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Now journals will note if they don't accept simultaneous submissions, otherwise it's expected. Most accept simultaneous submissions. Everyone should submit simultaneously! Expect to be rejected a lot--and don't take that as a sign of the story's quality. I had a story that was eventually in the O. Henry anthology, and it was rejected 26 times before a (wonderful!) journal picked it up. It's a long game :)

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Mar 16, 2023·edited Mar 16, 2023

A thousand times this. Submit simultaneously and keep going! Expect rejection, and know you aren't alone - there are a million different reasons why a story may not be accepted, and it doesn't necessarily mean anything about its quality. Your work may not be a match, something may have edged you out, and the journals are also curating issues and thinking about how their accepted pieces work together too - your work may just not be quite right for that particular journal at that particular time. Take encouraging rejections as *encouragement* - seriously. Send your best work.

If it helps, I used to be a CNF editor at a print journal and I often had to make difficult decisions. I had about 50 pages to work with, and so sometimes I had a story I knew I was accepting, and some others that I loved equally much, but suddenly I was faced with decisions like "if these pieces are equal, do I publish two twenty-page stories and a ten-page story, or five ten-page stories, etc." Do I try to publish more writers, or just one longer piece that I really, really love? It was a good probably to have and also really hard. And when I sent encouraging notes, I meant it!

I have a story, which I'll post below, about how this is a crazy long game, but in case you're pressed for time, one quick but important addition to Heather's comment:

If you do simultaneous submissions, as you should (!), and your work is accepted by a journal, withdraw your piece from the other journals immediately. IMMEDIATELY. No passing Go, no $200, IMMEDIATELY tell the other places where your work is under consideration (and thank them for considering).

- ok, my long-game anecdote:

Another thing I would say - something I struggle with - is sometimes you think a story is ready, and it's as good as you've got, and it's just not quite there. And it's a good story. And you're getting good notes. But sometimes it's still a *draft* and you just think it's final. I had a story I was really proud of, and over two years, it went out to 50 places. It'd been workshopped, and I revised. Then my writing group read it, my advisor read it again, I revised again, and I sent it out for those two years (*definitely* simultaneously), and I got a pile of "nopes" but several "we liked your work, send us more" from places I really respected.

50 places, 50 nos. Some of them were swanky, right? And I expected rejection (Tin House, Paris Review, Ploughshares - those "nopes" were not shocking). But also: I always submit to the Dream Big places, swing for the fences, just in case (I haven't been accepted at that level yet but I've gotten several "send us more" notes from Dream Bigs and like whoa, that was a party in itself).

Anyway, I took a step back from the story and stopped sending it out. But this story had always had a piece of my heart. Like I KNEW there was something there, I just hadn't cracked it. And then I got a small piece of feedback, literally just a line - "the braiding's not working, the transitions are jarring us out of the piece" and it broke the whole piece open. Prior feedback had been the sections were too short; there wasn't time to sink into them. And yes, probably this too. But the *braiding*. So I worked on smoothing the transitions, but this led to new scenes. The story is now 2,500 words longer. I revised. I had a trusted writer friend read it. I revised some more. George's line-meter was involved. I sent it to almost 20 more places. I got a higher ratio of personal rejections.

And then it was accepted.

I wrote the first draft in 2014. It's not my first publication, but it will be my first fiction publication and my first publication where something I wrote was plucked from the slush, and by a journal I am just psyched to be included in. The story is coming out later this spring. And I feel so good about this piece. It is absolutely better than it has ever been, or even that it could be. Sometimes I can't even believe I wrote it. It is, finally, as good as I could possibly make it. It is, finally, itself.

I withdrew the story immediately from the eight places where it was still under consideration.

Anyway, it's absolutely a long game, and you will get there. If you believe in a piece, don't be afraid to believe in it, but also don't be afraid to revise, to send it out, to let it rest, to revise again. Be open to change, and to the possibility that what you think is a final draft is still just a working draft of a piece you'll revise in a month or a year or two that's going to blow your mind. It will probably not take 8 years (I had to grow as a writer for the piece to become what it eventually became), but you will get there. Don't give up. Rejection is a long, hard slog sometimes, I get it. I have a couple hundred of them for my short fiction. It's just part of it. It's easy to say, but it's also true. Keep going.

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Yes, love this! Congrats on finding a home for your piece!! And on getting it to a place you love. I love how the right feedback can crack something open.

I have a story that I started in 2008 and eventually published in 2021 after sending it out for years, then revising, then sending to the next round. Sometimes they do need more work and you just have to go through a process with it.

And I forgot to mention withdrawing everywhere else if you simul sub and get an acceptance. Very important!

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Thank you so much! Yes, it was crazy, and also once it happened it was like "oh, of course"... you're totally right about having to go through a process sometimes. And congratulations on your placing your 2008-2021 piece too - it's so exciting and satisfying! :)

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What an insightful experience. Congratulations for having your story published (soon). I have a question: can I publish my stories on Substack and still submit to magazines? Thank you 🙏

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As I understand it, the moment the story appears anywhere that is accessible online it is considered “published.” For this reason publishing stories on substack or blogs/webpage etc would put that story out of the running for any journal that doesn’t publish reprints. You could do it the other way though, once the story is published in a journal, you could later “reprint” on your substack or webpage (usually with a note “first appeared in XYZ journal”)

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Thank you for answering my question! Sit with the question and it answers itself. Be well.

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Thank you so much! And my understanding is the same as Alexander's, unfortunately. Journals even consider stories and poems posted on Facebook, etc to be "published." It stinks.

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You write your rule book^^

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Congrats on getting your story accepted after so long. And thanks for providing all the good info from the trenches!

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Thank you so much, and happy to help however I can! :)

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Yes. Years to write, years to submit, years to acceptance. A long game for sure.

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Thank you so much, Carolyn, that is one fantastic, wise and extremely helpful story about a story!

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Thanks so much, and I'm glad it was helpful! :)

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Congratulations! Can you share when/where it will be published? I’d like to read it.

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Thanks so much, and that's so kind of you! The story is called "The Flying Men of Cuetzalan" and it will be published in Booth in May. Thanks for your interest!

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Hi Steph, I just wanted to let you know that the story was published today! Please no pressure at all to read it - I know everyone's lives are so busy! - but since you had asked I wanted to share: https://booth.butler.edu/2023/05/05/the-flying-men-of-cuetzalan/

Thanks so much again for your interest! :)

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Your story is beautiful--your words so streamlined and carefully chosen and the imagery so clear. Thank you so much for sharing. Seems like we should have a place here for everyone to post theirs!

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I am so sorry for just writing now! Work and life got a bit crazy and I haven't been on Substack and have just been catching entries in my inbox. Thank you so much for reading! It really means a lot to me that someone who doesn't even know me took the time to read my work. Thank you so much for doing so, and for the kind words <3

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Not sure if you’ll see this, but I just saw your comment and read your story, and it’s beautiful. So many lines I want to include here - “A small piece of time had slid inside of him.” “Even if they don’t like heights, they are brave in their prayer.” I was hooked instantly, worried about whether they’d fall from the rig, but the memories and parallel story of the voladores and the way you carefully unraveled details about Manny’s family hooked me in a different, more substantive way. Thank you for sharing

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Thank you so much! And thank you for reading <3 Things have been hectic with work and family and I've just been catching Story Club in my inbox and haven't been on Substack. It really means a lot to me that you took the time to read my work, especially without knowing me. Thank you so much for doing so, and for the kind words <3

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Congrats and thanks for sharing!

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Thanks so much! :)

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Oh but to clarify, don't submit simultaneously to the ones that ask you not to!

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Just what I needed to hear today. Thank you!

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No matter how many times I hear "don't take rejection as a sign of the story's quality," it's never enough. Thanks!

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That’s great to hear!

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Exactly. Perfect right. Long, slow game.

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Thank you for tackling this. We launched Esoterica, in part, to give a much needed venue to writers. Those A-list publications you mention are spectacular but frankly impossible to penetrate unless you have an in, or a very good agent. People shouldn't stop pitching them (I do for m own writing!) but it's akin to winning the lottery. Most of all, I recommend that writers send their work out widely (and simultaneously) and keep in mind that all their smaller publishing credits do help build up credibility and an audience, so that they can pitch agents/publishers with more authority.

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Love Esoterica's website!

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You have made my day! Thank you

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I saw, thank you for your support! It's been a labour of love and completely self-funded. Please spread the word. Happy to have free subscribers, so long as our writers get the readers they deserve.

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I hope this isn't out of line, but I'd love your thoughts on something litmag-related. I had a story accepted by a magazine back in December. Signed a contract shortly after with a tentative release date of March 2023. As of May 6, I hadn't heard any news so I inquired as to whether there were any updates on the release of the next issue. Still no response as of today, the 22nd of May. Is it reasonable for me to send one last inquiry, with the condition that if I don't hear back within a certain amount of time, I intend to submit the story elsewhere for consideration? Thanks so much for considering!

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Yes submit another inquiry. Is it possible the person that you were dealing with left?

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Oy

Omg

It’s overwhelming

Who can continue the path of rejection endlessly???

Personally I cannot

And

Listening to those who choose?

Do they write!?

Maybe not...

I reject those who become deciders

Unless they put themselves out there

Otherwise

How can they know?

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I completely hear you on this. There is a new book out by Stephen Marche on this very topic. I haven't read it yet but I hear it's essentially, writing is failure more than anything. You do have to love the process and there are a lot of dark days. Finding (good!) writing friends help, at the very least, to keep you sane.

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Mar 16, 2023·edited Mar 17, 2023

I can dump a few resources here that may help.

Erika Krouse has some great resources on submitting, starting with some practical and encouraging submission strategies:

http://www.erikakrousewriter.com/submission-strategies

And a stupendous list of literary magazines, arranged in tiers:

http://www.erikakrousewriter.com/erika-krouses-ocd-ranking-of-483-literary-magazines-for-short-fiction

For tracking submissions (i.e. in place of George's spreadsheet), I use The Submission Grinder, which also allows you to search for markets:

https://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/

Note that it's a bit better for genre magazines than literary ones, but it's very good for any. Other options are Duotrope (paid, but more comprehensive, especially for literary magazines https://duotrope.com/) and ChillSubs (newer, hipper, not as comprehensive but seems to be growing fast https://www.chillsubs.com/).

Note that many, if not most, literary magazines *do* accept simultaneous submissions now. Being able to withdraw quickly and easily online makes a difference.

Happy submitting!

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All of what you said, David. Plus Submittable also makes it easy to keep track & makes it especially easy to submit. (I am not a computer person but even I see the advantages.) A lot of pubs charge "reading fees" these days. These are usually just a few bucks (and can be charged to PayPal if you don't want your credit card number too far out & about in the land) and are about the equivalent of what postage was in the snail mail days. Some writers are put off by this, but I like the idea of my few bucks going in support of the pub rather than going to the USPS. Multiply my submissions by the other tens of thousands of us sending stuff in & not only is this a revenue source for several pubs but it helps jump start new ones. The more pubs the more chances of publication though, as George & others have pointed out, not every pub is quality, not every one worth your work. Something to definitely keep in mind. The other thing I like to do is to donate back my payment. It hardly amounts to much anyway (no mortgage payment here!), but it offers further support of the pub, generates some good will, & provides a tax deduction.

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I paid for a reading fee recently. I got to work with an editor and it looks as though the story will get published.

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That's a very good point about the submission fees. I admit that I generally avoid markets with submission fees, because when I do pay them the rejection seems to sting just a little more, but I should probably just get over that. I do think it's good to have a free option for writers who genuinely can't afford the fees. Some magazines have a free option and a "tip jar" option, which seems like a good middle ground.

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I agree re: the submission fees. While I'm always grateful when a magazine does not charge for submissions, I do not particularly begrudge it since I know the magazines pay for the use of the submission manager, on top of all of their other costs. I tried submitting in paper form to a couple of magazines that required it recently, and the postage cost me more than typical $3-4 submission fee. It's also better for the environment.

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These are great resources! Also when you get a rejection, you can use the Rejection Wiki to double check if it's a standard or a "higher tier" rejection (also a form letter, but of the 'send more work' variety). Here's the link: https://www.rejectionwiki.com/index.php?title=Literary_Journals_and_Rejections ... but honestly I usually just google "rejection wiki" and the journal title

Someone mentioned Stephen King's On Writing and John Gardner's The Art of Fiction as good resources and I agree wholeheartedly and would add Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones to the pile. I'm sure there are more, but I used to give Lamott's "Sh*tty First Drafts" to my student to encourage them to take risks and play.

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Narrative Design, by Madison Smartt Bell. He’s priceless; so are the writers he offers for examples.

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Thanks so much, David. You are the best!!

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Okay, these links are so helpful! Thank you for sharing!

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Thanks for the links. The more information the better.

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Good links. I’ve used a few of these. Good call 👌

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I wonder if these stats will help folks to hear: Over the last 30 years, the New Yorker has published five of my stories and rejected at least 15 more. Harper's has published one story and rejected a few others. The Atlantic has only rejected me. When it comes to the major magazines, I'd guess I hit under .200. For those of you aren't baseball fans, hitting under .200 is known as Mendoza Line and it is decidedly not a compliment.

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lol, Sherman, this is funny because I consider you highly accomplished. I started reading one of your short story collections on Hoopla the other day, and kept thinking why does an author with this level of talent and success subscribe to a nobody like me 🤣 I guess as writers we all think we're batting below average.

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Hahahahaha! I subscribe because you're you're a smart, surprising, and good writer! And I'd say that every writer's career, no matter how successful, is still mostly about rejection. And some of those rejections are high profile. I've had bad reviews in big places that sent me scurrying and yelping into my cave.

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I'm guessing you saw the essay in the NYT by Stephen Marche (2/11/23) & are familiar with his book "On Writing & Failure". Another commenter here at SC also brought it up. Marche doesn't say anything that hadn't occurred to me & plenty of others, but it's nice to have the validation. Also, once I realized that failure simply is---that it's daily, inescapable, and really not so tragic---everything in my life improved! My writing, to be sure, but even my cooking!

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I didn't read that book but the title is the truth! You could take the ampersand out of the title and it would also be true.

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Yep, possibly even truer. Ha!

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I love it! True and truer!

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I somehow came into possession of Gail Sher's book "One Continuous Mistake : Four Noble Truths for Writers". Only rarely, in a fit of ambition, do I crack it open and to find a delicious Bon Mot. I get a lot of motivation from the title alone and knowing that it is resting there, Zen-like wisdom intact, in a place of honor on my bookshelf.

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I don't know that book. I gotta find it!

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It has an automatic effect like those miracle products you hang in the tank of your commode to leech out benign blue chemicals into the water.

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Thank you, I appreciate that!

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I've thought the exact same thing about Sherman. Why is he following ME? Haha.

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This reminds me of my "early adoption" of Twitter. Within a day or two of it coming on line, I signed up, not know what it was about. They instructed "just put something out - what'd you have for breakfast?" I put that out. Two days later I had two tweets, each of which said "we're following you." I was horrified, and quit right away - who wants to be "followed?"

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I quit Twitter in 2016. I had appx 150,000 followers so it was a big loss in one way. But I'm very happy that I'm not in that ugly place.

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TWITter..you know what you are doing? The name warns you^^

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Hahahahahah

This made my day.

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Made my day, too!

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Hahahahahahahahha

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You're still in the Major League though!

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Yes, but it is called the Mendoza Line, so that's an accolade. For those under the Mendoza Line, there's no name for that. Fan, maybe, because you no longer sit on the bench and have to watch from the stands.

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Hahahahahahha!

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I submitted a flash fiction piece to the New Yorker last week! Or should I say I sent it through a black hole?

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Good luck!

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Thanks! Although, according to David B. Comfort who calculated the acceptance rate in 2012 there's a 0.0000416% chance… fast-forward to 2023. New rate: 0.00000416%. Adding a zero every decade!

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Easier to play in the NBA!

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OMG - the Mendoza line for submissions. LOL. LOL.

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Thank you for creating this thread. I am the current non-fiction editor and past associate fiction editor for The Coachella Review, a literary magazine out of the University of California, Riverside-Palm Desert Low Residency MFA program. Here is a link to the our submissions page:http://thecoachellareview.com/submissions/ . (Submissions are currently closed while we create the Summer 2023 issue, but will open again soon for the Winter 2023 issue.) Like other responses mention, we accept simultaneous submissions.

I encourage all of you writer people to submit, and please know that getting a decline does not mean your work is not publish-worthy.

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If you live in the US and can move to another country, do it. It's a matter of Big Pond vs Little Pond. I have a young friend in Ireland who asked for advice about getting his first novel published and wondered about coming to the US. Hell no! I said. Stay in Ireland and make as many friends as you can. He got an MFA in Galway and made friends. Now he has a 4 book contract and a career. And maybe a movie deal. This American pond is just too full of fish.

Same story with a twist for another friend in the UK. She started a publishing company and got a fair amount of attention because she was in Scotland, and it was a fine book list and a magazine (Earthlines). Eventually she sold the press and focused on her own writing. Several books later and a huge following...she's doing very well. Both of these writers are good writers with stories to tell. But living in a Little Pond made their paths so much easier.

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My dad always says it's better to be a big fish in a little pond, which is how he decided to take a job after law school in a town of under 5000, where he and mom still live. The local bookstore in this town-my town, Venice FL, is minuscule and yet packed to the gunwales with books. An entire wall is lined with books by local authors. I asked him whether he would carry a book by a person who grew up there and still considers the town 'home' and he didn't hesitate to say 'yes.' Try doing that in LA. But maybe you could--if you could find a publisher. Small presses, small pond? Maybe that's an answer.

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Medea, I’m delighted to hear you mention Venice, FL! I more or less grew up in Venice--went to Epiphany Cathedral School--and just wrote a nonfiction piece based there. Last year I returned for a visit for the first time after 20 years in Chicago.

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Hi Meg! Small world-I was at Epiphany for 7th and 8th grades, then Cardinal Mooney for 9th then back to VHS. There is a group of about 25 of us who still communicate almost daily. Would you be willing to share your nonfiction piece? I would love to read it. When I was there, we were still subject to thwacks on the hand with rulers for misbehaving. What did you think of contemporary Venice? How do you find life in Chicago? Thank you for your comment!

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Medea, I just this evening saw your post (yikes!) and responded, but it seems that my comment was deleted. I’ll try again…

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I also went to Mooney—class of ‘97! Both schools seemed to have phased out corporal punishment by my time there, but at my first elementary school—Queen of Martyrs in Chicago—there was a nun who was an avowed hand thwacker and also used to aim for willful children’s toes when she was riding around in her motorized scooter. Because Chicago was my very first home, it was pretty comfortable to move back here. When I returned to Venice last year, I did find it rather more upscale than I’d remembered (the house prices on the island were fairly shocking). But I was charmed to see some old spots (Nana’s, Patches Restaurant, Sea Pleasures and Treasures, Troll Music, etc). I’m planning another visit to the area next February. It’s so lovely that you have a group that keeps in such close touch!

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Hi Meg! Yes, the nuns were holy terrors ;). You'll find it interesting to know that Nana's used to be owned by Mrs. Miles and was called Young Vogue. Sea Pleasures and Treasures was owned by Mr and Mrs Young, who also ran the preschool (and picked up us kids in their massive green station wagon, not a seat belt in sight) and it was called Young's Gift Nook. Patches was not yet extant. TJ Carney's (eww!) was the Dick and Meadow's Rexall pharmacy and fountain, where you could sit at the counter and order a large coke on crushed ice for 5 cents. Daiquiri Deck used to be the movie theater before it became a bank. It was the best place ever to grow up! Glad you survived Queen of Martyrs!

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Galer, any chance you'd be willing to name names? Some of us here are very fond of Irish writers.

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Rosanne - I replied but I guess I was on the wrong thread line....spooling out there...so you'll need to scroll down and find me again. Sorry about that. But yes, I named names.

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Got it, thanks.

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"This American pond is just too full of fish."

Love that.

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Not too full of fish, too empty few fishing.

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Many of us (especially those starting out) stand little chance of getting into the top-tier magazines. George mentioned "Best American" and "O. Henry Prize" collections; in addition, there are the Pushcart Prizes, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions and Best Microfictions (for those who write flash and micros). Litmags who submit nominations to those awards, and those who win, are great places to add to our own versions of George's spreadsheet. (You can also track your submissions on Duotrope, a great resource to find both publications and literary agents.) There are lists published by Clifford Garstang and Erika Krouse (a search will turn them up) with ostensible rankings of the various publications. ChillSubs and Submittable are additional resources for finding pubs to submit to.

Nobody has time to read all the magazines before submitting, so I think instead of reading a few pieces in your genre from one or two issues, and making sure the general aesthetic appeals to you.

Most places allow for simultaneous submissions these days, and some of those that don't (e.g. Threepenny Review) tend to respond promptly, which is nice. All of these guidelines tend to be outlined on the "submit" page of any litmag.

Good luck! Submit to a few places, revise the piece if it doesn't land, and submit again. That's my approach.

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Very true. Like winning the lottery. And frankly in today’s market I think identity often plays a big role as well, which can be tricky...depending. It seems like more and more mags are looking for a certain ‘type’ of story. But either way it’s a tough slog. So much competition. I got a few dozen stories published over the years and one nominated for a Pushcart but it all exhausted me. Now I just write on Substack 😎

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Relentless...or self-publish^^

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I recently had a conversation with other writers about online publishing and I recalled those early days in my career when I submitted to and published poems in the mimeograph magazines—the ones where the editors used staplers! Yes, the handmade magazines. And those other magazines where the editors used Kinko's or similar stores to make their magazines. How many of those little magazines still exist? Have they all migrated online? And I also recall how those magazines often or mostly published blue collar poets, the ones with jobs far outside of book world. But when I look at the online magazines, the contributor bios are the same as the bios in The Paris Review or Kenyon Review or the like I think we might live in a literary culture where the MFA is now the standard even for the smaller magazines—proverbial "in." Is this a good thing? Bad? Neutral? I do know those handmade magazines of the past were far more likely to publish the impolite.

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author
Mar 16, 2023·edited Mar 17, 2023Author

Yes, thank you Sherman. Remember "Army Man?" More of a comedy magazine, but...

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I don't remember Army Man but I published in one called Giants Play Well in the Drizzle. And there was one called Tray Full of Lab Mice that rejected me a few times.

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This makes me want to start a thousand zines just so I can name them.

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Hahahahah! So true!

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"Army Man" is circulating online now. God, I wish I had been around to get it in the mail.

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George Meyer. He's way too brilliant.

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We are all brilliant^^

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I am curious if you submit through your agent to the fancy magazines.

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Yes, it's always been through my agent, who has been my agent since 1992.

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Thank you for your reply!

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You're welcome.

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I loved those kinds of zines and miss them! It’s a question I’ve been thinking about a lot, too—the MFAization of the lit scene. On the lit journals side, it does seem to tack toward less rougher around the edges material. Which is a loss of a certain style, especially in poetry it seems, where a kind of beat poetry or freewheeling aesthetic is becoming rarer.

But the divide between lit journals and mainstream publishing houses is where I’m seeing the biggest difference. I’ve noticed that lit journals are really the preserve for the truly experimental. Metafiction, postmodernism, comedic play and wily invention are still very welcomed there (and within some MFA programs) while mainstream publishing houses are much more cautious and far less open to experiments in form, narrative structure, etc. I think writers like Calvino, Barthelme, Tom Robbins, Ishmael Reed, etc would have had a hard time publishing in today’s market. This loss of the 60s-early 80s experimental literary scene with its wily form-breaking flamboyance seems like such a great loss. It also seems like a loss that cuts across arts/society. Everything got more streamlined, risk-adverse, with rounded edges. A corporatized feel ultimately (there’s something Starbucks and Apple Store to the lack of messiness!)

*But…Films like Everything everywhere all at once are a joyous exception to the trend. Maybe we’re at the start of a rebound.

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All great points. I'm not a big fan of Everything Everywhere. I really enjoyed my first watch. But not so much with the second watch. A friend described it well. He said the movie was like a dude who tells a joke whenever the conversation starts to get really serious.

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I'd be super interested to hear--as a writer who breaks form and experiments with style and narrative and poetic structures, have you sensed a change over the past decades? Are we, in general, becoming less open to experimentation in the mainstream literary world? Or was experimentation always an outlier and it's just retrospect that makes it seem like a larger heyday than it was?

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Good questions. As you say, I think nostalgia does play a part in how we think about the literary past. But is there a Tom Robbins-esque writer out there who is big enough in book world to cross into the mainstream. I can't think of one. Or a Donald Barthleme?

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So glad to read this. I couldn’t stand the film, and only my 25 year old son understood why.

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Hi, Alexander.

You raise a phenomenally interesting concern, viz. the chance that writing can collapse into stylistic conformity and lose the moral imperative to be subversive in some category of experience, if not in the common meaning of politically subversive, then in the category of form, topic, or fixation.

I adore William Kotzwinkle's "The Fan Man", as an example of a character, Horse Badorties (!), living outside the frontier of anything we might deem a normal life. It's wildly different from the usual setup of a conventional life disrupted by a lightning strike, a picaresque novel, reminiscent of "A Confederacy of Dunces".

Maybe all we need are more picaresque novels? Anybody making them an object of study in MFA programs?

John

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Thanks so much for the recommendation! I’m not familiar w The Fan Man—looking forward to checking it out! Yes, where are the new experimentalists and who are they? There’s also the question of how we inspire more of this kind of writing in the world and publishing industries. The strange, the odd, the surreal, the subversive, and the freewheeling joyous prose.

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And bougainvillea free!!

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Bad.

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Tend to agree (as we've discussed elsewhere haha).

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I think it takes a certain kind of person/energy to send things out repeatedly and weather rejections. It has turned out I'm not that kind of person. So I don't do it any more. I only ever did it in the past rarely. I will tell this story because the publication no longer exists. There was a while there where I was climbing Glimmer Train's ladder. They had all these tiers of recognition. I continued to send them stories, thinking, any day now I'll crack the top 2 or 3 and finally get in print, but it never happened. And not only did it never happen, I never got any nods of recognition from them ever again. Which is fine, name of game, etc.. But I admit I found it bewildering for a while. Later I realized there were too many variables at play for me to have any real idea of what had happened and that I should, as they say, move on. It did have an effect on me for a time, a kind of depressive one. Putting one's eggs in one little basket isn't a good idea, and I was guilty of that, though I also sent things to other places occasionally. So as I say, I think I'm just someone who is not made for what seems to me to be a needlessly brutal process. There's talent, there's luck, and there's something else, too. Call it a determination to see your words in print. I've known people like that. And some of them get published. And maybe that is the culmination of the process for them, a validation. One person in a friend's writing group said they had made 3 hundred submissions in one year. That must be the same things going out to lots of places, not 3 hundred different things (hello, simultaneous submissions). How many yes's that added up to I do not know. I don't know where the creative energy goes when so much energy is put into getting a notch in the score card. And honestly, I have never written anything that I felt needed to get so urgently into print. Maybe I don't have the belief in my own writing that those who do manage to get published do.

As a practical matter, I have found and still do find the question of where to submit to completely overwhelming and confusing, no matter how many articles and journals and lists I've read on the subject.

Sorry if this is depressing for anyone to read! Go get your work published, and best of luck to you!

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Yes, this is very sad, very hard, as the process does seem such a meaningless torture. I no longer submit my work anywhere, although I am writing a novel, and if or when I think it good enough, I will probably try again. You express this experience so clearly and so well, and I am glad you posted it. Your battered heart touches mine.

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I hope you both try subbing again. I gave up in 2022. Busied myself with improv that fed my creativity. But I got the itch again & returned to stories I'd left behind & began rewriting. I also paid a fabulous writer to look at an essay I'd been working on for y e a r s. Well, it just got published. Now, at a small journal run by a fine well published writer who publishes it himself because he loves language, stories, fiction, cnf non. He's championed my work & published 3 pieces of my almost forgotten memoir. Is this TNY? No, but I found a fellow writer who hears what I'm saying & have been writing about for over twenty years. Boy, does it feel good!!! So there's all kinds of success out there. Man, I'm 64 & delighted. But I get the heart break & the hurt. My point is there are magazines out there that will hear you, like you & publish you if you stay in line. Sending tender words & hugs. Write on, ladies, please write on🌷🌷

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Thanks, Lucinda. I have a lot of faith in what I'm writing now, and it's important to me. This conversation about publishing is interesting, but I've learned so much during my time in Story Club. SO MUCH!! I know now how to do the work, how to trust my "micro-decisions, so I feel that my path is very clear, at least for now. I'm not ready for the publishing conversation right now--and I'm writing a novel, not stories. I feel hugged and loved by your encouragement, and I thank you for it, I truly do.

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See, Nancy, there you go---faith in what you're writing & that it's important to you. I think that without that, anything else, including publication, loses its meaning. I think that faith & importance has to come first. Maybe that sounds a little too earnest, but how else to keep motoring along without?

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Hi, Rosanne. Here's where I'm at: I got exhausted and discouraged some years back and decided to quit writing. (That is, writing stories or essays, etc.--I never quit writing in my journals or writing letters.) I've always puttered around making things, so I turned my attention to making "art" dolls. I took classes, studied, and, I think, got pretty good. I sold a few dolls, and I really like making them. But I got tired of selling them for what seemed like too little money ($100-150). And then one thing started leading to another, as things are wont to do. After my sister's death, I got in touch with an old friend of hers, someone I'd been acquainted with for most of my life. She and my sister had been very close since high school but had become estranged about twenty years before my sister's death. I didn't know what CJ's reaction would be, but I thought she would want to know. She cried, she told me that she'd always hoped and believed that they would restore their friendship. CJ was a reclusive woman, a Buddhist, a widow, without children, siblings or parents. She was retired and lived in Arizona, about eight hours away. So I went to see her, although she truly didn't want me to. And we had an immediate and deep connection. For the next six years, I'd go to her place two or three times a year, spending a week or so each time (she wouldn't travel). She was a great lover of sweet, uplifting stories about animals. She lived on a few acres in the Sonoran Desert near Phoenix, and she loved the wildlife that shared her land. So I decided to write a sweet little story about her and the animals. It was not meant to be art, or anything, really, just a simple tale to surprise and delight her. I had no stake in it--it wasn't meant to be anything good or publishable; a no-pressure, just a silly and fun bit of story-making. I worked on it a lot, and it started to grow. I ended up telling her about it because I kept needing to ask her questions about the animals, the desert, etc. She was excited about it, and I was planning to go there and do a final draft in the fall of 2019. She died suddenly of an aneurism that September, which changed everything for me. I got more serious about telling CJ's story, and I've been working on it ever since (on and off). I had tried writing about Loretta's death, but had produced only garbage. This new project, I think, was a place for me to put my feelings about everything. For the longest time, I was writing it only for myself, no thoughts of publishing or sharing. And then I thought it was getting to be a pretty good story. But I came to a frustrating place in the story-telling, stuck, doubting. And then I joined Story Club, and I now know how to work on it. I have hopes that it will be publishable, but I'm not writing to a market; I'm writing only what pleases me (although I'm not always pleased with my work, of course, LOL). I am driven to complete it, and to make it the best it can be. Over this year, in SC, I've written scraps of other stories, and put them into a "dump" file in my computer. When I finish CJ's story, who know? I sure don't know. But maybe I'll make something out of those bits and pieces. Anyway, just a little (long-winded) explanation of my project--its importance to me and my faith in it.

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P.S. I guess I'm writing the story I want to read!

P.P.S. I have many writer friends who, after careers of various sorts, have quit writing. Most say that they just want to putter around, read, have fun, drink cocktails in the evening, and enjoy their lives. I like to putter around, I like to read, I like cocktails. But, somehow, I guess that's not enough. And, damn, SC is so energizing! Cheers! :)

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You will finish it....Here is some help....re writing about animals...The little book is called, Wild Animals I have known by Ernest Thompson Seton. The stories are told beautifully but the outcomes leave you stirred up and deeply reflecting on life force. I am a ^^ and that is why I am writing you.

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Love this, Nancy! Keep on!!

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Hey, we were both up! Me too regarding the learning curve here. SC jumped started my return to editing my deserted children. And I'm astounded by what I can "see." Just yesterday I followed GS "don't like/like cut/keep" approach on sentences & lo I found the opening sentence in the body of the text. I couldn't believe I couldn't see it before, but I went back as GS suggested and worked the hell out of that open that still wasn't right. The entire piece fell into place.

You're smart to think about the writing & not publication right now. The latter is a whole other cosmos to tackle. May the muse stay with us all. I'm so glad we're friends🌷

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Wow, me too, me too! I had been fairly pleased with what I had thought was the beginning of my book. Using GS's +/- meter, going back to it, I've cut about half of it, and I know what have now is still not right--another draft ahead!--and I'm actually having fun with it!

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Yes. F U N. It is isn't it? Esp not worrying about the BIG P😎

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I'm so encouraged by the idea of having faith in oneself. I am where you are about publishing, but not because I'm been trying to get published for years. I've been afraid of writing and dancing it around it in a lifetime of work in advertising, libraries, and bookstores, motherhood, etc. My big fear was of criticism and failure, as if I'd find out that if I went for it (writing), I 'd find out the terrible not-so-secret truth that I simply did not have the talent. Now that I have the time and I've run out of excuses, I'm writing a novel. Learning every step of the way. I know publishing may be too much to wish for, so I spend my time reading, writing, taking classes, and workshopping. Improving my work. And guess what, I'm getting better at writing. Maybe not enough to get published, but enough to be proud of the work I've done and the fact that the book I'm writing will preserve a story for my family.

Keep writing all of you. I agree with Lucinda. There's all kinds of success. And all kinds of readers. In any event, speak up and write if that is what you want to do in life. Writing makes me happier and more sane and my friends and family agree.

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Thank you for kind words, Nancy. I read the thread here and your novel sounds wonderful. I hope and have every reason to believe that you will find a home for it when the time comes.

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I have a peculiar approach to submitting. Half fishing (cast a fly, hope for a strike), half gambling (well, SOMEONE has to get a straight flush). In neither instance is my writing psyche very much involved. It helps to have a few people in your life you trust and admire who seem to genuinely like at least some of what you write. And maybe some other people who simply endorse the practice, period.

But writing, for me (fictive-essays, then full-on fiction), has always felt like a sneaked pleasure and the person doing it exists at a slight remove from the everyday me. The first time I saw something I'd written in print I felt like I'd knocked over a 7-11. Which I can't quite explain, but it was a very good feeling. I'd gotten away with something. And it was thrilling.

I am only modestly published, and I submit erratically, but I usually get a little bump of satisfaction when I hit Submit, like, well, at least I accomplished That.

I am grateful to the people who put my words into print. I guess that's the joy -- someone out there connected with what I was doing. Someone who didn't even know me.

I've had a couple publishing experiences over the years (and we're talking years and years, I, too, once sent my stuff out in manila folders complete with the requisite SASE -- what, they couldn't even buy a stamp to reject me?) that are completely contrary to all received wisdom, and they've probably spoiled me for being very systematic in my approach. One was a piece I sent to Sports Illustrated back in the '90s. Well, that's a magazine about sports, right? And this was an essay about basketball. Sort of. It included Chinese opera and lepers and Lent and driving through blizzards and stuffing your bra with Kleenex. It sort of baffled all my immediate readers (who knew the overt me), but I myself couldn't read it without crying. I still can't. Anyway, I sent it off and forgot about it. Then one day I got a call from a woman editor from the magazine. She was calling to tell me how much she liked it, but that it just wasn't the kind of thing they ever ran. She gave me the names of some editors at a couple well-respected women's magazines and suggested I send it to them. I thanked her, hung up, and called everyone I knew so that I could scream. I was stunned and deliriously happy at this rejection. Then she called back, within the hour. Basically, she said "screw it, they're all at spring training, I'm taking it." I had to call everyone back to scream louder.

It was my 15 minutes of fame and, to be honest, it was enough. Still is.

(For a brief while I tried to become a sports writer, but that ended badly.)

The other happy rejection/acceptance I've experienced, for which I am also very grateful, involved a book contest to which I submitted (via Submittable! ) my first novel. It was a finalist. My policy is to submit and forget, which I guess I've mentioned -- not rigorous nor professional, but in this instance, it was a good policy, because the next year I submitted my novel again, unintentionally, to the very same contest, basically unchanged, and this time it won.

I still submit and forget and I would recommend it. Half the time, when you get So Sorry rejections in your inbox, you say Who?

I do still feel that the person who writes my stuff is someone slightly else. Not a bad feeling. I like it. Maybe it's something to do with the idiosyncratic religion of my childhood, when we would all make room for our guardian angels to sit next to us on the pew. Or maybe it's nice to feel, in your 60s, that you are still becoming. Who knows who's the real me? Who knows what I might write?

I really don't know what it is.

Sorry, this went on a bit, but I just hate to see anyone feel battered by the rejection of their writing. It is so capricious! The publishing part. The writing, too.

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Hi Megan, you made me laugh, remembering my own 15 minutes of fame. I entered the Cosmopolitan magazine short story contest in the mid-1980s, and, like you, forgot about it.

Months later I too got a call ("I'm calling from Cosmopolitan magazine..."). I remember exactly where I was standing in the kitchen; I remember my exact thought: since when does Cosmo sell subscriptions by telephone? I had (inexplicably) won the contest. Yes, screaming ensued! (I'm in my 70s and "still becoming.") Thanks for your post.

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Oh, that’s wonderful. Makes me look forward to my 70s.

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These comments alone are worth the price of my subscription, George 👏

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Very true. The comments are so helpful. I think this is the best thing about Substack: the community that forms around a writer's site.

I have gotten so much useful information, and it makes one feel less like a failure if everyone else is failing too! We are in good company :-)

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Fail better? At least it does seem like writing, and taking the time to think about writing, and all the reading this requires: all these things feed back into everyday life and lift us to a higher level.

Or so I choose to believe! But, I feel like I am becoming a more energized, thoughtful, and compassionate person just from being here these last 15 glorious months. And I see this evolution in others on here as well.

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I started submitting last year and documenting my journey of rejections. I've totaled around fifteen, but then I realized traditional publication is antithetical to my goal of putting stories out into the world with urgency. I get honest feedback from readers, have a great community of readers and writers and enjoy the process of engagement. Some editors reading my work here have provided wonderful insights. I won't get that from a literary journal. I'm confident in time the law of averages would allow me the honor of being published, but I'm at an age now where the waiting does not work in my favor. I will write, publish on Substack and self-publish hard copies. One day I will probably slip into obscurity, but my stories will be told and read, and I will have no regrets.

As far as the process, I can confirm what many have said already. The Submission Grinder is a wonderful tool, and keeping track of submissions publications, documenting rejections and from who and how often is critical to success. It's a tedious process sometimes, but it helps to get a feel for "the game".

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Per paid critiques:

I have a writing group with whom I'm fortunate enough to share my work and get honest and constructive feedback. I also have a couple of close friends who are good readers from whom I occasionally ask to look something over. With the help of those folks, I get my stories pretty far down the line (many revisions, lots of things to think about). One such story, I'd submitted to maybe 5 different publications or contests. They all rejected it. But one of those places, The Masters Review, had the option to pay (I think $40?) and receive an editorial feedback letter. At the time, that seemed like a no-brainer, since I felt the story to be good but clearly enough, not quite there. I paid the fee and maybe a month later, received a 3-page editorial letter, chock full of very detailed reactions, reflections, points of appreciation, and yeah, affirmation. The sticking point, this editor said, was the ending. He gave a pair of very simple and clearly articulated reasons why it didn't work, specified what he felt was missing, and suggested utilizing a much more potent scene that comes a few pages earlier as a possible ending. I saw right away that he was totally right. The feedback made perfect sense to me and so, based on this editor's response, I did another couple rounds of revision and sent it out again. Not only was it accepted right away, but I later found out that it had placed as a finalist and a semi-finalist in two contests.

Was it worth $40? No questions. Would this be true for every story or every publication? Who knows. But that one experience made me eager to take advantage of future opportunities for paid editorial feedback from any magazine I'm interested in.

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Interesting. I submitted a chapbook of short stories in a Master Review contest a couple of months ago. I saw the offer for an editorial letter and passed. Still waiting for results of contest, but glad to hear their letter was helpful. I may try that. I've never submitted to a contest before and did so this time just for fun, wanting to see what it would look like. It was worth the time I put into it, whatever the results.

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I totally agree. I've really found the constraints (time, word count, etc...) presented by the submission process to be one of the biggest motivators. It's really pushed me to pare things down and get real about what is important in a given piece. This is especially true when I've decided that I really want to submit a particular piece to a contest whose guidelines demand I cut, say, 1500 words from a 7500 word story that's already been cut down significantly over years of revision.

I'm glad you decided to submit and that it feels worth it already, regardless of the judges' decision. That said, I wish you luck!

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Right on. I did the same thing and got a similar result. George's whittling exercise of attacking a given paragraph of text and cutting a fixed number of words out of it, then repeating whittling it some more by the same number of words and repeating that cycle six times, has since made it easier and reflexive to do just what you describe.

For my last submission (Stockholm Writer's Festival), I deliberately took too big a slice whittled it down once to get it under five pages (constraint #1) and whittled it down to less than 1,700 words (constraint #2) to get it under 1700 words.

It's a better first five pages to a novel than I ever had before. Now I can exult in the chance to win a trip to Stockholm with better odds than the lotto for less loot.

I was thoroughly pleased just being there as the work mutated into something better.

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I love that. Especially "I was thoroughly pleased just being there as the work mutated into something better."

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Yes, those constraints are really helpful. I often apply them to my own "finished " work. Can I cut a dozen words here or there, and most often find I can and it's better for doing so.

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Writing groups and workshops can be very helpful

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So much spot-on information here. I wanted to address those questions that you posed to editors, being that I am one (Oh Reader magazine—always open for pitches, always paying writers. Note: our content comprises essays on books and reading, and we don't publish fiction).

1. What's it like, wading through all of the manuscripts?

Well, our process is based on pitches, rather than full manuscripts, which has its pros and cons. On one hand, it's very easy to spot a good pitch, because the author will have a solid understanding of the story that they want to tell, and will be able to distill that into a paragraph. On the other, it's never guaranteed that the story we receive will stack up with the pitch, so it's useful to be able to see examples of an author's previous work (whether published or unpublished).

Not to belabor the overworked editor angle, but there is a certain kind of exhaustion that comes with assessing hundreds of pitches, and this is exacerbated by the prevalence of submissions that are not a good fit. To your point, George, the number of submissions that we receive that are clearly not sent with our magazine in mind is staggering. Some don't even seem to register that Oh Reader is a magazine about reading (not travel, or makeup, or philosophical musings on breakups). To any writers reading this, please, for the love of all that is good and decent in the world, and for your own good and the editor's sanity, PLEASE know the outlet to which you're pitching, and send something appropriate.

2. What's the difference between a story you reject and one you publish?

There are a few things that contribute to this decision.

- Have we published a similar piece recently? Your pitch might be a good fit for the magazine, but too similar to something we've run already. That's why it pays to read the pubs in which you'd like to be published.

- Is your idea unique? We receive a lot of vague pitches that are similar to one another. Flesh out your idea; why are you the right person to tell the story? Why is it a good fit for our audience? What makes it stand out from stories that you might read elsewhere? We love a personal angle—a piece that can only be told by you.

- Have you provided examples of your writing? We can often ascertain your standard of writing from a pitch alone, but if the pitch is intriguing yet we're not sure about your writing style, it's great to be able to see other examples.

- This one is not a rule of thumb, but something that stands out to us when assessing pitches: show a little personality. There's a rigidity that comes with pitching (probably because it was hammered into us that we must communicate professionally, which has led to a glut of submissions that sound like job applications—this doesn't showcase your voice). We're people, too. Treat us like a new friend—not too familiar, but friendly enough to share a joke (keep 'em clean) or pose a question.

Okay, this has become an essay. I shall leave it here, but please feel free to ask questions if you have 'em. And thank you, George, for sharing your brain with us (figuratively, of course. Though if you're offering pieces, I'll take one).

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Nobody so far has mentioned building up & relying on a library of craft books---good books on craft!, essays on craft!, truly helpful books on craft!,not that stuff with titles that begin "How To. . . ". (and which a certain publisher churns out like sausages), I mean James Wood & George's book, of course, & Lisa Zeidner whose written the best book on POV & Peter Turchi & Robert Boswell---there's a solid and, surprisingly, long list of excellent books on writing. What I like best about these, aside from their affordability, is that unlike a class or a workshop which (unless its recorded) is pretty much a one-shot deal, you can go back to these old friends again and again and again until you finally get it. Not that I haven't benefited from classes (I have!), but having in hand & in the very form I'm aiming for has been invaluable. You can test your own work against the wisdom you'll find in those pages without leaving your workroom.

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In some ways, Between the Covers can be credited with my shift 11 years ago from someone who wrote seasonally/occasionally to someone with a dedicated writing practice. I found the conversations so intricate and inspiring—they really got me thinking about writing in ways I hadn't before, rewiring my brain in a way. I cannot say enough good things about this podcast and David Naimon as an interviewer!

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David Naimon's powers of observation are truly uncanny.

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Studying a piece of good literature supersedes the worth of any craft book, which should never be relied on, imo. And if we can't get everything we need from the Majors, then that's a bigger problem. Better to read literary criticism and theory for a less cluttered view, but first, the actual stuff. I dislike this emphasis on "craft" in writing. There aren't any 2x4s ready for assembly; it's not just knowing how to frame a house from those pre-milled parts. Several good dictionaries, a usage guide, and books in continuous supply--I think that's enough. A good history of the English language and a working knowledge of linguistics is also helpful.

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In my experience it is both. I no longer dismiss structure in favour of spirit, as I believe form should not dominate content. As they say in the world of architecture; form follows function. Essential and spirited communication between us requires a sophisticated understanding of the structures of the consensus reality that we share. Those dang 2x4’s. Visual and literary fluency.

Or something like that. Concept in progress.

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Agreed. Had to cross myself after posting; I realized I might sound dismissive. I think what you’re getting at is described well by the Russian Formalists, syuzhet and fabula, etc.

I think a more nuanced way to say it, is I think ultimately these questions of form have to be resolved deep in the part where our consciousness translates itself into prose. And so, if we take a craft book’s word on POV, on pace, on dynamic structure, etc. and don’t go beyond it, then we are ultimately limited not just by what they’ve gleaned from literature, but by what they’re even able to communicate about that gleaning. That ends up being very narrow. So, it’s not that craft books are bad, but I think we have to look further.

To be clear, I’m sure there are ones more helpful than others. I find reading what writers have said about writing to be very helpful, which is why we’re all here learning from Saunders. But Saunders writes fiction and also this stack expansively, not prescriptively. For me, that’s the critical difference.

I also think it’s good to catch writers flatfooted. Dostoevsky’s journals where he’s frantically working out what might happen, Kafka’s diaries, Joyce’s letters, etc.

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Mar 18, 2023·edited Mar 18, 2023

"these questions of form have to be resolved deep in the part where our consciousness translates itself into prose"

Yes, exactly! Thank you, Audrey. I can't emphasize this enough.

It's not that I don't enjoy reading craft books. Usually I'd rather read about "craft" than criticism and theory, because for me it's more fun to think about how other people think a piece works than about its literary and/or social context. I think there are good insights to be found in all of them.

But in the moment, grappling with a messy, energetic story of my own full of interesting elements that I know belong together somehow in a way I'm failing to make clear, making conscious comparisons with other stories work hasn't helped. I can't crowbar my own particular material into shape from the outside.

For me, this is where George's method has been invaluable. For the first time, I feel as if someone's given me advice about exactly how to make that happen. (I mean literally what to do in a writing session.)

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I can hear you think out loud...what if?^^

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Heck, yeah. I keep urging myself to double-subscribe to this belief. Look at what Jane Austen put out just reading good books laying about a well-appointed house and keeping her eyes open!

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First... respect the craft. I think the computer has fooled a lot of people into believing that they can do it themselves. They bought Scribner, Final Draft, etc., et voilà. They understand the tools of the craft, but have no respect actual work that takes years of effort to understand. Not everyone is a genius.

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Also, more than how-to books OR reading (both are good), the key to being a good writer is: 1. Innate talent; 2. Hard work; 3. Lots of life experience

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Lots of life experience and hard work. Can't do anything about innate talent.

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Chat GPT is doing my next book^^

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and Dramatron is doing your next screenplay!

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Thanks. Exactly.

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If you find those books helpful, that's great. The only one that I felt spoke to me and my concerns was The Art of Fiction by John Gardner.

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I love how he extolled weirdness, oddness, the astonishing, from which a worthwhile life is so often made.

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Stephen King’s On Writing ✍️

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Loved On Writing. And the story about the poison ivy still makes me hoot. I wasn't so much taken with the writerly section. I mean King's 2K words a day is too much for me. I always love what Hemingway said about stopping when he got a good page or two, then starting over the next day thus avoiding overwriting stuff you'd have to cut when the Muse gets tired. GS said something recently in a post about overwriting as well and having to go back and toss it. 🌷

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Hmm, not so much.

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Reading in one's genre and reading craft books is foundational for any writing career. I agree, Rosanne. When I realized I was writing a memoir, my academic brain took over and I devoured memoirs and memoir writing craft books, as many as I could get my hands on. In fact, so much of my reading these days is in craft books for writing and editing.

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A paid reader/editor seems essential for the writer like me scribbling in the wilderness: not in a program tutored and read by knowledgeable instructors, not part of a writers' group and more alienating, living in an adopted country when all I write about is the country of my youth!

I've not been in total isolation. I've had a few valuable readers who've given good feedback, but you mustn't wear out your welcome with requests to re-read re-drafted work, which is where the life of fiction takes off.

I've had very mixed experiences with editors for hire. Once I felt like a sap, with the other, privileged.

Editor X, (highly recommended) gave me a six-page single spaced response as per our agreement. The first three pages were example of what she loved, cut and pasted. After my flattery died down. I felt cheated. The rest was kind of meandering and unclear. She even got a character's name wrong,

My other editor was a wonderful mentor who gave far more than I paid him and after two years, it was time for me to leave the nest and for him to make some decent money. It was a wonderful, home-schooled education.

Even unpublished writers need to be read and reviewed. I just wish I had the money for more editing for hire.

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I don't agree that a paid reader/editor is essential. I think that what's essential is development of your own fine-tuned literary antenna, the result of reading widely & then deciding what best matches you. This costs nothing, beyond time & effort. Which is, of course, a considerable investment.

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You may be right but I've known a few widely read writers who are supremely confident about their choices yet remain alone in that opinion! Writing is such a solitary business and solitude can warp one's vision of who we are and what we are writing.

I remain sure that most, if not all successful writers have at least one trusted reader. They often come in the form of a wife! Those readers are vulnerable to their own vanity.

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Well, okay, so what if these writers you know are, as you say, "supremely confident" about their choices---more importantly, so what if they remain alone in their opinions about what is or isn't, to them, good literature? They're allowed. I have my own (strict) opinions, but whatever it is, it's okay. As for "successful" you'd have to define the term. Each of us, including those writers you know, has a means. Not all measure up to the zillion-sales heights or even care to. Success--what is that, anyway? As for "wife", I'm a little sorry to hear you say that. I'm sure hoping we're beyond it, that auxiliary person for whom the writer (Conrad, Updike, Nabokov, et al) can't do without. Did Alice Munro have an auxiliary? What about Toni Morrison? Do you know the short story writers Mavis Gallant & Edith Pearlman? No auxiliaries there. They were also women alone. I'm not trying to pound on you here, and forgive me if you think I am, I'm just sayin' that in the end you finally have to go by your own lights, only & exclusively your own.

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Love all these (seemingly) conflicting opinions!

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Emphasis on "seemingly", David!

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Both, and…

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I've had similar experiences with paid editors. I went through Reedys, which has a lot of people offering services, but both the developmental editor and the editorial assessment I hired were not professional (despite their credentials). The assessment was the eight pages agreed, but had so much white space that when I eliminated it it was down to four. The developmental editor started off okay, but about a quarter of the way through his work became sparse and he got character names wrong and missed plot points. I saved up for this thinking professional help might make a difference. Instead I ended up feeling ripped-off. Even the compliments felt hollow because they obviously didn't give my manuscript a close reading--in it for the payday, as they say. Be careful.

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Paying for critique is tricky. So is finding someone who is good at giving feedback (in general or specifically about your writing) that helps you grow as a writer. It's an epic quest in itself.

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I agree! Nothing about the writing quest is easy. But having fellow writers to commiserate with helps.

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Hmm. Thanks for this. I too went through Reedsy for a development editor for a novel. I really liked her. We had some great discussions about the biz. She had been an acquisition editor for several of the Big 5, and seems to know her stuff. I'll let you know how it goes when she's done.

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Thanks. I'll be interested in hearing about your experience. Good luck.

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There is NOTHING more valuable than an editor to a writer. When it comes time of course. I believe in paying editors for their time/wisdom/eyes. I had a lot of help early on with some wonderful generous writers who were better/more experienced than me who helped for nothing. Recently, I needed eyes that didn't know my work. In the last few years, I found two terrific writers I hired to look at certain pieces. Both published in TNY, Granta, Bomb etc. I only mention where they were published because when you hire an editor, it's your/our job to vet them. And read their work. I did that w/ every teacher in my MFA problem. I found them via networking. One I'd read with at a venture years ago & the other came via a friend who'd used him & sent me his voluminous notes on her work. One of the pieces just got published. The other, a fiction, I haven't sent out. Yet. So, we're in agreement. Freebee editing only goes so far.

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You are so right Lucinda with: "When it comes time." I suppose only time and continuous writing give you an inkling. I've felt so sure so often but have been so wrong!

Does anyone have any tips as to how one knows when that time has arrived? I could (and do) re-write forever. Not sure if this addiction is dedication or cowardice. I long for the editor who can tell me when the book is ready to go out. Have your editors for hire given you the green light or have they left it up to you?

And I so agree with you point about the value of eyes that do not know you, who look at the work with no positive or negative prejudice.

Lastly, I LOVED your typo: my MFA 'problem'. Predictive typing can yield gems!

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I didn't even see the Freudian typo. 😎 Neither of these editors green lighted the works. They gave me so much to think about it took a lot of time to rewrite and get them where they needed to be. I have had other editors say "go" but those were usually for accepted pieces that we'd tweak. One of the great joys of having a piece accepted is from those journals that love the piece enough to suggest changes. I had changes with the piece recently published. The journal editor needed a few areas of clarification, which made it even better. Again, it came from daring myself to send the work to an editor who didn't know my work.

And thank you for subscribing to "my" substack. I really should give it a go. 🌷

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Mar 17, 2023·edited Mar 18, 2023

If you want more people willing to critique your work, you might consid