10 Steps for Submitting a Manuscript

Mar 31, 2010

This morning, I mailed off “Songs of Humanity” to a top science fiction magazine. ‘Cause if I start at the top, I can work my way down if needed, right?


I’m still in the super-excited-incredibly-nervous phase, but that’ll die down. I’ve got about five weeks before I can expect a response, after all. In the meantime, let’s talk about the nitty-gritty of submissions. Keep in mind, I’ve only got experience in submitting short stories– novel submissions are forthcoming! Still, a lot of the info is the same. Here’s my process:

1. Write a first draft. Get initial critiques, then rewrite. (With SOH, I totally scrapped the first draft and started over!)

2. Read actual copies of whatever magazine I plan on submitting to in order to make sure it’s a fit, and get an idea of their submission guidelines.

3. Rewrite some more. Let it sit for a week. Rewrite some more.

4. Get another critique. Let it sit for another few days. Rewrite again.

5. Go back to the magazine’s website and review their submission guidelines. Prepare my manuscript accordingly (include all contact info in top left corner, number pages, double space, 12 point Times New Roman, 1 inch margins).

6. Do a very detailed line edit and final rewrite. Let it sit for another few days.

7. Reread the entire story, all submission guidelines, make any final edits, then print. Use a paperclip, NOT a staple. Get my SASE ready to go.

8. Put on my Ghanaian earrings and necklace to channel good vibes from all my Ghanaian friends who ever wished blessings upon my head. Kiss the baby for luck, get another good luck kiss from the hubby, and head to the post office.

9. Mail it in! Sit in the car, breathe for a second, and say a little prayer.

10. Wait.

Notice anything particular about the process? There’s a lot of REWRITING, a lot of CRITIQUING and a lot of WAITING! I can’t even begin to describe how important those three things are. Especially the waiting. Take the time to let your manuscript sit! I did that multiple times with this submission. You have to do that even when you think you’re done. At least twice, I edited, thought the story was perfect, and put it aside for a few days. Without fail, I’d go back, look at it, and think, “oh wow, why didn’t I realize ____?” and make it better.

Of course, there has to be a stopping point. If you’re a perfectionist, you may end up going through that cycle until your hair falls out and you’ve actually made the story worse. In my opinion, it takes at least THREE periods of letting your work sit to really get it to a point where you can submit. And then, by golly, submit the heck out of it!

And please, please, please follow their guidelines when you do so!

What's in a Name? How to Title your Book

Mar 29, 2010

I had some serious trouble titling my latest short story. I’ve been perfecting the story over the last few weeks, and I let it sit for a bit before submitting it. Over that time, I have agonized over a title. I know there’s a chance of it changing if it ever gets published, but I just can’t submit it with a sub-par title. My husband Dan, ever helpful, suggested I call it Daniel the Dangerous.

Thanks hon.

Sometimes a title will pop out at me while I write. Rarely, I start with a title and write the story from it. Usually, I go through a process to come up with a fitting one. (I got the idea here, which gives some other great ideas.) First, I leave the piece alone for a bit. A few days, maybe a week. Then I come back, re-read it, and see if there’s anything that comes to me. If not, I’m on to the Second step. I make a list of all words that could work in a title. For this piece, some of those words included: music, song, sound, emotion, feeling, synesthesia, empath, symphony, orchestra, genetics, brothers, childhood, stolen…and a lot of others. (Curious about the story yet? Just wait…) The point is, I took any word that related to my story theme and any word related to those words. I made a big, long list of all of them, no matter how stupid.

Third, I went through my list and circled the ones that seemed to fit the best: song, feeling, music, and a few others all made the short list. Fourth, I left the list alone again for a day or so. I let the words simmer in the back of my mind. Sometimes, I’ll go back and do it all again, but not this time.

As I was doing my hair for church Sunday morning, thinking idly about the story and its themes, I froze mid-brush. A word had just occurred to me that wasn’t even on my list. I dashed to my computer, pulled up the story, and triumphantly typed the perfect title. And so, without further ado, I give you:

Songs of Humanity

I’m submitting this week…wish me luck!

Meanwhile, let’s talk about how you choose your titles. What’s your process?

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

Mar 23, 2010

Doctor WhoIt’s been a busy few days– mainly because a friend of mine has introduced me to the wonders of Doctor Who, and I’ve gotten addicted! I’ve spent way too much time this last week trying to catch up on the wonders of the time-traveling Doctor. Part of it, I’ll admit, was an excuse to avoid writing. I’ve forced myself to still do it, but not nearly as much, and for one main reason.

I’m afraid of what comes next in my book.

Let me be more specific: I’m afraid ofdestroying what comes next in my book. It’s a great turning point, where some fascinating things happen, and I’m terrified I’m going to botch the whole thing and it’s going to be awful. It’s the moment where the antagonist does his worst yet and things really start to go wrong– my “big, bad wolf” moment (ha ha! Doctor Who reference! Yeah, definitely too addicted), and I’m scared of it!

I used to be able to write without fear. I wasn’t afraid of rejection, because I didn’t submit anything. I wasn’t afraid of writing something horribly, because I was already horrible. My fear now is that I’ve got something that could potentially be great, and I’m afraid I’m still not good enough to pull it off. I suppose that’s a good thing, in a way. It means I’m actually putting tense, difficult moments in my book, which it needs if it’s going to be any good. Now I just need to get off my fearful, Doctor-Who-Obsessed rear and write it! There’s nothing wrong with a first draft being horrible– that’s what rewrites are for.

Whew, feeling better already, actually. A good self-pep talk always does me some good. So what about you? What are you afraid of when you write, and how do you overcome it?

Characterization in Crisis Moments: Three Steps

Mar 19, 2010

In the last post, I talked about experiences that I know will make it into my writing. These are moments that were magical or had an effect on me in some way, ones that I have in my mind specifically as “I will write this one day.”

However, there’s another part of writing from experience, and it helps make your actual writing craft stronger. This is a process I use often, especially at moments of crisis. It’s something that can really help turn a high-impact scene into one that also furthers character development if you do it right.

Currently in POEL, my main character has just discovered a person she loves is in mortal peril and she has to save her. This is a scene that’s been written thousands of times, and has great potential to be exactly like all those other thousands of books. It’s a pivotal scene for her, however, because of how it affects her thoughts and actions going forward. How am I going to make this scene not just impactful, but the kind of scene it needs to be to shape my character?

For high-intensity and high-emotion scenes, I often use a three step process to create the scene. First, I determine what I need this scene to be. It needs to be emotional for my character, but not sentimental. I determine which emotions (based on who she is) she would feel. The moment also needs to be a sort of catalyst for changing my character because of how she’s affected by it, so I have to determine how she really is affected by it. Okay, sounds good. Now what?

Second, I think of a moment in my life that reflects this. Sometimes, depending on what I determined in step one, I’ll think of more than one. So, she’s facing the thought of someone she loves in danger. I felt that when I learned my brother had been in a horrible accident (that he luckily walked away from). I relive the moment, writing down my feelings, how my body reacted, what my thoughts and actions were. Then I think of a moment in my life that was a catalyst for change, and do the same thing. It’s important to remember, you don’t have to have the same exact experience your character does in order to use it! What if you’ve never faced a moment where someone you loved was in danger? Think of another experience that might mirror that of your characters– one that created the emotions, thoughts, or results you want to portray.

Me- Not in the Story!

Now that I’ve got all that good stuff down, I’m onto the third step. I just determined how I felt and acted in a situation like that. There’s only one problem. I am not my character! So now I think about who my character is. How would she react? Would she bite her lip like I did? Would she be praying for the family member? Would she process the emotion like I did, or would she block it, and jump into action immediately? I use my own experience for reference only. I figure it all out, and often write it down. This is the MOST IMPORTANT STEP! The point of all this is to use your experience to get a feel for the situation, but if you put yourself into your story, you just failed. To really make a climactic point like this work, you have to stay true to your character, or the scene is a total bust.

Now, I don’t always use this process. Sometimes, I’m in the groove, I’m in my character’s head, and my fingers are flying. The scene still turns out great! Also, keep in mind that this isn’t a way to OUTLINE the scene. This is a way to FEEL the scene and your character so you can write it better, and hopefully make it more real for your character (and therefore your readers). You still have to focus on plot elements, dialogue, action, description, and all that other wonderful stuff that makes up a scene.

Give it a try! If it works for you, use it! If not, no worries. This is just one technique of many that happens to work for me.

Writing from Experience

Mar 17, 2010

Orchard in bloomIn the neighborhood where I grew up, there were apple orchards all around me. A large one across the street served as a magical kingdom for my friend Kim and me. We would meet there every week, and under our watchful, imaginative eyes, the orchard was transformed into a realm populated by unicorns, wizards, elves, and other fantastical races. Of course, there were also two very beautiful princesses, with dirt thrones carved into the side of a shallow pit– er, I mean, thrones of majestic marble. We spent hours playing there, and wept bitterly when our kingdom was overthrown by the cruel despots of Ivory Homes. I wonder if the people who live in those new homes have any idea the magic that exists in the soil beneath them.

There was another, smaller orchard a few blocks from my house. It had been a private one, and since the owners had demolished their house and moved on to greener orchards, it had grown wild. The trees were thick with untrimmed branches, the grasses grew tall and wispy, and in one empty corner, a front walk carved a short path to nowhere in the weeds. I never saw a more poetic, mystical place in my life. I purposely never took a picture of it, because I didn’t want it to be frozen. I wanted the image to remain only in my mind so it could be a true reflection of what it was to me, rather than hard proof of what it only looked like.

And it has remained in my mind for over a decade now. It has long-since been bought and plowed over to make room for a boring, methodical farm, but I still hold both these orchards dear. Both of them are places I know I will one day write about, where I can take words and mold them into something that recreates what these worlds were to me as a child. I have other places and moments and people in my life that I have stored carefully away, knowing they will be jewels I can write from. They were important to me, and I want to share them through my writing. There are so many influences around us that we can write from.

What are a few of yours?

The Influence of Reading

Mar 15, 2010

I’ve loved books since approximately birth. My first favorite was Dr. Suess’s amazing There’s a Wocket in my Pocket. I loved it so much, I carted it into the bathtub one day. Not too smart, but hey, I was 2. It’s still my favorite children’s book, and was the first one I added to my collection for my son.

When I entered the glories of elementary school, I was dead-set on buying a “chapter book.” My mom carted my seven-year-old self to the book store, where we both browsed for a few minutes. She came to me with a large-print, 20-words-per-page book that had three-page-long chapters. I was not impressed. When I showed her my pick, Megan’s Ghost by Marilyn Kaye, she wasn’t too keen on it. It was a middlegrade/young adult novel, and she was sure I wouldn’t be able to read it. I was insistent, however, so we bought both. I disdainfully tossed the “baby” book aside and read Megan’s Ghost inside a week. I thought it was the pinnacle of literary achievement. In fact, I still fondly remember the plot to this day.

We even have a home video of me, age 10, rollerblading down the street with a book in front of my nose. Because, of course, books are better enjoyed outside.

This is proof that reading does not necessarily make you smart.

There are other books that I specifically remember through the years that have helped shape me as a writer. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card was the first science fiction book I ever read, and it’s the one that opened me up to the genre. The Masked Rider by Neil Peart was a wonderful memoir that I not only enjoyed, but opened me up to the idea of writing memoir. These books have helped me remember why I’m writing– because I want to give other people that same sense of enjoyment when they read my books.

What about you? What books helped you get excited about reading? Which ones inspired you to write?

My Attitude About Submissions

Mar 11, 2010

I’m gearing up to send in my most recent short story to some science fiction magazines. I’m excited, and nervous, as I haven’t submitted anything in a while. As a writer trying to break into the publishing arena, I generally have to subscribe to the principle of double-think when I submit my work. Just as a safety measure.

In the book 1984, double-think is the principle of holding two contrasting ideas in your mind at the same time and believing them both whole-heartedly.

For example, whenever I’m readying a piece for submission, I have written and edited and rewritten and gotten critiques and rewritten again. In order to be brave enough to send my baby out into the cold, calculating publishing world, I have to stare at it and think, “This is possibly the best piece of literature ever written in the history of the world.”

However, to protect myself from the crushing disappointment of rejection, I am simultaneously thinking, “This is such trash. I can’t believe I’m going to send it out. No one would ever publish this.”

Of course, with this attitude rejections are still disappointing (though not crushingly so). Then again, despite convincing myself I’m practically a Nobel laureate, acceptances are still just as thrilling. I guess it’s kind of a “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” attitude.

So what’s your philosophy when you submit your work?

Two Secrets to Writing: Have a Take, and Don’t Suck

Mar 6, 2010

One of my creative writing professors in college once said there are only two real secrets to great writing. I was skeptical; why was I taking class after class if there were only two things to learn? Of course, these two secrets are broad, and much of what I’ve learned through classes, workshops, and experience over the years has fit into one or the other. Curious about these secrets? Well then, compliments of my professor, here you go.

1. Be true to yourself and write what matters to you.

If it’s not important to you, it won’t be important to your reader. This may cause a bit of fear in a writer. After all, if you’re writing what matters to you, you are opening yourself up and becoming vulnerable. Some writers may fear what others may think of them, and that they will be judged by what they write. You need to be willing to face that and write it anyway. Believe that what you have to say will be important to others. Writing that doesn’t keep you up at night won’t keep your reader up either! People who write well are fairly common. The rarities are those who are honest! The best way to be original is to be true to yourself.

2. Don’t bore your reader.

In other words, write well! Of course, you can never please everyone, but a general rule of thumb is not to bore yourself. If you find you’re getting bored, your reader most certainly will be. The key to writing well is to PRACTICE. You wouldn’t expect to be a concert pianist without hours of practice, and the same holds true for writing. Hard work is a better horse to ride than talent any day! Be willing to write and write and write and throw the bad things away and write some more.

So, to boil it down to the basics, the first two elements of writing are: “Have a take, and don’t suck!”

The First Step on the Writing Path

Mar 4, 2010

I don’t remember having a specific moment in life where I decided, “Hm, I think I’d like to be a writer.” I just remember writing, all the time, even before I could form letters. Eventually, I had notebooks full of crappy, half-page stories, and even crappier poems.

I do, however, remember the first real short story I ever wrote: “The Secret of the Crystal.” It was magnificent. It was typed. It was twelve pages long. I’ve never been so proud of a piece of writing in my life.Old computer

I still remember sitting at that old computer, inserting my floppy disk, and using DOS to open WordPerfect. I lovingly tweaked the background until the garish colors matched my creativity. I reread the newspaper article I had cut out that morning, fascinated by the story of a missing hiker who had been found with no memory of how she’d gotten lost. I cracked my knuckles, legs dangling from my chair, and began to type a story about a crystal necklace that allowed aliens to control my character’s thoughts, eventually leading her to the mountains to be abducted.

It was brilliant. I was a genius. The world would be awed by my astute 11-year-old mind. The wild praise of my parents was proof of that. From that moment on, I was determined. One day, I would be published and famous and win awards and earn barrels of money. I figured, if I worked hard, I could make it happen by the time I was sixteen.

Of course, I’m now ten years past that deadline. There are no more floppy disks, no more DOS, and no more neon-colored computer backgrounds. There are still newspaper clippings and the joy of creation, along with a lot more work and a lot more reality. Occasionally I still allow myself to look at a paragraph– sometimes even a scene– and determine it’s good.

But I still like to look back at my eleven-year-old self through my writing. Sometimes it helps to remember the idealism, and the innocence, that started this whole writing thing. It’s good to hear my childish voice reminding me that I really can do what I’ve always dreamed of.

Do you have a moment that you feel started your path as a writer? Let’s hear it!

Why I Don’t Need Fancy Writing Software

Mar 1, 2010

There are a million different types of writing software out there, from the free yWriter, to fancier ones like Scrivener or Dramatica Pro. Some are more expensive, some are more useful, and some writers swear by one or the other. I used yWriter for a while, then tested some free downloads, and you know what I learned? They don’t help me be a better writer.

I’m not saying they don’t have their uses. Depending on the person and your organizational needs, maybe you can’t live without one. Personally, not only do I not have the money for one, but I can do some of the same things without them! I find them overwhelming– there’s so much planning and structuring that I feel like I’d never get to the actual writing.

I still use the old standby of Microsoft Word. I have a folder for each of my works, and I have documents for world-building, character outlines, and plot outlines. Now granted, using a Word doc for a novel can get cumbersome. After I stopped using yWriter, the main thing I missed was being able to organize my work into easily navigable scenes. But guess what? Word can do that too! If you have Word 2007, just go to the View tab and click Document Map. Voila! I give each scene a quick title, and I can jump anywhere I need to, and do rearrangements a lot easier as well.

The main thing I learned was that I had to find what worked best for my writing style. We each need something that allows us to organize and write the way we need to. In my case, I need only the most basic tools.

What about you?

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