But now I’d like to take a slightly different tack.
Just writing your NaNo novel isn’t enough; it has to be revised, beta-read, formatted, and submitted, or else you’ll never get it published. Even self-publishing takes a lot of work. So what do you do when your story is done?
You submit it.
Here are six of the worst things about submitting your work:
6. Finding a market. — Your story’s done and revised, and now it’s time to submit. Awesome! But how? Just go around and send e-mails to your favorite publications or publishers? That can’t be the best option; it would take forever. Wouldn’t it?
What to do? Start with a service such as Duotrope or The Submission Grinder, and also check out Ralan and Aswiebe’s Market List. I personally use Duotrope and Aswiebe; I’ve been paying Duotrope for a while and they have my data, and Aswiebe finds all these contests and new markets that don’t always make it to Duotrope. Duotrope and the Grinder both allow you to set up searches for the stories you’ve written, and return the information in a list form that you can open in a bunch of tabs and use to make a reasoned decision.
5. Choosing a market. — When reviewing markets, you want to pay attention to the following important points:
- Rights — What rights does the market get when they publish your story? First world? First electronic? Audio? Translation? Look carefully at what they’re buying, and for how long they get to keep your story exclusive. After all, just because you get it published in one place doesn’t mean you can’t publish it somewhere else too.
- Pay Rate — How much money are you going to make off this sale? Pro, semi-pro, or token? Of course you’re not doing this for money — it’s nearly impossible to make a living as a writer without having at least one other job — but it’s nice to get paid. If it’s a book, make sure you’re getting compensated fairly, and always have a lawyer look over a book contract, even if you’ve had one in the past.
- Eligibility — Will the publication count toward eligibility in a professional group such as SFWA, RWA, or HWA? SFWA, at least, has relaxed their rules in terms of self-publishing, but not everyone can be Amanda Hocking.
- Response Time — More on this in the next point.
What to do? Don’t ever submit your work somewhere that doesn’t pay, unless it’s a legitimately award-winning market (such as StarShipSofa). Once you’ve had your work published, it can never be unpublished again. Don’t waste it on a market that doesn’t at least throw you a token payment. And never pay money for your work to be read or published — whether it’s a book or a short story.
4. Waiting. — Even though people start new publications every day, there still are far more writers than there are places for their stories to appear. It can take a very long time for your work to be read. Some publications get through your work in a few days (Clarkesworld), a month or two (Strange Horizons), or six months or more (Tor.com). And that’s just for short fiction; the average book publisher takes three months just to respond to a query-plus-three-chapters, let alone if they request your entire novel.
What to do? Start with the publication that gives you the fastest response time with the highest pay rate, and work your way down to low pay and slow response. Weigh which is more important — money or speed — and always consider if the publication will count toward your eligibility in your field. In the beginning you’re going to want to write all this down, but as you submit more, you’ll internalize this data. For book publishers, I’d concentrate more on how much they will do for you — marketing, promotion, etc.
3. Formatting. — If you’re a genre author, familiarize yourself with the Shunn Manuscript Format. It’s the format most commonly asked for by publishers of short fiction — and it usually works for publishers of long fiction as well. But it’s not the only format you’ll be asked for. Some publishers (mostly of short works) prefer to see the story in plaintext, or pasted into an e-mail, or without the tab key being used. You’ll spend a lot of time writing cover letters, reformatting your work, and double-checking everything before sending things in.
What to do? Always create one version of the file as a SMF (Shunn Manuscript Format) file. You may also want to save out a DOCX, DOC, and RTF. Never submit as a PDF unless specifically asked. And putting a cover letter into your text replacement app (I use Dash) will save a ton of time.
2. Waiting again. — Congratulations! You’ve got an acceptance. But you’re not done yet! You have to wait for your contract to come, and you have to return it. You may have to review a proof of the story — and if it’s a novel, you definitely will. There could be an editor and/or copy editor who’ll be going over your work; you’ll have to accept or challenge each of these edits or changes, and then review a final copy. For short fiction, it’s easier; you usually just say yes, provide a bio, and wait for the story to come out — which could take a while too; I’ve had stories sit in limbo over a year before finally seeing them in print. It happens.
What to do? Novelists, don’t hate your books. I’ve had two novels published (under a pseudonym), and I read them and edited them so many times that I can’t even look at them anymore. I know they’re good, but each time I go through them I find more things that need to be fixed. It’s supremely frustrating. I mean, just to prep a book or story for submission requires at least skimming it again, and it takes a while to skim a 120,000-word novel.
1. Overcoming your own anxiety. — The hardest part of submitting your work is actually submitting it — that is: deciding it’s done, finishing the final revision, checking the last copy-edits, and sublimating suggestions from your beta readers. I’m a writer too; I know that sometimes even a “finished” story isn’t satisfyingly done. But at some point you have to push your baby bird out of the nest. Do it and be done with it; don’t be anxious about submitting. You’re going to get a lot of rejections. Come to terms with that now. It doesn’t mean the story sucks; it means the publisher doesn’t have a place for it. That’s all it means.
What to do? Put the story on the shelf for a little while after you write “The End” — a month if you can, a week if you can’t. Distance yourself from the work so that, when you reread it, you’re impressed at how good it is. It’s a nice morale boost for the long slog to come.
Never send a story out without someone reading it first — preferably someone who isn’t a close friend, someone who’ll point out the flaws and plot holes. It’s hard to find, but a writing group can help. Your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband isn’t the best choice; s/he is probably going to be more focused on not hurting your feelings than improving your story. Unless your partner is a writer too, or can accept that criticizing your story will not be seen as criticizing you personally. I have that, thankfully, but not everyone does.
And if your partner is a writer, you probably don’t want him/her looking at your work anyway. You want that person actually writing, lest you both end up in an endless cycle of critiquing and revising.
Got an idea for a future “Six of the Best” column? Tweet it to me @listener42.