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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2007-08-20 12:00
Subject: [process] A bit more on story marketing.
Security: Public
Tags:links, process, stories, writing
manmela asks if there are "markets that understand that new writers are still mastering their craft and make allowances for it." He goes on to query about guidelines and the long term consequences of sending idiotic stories to markets. All of this in connection to a post of mine from last spring entitled "Market paths for the aspiring short story writer".

Taken in order...

1) No. There aren't markets which make allowances for new writers. Even the contest markets (Writers of the Future, Strange New Worlds, etc.) are looking for professional quality work from new writers.

I don't think it would be healthy if there were. As I have said before, publishing may be a meritocracy, but it's not a just meritocracy. Story trumps. New writers have new voices, new visions. What good would a market do that was deliberately seeking to buy less than the best stories which present themselves in a slush pile? How would you react as reader to something like this?

You don't have to be a Name to write a good story. You don't even have to be experienced to write a good story. You just have to write a good story. How to get to that point is a complicated and sometimes controversial process. It's a tough world, a tough market, and near-psychotic persistence counts for a hell of a lot.

(Lest anyone feel I am thoughtlessly dictating from my lofty perch as an established writer, please bear in mind that I wrote and submitted a very large amount of material for about 10 years before I had my first sale. I vividly recall the frustration of that process. What made me better wasn't the presence of an accomodating market or editor, it was the practice that a decade of idiot persistence gave me. pauljessup pretty much covers it here.)

2) Guidelines are made to be broken. Some are more elastic than others. A market will tell you in flashing bold letters they won't buy vampire kitten stories, ever, under any circumstances, but if you send in the best damned vampire kitten story on Earth, they might buy it. Then again, they might not. "Seen it before" plot warnings can be trumped for a good enough story. On the other hand, length restrictions may be hard-and-fast for unwaivable reasons of publishing economics. This requires a balance between honest assessment of your work and an understanding of the market in question. There is no easy rule of thumb. Either follow the guidelines or don't is what it boils down to.

Bear in mind there is a relationship between the degree of writerly trust you hold (depending on your career level and the editor's knowledge of your work) and editorial willingless to overlook guidelines. Gene Wolfe could send in stories written on butcher paper and draw very serious consideration, where you or I would be bounced for having an unreadable manuscript. As an established-but-newer writer, I can probably take more liberties with market theme and acceptable plots than an unknown aspiring writer. Again, it's not fair, but that's the way of the world. Also, again, story trumps all.

3) Editors don't remember bad stories. Unless you're writing heroically bad, "Eye of Argon" level stuff, they literally won't think of it again once they've rejected. (Or unless you do something bizarre, such as put the editor or their children directly into the story as characters. Don't do that, trust me.) They do, however, remember names. So your regular appearance in the slush pile with steadily improving work counts a great deal more to the good than a moment of the giggles over a howler in an off-the-mark manuscript will ever count against you.

It's also a truism that a writer is the worst judge of their own work. You don't know how good or bad a story is until you send it into the world. I'm not suggesting mailing out every piece of dreck that happens to roll off your keyboard. I am suggesting that trust yourself and your stories enough to mail the manuscripts out to the best markets for you. (For a discussion of what constitutes "best market", see the earlier post referenced above.) Don't worry about not being good enough. Bluntly, you probably aren't. I've never been good enough for F&SF, and I have well over 100 rejections to prove it. Still batting .000 with Gordon to this day. But the only way you or I can ever get good enough is to keep writing and sending.
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Samantha Henderson
User: samhenderson
Date: 2007-08-20 19:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Now I want to write a vampire kitty story. Thanks a lot. (grumbles).

"It's also a truism that a writer is the worst judge of their own work."

HECK YES.
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In a heaven of people only some want to fly: strange girl
User: chipmunk_planet
Date: 2007-08-21 18:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:strange girl
Death Sucks isn't bad, for a book from the POV of a cat...

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User: eljaydaly
Date: 2007-08-20 19:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank you so much for posting this, and for remembering how long those ten years were. Your writing posts always make me feel encouraged to persist, and I'm very grateful that you take the time to write them.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-08-21 02:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You are most welcome.
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manmela
User: manmela
Date: 2007-08-20 20:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for taking the time to answer this, Jay. I always appreciate the honesty with which you post.

I think one of the problems of being an aspiring writer is that it often feels like you're groping around in the dark. You want to be as professional as you can but are fearful that ignorance on your part could make you seem otherwise and put a black mark against your name. You want to be confident in your work but at the same time not become arrogant.

I agree there's no secret formula, but at the same time, as you say, the writer is the worst judge of their own work and is (at least in the early stages) blind to their development. I guess it boils down to aspiring writers wanting to know what signs to look out for that prove they might have talent or should maybe consider another pastime instead. And there may be no answer to that, but it is instinctive for someone to ask the question.

Most of us in our education and careers (and indeed our lives) are used to a world that can be measured and graded on a scale, so coming into something where it's just either pass or fail (publish or rejected) can seem a little disconcerting.
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jeffsoesbe: clean
User: jeffsoesbe
Date: 2007-08-20 20:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:clean
re: places that "understand that new writers are still mastering their craft and make allowances for it"

While they're not markets, I've found that I've consistently receive useful critiques from Critters (which is free) and OWW SF&F Workshop (which is $49/year).

Workshops at sf/f conventions are always helpful. You might even be lucky enough to get the esteemed Mr. Lake himself offering helpful thoughts and advice on your story.

Mary Rosenblum told me: "even if your work is good, you're as yet a nobody. You need your story to connect very strongly with one editor to get the ball rolling. So, keep submitting to every good market you can find."

*100* rejections from F&SF! Wow. I have two. Looks like I have my work cut out for me. Back to it!

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manmela
User: manmela
Date: 2007-08-20 20:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jeff, this all started because a story of mine critted extremely well at OWW, and it was only when I went to submit it to a market I saw it clashed with their criteria. Parted of me wanted to go "but this story is different, people really love this story" whilst another part of me went "you're a nobody, and thems da rules".

Another story of mine got an Editor's choice at OWW, and whilst Kelly Link tore the story apart, all the points were extremely valid, helpful and made me realise the standard I need to write to.

I'm in the UK, so don't get the sf/f conventions like you lot do in the US, and I also don't like asking authors for story specific advice, just general advice. They've got their own stories to worry about without having to deal with my neurosis.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
manmela
User: manmela
Date: 2007-08-20 21:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I believe that with Milford you have to have made one professional sale before you're allowed to attend, and I don't think my non-fiction would count. otherwise I would love to do Milford
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Brian Dolton
User: tchernabyelo
Date: 2007-08-21 12:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Looks like it's just "one paid sale", nothing about pro rates.

I'd never heard of Milford. Well, I've heard of Milford, in that I used to live near Milford in Surrey (went through it every day on my way to school for a couple of years), but not in this sense.
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manmela
User: manmela
Date: 2007-08-21 13:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Milford in Surrey is just down the road from me. My Grandparents used to live there
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jeffsoesbe
User: jeffsoesbe
Date: 2007-08-20 21:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've definitely gotten some "that's nice, dear" critiques on Critters, but I've also received some thoughtful, insightful feedback covering both characters and story. The sheer volume of critiques I've received on any one story (usually from 8 to twenty) seems to ensure a few of the second type. So I've been trying to stick with Critters.

I've also found that regularly doing critiques, and trying to deliver the kind of critique I'd like to receive (like what dsmoen mentions above), has been very helpful in sharpening my self-critique skills from a dull butter knife to a slightly less dull cheese cutter. Thus I'd still recommend Critters...

- yeff
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In a heaven of people only some want to fly
User: chipmunk_planet
Date: 2007-08-21 18:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'd have to agree with this take on Critters. I've gotten some excellent critiques there.

If only I had more time to devote to short story critting I would still be with them. I've got my plate full with my novel crit group as it is.
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jeffsoesbe
User: jeffsoesbe
Date: 2007-08-20 21:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hi manmela --

Y'know, right after I posted my comment a small voice in my head said "but yeff, what if manmela is *already* doing Critters and/or OWW?"

So, places to send stories ... my (newly-started) technique is, as Jay mentioned in the earlier post, "start with the bigs and work your way out from there" and "have a sense of what places publish".

I'm just barely into this "send em out" stage, but I do have a list of possible places that I need to check out for submitting stories. I've gleaned those from mentions at cons, backs of anthologies, writers' biographies, and a lot came from the Critters WooHoo page, which seems like a good list for "where are beginning writers selling stories?".

Alas, I haven't done the homework to understand what kind of stories the places seem to prefer. But if you'd like the list, just let me know...

- yeff
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User: ellameena
Date: 2007-08-20 20:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, I would say that another way to answer that first question is to say that all new markets understand that new writers are still mastering their craft and make allowances for it. Short story markets are especially dependent on new writers, because the old ones tend to start writing novels. Most editors will mentor promising new writers that they find in the slush by giving short critiques or asking for rewrites. You have to be persistent and do your best to get any attention, though, because there's a lot of competition.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-08-21 02:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What you said.
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J. Kathleen Cheney
User: j_cheney
Date: 2007-08-21 23:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Most editors will mentor new writers that they find in the slush by giving short critiques or asking for rewrites (I edited to take out the pormising, not wanting to sound obnoxious)

This is true. I recently did 3 rewrites on a story for an editor who chose to work with me (and am I ever so grateful for his patience!) Another editor has gone above and beyond to keep me informed about where my stories stand in the process at his mag. The editors can be your best friend in the world if they get your drift, so it pays (IMO) to listen to what they have to say.
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