Submission stories

Suddenly realizing that I have dozens of stories just snoozing on my hard disk, I've started sending them out. The last time I did this was in 2003, with no acceptance, and once in 2004 which resulted in success. I looked over my Excel spreadsheet and realized more than half of the ones I sent out got personal rejections. This should have encouraged me, but instead I laid low for two years, maybe because of the hassle, or my own laziness, or maybe out of sullen, grumbling spite, I dunno, but in practical terms, it was stupid. Editors are not going to knock on my door and say, "Whaddya got?"

I'm interested in advice on what has worked for people and what hasn't. Who's had success recently, and how did that come about? Is getting published really a statistical proposition? What methods or schedules of sending stuff out have people come up with? How much time should a writer spend per week? How many simultaneous submissions do you feel safe having out at once? What's your cover letter like? What do you mention, what don't you mention? Even something like: do you staple the manuscript pages together or paperclip them? A few Goats edit journals -- what do you look for? What makes you set it aside immediately? Do you even read the cover letter?

Anything, anything ... I keep stumbling by accident on Goat bylines in magazines, and yet I hear over beers that people don't much bother sending stuff out. How can we all get published more?

Addendum: First, I'm kind of surprised just how many stories got written in the workshop years. And when I open them up now, after letting them lay fallow, what's wrong with them literally jumps out at me, and they're easy to edit. Their stems are visible now, when before I believe I was blinded by their foliage. If you haven't looked at your old stuff in a while, take some time and comb through it. You may be pleasantly surprised.


TLB said...

I spent so much time working on my *&%$#! novel that I don't really have any stories polished up and ready to send out, so I haven't bothered lately. The few I sent out a couple years ago got very nice personal rejections, even from places notorious for never getting back to people, so I wasn't discouraged. I just don't have anything else to send them, which was a mistake, I think.

I'm trying to rectify the situation now. The good thing is that with the passage of time, I've become less attached to them, more likely to hack away the weeds to get at the bud beneath.

I've heard different takes on mentioning the Workshop/not mentioning in the cover letter. There is a backlash out there. Depends where you go, I guess. What do other people do?

Trevor Jackson said...

It's a good question, or a series of questions. I'll give you my pair of pennies on cover letters.

First, the Workshop "backlash" question: I was an asst editor at a journal for a few years and I can tell you a writer's pedigree on the cover letter made little difference in how that piece was treated.

In fact, before I left we made it a policy to read the letter after the piece. If we were on the fence about whether to pass something on to the editor, the cover letter might tell us (say, if the writer held an MFA from anywhere or a story of theirs was in BASS or some reputable journal) we should give the story another shot with a different reader.

Generally though our instincts and responses to the stories would match the cover letters. If I thought we should publish something, I'd turn the cover letter over and find some solid credits listed. Or I couldn't get past page 2, turn over the letter and find an introduction written in rhyming couplets or something "clever."

If I had to guess, I'd say that our cover letter policy is/was unique among journals. And before we instituted it, we were still very careful to give every piece a fair shake no matter what the cover letter said. After all, that is what we'd be publishing, not the cover letter.

So, in the end, spend about as much time on it as an editor would: that is, not much.

Thanks for the sidebar link, btw. I like the site.

bihari said...

I don't have any advice, b/c like TLB I've been wrastling a novel to the ground for years (though unlike TLB there is no snappy preorder page available for my novel on Amazon). But thanks for the post, Grendel; it's a series of questions I've been pondering and will be glad to hear answers to.

Also, and this is lame in the extreme: I have LOST all the stories I put up in workshop. The computer they were on died, I have no hard copy due to an incident with a moving box getting thrown out, and the CD's have also disappeared. Does anybody save old workshop stories? I can't imagine why they would, but there's two of mine I'd like to get my hands on, from Fall '03 and Spring '04.

Confucius said...

I've meant to post this sooner, on this very same point. Bucknell's strong literary journal, West Branch, is especially hungry for good stories. Send some along to them, and I'll ask the editor to keep an eye out:


TLB said...

Biahri, you don't have a snappy amazon page YET. I'll bet if you asked Deb or Jan really nicely, they would have some old ones around you could grab.

Toad Press said...

I know we're talking about fiction, but I'm going to talk about poetry because, well, someone should do it. Here's a peek into my rejection (I've given up even calling them submissions) list: I currently have 18 sets of poems floating around somewhere in the world. Normally I'm happy with 8-10, but I've been on a kick lately. I expect to get two acceptances from those 18 submissions (and that's because I'm overly optimistic. I'll probably get 16 form rejections and 2 nice ones).
As for my cover letters, I've tried mentioning Iowa, not mentioning Iowa, not sending a cover letter, sending minimalistic cover letters.... It doesn't seem to make a difference.
For my press (and it's a chapbook press, and it's mainly poetry, so I don't know if this will be helpful at all), we really don't take the cover letters into consideration at all--we just look at the goods. Of course, if someone writes an obnoxious cover letter, I might become less likely to want to publish them, and if someone sounds really sincere and hopeful, I might want to publish them. But that's just on the first glance through. Since we don't get THAT many submissions, I always try to read anything that looks like it has potential twice. When it comes down to it, all we're really looking at is the work.

cj said...

Bihari -- Yes, I believe that, as usual, Connie is the key. I seem to recall that the Workshop keeps a file on every student, current or former, containing not only the student's application to the program but also all the stories the student put up in workshop. Some of us would find that kind of disturbing, but it may be just the thing you're looking for.

Nate said...

I mostly just echo Toadpress here. Treat it like a business and don't get too invested in it. It's kind of fun to drop 15 envelopes in the mailbox! Keeps the post office in business. I've read for two journals in the past (ACM and Iowa Review) and didn't give a damn about the letter. It's a formality.

Grendel said...

Bihari, I saved everything, or almost everything. Pretty sure I have the two stories you put up in Elizabeth's class. They are in The Pile in the basement. Let me know if you want them!

bihari said...

Thanks for all the input! It turns out the Workshop (aka Deb and Jan) do save stories, hoorah, so they're going to unearth them for me when they're available again (all the files are currently in a trailer due to construction).

HGF said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
HGF said...

I've come to think of these letters a little differently.

Like recommendation letters and background checks, cover letters seem to descend from the formal letter of introduction: in this sense, the cover letter is really about sorting. Does the writer know an editor personally? Is a name being dropped (which might call for two rejection letters, one to the writer, one to a recommender)? Is this a single or simultaneous submission? Then, too, in work where a genre might be unclear, the letter can set the terms: prose poem or flash fiction; fiction or creative non-fiction; etc.

Simultaneous submissions are making slush piles huge. And those piles are most likely read on a first come-first served basis. However, where there are different piles, a matter-of-fact mention of Iowa, prominent publications, or a friendster relationship to the editor might get a manuscript sorted into one destined to be read sooner rather than later. (For example, a journal, expecting good things from an Iowa grad, might feel itself in a race with other journals, viz. a simultaneous submission.)

Once the sorting is done, though, as Nate and Toadpress have already emphasized, it's the work itself that matters. And for me, it's never been otherwise and couldn't be, really--between the cover letter and the opening words something in me goes to sleep and something else wakes up.