The “Writing What You Know” Rule is Baloney

A lot of you writers are probably throwing up your arms in disagreement at my sacrilegious statement.  But honestly, fiction writing would be really boring if authors strictly stuck to writing only what they know.  Books wouldn’t portray fantasy creatures that they concocted because they never experienced meeting one themselves.  Can you imagine how awful it would be if J.K. Rowling had never written about a hippogriff simply because she was tethered to the impractical rule that you only write what you know?

And how sad would you be if Orson Scott Card had never written the Ender’s Game series, just because he had never traveled to outer space before?  How TAME and utterly LAME would fiction be if writers always followed this rule?

Anyway, just some food for thought as you work on your own writing.

On a side note, if you’re in search of some bedtime reading material, a friend sent me the link for these sheets.  I’m not entirely sure how I feel about them though.  I feel like I might become a little OCD in how I make my bed every morning.  They would have to go in the appropriate page order!

Apparently there’s this thing called “Publishing Time” that significantly slows down the entire submission response process across the industry.  I’m not a huge fan.  As you can see, I’m still waiting on a lot of stuff.

  1. Painted Bride Quarterly (date submitted: January 4th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 1 non-fiction)  
  2. Cicada (date submitted: February 16th; what submitted: 2 poems)
  3. matchbook (date submitted: March 7th; what submitted: 1 short short fiction)
  4. The Susquehanna Review (date submitted: March 14th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 2 non-fiction)
  5. Zahir (date submitted:  April 25th; what submitted: 1 fiction)
  6. Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle (date submitted: May 11th; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
  7. Brevity (date submitted: May 19th; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
  8. storySouth (date submitted: June 1st; what submitted: 1 fiction)
  9. Weave magazine (date submitted:  June 1st; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)

I emailed Cicada magazine awhile ago to ask about my submissions since it is way past the official response time, but no response to that either.  I’m a little surprised just because I’ve had really good response time experiences with them before.  [shrug].  Maybe it’s a combination of Publishing Time and Summer Time.

I did get two rejection letters this week though–form letters at that–which wasn’t terribly heartening.  I’ll give a short bio for both those journals tomorrow on New Magazine Monday.  At least the rejections give me the opportunity to better inform you all how long you might have to wait :]

Keep writing while you wait!

Lesson: You Can Get a Rejection Letter at Any Time

Despite the fact that it’s Sunday morning, I was able to wake up and smell the roses with a form rejection letter in the mail.  A form rejection letter at that.  [Depressed hang of head].

But at least we learned something from it, yes?

 

Palooka: A Journal of Underdog Excellence

Official submission response time:  under a month

My personal submission response time:  11 days

 

The rest of my submissions:

  1. Painted Bride Quarterly (date submitted: January 4th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 1 non-fiction)  
  2. Cicada (date submitted: February 16th; what submitted: 2 poems)
  3. matchbook (date submitted: March 7th; what submitted: 1 short short fiction)
  4. The Susquehanna Review (date submitted: March 14th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 2 non-fiction)
  5. Zahir (date submitted:  April 25th; what submitted: 1 fiction)
  6. Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle (date submitted: May 11th; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
  7. Brevity (date submitted: May 19th; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
  8. Owl Eye Review (date submitted: June 1st; what submitted: 1 non-fiction
  9. storySouth (date submitted: June 1st; what submitted: 1 fiction)
  10. Weave magazine (date submitted:  June 1st; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)

I did send an email to Cicada, politely wondering if my submissions have been lost or forgotten, but didn’t get a response to the email (I sent it 2 weeks ago).  What do you do when that happens?  How long do you wait before you email them again?  Should I try a different means of contact?  (Even though they don’t have one, to my knowledge).  Any helpful advice out there?

How to Grab an Editor’s Attention: Bragging (Politely) in Your Query Letter–With Example

 

For those of you who are shy and don’t like bragging about your publishing credits for fear of being impolite, stop being shy!  Literary journal editors and literary agents WANT to hear about that stuff!  A query letter and a cover letter are like job interviews.  Proving that you’re a qualified writer helps you–and your short story–get the job!  And, if you’ve been following along, and read my last post about how to win writing contests, talking about your past publications boosts your chances.  (Unfair to the brand new writer, maybe.  But they are like recommendation letters, illustrating your past quality work and dedication to writing).  As Brevity: a journal of concise literary nonfiction encourages in their blog, yes, you CAN and you SHOULD tell people about your accomplishments!

Here’s my example bio paragraph of a query letter and/or cover letter:

I recently graduated from Bloomsburg University with dual degrees in Creative Writing and History. My writing has received the 2009 and 2011 Bloomsburg University English Department Award for Creative Non-Fiction, the 2009 Fuller Fiction Award, the 2011 Savage Poetry Award, and 2nd place in The Baltimore Review’s 2011 creative non-fiction contest. I have had work appear or forthcoming in Inside Pennsylvania, The Stillwater Review, and The Honors Review.

This is the appropriate way–the way that editors expect–you to present yourself.  The facts, without inappropriate bragging embellishments like “I am a super talented writer,” or “you’ll love every word I blessed the page with.”  After the introductory paragraph with information such as the title, genre, word count, and brief summary of your short story submission, you slap in this form biography paragraph.

The Formula for a Biography Paragraph in Your Query Letter:

Your credentials (usually only mention this if you majored in writing somewhere or majored in whatever topic you’re writing about and furthers your credentials.  Bonus points if you have an MFA from a renown writing program).  Any awards your writing has won.  Where you’ve been published before.

Throwing out a question to any readers out there:  do you add anything else personal in your cover letters and query letters?  How much is too much personal information?  Any recommendations for what to put if you have no publishing credits or haven’t won a writing contest yet?

Jumping off of a recent discussion over at storynomad’s blog, should female writers sign their query letters and cover letters with gender ambiguous pen-names for the sake of upping their chances at getting published?  I don’t like to think that the literary world is still dominated by stereotypes and ruled by the “good ol’ boys,” but the percentage of male writers being published in literary journals over female writers is startling, according to the 2010 statistics by Vida.

But, according to Nobel Prize winner VS Naipaul, it doesn’t matter whether women use male pen-names or not anyway because he has super reader radar that can identify the gender of the writer based on the quality of the writing.  According to him, if it the writing isn’t nearly as good has his own, it’s obviously a woman’s creation.  Even Jane Austin pales in comparison to his dazzling writing talent.  I highly recommend reading the appalling article.  Would love to hear your opinions on the matter, so feel free to share!

On a personal note, it’s Sunday so normally I’d be lamenting the lack of postal service.  I’ve been so busy today though, moving in to NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute, meeting my new roommates, walking through a street fair that conveniently occurred below my dorm window (where I bought a bonsai tree!!  Here’s crossing my fingers I don’t kill it) that I didn’t have time to mope.

But, for consistency, I shall post my ongoing literary magazine submission waits:

  1. Painted Bride Quarterly (date submitted: January 4th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 1 non-fiction)  
  2. Cicada (date submitted: February 16th; what submitted: 2 poems)
  3. matchbook (date submitted: March 7th; what submitted: 1 short short fiction)
  4. The Susquehanna Review (date submitted: March 14th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 2 non-fiction)
  5. Zahir (date submitted:  April 25th; what submitted: 1 fiction)
  6. Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle (date submitted: May 11th; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
  7. Brevity (date submitted: May 19th; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
  8. Owl Eye Review (date submitted: June 1st; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
  9. Palooka (date submitted: June 1st; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
  10. storySouth (date submitted: June 1st; what submitted: 1 fiction)
  11. Weave magazine (date submitted:  June 1st; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)

While you’re waiting, write, submit, and water your bonsai trees!  I watered mine today :]

Listen to Your Mother: Waiting By the Phone Never Gets You Anywhere

Sixty-five unopened emails greeted me.  Not a single one was about my submissions.  An awful great amount were from Victoria’s Secret and Barnes and Noble, warning me about last-minute sales.  Lame.  One was The Honors Review, announcing that the print version of this year’s issue are heading out in the mail this week (!!!)  So, I guess it’s not all bad news; I’ll get to see my name in print soon.  But after seven whole days away from the computer, I was expecting to have some rejection and/or acceptance emails waiting for me.  A reward, of sorts, for being Patient and Technology-Free.  Apparently, that award has been officially retired, so I’m glad that I didn’t spend vast portions of the past week pining away, refreshing my email and compulsively checking literary journal websites (which I’m off to do right now).  Even forgetting about the EXISTENCE of the pot of water on the stove didn’t make it boil faster.

On this day upon which I cannot look forward to any responses at all because everybody in the literary and mail delivery world is sleeping in (or at church) I am still waiting upon…

  1. Painted Bride Quarterly (date submitted: January 4th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 1 non-fiction)  TWT (Total Wait Time): 5 months, 5 days
  2. Cicada (date submitted: February 16th; what submitted: 2 poems)  TWT:  3 months, 2 weeks, 4 days
  3. matchbook (date submitted: March 7th; what submitted: 1 short short fiction)  TWT:  2 months,  3 weeks, 6 days
  4. The Susquehanna Review (date submitted: March 14th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 2 non-fiction)  TWT:  2 months, 2 weeks, 6 days
  5. Zahir (date submitted:  April 25th; what submitted: 1 fiction)  TWT:  1 month, 6 days
  6. Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle (date submitted: May 11th; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)  TWT:  2 weeks, 4 days
  7. Brevity (date submitted: today, May 19th; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)  TWT:  1 week, 3 days

Please forgive me if I counted up the TWT wrong.  Math isn’t my strong suit.

How long have you all been waiting to hear back?

P.S.  Tybee Island and Savannah, Georgia, were awesome.  I highly recommend you visit if you enjoy the beach, seeing a brick wall pockmarked with cannon-ball holes, lighthouses, seafood, ice cream, dolphins, reading historical plaques attached to big tall monuments, or were ever a Girl Scout.

Mythbuster: The “Good” Rejection Letter

Believe it or not, there are two types of rejection letters:  bad ones, and good ones.  The bad ones are form letters, one that the editors obviously composed and mass sent out to authors, merely filling in the blanks for name and perhaps the title of the submission.  Good rejection letters, on the other hand, are very personal and specific to you as a writer and your submission.  These usually contain extra-heartbreaking details like that they loved it, but they don’t have room in the journal, or it was well-written and entertaining but not quite “dovetailing with current editorial needs.”  Sometimes they ask you to submit again in the future (make sure you do, because editors don’t say that lightly!)  Though it hurts more because you were just that close to getting published, it should also make you feel awesome and accomplished!

On Thursday, I got two rejection letters.  One was good, the other was bad.  When I read the good one, I was disappointed because I’m really fond of the journal and thought it was the perfect place for my short story.  But the editor had such nice things to say, explaining how many of the review board members really enjoyed it and “wanted more,” it kind of softened the blow.  But it also taught me two things:

  1. I know that my submission was close to what they wanted, so I’m better informed about what to submit next time
  2. Obviously, they thought the story was good, just not quite for them, (having someone’s opinion besides mine, my mom’s, and my sister’s–which are all heavily biased in my favor–who thinks it’s a good story is always reassuring!)

And guess what that means?  I definitely must submit it elsewhere because it’s only a matter of time before it finds the right home.  When I skipped out back to tell Mom, who was stained green from cutting the grass, I was excited.  “I got a rejection letter,” I shouted over the lawnmower.  “But it was a good one.”  I read it allowed to her and she was excited too.

We did not have a similar happy dance for the bad rejection letter–a totally impersonal form one–I received later in the afternoon.

So if you’ve gotten a rejection letter–good or bad–make sure you submit it somewhere else, immediately.  Don’t wait around, moping.  Even though waiting to hear back from a journal is about as enjoyable as plucking your eyebrows, waiting to get published without actually submitting stuff is much much worse.  And it makes the wait a lot longer.  As soon as I got the good rejection, I sent the story to Brevity through submishmash.  But now I can wait, and look forward to a letter from them.

I am presently waiting on:

  1. Painted Bride Quarterly (date submitted: January 4th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 1 non-fiction)
  2. Cicada (date submitted: February 16th; what submitted: 2 poems)
  3. matchbook (date submitted: March 7th; what submitted: 1 short short fiction)
  4. The Susquehanna Review (date submitted: March 14th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 2 non-fiction)
  5. Zahir (date submitted:  April 25th; what submitted: 1 fiction)
  6. Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle (date submitted: May 11th; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
  7. Brevity (date submitted: today, May 19th; what submitted: 1 non-fiction

Has anyone out there submitted to any of these places and heard back recently?  Are you experiencing similar wait times?  Lets keep each other company while we wait.

And for those of you who’s feelings are still hurt about rejection letters, at least you weren’t rejected with a post it note.