Thinking about market choices...
Success can be measured in different ways. There are many paths leading to it.
I like to remind myself of this from time to time. I think it helps me achieve some measure of self-awareness about my choices and it keeps me both motivated and hopeful.
Self-doubt can sink in at any time in the creative process, but I can usually push through it. I don’t stop writing. Putting down words and working through ideas feels good. Completing a draft is a win. Getting through the revision process is a victory. I love the feeling of satisfaction that comes along with it. I don't rest at that point, not exactly, but I do feel a boost in confidence.
When I first started writing in earnest I didn’t realize that uncertainty doesn’t necessarily end with a finished story. I didn't quite pick up on the notion that there would be new sets of options and decisions to confront and consider.
It was an eye-opener, for sure. The longer I do this, the more I find.
Not long ago I was drawn into a conversation about submissions. Specifically, it was about choosing markets. It’s kind of a tricky situation for a lot of beginning and intermediate writers.
There are some who will only submit to professional markets—the higher paying, more prestigious, SFWA qualifying markets. This path makes sense, especially for writers earning recognition at Clarion West, Viable Paradise, etc. Their milestones may be different. I don’t know. Others may want to polish and work on their submissions until they can debut in one of those pro markets.
I understand that, but that isn't my path.
One of my goals is to get a story published in a prestigious market. I submit to them. I’ve got a stack of rejections and a second-round reading or two to keep me going. So, yeah, I would LOVE to get in.
But I don’t stop there. Once the pros reject the piece I continue to shop it around. Maybe the stories I’ve submitted aren’t quite good enough for that level, but that doesn’t mean they are bad. I hope that at least a couple would be good enough, but not the right fit at the time. So—I try elsewhere.
I use Duotrope to research markets and to track my submissions. I choose where I want to submit by beginning there. Who is accepting submissions? What is their response time? Do they accept simultaneous submissions? Do they pay? Do they seem cool?
I’ll focus on two of these and save the rest for another post.
1. Do they pay?
Ideally, I want to be paid for my work. I don’t think money is the only or even the best measure of success, but it doesn’t hurt. Paying markets, especially those with decent rates, get my attention first.
I’ve submitted to low pay, token, and even the occasional no-pay market. The decision to do so often is tied up with the “are they cool” criterion. Sometimes being part of something interesting is enough.
My only inflexible rule is that I will not submit to a market that wants me to pay them. Vanity presses and predatory publications suck. Others aren’t evil—but I’m not buying into reader fees and all that to keep a business afloat. There’s probably a model and explanation for the request, but I’m just not in a position to be playing the lottery like that. So, I pass. Others don’t—and some good stories are published in the process. Seems like a win.
2. Are they cool?
I’ve submitted to some places because I really wanted to get my work out there. I wanted to establish a name, to build an audience, to achieve a personal goal. I did not let my hunger override everything else, however. There are publications out there that don’t have much in the way of standards that I can see. I don’t want my stories to appear in something that I can’t be proud of. If I'm trying to get my name and my stories out there, I want to do so with some integrity.
I'm trying to be....cool, I suppose.
So—if a place seems to be doing something interesting, creative, or fun, I’ll submit. Sometimes I will try to get into a place because it seems like it might be a fine thing to be a part of. The strategy might not make me rich and famous, but I like to support creative communities and alternative paths to success.
I thought I’d share a specific example.
Crooked/Shift and Reminders
My story, “Reminders” appeared in the first issue of Crooked/Shift magazine in the beginning of July. I took a chance with them and I think it paid off—at least in the cool factor.
The “About” description is what hooked me first. They are “an online publisher dedicated to horror, humor, the absurd, and the strange.” These are a few of my favorite things! It’s literary writing that engages with the odd, the playful, the macabre. It is something I would read and, as luck would have it, I had a story I thought might resonate.
“Reminders” started a couple years ago. The first germ of the idea came from a flash fiction roulette exercise on Chuck Wendig’s site. I don’t remember the word count, but I think it was supposed to be under a thousand words. A random number generator was used to give you three categories: genre, setting, one element you have to include. I got “splatterpunk, an abandoned Wal-Mart, talking animal.” It sounded like fun and I got an idea. I wrote it. In that small sketch Charlie B could talk. Yeah. It wasn’t quite right, but the core idea stuck with me and wouldn’t let go.
I took the pieces that intrigued me and worked it into an assignment for one of the John Skipp classes I took at LitReactor. It was about writing about character deaths, violence, and making an impact. That version was called something like “This is How You Remind Me.” The Nickelback presence/joke was more pronounced. The point of view was not as close or fixed. The key moments and players were mostly there, though.
I wanted to explore the idea of the big-box store as contested space, as a focal point for opposing energies, entrenchment, and miscommunication. It seems to me that it's fertile ground for all kinds of mayhem. I tried to think about the edges of the polarities and came up with the die-hard fans of the store (I’ve had students in class who use the place as a family gathering place and I’ve heard stories about the RV camper crowd) and the protestor/social-justice group.
I decided to focus on the SJ hipster crowd because I know them—I’ve been one of them to some degree or another for a good part of my life. I sympathize with them. I don't disagree with their ideals (even when I take issue with tone and approach). And, ultimately, they seemed like the best representatives for the other ideas I wanted to explore in the piece. The tensions between good intentions and human fallibility, consistency and self-awareness, empathy and flexibility, ideals and behavior—are interesting. And, I’m not going to lie, there’s a lot of opportunity for satire there too.
I got some great feedback on the story and a lot of encouragement from Skipp. It gave me hope. I submitted it to a few places, but only saw rejections. I kept trying to rework it. I cleaned up rookie mistakes like having song lyrics in a story. It got better, but there was something still off. I got more feedback and then tackled the POV. Rewriting it again and tying it closer to Janet was a turning point. The story worked a lot better.
That’s the version I submitted to Crooked/Shift. It’s the one that was accepted. I was really happy that the story had finally found a home, but I was still curious about what kind of home it would be. I was eager to read the first issue.
It didn’t disappoint. I had a lot of fun reading the magazine.
SHAMELESS PLUG--- It’s online and it’s FREE. At the site, go to the issue, click the cover picture and the .pdf will be yours to view.
The issue begins with an interview with Lloyd Kaufman, president of Troma Entertainment. As a former video store clerk and horror/B-movie fan, this was fun and brought back some fond memories.
Gary Vaughn’s “Interview with the Zombie: A Veteran of World War Z Speaks Out” was a delightful surprise. It’s an amusing play on interview and academic tropes, an exploration of the meaning of zombies in culture, and it has footnotes. Man, I love footnotes. It is smart and playful and fun piece.
“And That Horse” by David Novak is a little crude…but in a rather dry way. The combination is absurd and amusing. I have a weak spot for corporate satire and this worked for me. I laughed out loud.
“The Machine” by Travis Gunn is a wicked mind-bender. It’s got a claustrophobic creep factor that I liked quite a bit.
There’s enough variety that many readers—especially fans of the macabre and the weird—have a good chance of finding something to enjoy.
And if you want to read “Reminders”, I’ll thank you. It’s got some humor, a bit o’ gore, and I hope—a good, if absurd, heart. Oh, and kickass lipstick.
I think Crooked/Shift has potential and I’m pleased to be a part of the issue. I hope it gets support and keeps going.
I can only talk about what has worked for me. I began with platitudes and I'll have to return there. There are many measures of success and many paths to achieve it. Whatever works for you, seems like a fine strategy to me.
Good luck and thanks for reading!