How the Writing is Going

A thing that I’ve heard many writers say many times before is that every book you write teaches you something. I like that idea. It’s a concept that’s always appealed to me. For a long time, though, I was having trouble figuring out what, exactly, each of my failed manuscripts was trying to teach me. There was a lesson there, somewhere–there had to be!–but I just couldn’t find it.

Now that I can look back on a sequence of several shelved manuscripts, tucked away in the dark corners of various flash drives hidden in dark desk drawers, I’ve realized that they were mostly just teaching me the same thing: You’re not ready, not yet. I’d write this pile of words that had a few glimmers–some good writing, a few characters I became particularly fond of, a place definitely worth setting a story in–and I’d look at it once I had typed “The End” and just know with this heart-sinking feeling that this wasn’t it. It wasn’t a book, it wasn’t a story–just a few random events with the same cast of characters strung together in chronological order–and I wasn’t capable of making it into something book-shaped. I would think on it for months and wouldn’t be able to think of a single idea that would salvage this not-book-shaped thing I had worked on for months, maybe a year. I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t there yet. So I’d start again.

With each passing failed manuscript, it was getting harder and harder to admit that I still wasn’t ready, this still wasn’t the book that was worth showing to beta readers, would get me an agent, would make it on bookshelves. It was particularly hard for me to admit that fact with the last manuscript, the one I spent all of 2013 writing. My writing was definitely getting better. There were some fleshed out scenes I could see so vividly, certain snatches of dialogue (and let me tell you, dialogue for me is HARD!) that would catch me on a reread. It sounded, a little, like a book. And the characters were the most real human creations I had ever been able to make with my own words. I wanted this book to work. I needed it to work. So, for the first time ever, I went back into a manuscript and tried to revise it–not petty line edits and sentence restructuring, not just adding flowering words here and there–real revision, moving around events and adding things and changing motivations. I spent months trying to revise that could-maybe-be-book-shaped thing and I was frustrated to the point of tears. I wasn’t having fun. I wasn’t enjoying writing. I hadn’t enjoyed drafting the book–I’m just not the type of writer who enjoys drafting–but I had assumed all those years that I would really like revising, once I finally got to experience it. It was the polishing point of the process, where all the good ideas came together. It was the part I had loved the most about giant academic papers in college, taking that raw material I had dumped on the page and making every single word right, making them the right words in the right places in the right order. Shouldn’t some stage of the writing be fun, if I’m a writer?

But revising this manuscript was no more fun than drafting it had been. If anything, it was worse. The plot just wasn’t working and it felt like the characters were glaring out of their world at me. If you could just figure out this revising thing, if you could just do this thing right, you could do us justice, they seemed to be saying. It took me a while to realize that it wasn’t that I was broken–it wasn’t that I was completely incompetent at revising–it was that the story was broken. And it was also partly because I wasn’t the same person who had written that first draft. I still cared about the characters, but I didn’t care about the plot, about what the book was about, anymore. I wasn’t as excited about answering the questions I had been so eager to find answers to the year before. I had, for all intents and purposes, outgrown the story. So I shelved it.

It was hard, shelving that book. There are parts of it that I believe might be the best stuff I’ve ever written. And at that point, one year ago this month, I had been trying to write a book for a long time. I’m one of those people who wrote books in elementary school, middle school, high school, college. Has always dreamed of being a writer. I fell in love with children’s literature and never really left it. I’ve been devouring it, studying voice and trends and watching the young adult branch of publishing grow and boom. I’ve been reading about literary agents and publishers through my favorite author’s blogs for nearly ten years now–since I was a little public school baby writer–all with one goal in mind: sharing a quality book worth reading with readers. How wasn’t I there, yet? Why were other people, who had just randomly woken up one day last year and decided they wanted to write a young adult book get it done right on their first try? How was it possible that this most recent not-book-shaped thing was still telling me You’re not ready?

Every time I try out a new idea, type up the words “Chapter 1,” for the first time, I try something different. It’d always be young adult, but it’d be a different genre: young adult fantasy, young adult dystopian, young adult historical, trying to find the right fit. I’d try different tenses, pants vs. plot, and different formats, like a book told completely in journal entries. When I set down to write the new book of 2014, it was really different for me. Third person. Middle grade. Male protagonist. I had never done any of those things before.

The drafting, as always, was hard. I kind of hate drafting, I’ve realized. It’s painful for me. I want things to be good–I derive a lot of pride and joy from good sentences, good writing, great characters, from writing I enjoy reading after I’ve written it–and first drafts are just by nature mediocre at best, nothing to ever brag about. And somewhere in the middle of every story I always get completely lost, whether I have an outline or not, and the quality deteriorates even further from there as I write in circles, just throwing words at the page trying to see what sticks. Stuck somewhere in the middle of my story, for a lot of weeks this summer, I didn’t write at all.

I was feeling more confident about this book, though, towards the end of 2014. I felt like I had a better handle on all the things–story, characters, dialogue, scene structure, tension, and that ever-elusive creature “voice”–than I had ever had in the past. I would read over passages and knew that, at the very least, I was definitely becoming a better writer, I was definitely better than I had been a few years before and that was a relief. At least I was getting somewhere.

When I reread the full draft last month, the whispering was a little different than it’s been before. The whispering was, this could work. It doesn’t work yet. But it could.

As I said before, I dislike drafting. I certainly can’t make myself do it every day, as so many people claim “real” writers do. It’s too draining and if I force myself to do it every day, I end up tossing the words usually anyway, and I end up hating writing, avoiding it, even more than I already want to do during the dreaded drafting stage. During the 2013 manuscript, I finally understood that writing every day just wasn’t something I could do while also balancing everything else–exercise, friends, family, reading, full-time job. And I forgave myself for that.

So that’s why how I’ve been reacting to revising this book has surprised me so much.

I’m 22,000 words in now and I’m not slowing down. I put myself on an idealistic 5,000 words a week schedule…and I’m actually a little bit ahead, which I’m pleased about for now. But the way that I stay on schedule means I have to dedicate a decent chunk of hours to consistently revising every week. I originally gave myself the goal of three times a week, totally reasonable. The thing that’s really been surprising me, though, is that three times isn’t enough…not hours-wise, but emotionally. I WANT to revise this story every day, all the time. I’m driving somewhere and I’m thinking about tackling the next scene, diving back into my little fictional neighborhood. I’ve started carrying around a dozen or so pages in progress in my purse all the time (I print out the first draft and pretty much rewrite every sentence by hand and then revise even further when I type it up that night) and edit a half an hour here or there, in-between doctor’s appointments, on lunch breaks. There’s a momentum building with this story as I nail down each chapter that I’ve never experienced before. I feel like there’s a little train, like the miniature one that circles around Christmas villages, in my head, plugging away to the tune This could be it, this might be it, it’s finally sort of working, I think this is working.

This is what revising looks like. Lot's of words in the margins and arrows and cross outs.

This is what revising looks like. Lot’s of words in the margins and arrows and cross outs.

So that’s where I am, in case you were wondering. 22,000 words into a 65,000 revision/rewrite, with the plan to finish the second draft by April 1st (no joke) and get it out to some beta readers. Barring any really awful, unanticipatedly drastic feedback, I think that should take about two months. So…the plan is to seriously start querying in June, then I guess.

Fingers crossed this manuscript keeps liking me and I keep liking it and my beta readers like it after that…

How to Write a Query Letter

So, the first order of business to get Claire Lawrence’s awesome book, Rooted in the Sky, published is the query letter. I struggled with this more than most writers do, I think, because I was ghostwriting it. Though I read Claire’s book, I didn’t know the plot and the characters inside out and backwards the way I would if I had written it myself. So after rereading the manuscript twice and taking extensive summary notes, I finally pared it down to what, as my boyfriend said, sounds like the blurb on the back of a published book (good foreshadowing sign, perhaps, yes?)

The basic rules for a query letter are this:

  1. It needs to fit on a single page;
  2. It should explain why your book belongs with them (whether an agent or a publisher) specifically;
  3. The BRIEF summary (no more than five sentences!) should provide the title, word count, genre, setting, main characters, and the central plot points; and
  4. Your bio should be short and to the point. No ramblings about your favorite color, or how your dearly beloved pet inspires you to write day after day. Even if you don’t have many (or any) writing credits, you can still write an impressive bio paragraph. If you’re interested, this is my own standard author bio.

A la Nathan Bransford’s guide on how to write a query letter, and his own Query Letter Mad Lib, I’m providing a Mad Lib of the form query letter for Rooted in the Sky. I’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions! If you were a publisher, would this query letter make you want to request a partial manuscript read? Or, even better, would you want to publish it on the spot??

Dear [Name],

I discovered [Name of Publisher] through [website/book]. [Specific reason why this book could/should live happily ever after with this publisher]. Rooted in the Sky is a 70,000-word work of literary fiction that serves as an ode to humankind’s relationship with nature.

Hannah never wanted to be a mother, but in the middle of her husband’s funeral service she gives birth to a daughter who, growing up, wants nothing more than Hannah’s attention. Committed to purifying and detaching herself from all such earthly ties, including her own physical body, Hannah escapes to the Utah desert and leaves her daughter, Frances, to be raised by a Mormon grandfather and a Catholic nun. Neither mother nor daughter, though, can escape the voices of the inanimate world as animals, rocks, trees, and buried bones speak to them, whispering secrets about the end of days.

I am an Associate Professor of English/Creative Writing at Bloomsburg University and hold an MFA in creative writing from the University of Utah and a PhD in fiction from the University of Houston. My fiction, personal essays, poetry, and literary criticism has appeared in Tri-Quarterly, Terra Nova, Connecticut Review, Gulf Coast, The New England Writers Anthology, descant, Crab Orchard Review, Puerto del Sol, So to Speak, and The Best of Writers at Work, among others. My fiction has been anthologized in Terrain and The New Earth Reader. This is my first novel.

I’d be thrilled if you would consider Rooted in the Sky for publication. A few other publishers are considering simultaneously.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Claire T. Lawrence

Dear Indie Presses: Claire Lawrence’s Book Will Knock Your Socks Off!

Who, you may be asking, is Claire Lawrence? For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her or taking one of her (spoiler alert!) fabulously inspiring creative writing classes, Claire Lawrence is a Creative Writing professor at my alma mater, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania (and, I should mention, one of my favorite people in the entire world). A Utah native who got her PhD in fiction from the University of Houston and has been published widely in journals such as Terra NovaGulf Coast, Puerto del SolTerrain, and The New Earth Reader, among others. Claire maintains a lovely blog, Wish You Were Here, all about writing, mothering, partnering, running, professing, and mindfulness. With all these activities and responsibilities–not to mention several bouts of flu that have been making their repetitive rounds at her home this winter–she obviously has a lot on her plate so even though she loves to write, she doesn’t have a huge amount of time to submit her work. Namely, this means that the novel she wrote over seven years ago–which was successfully picked up by an agent, but less successfully picked up by a major publisher–spends a lot of time on the To-Do list.

Enter me.

Acting as her Official Book Submitter, I am researching smaller publishers. These are perfectly respectable presses–ranging from university presses to independent presses–with awesome book lists who accept query letters from the authors themselves and don’t require literary agents as the go-between. My goal is to find her book, Rooted in the Sky, a happy published home.

With her permission already in hand, I will be blogging about independent presses, generally, and Claire Lawrence’s Grand Journey to Becoming a Published Book Author, specifically.

I’m super excited because, honestly, submitting writing is my favorite part of the process. I love researching potential publishers–looking at comparable titles, checking out their cover designs and general marketing strategies, writing and rewriting the query letter, sealing the envelopes with a lick, stamp, and prayer, waiting with bated breath and loads of hope–and this opportunity gives me the chance to do all that fun stuff without having to wait to have my own novel-in-progress polished and ready!

I hope you’re all as excited as I am!

The Moral of the Story: What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

Even though there was a rehearsal dinner, a wedding, a weekend spent upstate visiting my beloved roommate, Thanksgiving, and, at the very end, a very nasty head cold, I survived and WON NaNoWriMo this year!  Hurray!

I now have a very crappy, embarrassingly awful, but decently plotted 56,000+ word novel (I only wrote 50,000 words this month, but I had 6,000 words previously written for this story).

No Plot?  No Problem!, which I actually found to be quite good company throughout the month of literary abandon, recommended that I celebrate with champagne.  Being that I looked (according to my mother) and felt a bit like death warmed over, I settled for some very delicious and throat-soothing chocolate ice cream instead.  And then I rewarded myself again and had some for breakfast this morning.

NaNoWriMo was quite the experience and I learned a lot about myself and my abilities as a writer.  I went to regional library write-ins and met some great people; some of whom have done NaNo before and actually self-published their previous manuscripts and were working on the sequels this month.  I feel successful and accomplished on one hand, and completely terrified about how much I might hate the whole book when I go to edit it in a few weeks on the other.  But nevertheless, even if I have to rewrite the whole book and realize that my writing skill itself hasn’t improved, I think I’m a better writer and now have better writing habits because of NaNo.

Most Important Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo 2011:

  1. Writing out of order is perfectly acceptable.  I got really stuck half-way through Week Two because I was writing under the unconscious assumption that I needed to write each scene, as much as I dreaded it or could not think of what exactly happened next, as they occurred in chronological order.  So when one of the pep talks encouraged us to write out of order, it was completely liberating.  Being allowed to hop around my manuscript and dump a scene or one thousand words wherever the mood struck me was much more effective and fun.
  2. It’s not that hard to write a whole novel in a month.  Yes, I had to give up blogging, tweeting (for the most part), exercising (which was not ideal considering the fact that it was Thanksgiving), and generally reduce the amount of television I watched.  But I was shocked by how much extra time I had after finishing my daily quota.  I had plenty of time to bake, see my family, read (though, admittedly, most of my reading was reduced to audiobooks during my never-ending commute and while waiting in doctors’ offices), and sleep.  Now that I know I can do it, pushing myself to write a book in two months seems completely reasonable.
  3. Accept that the first draft will be awful and write the whole crappy thing so that there’s a beginning, middle, and end before editing.  I normally do this with short stories, but with past book attempts I kept editing individual chapters before moving onto writing the next chapter.  With my NaNoWriMo manuscript, I figured out that you don’t really know where the plot will end up going; with all the twists and turns, you’re going to have to end up rewriting and reorganizing the first chapters anyway—something that was originally a red herring is not critical, and needs to be fleshed out, for example—so don’t waste your time or use those first three chapters as an excuse of why you haven’t written the rest of the book.\

How was everyone else’s November?  Did you do NaNoWriMo?  Did you write something less lengthy, less messy, but equally fabulous?  Did you get any awesome writing accepted for publication somewhere?

What 1,100 Words Looks Like: Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo 2011

I’m currently plowing through the book No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, the creator of NaNoWriMo, as I prepare for the incredibly unplanned month of writing ahead of me.  (Being that I’ve gotten SNOWED IN  the weekend before Halloween–strange and unacceptable–I have time to start and finish an entire book.)

Four inches of snow before Halloween; Pennsylvania, 2011

Reading it is actually calming down my nerves quite a bit . . . and leading me to call everyone I know and begging them to be a “NaNoWriMo Nazi and/or slave driver” for the next month.  (Baty recommends that NaNoWriMo participants brag about our aspirational, completed-novel intentions beforehand so that we’re guilted into actually finishing.)

One of the main things the book stresses is pre-planning our writing time by recording what we do on a daily basis, color-coding the essential, important, and non-important activities and committing to replacing the non-important and occasional important activities with writing time.

My average day as it stands now looks a lot like this:

6:30 am:  Wake up, make sure younger sister hasn’t overslept her alarm and is heading out for school; fall back asleep.

7:00 am:  Wake up again.

7:00 am-7:30 am: Shower, dress, eat, pack lunch.

7:30 am-9:00 am: Drive to work while listening to a lovely audiobook.

9:00 am-1:00 pm: Official editing day job.

1:00 pm-2:00 pm: Lunch break.  Sometimes blog, sometimes read, sometimes take a walk in the local park.

2:00 pm-5:00 pm: Official editing day job continued.

5:00 pm-6:15 pm: Drive back home while listening to more of the lovely audiobook.

7:00 pm-8:00 pm: Physical therapy.

8:15 pm-11 pm: Hang out with family and/or boyfriend.  Sometimes this involves writing/blogging while boyfriend is doing homework.  Sometimes this involves watching unnecessary amounts of television.

I’m thinking that if I forfeit that extra half hour of sleep every morning (even as I say this I know it’s unlikely), make my lunch break a power-hour (higher likelihood), write some more in the parking lot before physical therapy (similarly high potential, as long as traffic doesn’t steal away the time), and commit to being in the same room with those I love but generally ignoring their presence (possible, especially on nights when the boyfriend is ignoring me because of his own heavy homework load) while I write should make NaNoWriMo physically possible for the first time ever, for me at least.

If you were reading between the lines, you noticed that I cut out my blogging time for the next month.  Sad, but true.  Unfortunately, I’m going to have to take a working vacation and neglect the blog for awhile (I’m sorry!!).  I’ll still be on Twitter–mostly for the daily bragging (or shamefully pathetic) tweet of my word count–and apparently we can have friends on the NaNoWriMo website this year, so don’t miss me if you don’t want to; be my writing buddy and we can cheer each to the finishing line!  (I’m listed as HannahKarena.)

I tried NaNoWriMo once before, my sophomore year of college, and promised myself I would never put myself through it again until after I graduated.  You don’t have free time in college; you just have time where you can multitask homework with something more social and pleasant.  Like doing homework in a group at Dunkin Donuts at 11:00 pm.  Or watching reruns of Will & Grace on the couch with your roommate while you read your textbooks during the commercials.  There was simply no room to fit more homework-like activity.  Kudo’s to Amanda, a freshman who’s making a go of it despite the odds.  Also kudo’s to Katy and Sammy, who are not freshman but lead busy lives and deserve ample amounts of credit for their pledge.

I did write my first book in college, though.  I invented a “How to Write a Children’s Book” independent study where I wrote my book for credit, so my class schedule actually built-in writing time.  Every two weeks I had 2,000 words due.  As I face NaNoWriMo–where I’m expected to write 1,667 words a day–that deadline of long ago seems laughable, but it was really good practice for me.  By the end of the semester I had a roughly 18,000-word manuscript with a beginning, middle, end, and break-neck-speed pacing.  (That summer I rewrote/edited it and it slowed down into its expanded current size of about 35,000).  The reasons for this less intense productivity were:

  1. I was carefully editing my pages as I went so that my adviser (shout out to Professor Lawrence!) could actually enjoy and potentially be mildly impressed by my prose.  NaNoWriMo, on the other hand, results in 50,000 words of garbled crap worthy of nobody’s eyes but mine own; instead of being born naturally–complete with all ten fingers, plot devises, and toes–NaNoWriMo projects are like a really horrifying Frankenstein experiment.  It’s going to take months of rewriting and hardcore editing before this new book is even reasonably presentable to the general public; and,
  2. It was historical fiction and I was spending hours every week doing extensive research.

To help myself along this time, I’m doing a completely fictional book.  No research.  Everything will be pieced together from my own imagination.  Also, to help I’ve already gotten 6,000 words written.

Now stop right there.  I heard all of you start hissing “cheater.”  I promise, I’m not cheating.  I solemnly promise that I will not include these first 6,000 words toward my 50,000-word goal.  Instead, in the end I shall have a 56,000-word manuscript.  But the benefit of already having a head start is that I have a grasp of my characters, the narrative voice, and a general idea of what I want to happen along the way.  I went into my first NaNoWriMo experience completely blind and started writing a random novel.  When it died after 6,000 words or so, I started a new one.  And when that one died, I gave up.

This year, I’m dedicated to actually finishing.  My motivation?  The 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  They have two categories–general fiction and YA fiction–and the winner of each gets a $15,000 royalty advance and a publishing contract with Penguin.  What’s not to be hopeful about?

Hope to see a bunch of you in the NaNoWriMo chat rooms, lots of you at the finishing line, and everybody else in a month!

Just keep writin’ writin’ writin’ and don’t forget to submit, submit, submit.

*For gauging purposes, this post is an example of 1,100 words.  Can you write that plus a smidgen more every day?

What To Do When Your Book Idea is Stolen and Made into a Bestseller

  1. Monday (9:00am):  Denial.  Denial, denial, denial.  When they clog up your email, each electronic bad news arriving one after another, providing a summary paragraph that’s startlingly similar to the plot of your own manuscript, refuse to read the:
  1. Monday (9:15am):  As bitter revenge, consider unsubscribing from all of these newsletters.  Try reading the unsubscribing small print; then, confused, give up.
  2. Monday (9:16am) through Tuesday (midnight): Glower and hate the publishing world for not seeing the genius potential of your book.  Specifically, resent yourself for failing to query the correct agent first, before this other author got to him/her.
  3. Wednesday (all day event):  Lament loudly to anyone who will listen—your boss, your physical therapist, your mom, strangers who upon questioning admit that they subscribe to one of the above newsletters—about how tragic the situation is.
  4. Thursday (all day event):  Stalk the new book.  Go back to the newsletters and read everything.  Go to amazon.com and read every review you can find.  Read a few pages on the online page preview.
  5. Thursday (10:10pm):  Feel comforted by the handful of 1-star reviews, assuring yourself that every flaw in the bestseller is non-existent in your own manuscript.  Comfort yourself that the bestseller is intended for an adult audience and yours is for a middle-grade audience.
  6. Friday (7:00pm):  Over dinner, try to assure your mother that the past two years dedicated to this manuscript have not been a waste and that the books are in fact very different and that you still have a good chance of becoming a successful published author.
  7. Friday (7:22pm):  Half-believe her comment that your book is even more attractive to the publishing world, now, because of how popular the topic is.  Ignore the nagging thought that nobody will want to purchase and read the same book twice.
  8. Friday (7:45pm):  After dinner, ignore your significant other’s suggestion that you “give up” on this book and write a different one.  Convey your distaste for this suggestion with long, meaningful glares.
  9. Friday (8:00pm):  Burrow under the covers for a minimum of twelve hours, protesting the injustice.
  10. Saturday (11:00am):  Sign up for NaNoWriMo to write your next book.

 

*Insert wailing wherever it seems appropriate and necessary.

The 4 Rules of Polite Simultaneous Submissions

I’ve read blog posts before where people claim that it’s “rude” or, at the very least, makes them extremely uncomfortable to simultaneously submit their writing to multiple journals or to multiple literary agents.  This is ridiculous!  Think about it.  If you have submitted your manuscript to a single literary agent, the wait time is, perhaps, eight weeks.  If you’re a betting sort of person–particularly a slots machine player–you know these odds are totally not in your favor.  And getting your writing published is already an upstream battle; simultaneous submissions is one of the tricks (a completely fair and legal one!) to increase your odds of becoming a published writer sooner.  The same goes for short stories at literary journals.  You have to expect rejection at least a few times–even the greats were rejected before they were discovered; wouldn’t it be better to submit to five places all at once, get four rejections and one acceptance in the same span of wait time, rather than doing it single file and having to wait years, perhaps, to get a “yes”?

Not only does it harm yourself as a writer, but journals and agents expect simultaneous submissions because it’s what smart writers do; it’s part of the industry and as long as you politely warn them in your cover and/or query letters and promptly withdraw your work from consideration elsewhere it is perfectly acceptable.

How to Simultaneous Submit your Work without Stepping on Toes:

1.  Read the fine print.  Make sure that the literary journals and agents you’re submitting to accept simultaneous submissions.  (Most do and they’ll mention it on their submission guidelines page; for example, see fugue, CutBank, and So to Speak.  Those who are morally against the practice also mention it there.)  There is nothing worse that simultaneously submitting something and then withdrawing it from consideration elsewhere when they don’t approve of the practice.  You might have burned a bridge with an editor and a journal so they won’t even consider your work again.  (This is not meant to scare you off!  As long as they say they don’t mind simultaneous submissions, you’re golden!)

2.  Only submit your story to a handful of places.  You don’t want to spread yourself too thin or do more work than you have to.  If your submissions are well-targeted–meaning you’ve read the journal before, or, in the case of a literary agent, have read their bio and are positive you’re writing fits their criteria–then you shouldn’t have to submit it one thousand times, so writing one thousand letters all at once would be wasted effort.  Personally, I submit a story a maximum of four different journals at a time.  And for queries, I usually send letters out in batches of five at a time.

3.  Submit in tiers.  In these batches of submissions, don’t submit to the New Yorker and you’re local no-name literary journal at the same time.  What if that local no-name journal accepts your work?  Great, right?  But then when you go to withdraw from the New Yorker, what if the editor says “that’s such a shame, we were really interested in publishing it.”  The New Yorker is a much better publishing credit–and a paying market–than the local no-name.  But, the polite rules of the industry are that you must accept the first offer and turn down any successive ones.  So to avoid shooting yourself in the foot, group together journals and literary agents in order.  In the case of journals, submit to the most competitive, bit-of-a-stretch-chance ones first.  Then, once you’ve heard back from all of them, go down a tier and submit to a batch from that level.  Same goes for literary agents.  Submit to your top five favorite, all-star, dream agents first because they might be interested.  You never want to be disappointing that one editor or agent responded first.  You should be equally happy to have gotten accepted by any single person in the same tier.

4.  Be honest.  In your cover letter, don’t conceal the fact that you’re simultaneously submitting your work.  Just throw a sentence in there: “This is a simultaneous submission, but I shall notify you immediately should it be accepted elsewhere.”  And then, if you do get accepted elsewhere, let the other journals/agents know.  Don’t try to get a single story published multiple times.  It’s dishonest, will hurt your career because word will get around, and might also lead to copyright legal issues.

So while you’re waiting to hear back about that one story, go submit it again somewhere else!  Or if you’re waiting to hear back from that literary agent, send it to another one in the mean time!