All this fills me with wonder whenever I sell a short story--every magazine just seems to be buried under geological strata of submissions. How did someone pick mine out of that pool and decide to publish? I think these days, when so many of the stories are written well, editors look for “fit” and originality, in that order. “Fit” being that undefinable concept which governs how well a story matches up with the venue’s stated theme. For example, a magazine that likes hard science fiction will reject even a very well-written story if it doesn’t explain the science in a plausible manner. And once you get past “fit”, you have originality, which is much harder to achieve than good writing. Originality will be the subject of another post, but for now, suffice it to say that getting people to notice your story seems much harder than it used to be. I recently looked at Submission Grinder (great resource, BTW), and saw about a dozen form rejections at 80-90 days from a non-paying market. Think about what that means: People are submitting their stories to a market that will pay them diddly squat, waiting 90 days for the response, and then that response is a form rejection with not a single suggestion to make the story better. That right there tells you the state of the short fiction market. I’m less in tune with the novel submission market, though that’s about to change, since I will be submitting my book to agents within the next few months. But I suspect it’s not that different.
In this hyper-competitive environment, it might be normal human behavior to want to horde information. Writing resources or tips that one discovers after a lot of research might be viewed as some secret to be kept under wraps. But there are a few reasons that’s a bad idea:
- Paying it forward. When I think about all the growth I’ve attained as a writer, I have to admit that much of it came from help offered by other writers, either on the internet or in person. None of that help was necessary; it was done just because. And I can’t break the chain.
- Karma. May sound like bullshit, but I do believe in good Karma when it comes to offering help. This isn’t metaphysical, it simply works out that sharing information in public settings and social media will come back to you in a good way, because people remember.
- Assembling the information in a coherent form for others actually helps your own efforts. Instead of relying on some scattered links, condense them into a single place where you can get to them easier. And once you’ve done that, guess what? You can easily provide that information to other people too.
Going forward, I plan to update the Writerly page with a lot more information--writing FAQs, publishing information, etc. As I research things, I’ll try to put them up there. But for now, anyone who is researching what agents want can start with this list. This isn’t necessarily the list of agents I’ll submit to (though there is one of those on the list), but the information in these links is interesting.
Go have a look. It’s at: http://www.steverodgersauthor.com/writerly.html
Till next time, cheers.