Time to revise my goals

Yesterday marked the first official/proper publication of one of my stories. That’s ten months since I started to try writing as more than just a bit of fun, so I thought I’d talk a bit about how it’s been so far and what comes next.

As with so many people, I’d like to write a novel. I’ve had the same story growing in the back, and front, of my mind for a good number of years now, but turning that idea into the final product always seemed too daunting. In fact, even getting started seemed too daunting. So, at the start of the year, when I finally kicked myself up the butt, I began reading around how to write, and one bit of advice that resonated was that you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) expect to jump right in without first learning the tricks of the trade, and a great way to do this was by short story writing. And so it was that the novel got put on hold before it’d really been taken off hold (sniff of fear and procrastination, maybe?) and I began scribing short stories.

I set myself the goal of getting some (clearly defined goal if ever I saw one) stories published in decent markets by the end of the year, and quietly expected to do this quite easily. It isn’t easy! I wrote a lot and started submitting to carefully chosen markets, and got rejected. This was disappointing, but I selected another market and tried again. Important lesson here: focus on quality when you’re writing, but when it comes to submitting, go for quantity—good markets reject even good stories, so chances are slim. Maximise your chances by submitting more. Along the way I also learned about the less favourable markets that are only there to mess you around (Avid Writers, who were the source of this excited post, then disappeared before publishing anything).

I set myself the goal of 1000 words a day, which seemed reasonable and was recommended by some authors I’d researched. Here is something I still have to work on. I’m a slow writer. Really slow. I worry about every word, sentence, paragraph and page. I go back over them, and try to pick the perfect expression first time. I’m quite aware that a far better way to do things is just splurge it all down then edit it, and I think I’m pretty good on the editing side. Nevertheless, I’m still facing this problem of slow writing—something I need to work on.

Another goal I had which has proven hard to achieve is creating more than I edit. This was easy at the beginning, when I had less content. Now, with 27 pieces logged in The Submission Grinder, and about an equal number in various states of construction, repair or disrepair, it’s pretty hard to find any time to write new things due to all the editing and submitting rejected pieces to new markets. Something I’ve recently tried is realising when a piece actually isn’t that great, and so sending it to less picky markets (with the goal of getting it out of the way quicker). I’ve also retired a couple of stories that I am unsure are worth the effort.

Going back to that initial goal of improving my writing, though, I am happy to say that I really have done this. Well, maybe. I’ve learned a lot, mostly about what not to do, and I’m now better able to look at my work and think ‘Oh yeah, I’m doing something I shouldn’t be again.’ Anyway, I do feel that my dialogue, pace, removal of waffle, simplicity of language, character development, inclusion of interesting conflict, etc has improved a lot. Learning these things has been my favourite part of the process so far.

To finish off for today, I’m going to give my new goals. I’m feeling tired of writing super short stories , and also think it’s time to face the difficulty that is planning and holding together a longer work. That’s why, from now on, I’m shifting my focus to novelettes and novellas—still not too long (Novelette = 7,500-20,000 words; Novella = 20,000-50,000 words), but long enough to require a plan. And, in the meantime, I’ve got two or three of my short stories that I still think are really good, and still hope to find a top-tier home for.

The pipeline to publication

I’m fascinated by the process a story goes through from idea to the final product. Firstly inside the author’s head, including their interactions with the world on the way to forming the idea into what they attempt to get onto the paper, and then the sculpting that comes after that through repeated edits to chisel off the rough bits and emphasise the fine features.

But also, there’s the process a story goes through after it’s been submitted. Recently, I’m doing a LOT of submissions. To begin with I thought it’d be one or two, then it’d be accepted (silly me), then just turning them round when they were rejected, but right now I’m taking advantage of markets that allow simultaneous submissions so I can have multiple subs for the same story at different places.

Looking at the market stats on Submission Grinder, response time for different markets vary from 1 to around 200(!) days, so what do they do in this time? Obviously, there are very different models out there, and the model the market employs must also be dependent on the volume of submissions they receive. Actually, I’m familiar with the pipeline from submission to publication in scientific journals, as that’s where I work, but I was pleasantly surprised recently to find a fiction magazine that had dedicated a page to laying this process out… and also pleasantly surprised to see that it isn’t all that different to the way we do it at work!

Here is the page, provided by Empyreome, and also including the percentages for the different kinds of response they send out, and the typical wording of each.