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Screw you, spell check! Oh wait, that IS how you spell Wednesday…

Tonight I was plugging away at some submissions/future rejections, and I noticed something both disturbing and embarrassing.  It has been over 3 months since I moved, and I got tired of manually typing my new address, and I figured it was probably time to give the query letter templates the once over anyway.

The query letter for The Redheaded Stepchild misspelled protagonist. The query letter for Two Steps Forward misspelled Forward. Twice. And it’s in the title. It also referenced The Other Dentenia Zickafoose when it should not have. It’s no wonder these magazines have dismissed without a second thought. That, and “I’m not what they’re looking for.”

There are few things I hate worse than writing query letters. I’m sure many of my fellow writers feel the same pain. We’re writers; we want our work to speak for itself. I have part of marketing degree, and I still hate marketing myself. So I spend some time trying to say what I want to say, and save it to a template so I don’t have to think about it every time. Apparently, I’ve been too lazy with this as of late, and as much as I hate, I know that a good query letter is important and a necessarily evil on the route to being a novelist. I encourage all you writers out there to spend 15 minutes to take a look at your query letters, just to make sure they are in tip-top shape. And that the title of your piece is not misspelled.

I am equally annoyed when I see outdated or incorrect information on a publisher’s website, or worse, a 404 or a bounced email.  Since most literary journals are run by colleges, I know they don’t accept submissions during the summer.  News flash – it’s back to school time, so you’re probably accepting submissions again. And if your submission banner reads “We are currently not accepting submissions. We will begin accepting submissions in July 2010” and it is now September 2010, there is something wrong with that.  If you say your next edition is coming April 2010, it should be posted by April 30, not still hanging around as a “coming soon” in November. You want me to not be lazy, do my due diligence, see what kind of work you typically publish and then craft my query letters accordingly? Do yours. Update your goddamn website.

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Why living as a writer is impossible, part III: because there is no money

In past posts on this subject, I discussed various reasons a serious living as a writer is a pipe dream: the SASE, simultaneous submissions, and there are many more to come. But today I’m going to discuss the real reason, outside all the others, that making a living as a writer is impossible. Because publications don’t pay.

Seriously. People get their start in writing by stuffing envelopes and stocking up on rejection letters. But the places you send your work don’t pay artists. Your compensation is your name in print. Or HTML. Some publications claim they pay their authors in copies (i.e. you get 2 free copies of the publication your piece of work will appear in).

While it may seem generous, copies of single issues usually run under $20, which amounts to about a $40 value you can’t put in the bank. And if it’s an acceptance by a publisher that does not accept simultaneous submissions, it’s $40 worth of goods in one year. While I’d welcome paying taxes on a $40 annual income, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even survive if I were living in my parents’ basement.

Here are some of the disclaimers about nonpayment from some literary magazines:

  • “We are unable to pay for work.”
  • Payment is in contributor’s copies.”
  • We pay in copies, plus $5 a page.”
  • “Contributors receive a print copy of the issue in which they appear.”

There’s never been any debate that writing is a labor of love, but with writer payments like these, this just proves it.

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“To a Moth” featured tomorrow

My poem To a Moth is going to be featured on the front page of tomorrow between noon and 6 p.m. I met the people of W5RAn at SXSW, and they explained their unique business model.

They are an online-only independent magazine that posts new content – photography, writing, and other random stuff – every hour, on the hour. Like most independent magazines, they don’t pay anything, but I totally dig their model, and I decided to submit To a Moth for kicks. Support your independents!

For writers – the submission process was crazy easy, and you can probably get several things on here. Sure, it’s not the most glamorous thing to put on a resume, but it’s free, it’s easy, and it’s something.

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Why a living as a writer is impossible, Part I: Simultaneous Submissions

Ask anyone who’s ever tried to make a living just by selling their fiction, poetry, articles, etc. how it goes. Okay, this is an unfair question, because you will not be able to find someone who is not an uber-celebrity makes a living solely on writing, because they don’t exist, unless they are living in their Grandma’s basement.

Writing and submitting one’s writing to companies is a labor of love. It has to be. I recall in one of my classes in college, way back when, my professor said that the last person to make a living as a poet was Alexander Pope. For those of you not familiar with the works of Alexander Pope, he died in 1744. This may not be 100% true, but in reading about Maya Angelou, arguably the most famous living poet, it doesn’t appear that even she had a period in her life where her only source of income was her writing.

There are many reasons why it is absolutely impossible to make a living as a writer, and this series is going to explore some of them. Today’s reason: the simultaneous submission.

What is a simultaneous submission? It is any submission of a piece of work – a poem, a short story, a novel – that is “under consideration” by more than one publishing source at a time. A submission is under consideration from the time it hits the mailbox (or inbox, if you’re lucky) until the time it is either accepted by the publisher or rejected. If a publisher accepts simultaneous submissions, you can take one poem, send it to that publisher, and then turn around and send it to another publisher that accepts simultaneous submissions a few minutes later. It’s a standard “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” scenario.

Unfortunately, there are a great number of publishers out there that refuse to accept simultaneous submissions, especially when it comes to larger works such as novels and short story collections. What this means is that if you’ve already sent a manuscript to another publisher, and they haven’t accepted or rejected it yet, you can’t send it to this one. You have to wait until every place you’ve sent that manuscript has either accepted the manuscript – in which case you can’t send it anywhere else anyway – or rejects it.

Once that happens, you can now send your manuscript to the place that does not accept simultaneous submissions, and wait for them to accept it or reject it before you can send it to anyone else. How long do we wait? Well, I could give you estimates, but I think it’s more fun to see what actual publishers say about getting back to their writers:

We do not accept simultaneous submissions. All submissions must be in English. Usually, it takes 3 months for us to let you know if your submission has got what we are looking for (poetry submission will take a longer time due to backlog). Sorry, we do not return submissions–we delete them! So we advise you to save a copy of whatever you are submitting to us.

Our reading period is October 1 – March 1. Submissions will not be returned. We will contact via e-mail by September 1st those authors we wish to include in the forthcoming issue. [That means if we haven’t contacted you by that date, you can presume the work has not been accepted.]

We prefer not to receive simultaneous submissions. Response time for manuscripts is six to nine months. Thank you again for your interest.

This is only a small sample of the kinds of limitations publishers put on writers. Six months is a long time to go without a paycheck and hope that a publisher will give you a chance. And even if they don’t, hope that they’ll give you a heads up that they don’t, instead of just having you assume after X time that they’re not going to publish you.

For the publications that do accept simultaneous submissions, if you are lucky enough to get your work picked up somewhere, you have to inform every place you sent that manuscript and ask to withdraw it from consideration.

Yes, the publishing world is out of touch. If publishing houses were employers, it would be like putting in your resume at one prospective employer, who will not allow you to put in your resume anywhere else, and wait 6 months before you know if you will get an interview or if you need to move on. And during that 6 month period, you can’t apply anywhere else. And every employer in the business is like that. Yeah, I’d reconsider my career choice, too.

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