News: I sold a flash fiction piece! Post with more details to come soon.
Lately the story trunk has been on my mind. When should you stop circulating a story to the short fiction markets? Should you keep revising during the submission process? How do you know if a story has legs?
The two sides of the argument (and I’m simplifying) go something like this: (Side A) I will only submit to professional markets, and when I am rejected by the small handful that accept whatever sub-genre of story I’ve written, I will trunk the story. (Side B) I will submit widely, to semi-pro and perhaps token markets. I’m more interested in getting my work out there and finding a readership–even if it means the quality of my writing hasn’t reached pro level (and the Internet never forgets).
This is clearly a challenging, somewhat personal question, and a case of Your Mileage May Vary. But in the spirit of process geekery, here’s what works for me at the current stage in my career.
First, I decide ahead of time to which markets I want to submit a given story, and I put together a ranked list. It’s not an entirely fixed list. If a call for submissions comes out that’s right up my alley, I add it. However I find that having a list cuts down on obsessive research while the story’s circulating, which helps me focus on writing new stories instead. When a story gets rejected, I automatically shoot it back off to the next market.
How to pick your markets is a subject in and off itself. But let’s say I already have the relevant (in terms of genre, word count, style, etc.) pro markets on my list. So how do I decide to which semi-pro markets I want to submit? My secondary criteria are people, readership, prettiness, and inspiration.
- People — If I respect the editors and other authors involved in the project, I submit.
- Readership — If your goal is to get people to read your writing, then this should be a factor. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like I’ve heard that many people choose to submit to Every Day Fiction, even though the pay is low, simply because the readership is high. Or in other words, pro doesn’t necessarily mean large readership.
- Prettiness — I have totally submitted stories if I think the end-product/magazine looks slick, or I adore the cover artist (which goes back up to the people criteria). This one also goes the other way; if the product looks amateur, I’m less keen to be associated with it.
- Inspiration — This is largely relevant to themed anthologies. If a call strikes my fancy and inspires me to write a story, then I’m more than happy to submit to that project.
Okay, so your story is in circulation. (It should also be said that before I submit a story, it’s been written, revised, sent out to my critique group, and then edited again based on their feedback.) You’re getting your rejections. Some of them may be personal rejections–awesome! But what about editing the story before turning it back out again? I know many people do this. I avoid it like the plague. I even avoid rereading my story between rejection and resubmission–unless an editor’s comments really resonate, in which case I will tweak as necessary.
Here’s my rationale: While my story is making the rounds, it’s effectively in a trunk and out of mind. The more time that goes by, the fresher my perspective on the story will be. After the story has been on submission for 6-12 months, then I reread it again and decide if (a) it’s not that great of a story and needs to be trunked for real, (b) it needs revising but could be awesome with some work, or (c) I’m still in love with the story and want to see it published, even if to a less prestigious market. To me, the last case usually suggests the story just hasn’t found its home yet. For situation (b) and (c) I then rework my story and/or submission list for the piece, and cast a wider net.
I find that I need distance from a story before I can decide whether it stands up to my critical eye. Why not let that distance grow during the submission cycle rather than later? As an added bonus, compressing the submission and trunk period keeps your stories younger. Or in other words, the story in your “trunk” may be months instead of years old, so there’s arguably less of a skill gap.
Maybe it’s more of a hatbox than a trunk.
How do you decide when to trunk a story?