working on editing, and we’ll screen the film, or some portion thereof, during Scary Cow’s quarterly screening at the Victoria Theatre on Sunday June 7th. Invitations will be headed your way once tickets go on sale! And, as if that’s not enough, I’ll also be appearing at the screening (briefly) as a pizza delivery guy in “Just Super”, someone else’s project that I did some crew work on.

Publication- I’m at 14 submissions year to date, not quite one a week, but still a pretty good pace. The acceptance rate is currently hovering around 7%, which hopefully will revert toward last year’s mean later in the year and net a few more publications. Meanwhile, a poem I submitted last year has just appeared in the SoMa Literary Review, which I’m very excited about: http://www.somalit.com/(untitled).html . I also continue to write for LEGENDmag, an online and offline publication covering the progressive urban independent lifestyle. You can read one of my latest here: http://legendmag.net/thelegendonline/2009/04/16/i-make-movies/

Performance- I read at the Café International open mic on April 24th. At first the whole scene there seemed very chaotic, but it grew on me by the end of the evening. Furthering my pledge to read somewhere once a month, I’m aiming to hit Brainwash’s open mic Monday May 18th. Details to follow…

Novel- I’m expecting to hear back this month from a freelance editor I met at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February, who’s doing an evaluation of the manuscript of my novel, Out In The Neon Night. Hopefully this will help me plan the next step of targeting a new round of agents and publishers. In the meantime, you can read the first chapter on my blog: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/2009/02/first-chapter-of-my-novel-in-neon-night.html

Blog- And then there’s the blog. Fascination and fear at future evolution, thoughts about being a man and reflections on personal holidays can all be found here: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/

Back in June, at which point the year will be almost half over! I promise I’ll get off this passage of time trope soon…