Eric’s Writing Blog

The writing blog of Eric Rosenfield

Archive for April 2009

The Stories

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Right now I have five stories that I’ve been sending out to magazines. Two of them are flash fiction (one under 1000 words and the other under 500 words) that each took me one day to write and another to edit. (I’ll talk about making time to write every day in a future post. Suffice it to say most of my fiction writing right now happens on my lunch hours.) The other three are longer stories that took me months (or in one case, years) to write. There’s also a number of stories that took me a long time to write that I was ultimately unsatisfied with and will probably never see the light of day, though every once in a while I dust one off and try to redo it. One of my current stories, Soil is a story like that. Sadly I sent the earlier, lesser version out to some magazines already and had them rejected, and I can’t send them again without a pleading letter explaining that the story is a “major rewrite” and hope they don’t hold it against me. But thems the breaks.

The stories are:
Soil: 8,579 words
Soil is a horror story about a boy, a girl, and the boy’s semi-transparent mother.
Early, bad version sent to: Strange Horizons, Weird Tales (sent me a nice, personalized rejection letter), A Public Space (took 7 months to respond), McSweeney’s (took 6 months to respond), and A Fly in Amber (nice, personalized rejection letter).
New, good version sent to: Lone Star Stories, Revolution SF (still pending)
Because Revolution SF doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions, I’m waiting to hear back from them before submitting to another market. I considering Ideomancer as a good next market, though I’d also like to resubmit it to Weird Tales because I think it’d be such a good fit there. (Weird Tales reopens to submissions on May 25th (and has been closed most of the year.).)

The Void Letters: 9,025 Words

The Void Letters was a story I’ve been writing drafts of for years. It’s based on a dream I had once where there were two girls living together in a house, and they’re receiving love letters home from a man in a war, except the man doesn’t exist and the war isn’t happening.
Submitted to: Farrago’s Wainscott (personalized rejection), Weird Tales, One Story (REALLY nice personalized rejection), Lone Star Stories, McSweeney’s (6 months out and counting), A Public Space (6 months out and counting), and Verb Noir (pending).

The Death of the Author: 4,722
Metafictional murder.
Submitted to: Farrago’s Wainscott, One Story, Lone Star Stories, Neon, Tin House (pending)
Assuming Tin House rejects this I’ll start sending it to the non-simultaneous submissions group. Another story I’d really like to get into Weird Tales.

Quest’s End: 700 words
Space Opera flash.
Submitted to: Lone Star Stories, Ideomancer (nice, personalized rejection), A Fly in Amber (pending)
Working down the list of non-simultaneous submissions while the simultaneous submissions group is filled up with my subs.

Logos Ex Machina: 428 words
Uplifted animal flash.
Submitted to: 365 Tomorrows (pending)
I actually got the idea for this story when posting in the forum for 365 Tomorrows, asking why they had a limit of 600 words for submissions that made it so I couldn’t submit Quest’s End. It’s a story about running out of language. We’ll see if 365 likes it.

Those are the stories I have out now. You can see how it can get frustrating for the unknown writer working for months and months on a piece, sending it out and having to wait months and months for form letter replies. I’m not complaining about not getting published per se; maybe my stories aren’t any good (I mean I think they’re good otherwise I wouldn’t bother inflicting them on the world, but I’m hardly objective). But it’s just kind of insane to go through it all if you think about how little reward there is for publishing short fiction.

Which has a lot to do with why I’m now working on my second novel instead of another story. Because, while I love short stories (and I really do and take great pleasure in reading them), if I’m going to go through this kind of effort I might as well be trying to get a novel published, where the potential gains are so much greater. And frankly, my experience with my last novel was that I could get agents to look at my work without a long CV (even if they ultimately didn’t take it on), and I think with a new, much better novel, I’d really have a shot at it. I’ll still keep sending these stories out though, and if I get an irresistible idea for a new one I’ll have at it.

And I do want to say, I sympathize with all the magazine publishers out there inundated with submissions, I appreciate that putting out a fiction magazine is pretty much a thankless and financially dubious prospect. I’d just like to make sure it’s clear that writing short fiction is also pretty much a thankless and financially dubious prospect, and you really should only do it out of love. Then again, you should only write fiction out of love. Because if you’re writing fiction to get rich and famous or something, well, are you in the wrong business. And that I think is what a lot of both magazines and writers forget, when they start treating this stuff like a business or a dreary slog. When they start reading too much Writer’s Market. Short story magazines shouldn’t be treated as markets, because the financial aspect of the form is a joke. This isn’t about money, and it’s not about credits or plaudits or accumulation of a list of accomplishments. It’s about love. Seriously.

Written by ericrosenfield

April 21, 2009 at 5:18 am

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The Rules

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So, what do I look for in a magazine to submit work to? Well, usually I start with my list of fiction magazines worth reading (which is a little out-of-date now, as I’ve happily found more magazines). It’d be nice to think you would only submit to magazines you really liked and read every issue of, but I’ve talked about before how it’s simply impossible to read every issue of every high-quality literary magazine (or genre magazine for that matter), and there’s no way I could even keep up with just the magazines on my list of favorites every single month and still have time to read anything else. And even then, I’ve read it takes an average of 9 submissions for a single story to get published. This is why there’s a tendency among a lot of short story writers to submit works to magazines without ever reading them at all, but really you shouldn’t be doing this. You’re just clogging up the works with stories that might not be appropriate for the magazine. And think about it– the magazines you like to read really are the ones most likely to like what you write.

Back to my list of favorites. Some of them I eliminate right off the bat. For instance if they only accept print submissions, I just can’t be bothered to pay $4 in postage, not to mention the cost in ink and paper, for a publication that won’t pay me much or anything. We’re living in the 21st century, little magazines need to be accepting email submissions.

Then I usually start with magazines that accept simultaneous submissions. 9 rejections before it finds an acceptance, means that if you’re only sending to magazines that don’t accept simultaneous submissions, and each magazine takes three months to respond, that’s 21 months to publish a story. Almost two years. So yeah, simultaneous submissions. The one exception to this rule for me is Lone Star Stories ( http://literary.erictmarin.com/current.htm ) which has responded to all my submissions so far within a day (!). With that kind of turn-around, yeah, I’ll give it to you exclusively.

The main list is thus winnowed down to: Weird Tales, A Public Space, McSweeneys, One Story, Farrago’s Wainscott, Tin House and Lone Star Stories. However, I currently have a story out to both A Public Space and McSweeneys and both of them have, for the third time, taken more than six months (!) to respond. So I’m not sending work to them again in the future.

So now the main list is: Weird Tales, One Story, Farrago’s Wainscott, Tin House and Lone Star Stories. Not a long list, but at least I can fully get behind each of these magazines and their practices towards their writers. And, while I’ll do simultaneous submissions, I won’t do multiple submissions because that’s just silly, so if I have stories out to (or rejected by) all those magazines I’ll move down a rung to magazines that don’t accept simultaneous submissions, which opens me up to Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, A Fly in Amber, Revolution SF and Ideomancer. Forgot about Clarkesworld which doesn’t mention if it accepts simultaneous submissions, but it only accepts stories under 4,000 words and I tend not to write that short so I haven’t thought about it. That’s a problem with Fantasy Magazine as well.

Next: Stories I’ve written and their status.

Written by ericrosenfield

April 15, 2009 at 10:04 pm

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On The Magazines

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Once upon a time, there were two kinds of magazines that published commercial fiction, colloquially known as “slicks” and “pulps”, because of the quality of the paper they were printed on. These magazine had large circulations, and, if one sold to them regularly, they paid a livable wage. They were professional magazines, and one expected the same kinds of response times, ability to “break in” and editorial treatment that a professional journalist would. (That is, they might change the title or edit your story without asking you first, but at least they responded to your queries quickly and paid you on time.) Making a living this way was tough for most writers and they had to pump out a lot of material to do it (Lester Dent, writer of the pulp character Doc Savage, famously once wrote 200,000 words a month for over two years straight) but it could be done. Slicks, naturally enough, paid much better than pulps, and published more highbrow (or, really, middlebrow) material like the work of O. Henry or Rudyard Kipling, while pulps published sensational, plot-driven work like that of H.P. Lovecraft, Dashiell Hammett or E. E.”Doc” Smith, and writers often sought to (and did) move from the latter to the former.

Fast forward to the present. The number of slick magazines left that publish fiction can be counted on the fingers of one hand– The New Yorker, Harpers, Playboy, once a year the Atlantic Monthly. All of these magazines generally draw from stables of established writers, who have usually already published novels, and prefer agented material (agents will not take on writers based on individual short stories, only novels and, sometimes, collections). There are a few magazines left that could be called pulps, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Ellory Queen, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction, but none of them pay very well, certainly not anything that could be thought of as a livable wage. (The Science Fiction Writer’s Association still calls a magazine that pays 3 cents a word a “professional market”, which is a bad joke.) For the most part there are two kinds of magazines left to send short fiction to, “little” literary magazine and “semi-pro” genre magazines, and each of these markets have their own problems.

The problems with the literary magazines generally center around them being run like scholarly publications, which is hardly surprising considering how many of them are published by universities. Publication in these magazines, rather than seen as a way to a general readership, is more often seen as something to put on a resume, which is especially important for MFA graduates looking to secure professorships so they can make their livings, not as writers, but as teachers of writing. After all, in the academic world, one must “publish or perish” and if one is a professor of creative writing than creative writing is what one must publish. Unsurprisingly then, these magazines are full of dreary, navel-gazing, MFA-polished stories that are about as much fun as being hit in the head repeatedly with something heavy. A tire iron perhaps. There are notable exceptions, and more on that in a later post. Also, like scholarly journals, these magazines tend to take extremely long to respond to submissions (in some cases six months or more) and pay token amounts, if anything. On the plus side, at least they accept simultaneous submissions, so you can submit to many of them at once.

The genre magazines, on the other hand, generally come from a tradition of fanzines, which for decades before the rise of the personal computer were hand-made, photocopied and stapled by fans and passed around by mail or at conventions. These zines were by definition amateurish, but what they lacked in quality they made up for in enthusiasm and many people who later became genre professionals started out in them. The Internet completely changed the world of fanzines, by making this kind of thing more widely available, easier to do, and easier to look good (a good designer can create a website just as good looking as the New Yorker’s). And because the pulps have come to pay so little, many of these online-only enterprises can match them, and attract professional talent, meaning that suddenly you could have a newstand-quality (or better) magazine available anywhere in the world run out of someone’s basement. This is pretty remarkable. The problem with these magazines is that often they still have a fanzine-trying-to-be-like-a-pulp mentality. Many have piss-poor design. Most don’t accept simultaneous submissions even though they take months to respond. (Yes, if you’re going to pay me 50 cents to $1 per word, like Harper’s Magazine, I’ll give you a couple months with my story alone. If you’re going to pay me $20 and take four months to respond, give me a break.) On the plus side, unlike literary magazines, at least you can usually get a reponse in under three months, and they’re much more likely to pay you something.

All-in-all it’s a little depressing to realize that it’s pretty much impossible to make any real money writing short fiction, and if you want to make a living as a fiction writer, your best bet is to write novels. (And, of course, even that is extremely difficult, but at least it’s possible.) And no, you don’t need to publish some short fiction in order to get an agent and sell your novel. It doesn’t hurt any, but if you don’t really love short fiction, just do everyone a favor and don’t bother writing it.

Next: what I look for in a fiction magazine.

Written by ericrosenfield

April 12, 2009 at 7:44 pm

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Decided to start a writing blog

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I wanted to write a bit about writing itself and my efforts to get published, in a general and rambling sort of way that doesn’t fit in with Wet Asphalt, the blog I share with JF Quackenbush. I spent a lot of time considering whether I should resurrect the blog on EricRosenfield.com or go back to writing in my livejournal, but then I said, screw it, I’ll make a new blog just for this, then I can keep it separate from everything else and people who are specifically interested in it can follow it and those that aren’t can ignore it.

What I’m going to talk about:
How I write.
Which short fiction publications I’ve sent work to, am considering sending work to, what they’re like and what my response from them has been like.
My efforts to publish my first novel.
My efforts to write my second novel.
Thoughts on writing, etc.

As with my other projects, the best way to follow this one is probably by using the rss feed with a feed reader such as Google Reader, since I’ll be updating the site irregularly.

Written by ericrosenfield

April 8, 2009 at 9:06 pm

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