Thursday, August 26, 2010

From the Revision Trenches

(or How to Make Layering Work for You)

I’m back at work revising my historical romance novel. Again.

I let it sit most of the spring and summer. During that time I had a request from an editor (who I still hope to hear back from some day) and had rather encouraging rejections from the two agents I’ve queried so far.

I also entered the first couple of chapters into a historical fiction and a historical romance contest – not for fame and glory but for the guaranteed feedback that came with the entrance fee. The historical romance contest is still pending (fingers crossed!) and the historical fiction contest announced the winners earlier this month. I didn’t place, but I did get my critique back – full of good’s and very good’s for all aspects evaluated (POV, character development, dialogue, historical accuracy, grammar, etc.).

While that made me feel all warm and fuzzy, the person who evaluated my work did not give me any suggestions on how to improve, which little-naive-me was counting on. So I’m left with a glowing critique, no accolades, and no where to go. I’m hoping my feedback from the other contest will be a bit more enlightening so I will be able strengthen my MS even more in time for the Golden Heart.

In preparation, I’m going through the MS chapter by chapter. Tinkering, tightening, and fixing the little typos that (STILL!) keep cropping up. I’m also focused on heightening tension and emotion throughout the story. My scene intros and outros are pretty strong already – provocative breaks that should induce page turning and openings that immediately ground the reader in POV and place.

So now, I’m just need to make sure the scenes, from start to finish, sing. Easy, right?

I’ve discovered during this round of revisions that I have a tendency to understate things. When it comes to the romance genre, this isn’t a good strategy. You want the reader to experience every emotional high and low. They should be put through an emotional wringer over the course of the story so the ending provides the closure they’re craving. That’s not possible if you are always downplaying actions and reactions like me.

So throughout my MS, I’m looking for places where I haven't capitalized on the potential the story offers. Then I revise it, primarily using a technique called layering.When you layer, you are forced to look at what you have already written and see what is missing. Once you have your answer – whether you need more dialogue, insight into your character’s thoughts and so on – you have to recast the scene to incorporate the missing pieces. This iterative process often results in stronger scenes that operate on multiple levels – a win every time.

Here's a section from my novel. Alex, the hero, grabs the heroine and backs her into the wall to confront her. Her response: "At least this time you did not hurt my injury," like he did earlier when his temper got the better of him and he grabbed her injured shoulder.
Example 1

Alex felt a brief stab of guilt at that. “A terrible accident, my lady. You already have my apologies.” He noted the girl’s disappointment when he did not lessen his hold on her and leaned closer into her face. “You know I mean you no harm. Why can you not trust me? With all of your secrets?”
Reads ok. We get a sense of Alex's remorse and that the girl is goading him a bit to get him to back down, but he doesn't. But I wanted to make it a bit stronger, so I layered in a bit more of what Alex is thinking during the scene:
Example 2

Alex felt a brief stab of guilt at that, but he pushed it aside. “A terrible accident, my lady. You already have my apologies.” The girl frowned when he did not lessen his hold on her. So she would play games with him? He swallowed the blind anger that reared up inside him once more. He leaned into her face, his eyes holding hers. “You know I mean you no harm. Why can you not trust me? With all of your secrets?”
IMHO, this scene is now much stronger with Alex's internal thoughts leading the reader through the confrontation. Not a whole lot was added, just a line or two and some general tinkering, but the dynamics are clearer and the tension is heightened.

I’m not surprised I have to spend so much time on this, as I tend to write spare the first time around and need to bulk up in later passes. When I finish a draft, I have action and dialogue covered, but that’s about it. Then I need to layer in movement, setting details, description grounded in the senses, and emotion. It’s just how I tend to write (which you can read more about in Anatomy of a Story). My problem now is pushing myself to take sections that work well already and make them awesome.

I have to keep reminding myself not to settle for good enough.

I encourage you to read The Art of Layering, a fabulous overview by romance author Renee Ryan, for more examples and tips to apply layering techniques to your own work. I stumbled upon Ryan’s article thanks to a post on Romance Writer’s Revenge.

What are your tips and tricks when it comes to revision time?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

I’m writing this at my local coffee shop on Tuesday afternoon – after the contractor canceled on me and pushed back our appointment to Wednesday. Last week I would have killed for the opportunity to get out of the house. But today I almost talked myself out of going. I was feeling meh, my writing was blah, and all I really wanted to do was take a nap.

I was channeling my inner procrastinator.

Once I realized what I was doing, I got in the car and drove to the coffee shop despite the inner voices wailing that I had no idea what to write and had nothing to edit since I ran out of printer ink. (Another convenient excuse not to write).

But I’m here, with java in my veins. And I’m writing. Or at least trying to.

As this month winds down, I’m finding it difficult to concentrate and write the way I want to. A very big part of it is my new home, which despite my efforts still manages to distract me from my various WIPs. I’ve gotten a bit better at balancing home improvement with writing. Just yesterday I had a bunch of new windows installed and was still able to revise two chapters while the crew was tearing out the old windows and caulking in the new. But it can still be overwhelming.

I’m also panicking a bit because I’m spending the vast majoring of September in my hometown for my sister’s wedding. While family fun and festivities are a given (yay!), my ability to write will be virtually non-existent (boo!). Which places added pressure on my time now. On top of this, the founder of my critique group suddenly dropped off the face of the earth to deal with some personal issues and may not be returning. So now the remaining members and I have to figure out how we want to proceed. Sigh.

I’ve accomplished so much the first half of this year that it’s hard to be content when the going gets tough and I’m not producing. I’m also playing the waiting game with some of my submitted pieces, which is also contributing to my malaise. I should be writing something new or finishing past stories. And I am, but only in fits and starts – I’ve yet to find my rhythm and I’m worried I won’t be able to get my groove on until October when I return from my sister’s wedding.

My writing is a casualty of real life right now. I don’t like it, but I’ll deal. In the meantime, here are some resources to help you stay productive when the world conspires against you:
And for writing in particular:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Resource Roundup Part 3 - Crafting Dialogue

This installment of Resource Roundup, I’m tackling dialogue, which is perhaps one of my favorite aspects of writing besides coming up with story ideas in the first place. I especially love banter – I think it’s because I can never come up with sharp comebacks quickly enough in real life and so I save them all for the page. By the way, the French have a word for this inability to come up with a timely, clever retort (of course the do): l’esprit de l'escalier, roughly translated as staircase wit.

As I did in previous Resource Roundups (Finding the Right Word and Conjuring Up Titles), I focused on online resources. There were a ton of posts out there, which I’ve gone through and evaluated for their usefulness. But if you’ve come across other valuable resources, please tell me about them in the comments, and I’ll include them when I add this to my Resource Roundup page on the sidebar.

Now, let’s get started.

The Basics

Don’t know where to start? Be sure to check out author Barry Lyga’s series on dialogue: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. Each segment is chockfull of examples and tips you can implement in your own writing.

Michael Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary also provides a whole host of information for beginners (including a helpful checklist at the end) in his article Dialogue, Some Basics.

More recently, Annie Evett over at Write Anything posted a wonderfully in-depth exploration of dialogue: The Trouble with Dialogue Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

And if you are writing dialogue, for the love of all that is holy, please learn how to punctuate it correctly. Marg Gilks’s article Punctuating Dialogue will help get you started. Also, be sure you know the difference in punctuating a speaker who has been interrupted versus one who just trails off (Dialogue Interruptus from Blood-Red Pencil).

Whose Line is it Anyway?

When crafting dialogue, it can sometimes be difficult to ensure your reader knows exactly which character is speaking when. This is what’s known as talking heads syndrome, and you can find a good example of this type of exchange in Are Your Characters Talking Heads? via K. M. Weiland’s blog Wordplay.

So how do you avoid this? You can rely on speech tags (which are detailed in the next section) or you can find a way to make each character sound distinct from one another, so that even if you don’t explicitly tell the reader who is speaking, they can infer the speaker through the way the speech is constructed.

As discussed in All Write With Coffee’s post Dialog: Distinctive Voice - The Three V’s, each character should have their own level of 1) vocabulary, 2) verbosity, and 3) velocity, which can help writers make their characters’ speech distinctive.

Jason Black at Plot to Punctuation suggests you start by imitating the speech patterns of people you know in his article Un-Clone Your Characters with Distinctive Dialogue. He also suggests giving your characters certain mannerisms and deciding how formal or informal their speech is relative to others in your story as a way of making them stand out.

Speech Tags and Saidisms

Speech tags are another way of leading your reader through conversations to help them understand who is talking when. But tags are a contentious issue. Some people advocate only using he said/she said and avoiding things like he whispered/growled/screamed etc. since the emotion should be clear from the dialogue itself. Then there are the dreaded adverbs, which can creep in like “he said softly” or “she said hesitantly” which are generally no-no’s. As a post over at the Ruff Draft explains, these techniques are throwbacks to a style of writing exemplified by Tom Swifties, a series of books dating back to the early 20th century.

Mary Kole’s post Tag, You’re It! How To Write Excellent Dialogue Tags and Janice Hardy’s post Hey, Who Said That? provide a good overview of the different ways you can use dialogue tags effectively.

But sometimes, variation in your speech tags can be a good thing. Historical romance author Joanna Bourne provides an in-depth exploration of occasions when saidisms may be appropriate in her posts When to Use Saidisms and More Maunderings about Saidisms.

Verisimilitude not Verbatim

When writing, you want your dialogue to sound authentic to readers and to accurately portray your characters. But if you make your dialogue sound too realistic, you run the risk of having dialogue that is vague, irrelevant, or just plain boring. Similarly, you don’t want to slow down your dialogue with verbal pauses (um, so, like, yeah) because although they are ever-present in real life speech, you don’t want to have read them on the page.

In Speaking of Dialogue, author Robert J. Sawyer discusses how everyday conversations get translated to the printed page, and pitfalls beginning writers should avoid. Screenwriter Robert Piluso’s post Writing Fun, Funky Dialogue From The Hip provides a nice overview of ways to add the appearance of realism to your dialogue through fragmenting exchanges, portraying miscommunication, and cursing, to name a few.

Dialect is another tool writers use to make their characters sound more realistic. A reader can immediately determine things like geography and social status, which can help flesh out characters in a story. But it can be fatiguing to read if overused, and some people today have strong knee-jerk reactions to it. Juliet Marillier’s post A Wee Bit of Dialect for Writer Unboxed discusses why she chose to keep Welsh dialect in one of her books and why she now regrets that decision.

Also keep in mind the Rule of 12 (which I picked up from Pearl Luke’s Writing Dialogue with Good Tension), where characters (and real people) rarely speak more than 12 words at a time. If your character is going on and on without a break, you need to interject some narration to keep your reader on board, as explored in the next section.

Setting the Stage

Your characters’ conversations don’t exist in isolation. There are things your characters can think, see, smell, taste, touch, and do, even if they are talking to one another. Start with your dialogue as the skeleton of the scene, and then layer in action and description to make it more fully realized. Janice Hardy’s post Tag! You’re It, gives successive examples of this type of layering to strengthen dialogue-heavy scenes.

In addition to coming up with a story and characters, you must also be a choreographer and make your scenes move on the page. As Tom Leeven explains in Theater Techniques to Sharpen Your Dialog (a handy post from WriteOnCon):
“Blocking” is a term referring to the physical movements actors make on stage. It could be an entrance, exit, sitting, standing, a cartwheel . . . whatever. Blocking is physical action, motivated by emotional responses. Your characters have blocking, too. It’s most often found in the narrative surrounding your dialogue.
But some techniques are better than others for inserting action and description into your dialogue. Holly Bodger’s post Breaking Dialogue provides a great overview of how to break up your dialogue before, after, or in the middle of your character’s speech.

When to Put the Die in Dialogue at Make Mine Mystery talks about the importance of nonverbal reactions in conversations. You’ll find a good list here of behaviors people do depending on their emotional state. Also be sure to check out The Nonverbal Dictionary for other ideas, which I stumbled up thanks to Angela Ackerman’s Zombie Crew.

Double Duty

We often approach dialogue as a specific aspect of writing, but if done well, it can function in a variety of ways. A post over at The Blood-Red Pencil called Dialogue: Just the Way We Talk? shows that dialogue can be action, a means of defining character, showing emotion and mood, and intensifying conflict.

Theater Techniques to Sharpen Your Dialog provides a useful overview of how to make your dialogue show characters’ motivations and suggests that each line of dialogue should represent a win or a loss for each character – another way of introducing or intensifying the conflict in your story.

How you present dialogue can also influence your story’s pacing. In “Good Dialogue,” the Editor Said, the author states:
Manipulate the story's pacing with dialogue. Don't ignore the emotional state of your character. If she's upset, don't let her think deep thoughts, or speak in long sentences. We're human. When upset, we speak in fragments. Clipped tones. To convert the emotion to the writing, use short, terse sentences and paragraphs. Forceful verbs. No frills. No fluff. Nothing to slow the reader down. This technique quickens the pacing. The reader reads faster, thus senses urgency. Conversely, to slow the pace during tender, poignant moments, do the opposite--allow your characters to think longer, more leisurely, unhurried thoughts, and let them speak in flowing, sensory-oriented sentences that slowly drift down the page. This tool conveys a character's emotions to the reader, gains reader empathy.
When Revising

All stories need to be revisited at some point, and the links below offer useful tips and tricks to keep in mind when revising your dialogue.

20 Questions to Help Improve Your Dialogue from yingle yangle is a useful revision checklist to ensure your dialogue is in tip-top shape.

Writing the Short Story 6: Dialogue includes a list of generalizations for dialogue, revision tips, and exercises to make your dialogue snap, crackle, and pop.

How to Revise Your Dialogue from Plot to Punctuation details a method for ensuring your characters sound distinct and speak consistently in their own ‘voice’ throughout your story.

Dialogue is Not Necessarily How We Talk from The Blood-Red Pencil provides a nice list of dialogue no-no’s and includes helpful revision suggestions from writing handbooks.

Other Considerations

For the ladies out there, read Therese Walsh’s post Turning X’s into Y’s – Guy Talk that Works to ensure your representing your male characters’ speech patterns correctly. And yes, the Gender Genie does work.

Trying to channel your inner teenager? Check out YA Characters – Four Tips for Portraying Young Adult Characters and Strange Things about High School in YA Books to get a better sense of how your YA characters should act and sound.

Internal monologues are the dialogue of your character’s brains. They can do a lot for deepening character and setting the tone, but the can also bring the action of the story to a screeching halt. The Dos and Don’ts of Internal Monologues at Wordplay explain the best way to implement internal monologues in your story.

What if you only have one character who spends the majority of time on the page alone? Author Clarissa Draper has a list of Creative Ways to Add Dialogue to One-Character Scenes.

Finally agent Nathan Bransford weighs in: About Those Books Beginning with Dialogue.


I hope you find these resources valuable as you craft the perfect lines for your characters! And if I’ve overlooked anything, please let me know in the comments!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Write On Con Recap

As I mentioned in my previous post, I, like many others in the blogosphere, participated in the awesome Write On Con, a free online conference for YA writers. And it was fantastic. Really and truly.

In addition to my desire to learn all I could to apply towards my YA project on the way for NaNoWriMo, I was curious to see how the whole “free online conference” thing would work from a communication perspective. (I have a masters in mass communication and am always a sucker for anything related to media and communication).

Organizers Jamie Harrington, Elana Johnson, Casey McCormick, Shannon Messenger, Lisa and Laura Roecker, and Jennifer Stayrook did a terrific job in getting a whole host of authors, agents, and editors together to address a wide spectrum of issues in kidlit – from meter in picture books to sex scenes in young adult novels.

Content was a mixture of standard blog posts, vlogs, and live chat and/or video sessions with industry professionals, which gave the illusion of attending a panel or Q&A session in person at a writing conference. I’ve never been a fan of vlogs – you never know what kind of content you’re going to get (and unlike blog posts, you can’t scan them and see if they’ll be worthwhile) and if you have a dicey internet connection, it’s usually not worth the hassle. But in the context of an online writing conference, the vlogs added a human dimension to the content. Although I will say some presenters were more effective than others in using the different medium to full advantage.

You can find links to all conference content here, but I’ve pointed out my favorites below. Please note that I didn’t really concentrate on any picture book-related stuff as it is not one of my writing interests.

And now, without further ado, here are my picks:

Day 1

Give Yourself Permission by editor Molly O’Neill – I found this to be a great inspirational post that came – appropriately enough – early on in the conference. It really resonated with me as an aspiring writer who’s still struggles sometimes with finding balance, figuring out the “right” way to do things, and measuring progress.

In Defense of a Less Than Huge Advance by literary agent Michelle Wolfson – I found this to be an informative practical piece on a topic that I at least haven’t seen addressed elsewhere. Wolfson does a good job of disentangling what the dollar signs really mean when an author is ready to sign with publisher.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before a Revision by editor Kendra Levin – Levin provides an overview of overarching questions you need to address with your manuscript as a whole. She also has a couple of revision tips towards the end of the article, including this (which is always good for me to remember):

Remember that no matter how much you revise your manuscript, it is never going to be perfect. Perfection is not your goal. Your goal is to tell this story as clearly, thrillingly, and beautifully as possible. So let go of the idea that you must get everything perfect, and instead have fun playing in this elaborately detailed playground you’ve created for your brain.

Panel of Professionals chat (Elana Roth, Kathleen Ortiz, Martha Mihalick, Paul Samuelson) – I found all the panels hugely illuminating of the submission process and how important first impressions are. This panel in particular focused on a writer’s online presence and how important that is in building a platform.

Day 2

Plot and Pacing by author/literary agent Weronika Janczuk, part one, two, and three – This series of posts is epic, yes, but worth a look. Parts one and two review different ways to structure a novel, and Part three brings it all together, with ways to strengthen your novel’s plot and overall intensity.

The Revision Process by author Cynthea Liu, part one, two, and three Part one focuses on ways you can evaluate your own writing, Part two is how to evaluate your story, and Part three talks about how to revise. Lots of useful nuggets.

Queries with literary agent Natalie Fischer – This may be of more personal interest to me since I found out Fischer also reps Romance (yay!), but it was also valuable for those at the query stage. If you don’t want to scroll through the entire chat session, be sure to check out Adventures in Children’s Publishing’s overview of this session with all the useful bits highlighted.

Panel of Professionals chat (Anica Rissi, Joanna Volpe, Suzie Townsend, Mary Kole) – This panel focused on the ever-present enigma that is voice in writing. If you spend time with any of the panels, make it this one, as there were some great distinctions made about voice that are valuable beyond the YA genre.

Day 3

Writing Realistic, Captivating Dialog by author Tom Leveen – A useful overview of how to make your dialogue show characters’ motivations and other important elements of the scene. He also says that each line of dialogue should represent a win or a loss for each character – a fascinating way to think about characters’ conversations.

From Submission to Acquisition: An Editor’s Choose Your Own Adventure by editor Martha Mihalick – This was a playful but really informative way to show the routes a manuscript takes once it reaches an editor’s hands. Where would your novel end up?

Avoiding Character Stereotypes by literary agent Mary Kole – One of the few vlog posts that’s worth a second look – not necessarily a surprise from Kole who runs the popular and informative blog. Not just pointing out how stereotypes are bad, this post also show ways to create unique, interesting characters from the ground up.

Creating New Mythologies by author Aprilynne Pike - A clear overview of how to use the best bits from mythologies and make them yours in your story.

Looking forward to Write On Con next year. The bar is set very, very high!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Write On Con

Tuesday through Thursday this week, I’ll be participating in Write On Con, which, if you haven’t heard of it already, is an amazing online conference for YA writers founded by YA writers (go here to see the list of awesome organizers). When I heard about this free conference a couple of months ago, I was thrilled for the opportunity to learn more about YA. And this will truly be an Event with a capitol ‘E’ if the high-profile authors, agents, and editors who have volunteered to present are any indication.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Bluestocking, don’t you write historical romance and science fiction? Yes, but I also dabble in other areas as well, and YA has been on my to do list for a while now. In fact, my participation in this conference is a precursor to my NaNoWriMo project goal this year. I already have an outline for a tentative contemporary YA story and thought NaNoWriMo would be a good way to jumpstart that particular project since I’m currently knee-deep in revising and submitting my romance novel and hard at work at the second draft of my spec fic novel.

Lofty goals, I know, but this is also an interesting case where I’ll be informing myself of the genre conventions before launching into the project full steam ahead (which I did not do with my past works). Granted, YA is the only genre I’ve read consistently since being a kid, so I feel confident in that respect. Plus craft is arguably craft, regardless of genre or style, so I know Write On Con will benefit me whether or not I complete a YA project in the future.

There’s another benefit too – the energy this conference has galvanized. On the blogs, on Twitter, on the Write On Con forums, the excitement, the support, the goodwill has been tremendous, and such inspiration can be hard to come by when your typing away in isolation.

So if you’re interested in getting involved, get signed-up, checkout the schedule, and park yourself in front of your computer for the next few days. That's what I'll be doing.

Happy writing!

Friday, August 6, 2010


What is it about being human that makes us unsatisfied, regardless of what we have accomplished, what we have, who loves us and so on? We are always striving, always looking for something else, perpetually dissatisfied with our lot.

Or maybe that’s just me.

I have a good life. Supportive husband, new home, sunshine on most days, and a dog who loves me even when I’m ignoring her in favor of my laptop, notebook, or the latest novel I’m reading. But a vague sense of unease always seems to encroach upon my otherwise wonderful life, like a cloud on an otherwise sunny day.

I want to be doing more. With my life, with my writing. But right now, I feel off-balance. The scales are slipping, and I'm not sure how to fix it.

With the new home, my attention is diverted by home improvement projects. I’ve had to get used to the painfully irregular habits of contractors and try to fit my writing around their schedules. It’s been murder on my productivity. And I have to wonder how much of that is my fault.

As I write this Thursday afternoon, I am sitting at a table at my local coffee shop after nearly two weeks on lockdown at the new house to ensure the contractors could get access to the parts they needed to get to and so I could answer any questions they had as they did their work. But finally (finally!) I was able to get out of the house and ride my bike to the coffee shop. Sure, my route is at least twice as long now. And twice as hilly – my thighs are quaking with fear of the ride home even as I write this.

But it doesn’t matter, not if it means I get to write uninterrupted for a couple of hours. Away from the contractors, away from the dog, away from the books upon books I haven’t read, away from the home improvement projects each room needs. Now that I finally have the new home we’ve been saving up for years to own, I realize it is just one more enormous distraction in an already cluttered life.

I’ve been trying to come up with other means of reestablishing equilibrium in my life. Trying out different rooms of the new house to write in. Different times during the day (depending on contractors). Different WIPs. Slowly, slowly, I’m starting to find my rhythm in this new place, in my new set of circumstances.

But I’m still dissatisfied.

I guess I can only channel that energy into my writing to help me get words down on the page. I have to believe I will adapt. I will achieve. I will balance out.

I will find my bearings once more. Bear with me, and while you are at it, offer up your own tips for finding balance in an off-kilter world.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Planning for the Worst

Practical. Reliable. Organized. Together.

I’ve been called all these and any number of variations by bosses, coworkers, friends. And each time, some part of me cringed. Whenever I received such a comment, I’d mercilessly silence the internal voice saying, “You fool, I’m the craziest girl ever for hoping I’ll be able to write for a living one day. How’s that for being rational?”

Of course, the people in my life had no way of knowing my secret aspirations to write, or the flights of fancy I indulged or my rampant imagination that so often took over. No, they just saw what I allowed them to see and nothing more.

But even though I chafed at such descriptors, I took a certain measure of pride in them nonetheless. Here I was, nursing perhaps the most self-indulgent dream of all-time, but I was still singled out as someone people could count on. To keep my word. To do things right. To get things done.

Over time, I started to own the fact that I was good at staying on top of things. It was an asset and did not have any bearing on my creativity. And once I stopped dreaming and started writing, I realized my organization skills, my ability to plan, were invaluable.

Now, when I say I’m a planner, I don’t mean I strictly adhere to a detailed outline when I write. In fact, I’d say I’m neither a planner or a pantster but a hardcore reviser. My planning has less to do with my actual writing process than it does with how I think about my writing. I plan which projects I need to focus on at any given time, how I should approach revisions, and what I should be doing with my stories in the long run.

I said in an earlier post Submissions Blitz how important it is to have a contingency plan when you start sending out your work. The whole hope for the best but plan for the worst. And that’s where I’m at. Now that it’s August, I should be learning the fate of some of my recent (non-novel) submissions. The tiny throb of hope in my heart hasn’t been crushed yet – and it won’t be until I learn otherwise – but the oh-so-practical side of me knows I need to plan out my next steps.

With a contingency plan in place, I am less likely to wallow in a dejected state after a rejection since I know what needs to happen next. Remember, you must be the mastermind of your fate.

How to do this?
  1. Search for possible venues. I find Duotrope's Digest, a free database of submission guidelines for literary magazines and journals, one of the best places to start. You can search publications by genre, length, and pay rates, to name a few. Poets & Writers has another database worth checking out as well. 
  2. Assess potential venues for suitability. If they have a website, visit it. If recent acquisitions are posted, read them. If they are print-based, considered buying a copy or checking one out in the library (universities and major metro branches will be your best bet). Your goal is to see if your work would fit in with what they publish. You may even be able to determine from the art and styling of an online or print publication if you’re a good fit. If a magazine or journal comes across as too artsy or experimental or uses high-faluting words I don’t understand, I know I’m better off sending my work somewhere else.
  3. List potential venues in order of preference. You want to start with the most prestigious ones and target them first. You may think you’re not worthy or what not, but it doesn’t hurt to aim high. The worst they can do is say no and you may get some useful feedback in the process. Check out BookFox's ranking of literary journals and Duotrope's response time statistics to help you decide.
  4. Polish your work with an eye to the targeted venue. Sometimes you may have a sense of what hits the editorial staff’s buttons based on past stories they’ve published or an active call for submissions. Or not. In any case, you want to be sending out your best work. Also get your critique partners to look it over if they haven’t already.
  5. Set a submission date. This can be based on a reading period (especially for academic publications that are tied to the school year) or a personal deadline so you have something to work towards.
  6. Click send and repeat.

And regardless of what happens, always remember to hope for the best!

More to explore: Authors Marie Brennan and Amra Pajalic have a good overview of the short story submission process as well. If you are looking for a bit more inspiration, check out terriblemind's post Operation: Your First Motherfucking Sale.

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