Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Editorial Roulette

There goes the roulette wheel, there goes the little white marble. Where will it land? Odd? Even? Anywhere.

Roulette, as finding a market for a story, is a game of chance with different levels of risk.

A bettor can place money on a single number, radically decreasing his odds, but making for a huge payoff, or he can wager on any odd number, giving him 50-50 odds, but a drastically lower payoff.

In submitting a piece of literary work to a market, we play a similar game, hoping, hoping, that our little marble will be spun around the wheel at the just the right time, the right velocity, fall at just the right angle, so that it will land on our number.

We might try for the big payoff by submitting to the professional markets. The odds of acceptance are drastically reduced. Or we can go for the low payoff by submitting to non-paying markets in which our only remuneration is knowing that someone is reading our work.

In any case, we can better our odds. Every writer should know exactly how this is done. But many don't. Some of these methods seem to make perfect sense to sensical people, but it is shocking how many writers don't heed them.

SPELLING and GRAMMER--How hard is it, really, to check spelling and grammar these days? Even WITH spell-checker on our word processors, every writer should carefully scan their works for errors the word processors might miss--like 'it's' instead of 'its,' or 'form' instead of 'from.' If your spelling and grammar aren't up to snuff, find a linguistic genius who is willing to do a quick copy edit for you.

FONTS--No. Don't. I don't know who told you it was a clever idea. I don't care. But don't. Don't submit your work in some cutesie or elegant font. Just pick something clear and easy on editor's eyes. The industry standards are Times New Roman and one of several forms of Courier, like Courier New. And while I'm at it DO NOT print hard copy submissions on colored paper. Just white. Good old bright white. Remember that science experiment from elementary school, in which you stared at a black, green, and orange picture of the American flag, then looked at a white paper and saw the flag in its glorious red, white, and blue? Just don't. White. Please.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES--Most markets have quite specific submission guidelines, some psychotically so. Read them carefully. Follow them. Please. But I'll give you another hint: If a market's guidelines seem psychotically specific, do them anyway, unless that market doesn't pay for the trouble. In that case, they're SO not worth it. Go on to another market. If they do pay, and pay well, jump through flaming hoops and record it for posterity if they ask it.

STANDARD SUBMISSION FORMAT--This is the secret the pros ALL know about, and the editors too. If you want editors to know that you know something about writing, submit your work in standard submission format. Don't have a clue what that is? Google it. You'll find it. There's a good description at the SFWA website, and one at the Canadian Writer's Journal. Keep in mind that standard submission format is often different for submissions made through an online form. Again, read the market's submission guidelines to be sure. Most will tell you exactly how they want the work formatted, and often provide links to formatting guidelines.

KNOW HOW TO WRITE--Seems obvious, but I've heard a lot of writers say that they like to push the boundaries, break all the 'rules' of writing. Most of them don't know the rules well enough to be breaking them with any kind of authority, and it shows. Oh, yes. It shows. If you think of yourself as a writer or author or whatever tag you like to place behind your name on your business card, then you had better know the craft. Study, study, study. Read at least 10 good books on writing that are recommended by other writers. Be humble, and humbly ask for and accept critiques from other writers. Read the work of others and consciously analyze them for the elements of writing that you have been learning about in your quest to become published.

SUBMIT TO APPROPRIATE MARKETS--So you have the MOST AWESOME Sci-fi adventure story ever written! GREAT!! But don't submit it to Glimmer Train. They're not interested. Don't send your Western to AlienSkin, or your Erotic Romance to Cicada Children's Literature, or your Vampire story to Catholic Quarterly. Research your market thoroughly and be sure you know you're sending them something they might be remotely interested in. Not sure? Read their magazine. Still not sure? Submit anyway. The worst they can do is say 'no.'

If anyone reading this has some nuggets of wisdom to add, please, add away.

Following these hints will lower your odds considerably in any market. But your odds will never be high enough to guarantee publication--at least as long as you're a relative unknown. In reality, I can name only a very few writers--even the most revered of pros--who I would publish a story for sight-unseen.

Beyond skill and professionalism, finding a market for your story is complete luck. It's a matter of getting the right story to the right editor at the right time. Let's say you have an extraordinary story about the bittersweet witnessing of a loved-one's death. Let's say the magazine to which you've submitted has just contracted with another writer for a story about the bittersweet witnessing of a loved-one's death. Guess what. No sale. Let's say you have an amazing story about a boy and his dog. The editor who first reads it doesn't have much tolerance for stories about children and/or animals. No sale. BUT, let's say your story just happens to land on the desk of an editor who LOVES children/animal stories, AND it's well-written, AND there are no spelling or grammar errors, AND you've sent it in an acceptable font, in standard submission format, AND you've carefully followed their submission guidelines, AND the story is appropriate for the market...



It's still Roulette.


Holly said...

Nice advice. Makes me glad I'm not a writer nor intending to submit anything for publishing. Makes me impressed that you are and do! Way to go! P.S. Check the word "writers" in the last sentence before the spelling and grammar paragraph (needs a quick edit!).

Suzanne Vincent said...

Ha! See? That's exactly why writers need editors--at least an intelligent reader to check for things like that

Holly, you're hired!!