Friday, August 6, 2010

2010 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market

If you recognize the cover of this book, don’t read on. I’ve posted comments on other books on craft, so you might turn to those instead (here). Why? Because I don’t mean to preach to the choir. If you’re familiar with the book, these short comments will be unnecessary, even ingénue.

I’m posting them for another kind of person, one who has been inebriated with writing for a while, but has not realized how important it is to master the business aspect of writing. You may think it’s all about the words, about crafting that perfect story and later that perfect novel. These will automatically unfurl a red carpet on which you can promenade or which you can studiously avoid in order to become a Pynchonesque figure somewhere, racking up royalties. That may be true for a handful of people. But while you craft the perfect piece of writing, keep in mind that you also have to reach publishers through a perfect cover or query letter, put together a perfect pitch for an agent, lure readers that have millions of perfectly good titles to choose from. Something as simple as an overclever line on a query letter, or as meager as staples on your manuscript, can mean banishment from the publishing world. (For a salubriously countervailing perspective on all this, look at my next post, on Bird by Bird.)

After that long prologue, here’s a book precisely tailored for the more businessy sides of writing. I mean the 2010 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market (NSSWM). With this book, you get about 125 pages of essays, both general and gender-specific. Most of them are very short and, like so many newspaper articles, quotation-friendly. Several are interviews. Some discuss aspects of craft (for instance, the debate on whether you should write “he said” or take on other speech tags—p. 25). Some are very up-to-date, like an article on writers’ blogs (14-16): why you should have one, and what to keep in mind while posting on it. These essays are often victims of shoddy proofreading, but don’t suffer a stroke over that: they’re handy, current, and relevant.

There’s an interesting piece on “personal relationship” fiction, and how it pullulates in fiction magazines these days (31-36). This relates to my complaints about predictable, quotidian, storyless MFA fiction. In the NSSWM article, the editor of The Long Story says, “it is exactly the (merely) personal that we dislike,” and blames merely personal fiction on “the narrow emphasis of the writing programs” (33). The editor of the Potomac Review says that she looks for “stories that are more interesting, more complex than the usual suburban family or marriage problems” (33).

Rejection is discussed repeatedly in the essays. Steve Almond says writers should prepare for a story to get rejected “Anywhere from zero to 60 times” before it’s accepted (60). Another writer, Tod Goldberg, says one of his stories was rejected 65 times—and then won a Special Mention for the Pushcart Prize the year it was published (60). Many writers, even very accomplished ones, say they still face binder-filling flurries of rejection slips when they try to publish short stories.

There are some other bits worth mentioning. About the discipline to write, Chelsea Cain says, “You can’t be a writer until you learn to write when you don’t want to” (88). About how quickly editors reject manuscripts, the editor of Hard Case Crime says he gets two or three submissions per day, and he “only get[s] past the first chapter in about one out of 10. In most, the quality of the language is not at the professional level” (91). And the importance of using the right kind of language comes up in a Susan Wiggs interview, where she says, “Language is our only tool for telling a story, and too many emerging writers don’t take the time to hone their craft in this area. It’s inexcusable” (97). (What’s needed? Why, revision, of course.)

That’s all and well. But, useful as they are, most people won’t buy the NSSWM because of the essays. The listings matter most. You get lists of literary agents, literary magazines, small circulation magazines, online markets, consumer magazines, book publishers, contests and awards, and conferences.

If you’re planning to submit a story, there are a handful of tips on what to do next (2-4), and some guidance on things such as proper format for manuscripts, cover letters, and mailing tips (77-82). Then you get the listing themselves, which contain plenty of information, such as the names of editors (mention them in the cover letter), whether the magazine publishes new writers, what kind of fiction they’re looking for, when they accept submissions, and tips.

Names and deadlines change during the year, so watch out. For instance, Gargoyle was supposed to accept submissions through August (so says the listing on the 2010 NSSWM), but they closed last month, and won’t open until June 2011.

Not everything is listed. NSSWM explain that they sometimes ostracize magazines when they discover cases of “unprofessional conduct” (82). Sometimes magazines themselves ask not to be listed because, say, they lack the staff to handle the volume of submissions that would ensue. For example, Hobart is not there. One Story is not in NSSWM, but you can find it listed online, through the one-year subscription you get when you buy the book. But the book keeps growing, so we can expect to see both of those in future editions.

Speaking of, I know, I know, the 2011 edition is out. My point here is simply that this book is very useful. More than you would think when traipsing out of a writing course or even after a lifetime of avid reading and writing. So my humble suggestion is to get your hands on either edition. There’s still roughly half a year left, and some of the contest and magazine entries on the 2010 edition still work.

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