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Guest Blogger – Michele Lee

19 August 2009 7 Comments

Patience and Precision: The Submitting Game
By Michele Lee; © 2009

No, I’m not talking any sort of sex game, that’s a different blog essay altogether. What I’m talking about is the long slow rinse-and-repeat of submitting your stories to magazines, anthologies and podcasts in the hopes that one or more get published.

I’m a publishing anomaly. My first submission ever was accepted and published in a magazine way back in 2003. But don’t hate me, because it took three years for me to get another yes, and today, almost six years later I still only have a small handful of credits to my name and my attempts at getting agent representation and selling a full blow novel have fallen flat.

Perhaps nothing is more discouraging than spending thousands of hours writing stories that hold little bits of yourself, only to be routinely outclassed, out lucked and plain old out written. The competition is incredibly stiff out there and every day good stories get “no”s simply because there isn’t room for all of them.

So how can I sit here and have the gall to tell you the way to get those publication credits is to keep grinding away, at the keyboard, at the submission listing site, and at the mailbox? I can say it because it’s true. Often those rejections are actually good for us.

Of course there’s always the possibility that your story isn’t ready, or the market just accepted something like it, or it doesn’t match the theme of the issue being put together. (There’s no point in stirring up more angst over a rejection, because not only will it not help, but patching together some publishing Old Boy’s network conspiracy implies the editors and publishers have a lot more time, not to mention a lot more give-a-shit-about-anonymous-you, than they do.) But sometimes a rejection turns out to be very good for you.

In April 2006 I submitted my story Moodoo to an anthology called “Until Someone Loses an Eye.” It was a humorous anthology and I was pretty sad when a rejection showed up in my inbox. But now, August 2009, it’s still listed as coming soon at the publisher’s website. That same year I received a rewrite request from a magazine that promptly dropped fiction altogether due to editor feuding.

It’s not just rejections that have turned out for the better. In 2007 I submitted to and was accepted by a small upstart erotic press called MardiGras Publications. I was tired of feeling like I was getting nowhere, so I decided to try erotic romance and I admit it I fell for a neat imprint name (their dark erotica “imprint” was called Voodoo Moon, which I liked.)

The contract was fairly standard, the publisher was very enthusiastic about my story (which is always nice). We went as far as getting cover art then the whole thing collapsed. Not my contract, the publisher. It became a massive mess, and is still rather well known in the romance ebook world. Things got real ugly real quick and accusations of unsigned checks and no payment and missing books began to fly. None of these things were public when I submitted, but the press wasn’t known for being top of the line.

I got lucky, the press closed down and the owner released the books and vanished before my story was ever published. I had a clause in the contract that released the story if the publisher failed to publish it by a certain date, so other than a bit of embarrassment and time lost I was pretty lucky.

But lesson learned. I got impatient, I pushed and submitted because I wanted a yes, not because I wanted to be published well. I ignored the questions I should have been asking about the press, again because I need that ego boost.

My latest release, Rot, also follows the patience rule. Novellas are a notoriously hard sell, and it seemed like every press open to looking at a horror novella by a debut author closed to submissions before I got a chance to send Rot in for consideration. I thought I’d never get a yes. But I did, and right when we began edits I reconnected with a friend from high school who I’d been out of touch with for over ten years. My friend just happened to have been an artist in high school and I casually mentioned that I had a book coming out and if she was still artsy I’d love for her to do some illustrations. She enthusiastically agreed and now months later Rot is is now available with killer illustrations that take the story to a new level. Because I made myself be patient things came together in such an incredible way that I can’t complain, even if sales are lack-luster.

A publishing career isn’t not about ego boosts and magazines with your name on them. It’s not about being published, it’s about being published well. A publishing career is not one story or book it’s about the whole of your work. Each publication is just a chance, an opportunity. And each opportunity is maximized by patience and targeting submissions to the best markets possible.

Sometimes the timing just isn’t right. As a writer, it’s important to watch, to pay attention and to learn. Because the part of writing that is hardest to get right is the good timing.
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Michele Lee has multiple horror and dark fiction credits. She’s currently promoting her novella Rot, from Skullvines Press. Rot can also be found as an e-book here.
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Read my review of Rot, and my interview with Michele at Associated Content.