Kevin McClintock: Advice for budding fiction writers
If any of you guys or gals out there are moonlighting as fiction writers, then we’re comrades-in-arms. Maybe we need to come up with a super-secret hand signal we can use when we pass each other?
From roughly 10 p.m. to midnight for the last I-don’t-know-how-many-years — long after the wife and kids are tucked away in bed — I’m at the living room computer, pecking away at the keyboard.
I grew up wanting to be an author. Since I loved horror movies and horror writers (I worshiped anything Stephen King and (early) Dean Koontz wrote), I yearned to be a horror writer.
Somehow I had it in my head that I’d be published by the time I was 20, with a book contract by the time I was 23, with several houses scattered across the continent, including a beach-front property overlooking the Atlantic by the time I reached 30.
Things didn’t quite turn out that way, considering I’m well into my 30s. But the dream hasn’t died and I still continue to diligently plug away every night.
I have 22 horror stories in circulation among some 60 magazines, online sites and various contests. My rejection count is now up to .... (drum roll) .... 63, though nine of my stories have made it through to second reads, which is encouraging if you’re a veteran of soliciting stories to paying markets. Another one of my stories nearly nabbed "Honorable Mention" in the “Writers of the Future” contest, which of course gives me hope.
But I’ve used the rejection slips I’ve received as motivation. Even the great Scott Fitzgerald had 110 of those babies tacked to his bedroom wall before he sold his first story.
Perhaps it’s arrogant of me to speak to you about being published when I’ve only sold two stories for a grand total of $34, but I’ve gotten pretty savvy to the ways fiction editors tick, and I think I can drop a nugget or two of information for the rest of you budding authors out there reading this:
- Join an online and professional criticism (or "crit") group. The one I’d recommend is www.critters.org. Here, your fiction will be read and reviewed by like-minded authors. I can’t emphasize enough how important such sites are to green fiction writers like myself. They really do help streamline your fiction, forcing you to see what’s wrong (or right) with your story. Most professional writers have used an online critique group before their careers take off, and heck, it’s much cheaper than your typical $1,800, seven-day writing workshop located out on the east coast.
- Most magazines/contests/chapbooks are online now, which means it’s much easier on the pocketbook to send out stories than it was five years ago. Back then, you had to snail mail it (with a self-addressed stamped envelope to boot!), and that of course costs money — money some authors sometimes didn’t have to spare. Now, thankfully, you simply attach your story to an e-mail or you cut/paste it into the e-mail’s body — both are painless and, best of all, free.
- Nearly every paying market has its own Web site, and each has a submission page that will detail what it expects from submitted fiction. Follow all the rules to a tee. It would be a shame to send them a publishable story and have it kicked instantly to the slush bin because you didn’t follow the rules outlined on the magazine’s Web site.
- Once you have a story that you deem ready, send it out as quickly as possible. The worst that can happen is a rejection slip. If that happens — big deal, simply send your rejected story out to the next magazine on your list. If rejections pose a problem, however, then you’re probably in the wrong business. There’s a reason why author Douglas Adams once quipped, “Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until a drop of blood forms on your forehead.” It’s hard work, and you must have reptile-thick skin to survive the backlashes and bleedings.
- And speaking of rejections, remember that such things are simply a part of the game, like penalties in high school football. Don’t get discouraged by them. Stephen King had hundreds collected in a sock drawer before he managed to sell his first short story back in the late 1960s. On top of that, you can actually gain some hope from these rejections. How? Are your rejections becoming “personalized?” In other words, is the editor rejecting you doing so directly, in his own words, instead of a carbon-copied rejection form with a stamped name at the bottom?
Or are your fiction submissions making it to a so-called “second reading?” — meaning your story was good enough to make it past the point where 99 percent of the rest of the submissions are laid to waste, where your story now sits in a second pile where the editors go over, reviewing each story, just before final selections are made. If your stories are routinely hitting this stage (as most of mine are now, thankfully), then you’re close.
Keep the faith. And best of all, keep writing.
And think of that hand sign we can use in the future!
Kevin McClintock is a staff writer for The Carthage Press and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org