Submissions, Interviews and Connie Willis

First, welcome Stuart, my first commenter whom I don’t know, and almost the first to whom I’m not related. Yea!

I have a theory that submitting stories to markets is a lot like interviewing. For some interviews, it will be clear you are a very nice person, with lots of skills, and not right for the job. Editors, like hiring managers, have to make the cut based on what they need. As someone who’s hired a lot of people, I can tell you that I remember a lot of nice, skilled people I didn’t hire. Some were just barely beat out by a more suited candidate. Some were wrong for the job but I wished I’d had something for them because I knew they’d be a great addition to the team. Some were just fascinating and I wished I could give them my card and go have a beer with them.

The difference between writing and interviewing is that I believe almost every person being has many jobs they’re suited for. But many stories should never see the light of day. I have a decent track record hiring talented people. With writing, I’m still learning to tell the difference between a dud and a winner.

On a different topic, I found the article I referenced in my comment on my last post. Connie Willis and Persistence The Connie WIllis bit is the twelfth paragraph down.

Memories of Big Brown Envelopes

I mailed off my first story to a publisher today. Yes, I know I said I printed it a week ago. But I woke up the next morning realizing that one scene was completely cheesy and had to be rewritten. And when I took out the cheese I had to think about what to put in instead. It’s good now. (What is the opposite of cheesy? Meaty? Or maybe real, as in “Keeping it real, man.” But that’s cheesy. Never mind.)

Surprisingly, the submission process these days is the same as it was thirty-five years ago. I put my double-spaced manuscript in an envelope, weighed it, stamped it, and mailed it to New York City.

Although it was my first submission, it was a very familiar experience. My childhood was full of these envelopes. My mother is a writer, a very good one. (No, you haven’t heard of her. Getting published is hard, damn it. Especially when you write mainstream fiction.)

When I was a kid some big magazines (Atlantic Monthly, Mademoiselle) still published short fiction, and accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Out would go the big envelopes, and six to twelve weeks later back they would come. Then a new cover letter would be typed, and the story sent on to the next market on the list.

The rejection letters were usually small, and short. Occasionally there would be a brief hand written note.

I’m not sure when my mother stopped submitting short fiction. When I was in college she studied film making and made a short silent film about a writer. The writer, played by a fellow writer my mother met at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, waitressed by day and wrote by night. The most memorable shot was when the camera panned up from her typewriter to the wall above, covered with rejection letters.

“How depressing,” whispered my boyfriend at the screening.
“Those are real,” I whispered back. “They’re hers.”

I should have my own stack of letters soon. They’re the mark of a writer. I hope it helps to know that going in.