Posted tagged ‘Duotrope's Digest’

thick skin report ~ it stings this time

January 12, 2014

So I recently received a no-thank-you from a magazine for one of my Fathers and Sons stories. That much is nothing special. It’s the nature of our business, right? But this one stung a bit.

I peeked into Duotrope’s Digest, where I log nearly all of my submissions and track their fates, to see what my acceptance-to-rejection ratio actually is. I’ve recorded 92 submissions there, but I had withdrawn 10 of those because they were simultaneous submissions that were accepted elsewhere. Eight more fall in the “Never Responded” category. So let’s say there were 74 viable submissions. Of those, five are pending a response, and fifteen were accepted for publication. (I have 19 published stories, so the calculations here won’t be exact — and anyway, I’m not a math person.) My ratio, then, is around one acceptance for every five submissions. (Check my math since, again, I’m not a math person.) According to Duotrope, I have a higher than average acceptance ratio.

That’s all fine and good, but a rejection is still a rejection, and this one hurt.

I really thought I had a good story for a really good market, and some part of me was certain the editor would feel the same way. The editor was quite gracious about the rejection, writing me a detailed email explaining why my story (“Runaway”) wasn’t right for his magazine. Every word he said was right, and that’s perhaps why it stung so much more than normally.

In retrospect, it was not the right story for his magazine. My story is more reflective and internal than the typical thing he publishes. Had I not been so impressed with my story and its worth, I might have realized this and not sent the mismatch.

Still, his detailed rejection response gave me plenty to fret over. While he liked the opening (and said one of his staff found one image will likely stay with her) he thought the story slowed down after that. He said it had too much back story, exposition, and reflection. That’s certainly true, but that is also pretty much what my Fathers and Sons stories are. They span three generations of men and their sometimes difficult relationships with each other. Events that happen 30 years before have influences much later. There must be some back story, and there certainly must be some reflection.

What stung the most — and I’m not saying the editor is wrong — is that he said the story was too “sentimental” for their tastes. I’m troubled by this because, I guess, it’s the only way I know how to tell the story. It’s not humor. It’s not speculative fiction. It’s about the joy and anguish of three men related to each other as fathers and sons. There is a ton of sentiment in their lives.

I realize that half the tale is in the telling, and maybe I’ve laid it on too thick in this piece, but part of me feels a little helpless. Sentimental. That’s a big word, and if it’s a flaw, it’s a big flaw.

Still, I’m already thinking about ways to revise the story to maybe diffuse the heavy dose of sentimentality in the last paragraphs. Maybe I did overdo it.

So I’ll lick my wounds and stand up straight and move on. (But it still stings.)


“Open Country: an allegory”

April 15, 2013

So I spent Sunday at my cabin in the Ozark woods. My wife and I planted forty trees (most will die, alas), I threw a lot of rocks in a hole that is threatening to wash out my spillway, I cleaned the flotsam from my dam overflow drain, I fed the birds, I discovered that a goose is now nesting on small island in my pond (nice!), I spent some precious time in a comfy chair on a shady porch overlooking a sparkling lake, and I liberated a few cedars from their earthly toil.

Then I came home and found an email waiting for me from About Place Journal. They said that they love my submission of “Open Country: an allegory” and intend to publish it in their next issue. Nice way to end a weekend, but I immediately re-read my story because I’m always surprised when someone actually likes my stuff.

A lot of people worry that a writer will use them as a character in their stories. In this case, I worry that people will think the character in my story is me. True, there are many parallels. My character has a small cabin in the Ozark forest, and I have a small cabin in the Ozark forest. My character likes to drink too much beer around a campfire and get talkative. I like to drink too much beer around a campfire and get talkative. My character worries about forest fires burning down his precious cabin. I worry about forest fires burning down my precious cabin. My character cuts down cedar trees to help prevent fires from spreading. I cut down cedar trees to prevent fires from spreading.

But the subtitle of my story is “an allegory” and it’s pretty blatantly the case. I think from the opening line even the dullest reader can figure out what I’m doing. I had fun writing this in part because I had very clear direction from my theme and in part because I could draw so much experience from my own life. But I am not this man. What the allegory is standing in place of is not a value I hold. Yet I found it so perfect for my nefarious purpose and so tangible in my experience that I had to go with it. (When the piece goes online I’ll post a link and you can see if this paragraph makes any sense at all.)

I’ve flirted with this idea for a long time, and I had even considered it as background for one of the characters in my Fathers and Sons stories, but I dropped that idea early on. I wouldn’t want to write a sustained character who is like this guy. The story itself, once I started the actual work on it, came together quickly (unlike many of my stories that can take years to “finish”). It relies a great deal on dialog, which I don’t consider to be one of my strengths (assuming I have any strengths, of course). But I must have done something right because the editors liked it.

I had submitted my story to this magazine because they had made a call for stories about trees, (thank you Duotrope’s Digest) and as the allegory, cedar trees are central to the story. I figured my nefarious purpose would quickly disqualify the story, and I was already looking around for other possible markets for it (dealing in social justice). In fact, I was about ready to start resubmitting it around, but my busy weekend got in the way. And then the email arrived.

So I’m doing cartwheels down the hallways of my mind right now. Thanks for your understanding.

hey, look! a new year

January 1, 2013

It’s early morning on the first day of the new calendar year. I had brought in the turn the best way I know how: sleeping. My poor wife is down the with the stomach flu that bedeviled me on Christmas day (I slept through most of that holiday). She didn’t stay up for the turn either. Oh well. It’s mostly arbitrary anyway. I always thought that the turning of winter into spring was an event more worthy of observation and celebration. That’s when the Persians observe New Year; seems more sensible to me.

One of the first things I did this morning was log on to Duotrope’s Digest to see if my transition to paid subscriber worked. And it did, seamlessly. Do I feel special, being part of the “elite” who have bought into the country club of literary marketing? Not at all. Rather, I feel an obligation to use the heck out of it to justify the money I spent.

This does not, however, translate into a vow to write more or get published more or get more serious about my writing or any other such resolution for the new year. It doesn’t even mean I’ll try to post here more frequently. As I said, the annual change is mostly arbitrary, so such a vow is as meaningful to me in the middle of October or April as it is on the first of January (which is to say, not very meaningful at all). Whatever it is that motivates me to rise in the impossible hours, to wrestle with words and meaning, waxes and wanes on its own schedule and would likely scoff at any resolution I might try to impose on it. Understanding is better than management anyway. That’s what I strive for: to understand my motivations so I can serve and use them better.

I ended the year with two more rejections. One was to Glimmer Train, which is about as sure a thing as you can find in this business (the rejection, I mean). I’m not sure why I even submitted to them. I think they had some sort of open submission event or something, and I tossed them one of my Fathers and Sons stories because it was easy and free. I had no illusions, and I met no surprise when the no-thank-you came in. The other rejection merits a bit of discussion since I think it holds the record for the fastest negative response I’ve ever received. I sent it in on December 24 and received the rejection on December 26. I suppose they waited for a whole day to pass as a courtesy to me. Or maybe they were otherwise engaged on December 25. Well, they must decide what they want to publish, but I had thought my story was suitable for them. I’d read several stories on their site and felt that mine was similar in tone and subject matter. But I’ve never been very good at having an objective eye for these things. I either “like” a story or I don’t. Further analysis is either beyond me or too much effort. I’m lazy in that way (too).

Nonetheless, I have a half dozen stories in circulation — including a couple of possible reprints — and about that many more stories in development. (Doesn’t that sound clinical: in development?) Then there are those two elephants in the room: my two completed novels. One is definitely complete. The other is ready for its re-read. A fellow could devote a fair amount of time in the coming months circulating these for consideration as well. (Or he could sneak off to his cabin in the woods and sit on the shady porch, writing letters to friends — or to one good friend anyway.)

We had snow fall on us yesterday and through the night into the (arbitrary) new year. It wasn’t much. Barely a couple of inches. But it follows the couple of inches we had a week ago that lingered on the streets and sidewalks because of the ensuing cold. You know where this is going: it’s interfering with my running. Yes, I’m still running around. I think that may be the most signal thing of 2012; I became a runner that year. I had wanted to start 2013 by running on the very first day. And I could probably go out there right now and run down the middle of the plowed road without seeing a single car in five miles (well, okay, a few cars) except for two things. One is that it’s currently 18 15 13 degrees. Now, I’ve run in this kind of cold before; it’s possible, though I’ve come back with icicles in my beard. Literally. And Santa brought me a lot of really sweet cold-weather running gear. So that excuse is mostly useless to me. The other, however, is more persuasive. I seem to have developed a case of tendonitis in my right heel. It’s not so bad. I only feel a burning, stabbing pain every time I take a step. But everything I’ve read says that you should not try to run through this pain, that you’ll only make the tendonitis worse. And I’d hate to be a few miles from home, in the snowy dark, in 18 15 13 degrees, with my wife sick in bed, and find I cannot get myself back. (As it is, here at 6:10 a.m. on New Year’s Day, I can hear the wail of police and ambulance sirens far outside my window. I’d hate for one of those to be for me later.) And so I’m sitting here, stretching my heel and nursing my wounded running ambition. I should take it as a sign to work on some stories or something. But I don’t believe in signs. Or portents either.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, Happy New Year to you and yours! As these things are measured, I hope it’s productive for you.

back in the saddle

June 28, 2012

So in the last month I’ve received three rejections for my stories. And because I consider it healthy to bear this bad news without flinching, I share it with you.

I’m in a curious state lately. I have been so consumed by the Fathers and Sons stories that I have just about lost interest in all of my other stuff. I have two novels I ought to be doing something with and a half dozen stories that I should be circulating, but until last evening, I hadn’t.

One of my stories is only 100 words long. It’s called “How Tony Lost It All and Kept It Off, Mostly.” I wrote it more or less as a challenge to myself (being suspicious of the whole flash fiction thing) and submitted it some months ago to a mag that was looking for such things. This, of course, was one of the rejections. But good old Duotrope’s Digest listed a number of venues that publish 100-word stories, and for some reason I scraped up enough motivation to send my piece in. I’ll let you know what comes of it.

Another of my stories, a sort of magical realist piece called “The Infinite Regression of Jerry C,” which is based on an actual person I once knew, was rejected by an online mag that I didn’t think was a good fit for it. Okay. But that rejection was weeks ago. Why didn’t I do anything with it after that? So last night I did try to submit it, but the submission mechanism at the magazine didn’t seem to be working. I sent them an email asking about it, and once I have a resolution, I intend to send the story along. Again, I’ll let you know.

The third story of mine that was recently rejected was “The Death of Superman,” which is one of the Fathers and Sons stories. (The first one, actually.) I think I said in an earlier post that I had made a sort of broadcast submission of the story to several worthy targets, four or five in total (I’ve lost my notes about just who and where and when — how can that happen?). Two have declined the privilege of publishing my wonderful story, but that’s okay actually. I want to rewrite the story since I’ve learned so much about the world in which that story exists. I probably have fifteen stories that I’ve conceived so far for these folks who live in this universe, and while each builds on or informs the others, their influence is making it hard to submit the “finished” stories lest they need to be modified.

I’ve also mentioned on this humble blog about a chapter from my ill-starred Larger Than Life novel that I’ve been submitting here and there, now and then. It’s called “Travel Light” and I think it’s a good bit of work. For some reason, I got the gumption to submit it to another possible market. (It is currently in consideration at another magazine too.) I was cruising the Duotrope Calendar, which lists the types of stories mags are looking for, and I found one that wanted stories about the “outdoors.” Well, my story is about a team-building float trip a number of office co-workers take. Of course, it’s about a lot more than that, and the river is a metaphor. And travelling light has multiple meanings and such. But that’s the art of it, right?

So at least for one night, I was back in the submission saddle. I feel as though I am robbing time from writing my Fathers and Sons stories, but I imagine you’re sick of hearing about those.

Such are the troubles of my life. What’s bugging you these days?

keeping on

June 6, 2012

I submitted another of my Fathers and Sons stories to a magazine over the weekend. I’m never sure how well I target submissions. I know you’re supposed to read sample issues and see if they publish the kinds of things you’ve written, but I can never really tell about this. It seems like my story is similar to what they publish, or it seems that my subject matches what they ask for. Or I can’t tell just what they’re interested in given the range of stuff they publish. More than a dozen times I have gotten this right, but many more times than that, I haven’t. C’est la vie!

So this time I used the calendar at Duotrope’s Digest to look for the theme the various magazines were soliciting. I’ve found that most mags generally allow a wide interpretation of their stated theme; this one was simply “Pleasure.” One of my short stories (“When we were young and life was full in us”) certainly deals with pleasure (and consequence), so I sent it off on Sunday evening with my fingers crossed. Response time is reported as 6 to 8 weeks. Check back with me in early August.

I have a couple of others finished in first draft, but I don’t consider them ready-to-go¬†finished. Part of what I’m finding is that what happens in other stories affects when happens in these stories. I try to keep them self contained, but they exist within a universe that is still presenting itself to me. (In fact, given what’s happened in some of the newer stories I’ve written, I find that I must make some minor changes in “The Death of Superman,” the first of them I wrote. It occurs long after most of them, but it makes references back across the years, and those references have “evolved” over time. I have this story under consideration at four mags. Should lightning happen to strike and one of them say they want to publish it, will they object if I send them a rewrite?)

Plus, the stories happen across a span of about 30 years. I need to be fairly historically accurate in my pop culture references. For example, would a teenage boy be able to collect Victoria’s Secret catalogs in 1987? (Yes, it turns out. He could quite well. But I had to make sure that was possible before I made the very slight reference to it.)

“Velvet Elvis”

September 18, 2011

Last week was a tough one for me. In the lumbering course of seven days I had two story submissions rejected and one agent who had asked for a partial of my novel decide to decline it. But the weekend came, and with it came my far-flung son and daughter-in-law (they’re both doctors, don’t you know). So I took comfort in their company and opened my laptop in the small hours of Saturday morning to begin again my usual struggle with words.

And then I happened to check the spam bucket of my email.

My short story, “Velvet Elvis,” which I had written about just last week in this post, has been accepted for the December issue of Bartleby Snopes. In that earlier post I note that the story that had been rejected was already back in Submishmash for consideration;¬†Bartleby Snopes was the targeted market.

The response came in only three days. I realize that magazine prides itself on its quick turnaround time, but I’m going to take the warm fuzzies of a swift acceptance anyway.

“Velvet Elvis” is one of my humorous stories. I think it is well crafted, coherent in its universe, and satisfying in its outcome. I set it in the world of the weekend art fairs — in one of the low-end weekend art fairs. It’s snarky, but its fun and not mean spirited (not much, anyway). I’m eager for you to read it.

So watch for news here when my story is published. I’ll make the usual hue and cry and put a link for it over in the sidebar.

And, of course, let me recommend Duotrope’s Digest to you if you’re not already familiar with it. I found the link for Bartleby Snopes and read some background about the publication there. It truly is a wonderful resource for writers. Throw some money their way.

Ask first; submit later

October 24, 2010

So I have this short story that I’ve been shopping around casually for a couple of years. I think it’s a good story that just hasn’t found the right publication. In the half dozen rejections I’ve received for it, the story has garnered some chatter from the editors, which makes me think it is interesting and viable. (It’s a mild science fiction piece with a humorous ending. It involves time travel, though that’s not really the point of the story, and several editors have gotten hung up on how “it couldn’t happen that way” as though it wasn’t a piece of fiction at all. *heavy sigh*

I visit Duotrope’s Digest occasionally to troll for new markets that might be suitable for it, and I turned up a new one recently that I want to try. I visited the magazine’s site and read the submission guidelines, and I was surprised to learn that I must query the editor before submitting a story by email. (There is no such requirement if I submit a paper copy of the story by snail mail, which they also accept.) I have seen this before, but I’ve never understood the point of it. I don’t object; I just don’t understand.

What could the editor be screening for? Why are only email submissions screened this way? Could I possibly say anything in a query that would influence the editor to allow me (or not allow me) to submit my story? I did send the query, and I listed some of my credentials as well as linked to this humble blog. I suppose that gives some credibility to my proposal, but I’ve always thought that a story’s worth stood on its own merits and not on ancillary things like publishing credentials or the writer’s hobbies.

Still, maybe this method has a value. If the editor does welcome my submission, he or she might therefore be favorably disposed toward it before it even arrives. I believe I was polite and cordial in my query, so perhaps I have smoothed the path to publication a little that way.

Another thought is that this initial screening is a way to reduce spam in their email inbox. The instructions were specific about how I needed to write my SUBJECT line. That would allow the editor to identify legitimate queries and skip spambot emails. Perhaps then the editor will give me a dedicated email address for the actual submission. I’m guessing, but that makes sense.

Response time is reported as a month. I suppose that is for consideration of the actual story and not for review of the query. As usual, I’ll be sure to let you know how this little adventure unfolds.

Update: I received a response from the editor later in the same day I’d sent my initial email. She (or he? the first name is Sandy) welcomed my submission, reiterated the formatting and content requirements, and noted that response time should be a week rather than a month. I got my story together and sent it in.

Further Update: The editor declined the story. She wrote a nice email explaining her concerns with it and welcomed me to try the zine again should I have anything else. I may.