Storylife — A process of wrangling submissions

Uncategorized Writing

I just mailed off my first story submission since 2009. Most of my submissions are electronic but, dating back to my first submissions circa 2007, I think I’ve mailed off 5 or 6 stories or about 5% of my total submissions.

Some writers don’t even own printers (John Scalzi comes to mind). Markets are evolving — not quite matching pace, but at least trailing the pack. Analog and Asimov both use the electronic submissions system developed by Neil Clarke. I’ve always had a printer — usually one, a trusty laser dedicated to printing manuscripts — because I like marking up hard copy but I’m economical when it comes to submissions and response time.

Every story has a life. Literally, in my case. Recently, I built a spreadsheet called Storylife where every story has a sheet of its own. In it, I track the where the story is gone and where the story is going next. Every new sheet is seeded with a list of pro markets that I’ve created based on an analysis of my own submission records, SFWA qualifying markets, and my own reading. It’s a who’s who of where I’d like to be published. That initial list gets culled of markets that don’t fit the story and sorted by best fit and response time. Non-pro markets get added to that list as I near the end.

Most of the markets take electronic subs, but there are a few that don’t. Fantasy & Science Fiction. Interzone. Black Static. Black Gate. Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. With Storylife, I’m making myself submit to those markets even though it’s a little less convenient than usual. F&SF is the outlier in terms of response time; they’re faster than most of their electronic counterparts. With the rest, factoring in transit time, you’re looking at maybe two or three months, if you’re lucky.

For me, the decision to submit by mail comes down to measuring the odds, which involves a little bit of rejectomancy. I don’t submit a story until I’m reasonably confident in it and the first few markets I send it out to are electronic with a quick turnaround time. If I get straight up form rejections in the average response time, I might take another look to see what might be keeping me in the slush pile before sending it back out. If I get a string of “close, but not quite” rejections then I feel as reasonably sure as any doubting writer can that the story just needs to find the right editor and I’ll make the investment to submit by mail.

There are financial logistics involved in deciding to submit by mail. Mailing from Canada to the US cost me $8.57 today, just in postage. It would have been cheaper if I’d had US postage — $0.88 for two stamps vs. $4.50 for an International Relay Coupon — but getting stamps takes a little maneuvering. Add in the cost of the 9×12 and business size envelope, printing, etc.

Speaking of story life, I also need to make a decision about shelf life. I’m considering following Ferrett’s lead where he called a mulligan on his pre-Clarion writing life. I still have some of those stories in circulation and while they’re good stories, I am running out of places to send them despite mostly positive feedback. Maybe harvest the ideas in future stories, because when you compare that to what I’ve written since Clarion, nine first drafts, five polished stories sent out on submission and three sold (60%), all on their first date, that tells me I should be expending my energy on the new things. I have a feeling that there’s a diminishing point of return on old stories, where they might do more harm than good in the eyes of an editor. I’m just not sure where to draw that line.

Posted on 28 Oct 2011 #process #submission