of overachievers and breakthroughs

I was in a small blog comment exchange with a fellow writer (part of my attempt to cultivate that writerly community thing I wrote about a couple of weeks ago) and mentioned that at the time I had four pieces of my writing out circulating with editors for potential publication. She then responded by saying she had sixty-three pieces out in circulation!

Even with simultaneous submissions I don’t think I could ever have enough material to have that many submissions in the works at once. To me that’s a staggering number, an impossible number. Nonetheless, four seems like a pitiful number, or at least an insufficient number. I really should get more things finished and “out there” if for no other reason than to feel I am “serious” about this whole writing thing. (I can’t force a story to its finish, of course. For me, a story has to evolve in my mind at its own pace, but I suspect that’s only half true and half excuse. I could probably get to several finish lines if I devoted more effort to actually writing stories than to, say, writing posts for this humble blog, right?)

I keep track of my short story submissions through the log at Duotrope’s Digest. It’s proven sufficient for me so far (and every time I get a story accepted, I send a little money their way). As of this morning, I have six pieces out for consideration. Not a staggering number, of course, but fifty percent better than four anyway (check my math). (And to be honest, two of those pieces are long, long overdue for responses, which makes me suspect they’re either de facto rejected or the publications are defunct.)

If I take into account the number of submissions I’ve made for my completed novel, The Sleep of Reason, I suspect I would have a staggering number, perhaps far more than sixty-three even. But I don’t want to go there; that would be a depressing discovery. I keep a separate log of my submissions for that novel; it’s a Word file (I hate Excel), and the list runs off the bottom of the page. It mercifully runs off the bottom of the page. I don’t have to see just how many times I’ve sent out the novel query. Now, I understand that years of effort and even hundreds of submissions is the norm for this kind of effort, but so many attempts with so little to show can get discouraging, at least for me, so I don’t allow myself to count how many times I’ve tried. I just keep trying.

To be honest, though, many of those unanswered submissions for the novel are more than a year old. I think it’s safe to believe that they are de facto rejections. Sure, I’ve heard stories of agents getting back to writers a year or more after a query, but that’s not a realistic thing to hope for. Thus I consider the bulk of my “staggering” number of queries to be dead. I can’t fall back on them and say “See! I’m trying.” But that leads to my next point.

That same overachieving writer friend of mine, let’s call her Swan, recently encouraged me to submit my novel to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. I quickly rejected the notion in my head. A contest? More like a fantasy! What possible chance would I have in a competition? The odds would be their own kind of staggering. And I’m not a competitive person; I’m not a self promoter or a hustler.

But then I considered the odds of finding an agent simply through querying. And I considered how, if I am to truly call myself “serious” about this writing thing, I must attempt all the angles and options. So I looked into the contest. It turns out they are limiting submissions to the first 5,000 they receive. Well, that certainly seems like better odds than “blind” querying to agents. (I’ve heard lots of statistics about the number of queries agents receive, and I suspect I only hear the “staggering” numbers, but even so, 5,000 does seem like a better number.)

Yet I found that once I submitted my novel to this contest that I would not be allowed submit it anywhere else for the duration. The contest ends in June (unless my submission is rejected before then — March would be the first elimination). Thus I couldn’t have my brilliant novel on the market for six months! So once again, I rejected the notion. Like watching tennis, though, my eyes kept swiveling back and forth as my thoughts bounced about. What is six months in the whole submission process, especially after a year and a half of effort already? Not so much, especially now that I have my next novel, Finnegans Deciphered, nearly ready to embark on that same process; I’ll be focusing a lot of my attention on that one now.

Yesterday I submitted The Sleep of Reason to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. I read all of the dense legalese in the terms, I submitted the bare minimum of personal information required to create an account with the submission agency, I modified my document to remove all references to my name, I uploaded it, and then I pressed SEND. For all sorts of reasons that I probably only half understand, this was a major step for me.

I harbor no illusions about my chances. There can be only one winner (two actually: one in the general fiction category and one in the young adult category). Even if two-thirds of the submissions are woefully amateurish, it only takes one that is better than mine for me to fail to win. And part of the judging is based on votes cast by the general public who have Amazon accounts. The finalists will have their pitches and samples posted at Amazon, and people will be able to read these and vote on their favorites. My recent experience with voting for stories at Bartleby Snopes has shown me that I am not a hustler; I wouldn’t be able to call on the multitudes to cast their precious votes for my submission. (Though maybe if I was a finalist in such a high-profile competition, I’d find the scratch to become a hustler.)

Regardless of my dithering and rationalizations, I have entered the contest, and it does make me feel that I am being more serious about this writing thing. Assuming I don’t make it past the first round, my novel will be back in my hands and free for submitting again in March. And should I make it into the quarter finals or semi finals and then not win, I’d still have those bragging rights, which I hope would be a little bit persuasive in any subsequent querying I do for the novel. And if I should win . . .

But I won’t. Do you want to know why? Because that same writer friend, Swan, who encouraged me to submit has also submitted to the contest. I think that will be the one that is better than mine!

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4 Comments on “of overachievers and breakthroughs”

  1. Annam Says:

    You’ll hear differing comments, but when After the Tsunami made it to the quarter-finals (and ultimately was rejected by Publishers Weekly), I used that bit of info when I sent my query to agents. I got a lot more interest from agents just by stating that it had made it that far in ABNA. So… I think it will definitely help you no matter what happens, and I am glad you entered. 🙂

  2. Averil Dean Says:

    Sixty-three! Good grief, I’m on my feet applauding. And a little quick math also underscores my point on an earlier post about submission fees. Can you imagine how expensive that could get in a very short time? (Expensive is relative of course. For me the cost is already prohibitive, even if I had your six pieces at $20 a pop.)

    In any case, good luck, Paul. Fingers and toes crossed for you.


  3. With writing, the odds of publication are always astounding, and often horrific.

    My first novel was a teething-type thing, and I never even submitted it. I entered my second in a contest–which, as you’ve mentioned, could not be simultaneously submitted to agents. I waited several months for the results and didn’t win the contest, and only then, consequently–queried my first agent. All odds against me, she signed me on.

    Sadly, in the midst of our second round of submissions to publishers, she left the business.

    Novel #3 finds me looking for a new agent.

    All you can do is hope the writing is good, and the luck eventually finds you.

  4. Laura Says:

    At times in 2010, I had at least 70-80 active submissions out at once (maybe more?). I know I got well over 100 rejections that year. Of course, that was because I was sending out many of the stories that appear in LIVING ARRANGEMENTS — I’d saved them up, editing them over the years without submitting them, and then I submitted them basically all at once, and often simultaneously. (But no carpet bombing — I did my research!) It was insane and exhausting but also fun to always have so much out there. It definitely made rejection sting less, too. But I can say with confidence that I don’t think I’ll ever be in that position again.

    Good luck with the Amazon Breakthrough! I went to a reading for James King, who won several years ago. His novel had been rejected by like 65 agents before he won the contest and his book was published. That was a nice, encouraging story.


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