How I would try to get a story published in the New Yorker (if my dream was to be published in the New Yorker)

I understandBeing published in the New Yorker is pretty awesome. You get a few million potential readers (assuming each copy has more than one reader) and they also pay pretty well. But there are a lot of things in life that are pretty awesome: book deals; Stegner Fellowships; cloudless summer days; etc…and, for whatever reason, being published in the New Yorker has never been one of my particular daydreams.

I think this is mostly because I don’t read the New Yorker. I have literally never opened an issue of the New Yorker and read the short story inside it. I’ve never watched a story go from being in the New Yorker to being on the tip of everyone’s tongue—I just don’t have the same positive associations with it that I have with Asimov’s or F&SF or The Year’s Best Science Fiction.

But ever since entering this MFA program, I’ve learned that getting published in the New Yorker is an obsession in the literary world. Many MFAs subscribe to the New Yorker. Even more MFAs read it. And almost everyone is familiar with what is published in it. Over the last six months, I’ve had countless conversations where someone said the words, “Last week, I read in the New Yorker…”

There’s nothing wrong with that. The New Yorker is a great magazine. And even when it’s not great, it’s still very influential. The New Yorker’s readership makes it the definitive place to publish a short story. It is the only place where general readers might encounter a contemporary short story writer.

So if you write short stories and love short stories and want your short stories to be culturally relevant, then by far the best place for them to be is in the New Yorker.

So, before I go on, let me stress that I am a guy who is very much on the outside of the publishing world (particularly the world of literary fiction). With one exception (my story in the Diverse Energies anthology), I’ve only ever sold stories through open submission systems (and I have the 982 rejections to prove it). Although I take on a pretty definite stance in this post, everything within it is based on observation and supposition–it’s entirely possible that a bunch of it is wrong. However, when you’re on the outside, supposition can be all that you have.

So here is where the chain of supposition begins.

It appears to me that if you want a short story in the New Yorker, there are two ways to do it:

  • Submit directly to the fiction editor (i.e. bypassing the regular slush pile) through some personal contact. I imagine that this personal contact takes one of three forms:
    • Direct networking – meeting her and making her acquaintance.
    • Being put in touch with her through a mutual friend or one of your teachers.
    • Being a staffer (an editorial assistant, proofreader, secretary, copy-editor, etc) at the New Yorker (a la Nell Freudenberger)
  • Have your agent submit the story on your behalf.

Note what I left off this list: submitting through the online submission form. There’s nothing wrong with the online form, but even if it was possible to sell through it, then the odds (assuming they buy 1 story a year from the slush) would be 1 in 40,000. That’s such a low probability that, to me, it’s not even worth fantasizing about.

However, there is also substantial evidence that it is completely impossible to sell to the New Yorker through the submissions form. The previous fiction editor of the New Yorker, Bill Buford, never bought a single story from the open slush during his eight-year tenure. The current editor, Deborah Treisman, is a bit more cagey, but, in interviews, she has never named a single person whose story she’s selected from the online submission form. She does name unagented and unsolicited authors she’s published, but it feels entirely likely that all of those stories were submitted through connections. And when she’s asked how to get a story into the New Yorker, she basically says, “Through your agent.”

Thus, it’s possible that the last time the New Yorker published a story it got through the open slush was sometime in the mid-90s.

Now I’m not here to piss and moan and wail about that, since I don’t really care. But if it is your ambition to be in the New Yorker, then you should stop fantasizing about the online submission form and start thinking about how you’re going to make your dream come true.

You might try to leverage whatever contacts you have.

You might try to make some contacts that might be leverageable.

You might try to go to one of the MFA programs whose students tend to publish in the New Yorker: Iowa, Syracuse, Cornell, etc. (On the theory that these programs have some kind of pipeline to the magazine).

You might move to New York and try to get a low-level job at the New Yorker.

All of these things are absolutely worth doing. But they’re all murky and chancy endeavors. It’s very difficult to tell who might be willing to open that gate for you: people who have that power are unlikely to advertise it.

However, there is one relatively easy and unambiguous way to get in the New Yorker. The editor herself told you how to do it. Get the right kind of agent.

Now, plenty of agents don’t really accept clients through unsolicited queries. But many actually do. I think it’s more common than not for agents (or at least someone at an agency) to at least glance through the queries and think, “Might we want to represent this person?”

The only way an agency can stay in business is by finding an author whose work might sell. And good work does sometimes come in through the transom. Furthermore, it’s often a lot easier to network with and make personal contacts with an agent, since: a) there are more of them; and b) as middlemen, they are, almost by definition, somewhat approachable.

As an author who wants to be in the New Yorker, you have to do two things:

  1. Find out which agents are capable of placing something in the New Yorker.
  2. Find a way to make those agents interested in representing you.

The first aim is accomplished easily enough. You just need to comb through the New Yorker and find a hundred or two hundred authors who’ve recently published in it. Some of these authors might’ve gotten into the magazine through other means, but most of them probably got there via their agents. And when you see a novel excerpt in the New Yorker, I think the likelihood is fairly high that it was placed by an agent.

Then take your list of authors and compile a list of their agents. Agents whose names appear two or more times in your list of authors are, in my opinion, highly likely to have some connection to the New Yorker.

So now you have a list of agents who you’re going to query.

All you need is something to query with.

In order to interest an agent, there has to be at least a chance that your work is going to make some money for them. And the only kind of fiction that really makes money is novels. Even short story collections by really, really famous writers often sell pretty poorly. Maybe once in every five years,** there’s a break-out story collection that becomes a best-seller, but yours is unlikely to be that collection. Agents will sometimes rep collections, but it feels like that often occurs when an author already has some buzz (usually because they’ve already published in the New Yorker) and the agent wants to lock them down and extract a novel from them. No agent in the world is excited to see a short story collection show up in their inbox.

On the other hand, I feel like novels at least have potential. Some random MFA student’s novel could turn out to be the next Lovely Bones or Everything Is Illuminated. It probably won’t happen, but at least the odds are a bit better.***

Actually, if you’re really set on hooking an agent, then probably a literary-type memoir might be an even better bet.

So yeah, the hard truth is that the aspiring New Yorker author should write a novel. I feel like that’s unwelcome news, because I think that part of the reason people want to publish in the New Yorker is to somehow make the transition to novel-writing a bit easier. If you publish in the New Yorker, then the world will want your novel. It’s very possible it’ll get sold before you even write it.

But that’s completely backwards. Publishing in the New Yorker in order to become a novelist is like buying a house because you want a secure place to do your laundry for free. It’s like killing your baby in order to get it to stop crying. It’s like getting elected President because you want free security for life.

Selling a novel is much easier than getting published in the New Yorker—the New Yorker only publishes 52 stories a year, whereas the Big Five (and the big independents) publish many more literary novels than that. Furthermore, there’s much less competition in the novel arena, since fewer novels are written (although the competition is still very fierce).

The reason to publish in the New Yorker is not because you want to publish your novel. The reason to publish in the New Yorker is because you want people to read your short stories. Publishing in the New Yorker is one of the very few ways for a short story writer to achieve any kind of visibility in this country.

So, yes, if you want to be a successful short story writer, then you should write the novel first and then use it as leverage to get what you want for your stories. When the agent calls you up, all excited about your novel, ask them if they’d be willing to place your stories in the New Yorker. After you sign with them, send them a story and ask them to do it. If they hedge and refuse, then fire them and find another agent.

Obviously, following my advice would be incredibly difficult. First you’d need to write a novel that could excite an agent who sees a thousand novels a month. Then you’d need to write a short story that could believably appear in the New Yorker. And then a dozen other things would need to line up in the right way.

But your odds of success would be a ­hell of a lot better than one in 1 in 40,000.

*Looking on the acknowledgements page of one of their books is usually a pretty good way of doing this—for instance, I just looked through my copy of Prep: Curtis Sittenfeld’s agent was Shana Kelly, at William Morris.

**In the last fifteen years, I can only think of three story collections that’ve been best-sellers: George Saunders’ Tenth of December; Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies; and Melissa Bank’s The Girls’ Guide To Hunting and Fishing;

***My understanding is that it’s much easier–in the literary fiction world–to get an agent if you have some decent short story credits. And it’s definitely worth trying to get those. In any case, your MFA program will likely require you to produce 12 or so short stories, so you’re going to end up with some product that you’ll need to try to unload. But you don’t need the New Yorker to impress an agent–I’m pretty sure that stories in some of the snazzier reviews (Kenyon, Boston, Missouri) would be enough. But even if you do have those credits, an agent will still, most likely, turn you down if you don’t have a novel.

As a final P.S., if you want more answers on how to navigate a career as a writer of literary fiction, you really can’t do much better than Mary Anne Mohanraj’s FAQ page. I read it years and years ago, before I ever even began to consider an MFA, and it really set me straight.

Why you shouldn’t necessarily take advice from people who are very good at what they do.

SubmissionsOn a writing forum that I browse, an up-and-coming science fiction writer with a number of good sales to his name wrote that a majority of the stories he completes never go out for submission because they don’t meet his personal standards of quality and that, furthermore, there are only about 5 or 6 short story markets that he submits to, since very few short story markets have a significant readership. If a story is rejected by those markets, he pulls it and stops submitting it.

It’s hard to argue with his results. Although he’s sold few stories in absolute terms, he’s sold some huge fraction of the stories that he’s chosen to submit. And the stories that he’s sold have gotten a significant amount of notice.

Nevertheless, I strongly disagree with his methods. I mean, it hasn’t hurt him, because he’s good writer, but I don’t see how it’s helped him, either. It seems to have two problems with it: a) What if you’re wrong? Maybe some of those unsubmitted stories are actually good? What if someone of those overlooked markets actually have a respectable readership? and b) this seems like a lot of unnecessary angst.

I think this is particularly a waste of time when you’re not a good writer. Why worry about whether this story is good enough to submit when the real answer is that none of your stories are actually worth submitting? Why worry about whether this market is “worth” more than that market when the answer is that no worthwhile market is going to take anything that you write?

For most aspiring writers, that is the reality. You’re just not good enough yet. No idea, no story, is going to sell, because your sentences don’t look and sound professional. When people read your writing, there’s just this fatty quality to it that instantly dooms it. Some people can sense this about their writing, and they despair over whether they’ll ever get better. And some people can’t sense it, and they blithely write on, always thinking that the next story is going to be their big break.

Personally, I spent a really long time in those trenches. I wrote 60 stories before selling to a pro market. Even after that, I wrote another 60 stories before I started selling semi-regularly. And when I did start selling, it was all very strange. Even now, I’m never sure which stories will sell and which ones won’t. If I only submitted half the stories that I wrote, then some of the ones I’ve sold would be in the bottom half.

I think of submitting as being about developing the habit of continuing on, despite adverse reactions. Sometimes, when you don’t believe in yourself, when nothing is selling, when you’re not getting a positive notice from any quarter, the only thing that’s left to you is habit. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, the habit of writing and the habit of submitting can carry you through to a better place.

I won’t say that the following is true of the person I am talking about, since I know nothing about his life or his path to publication, but I will say that I’ve noticed that people who achieve success with relatively little struggle (usually due to their own native talent, energy, and intelligence), tend to be a little bit less resilient than those who have to work harder for it. I have a lot of theories on why this might be. Sometimes I think it’s because people don’t place as much value on something that they don’t have to work hard for. I’ve sunk so much time and energy into writing that I’m just unable, psychologically, to walk away from that investment. For someone who’s put less effort into it (while still achieving similar results), quitting might be easier. And they could also (perhaps rightly) think that their talents will let them achieve similar results in other fields with a similarly small expenditure of energy (whereas I simply don’t have enough time left in my youth to work as hard at something else as I’ve worked at writing).

But I also think that more-talented people might not have built up as much of an ability to cope with rejection and despair and the apathy of the world. If you never had that five or six or seven years when you literally couldn’t even give away your writing, then you might not know how to persevere when the downturn hits (as it inevitably will).

When you second-guess yourself during the submissions process, you rob yourself of a bulwark against fallow periods. You increase the chances that, instead of persevering, you will spiral down into self-doubt. There are times, in life, when you need to write or submit stuff that you know is bad. Either because you might be wrong about it being bad or because writing the bad stuff is a necessary precursor to getting better.

This is yet another reason why it’s sometimes not the best idea to take advice from very talented people. Sometimes they can succeed despite very non-optimal tactics. For instance, I don’t think it’s a good management tactic to be a huge jerk to everyone who works for you. Nevertheless, because a design genius like Steve Jobs was able to succeed despite being a huge jerk, I’m pretty sure that Silicon Valley is now full of people who think that being horrible to your employees is one of the keys to success.

Waiting for the hurricane; Wired magazine; David Lodge; and more submissions stuff

This is the kind of ship that’s been getting sunk by hurricanes since well before the climate started changing

So, the hurricane is bearing down on me. I’m at my parent’s home in DC. Since my Baltimore apartment is below street level, it’s not impossible that it’s filling with water even as we speak (though hopefully that’s not true…) I fully expect that at some point we’ll lose power here in DC, since we’ve lost power for much less severe storms than this. But my parents have a generator, so we should be fine-ish.

But I thought I’d throw out a blog entry right now, while I still have internet. Umm…stuff is good. Now, I believe in climate change, but I also believe that you can’t really point to any specific storm or event and be like, “This is climate change in action.” That’s a judgment that can really only be made by statisticians who can look at the data over time and conclude that storms, over time, are getting larger and more intense. Climate change is a trend; a storm is just a datapoint.

But I will say that I’ve never before had to flee a hurricane. And it does seem like there’ve been a lot low-probability weather events in DC lately, like the derecho thunderstorms that left the area without power over the summer or the Snowmageddon that crippled us back in January of 2010. Part of that is just that I notice weather more nowadays (as compared to when I was growing up), since when it happens, I actually have to do things about it.

But anyway, I was thinking about all this extreme weather as I was driving to Baltimore, and I was like, “You know, this is kind of what climate change would feel like.” It wouldn’t be stuff like living in domes or behind sea-walls, it’d just be these things that happen: hurricanes and power outages and heat waves and snow storms and floods. You just deal with each one and you go on living your life. But, of course, each one kills a few people and wrecks a few lives and does a few billion dollars worth of damage. And that slowly accumulates (along with the other, more chronic impacts of climate change) and life is, in some small way, worse than it would otherwise have been. It’s a far cry from some crazy Population Bomb type scenario where 90% of the Earth’s population dies, but it’s certainly not particularly optimal.

 

In other news, I read an issue of Wired today. It was, err…good. But it was a compilation issue: articles taken from magazines throughout the decade–so it was easy to spot some really interesting trends in Wired. For instance, Wired runs a lot of articles about entrepreneurs who get diagnosed with a disease (or are somehow affected by it) and then use their business savvy (and millions of dollars) to revolutionize research into that disease. It’s become a slightly-ridiculous Silicon Valley trope, to the point where I wonder if millionaires feel ashamed if they get diagnosed with a disease and just go to the world’s best doctor and do what he tells them to do.

Yes, my reading has been light lately. I’ve also been reading David Lodge novels. Over the weekend, I read the first of his “Campus Trilogy”. They’re really light and fun. But they’re also about adultery, in this way that’s almost kind of serious, but is, to me, totally laughable. Adultery is such a complex narrative trope and has so much moral and emotional and cultural weight and has been treated so many times and in such a stylized manner, that it’s hard to remember that it’s a real thing that actually forms the emotional crux of peoples’ lives.

 

And finally, I’ve continued submitting to literary journals. I’ve made a godawful high number of submissions to lit journals in the past six days, and I’m seriously considering submitting to another dozen more once I have access to my printer again (so far, I’ve only been sending out electronic submissions). I’ve realized that payment is an extremely imperfect way to figure out which journal to submit to (since payment information is kept so secret), but just googling “ranking of literary journals” brought to what look like two very fine indexes. The first ranks journals by the number of stories they’ve published that’ve been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. And the second ranks them by the number of stories they’ve published that’ve received mentions in the Best American Short Stories. Now, obviously, neither of these is that great a measure, since they’re basically indexes of the opinion and reading habits of a very tiny and homogenous number of jurors and editors. But still, at least it’s something.

Professor Kanakia’s Guide to Submitting Your Fiction (and some other stuff too)

This was one of the top image results for “Angry Editors”

Editors across the country should be very afraid. We’re coming to the close of the fiction unit in my class, and I’d built an empty overflow day into the syllabus. However, when the day came upon us, I found that I didn’t have anything to say. However, since I knew that some people in the class were interested in pursuing writing further, I decided to give a little capsule overview of how to submit their fiction. As part of this overview, I prepared a handout. However, the handout kept growing and growing and growing until it became the eight page monstrosity that you see below.

How To Submit Your Fiction for Publication (and other random advice)

There are four basic places to sell your short fiction:

  • The New Yorker – You will never, ever be published here from a blind submission, but each submission is still a ticket to some wonderful daydreaming about being plucked out of obscurity and instantly becoming one of America’s hottest young writers.
  • The Literary Journal– These journals are usually run by universities or nonprofit organizations.
    • Examples: Public Space, Tin House, Glimmer Train, anything with “Review” in the title.
  • The Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror Magazine– There are three major profit-making print magazines, the rest are online and mostly have small profits. Some run on donations
    • Examples: Asimov’s, Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Clarkesworld
  • The Mystery / Crime Magazine – Not many of these left, but they dostill exist
    • Examples: Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, The Big Click

What kind of money can I expect?

Most of the top magazines will pay between five and twenty cents a word (although it’ll usually be closer to five than twenty). There are hundreds of magazines that pay smaller rates, though. Many magazines pay nothing at all.

How many readers will I get?

The New Yorker has a few hundred thousand readers. Every other magazine has fewer than 40,000 (usually much, much fewer). Generally, if you’re getting paid at least 5 cents a word then the circulation of the magazine is between 1,000 and 20,000. Generally, the less a magazine pays, the fewer readers it has. There are zillions of online magazines that have only a few dozen readers (if that).

What are my odds of being published?

Most of the top magazines (the ones that pay between five and twenty cents per word) will accept one story (or less!) for every 100 submissions. Even stories with token payment rates often have low acceptance rates. However, there are many magazines (dozens!) that have acceptance rates as high as 20%. It is not hard to get published somewhere. And, at least when you start, I recommend that you keep submitting your story–even to very minor markets–until it finally does get published. That way you at least have a starting point.

How should I choose where to submit?

I start at the top (the market that pays the most and has the highest reputation) and work my way down. Since it’s so much better (in terms of both payment and readership) to be published at a top market, it’s definitely worth giving them a shot. Once you’ve exhausted the top markets (which doesn’t take too long, actually), it’s worth going lower down the list: select markets that have nice websites and look like they have some readers and pay a little something something.

Okay, yeah, but I know nothing about magazines! How do I find the specific market to submit to?

Use duotrope.com. This is a wonderful market database. You can use their Search page to find individual listings that meet your criteria: https://duotrope.com/search.aspx. The settings that I normally use are:

  • Genre (select whichever type of story you’re planning on submitting, literary writers should select ‘General’)
  • Min. Payment (Pro is above 5 cents per word, Semi-Pro is above 1 cent per word, and Token is just any amount of money)
  • Length (If you’re submitting a work that’s less than 1,000 words then select ‘Flash’, since some magazines don’t accept stories of that length and other magazines only accept stories of that length)
  • Submission Type (If you’re willing to physically mail out the submission then don’t worry about this; if you don’t want to mess around with stamps and envelopes then select ‘Electronic’)

Once you’ve conducted your search, you can look at each market’s duotrope page. Then follow that page to their website and look at their submission guidelines. These have information on how to submit your work to them (what email addresses and formatting to use, etc)

Can I submit the same story to multiple magazines at the same time?

This depends on the magazine. The majority of literary magazines do allow this. Thus, people who submit to literary magazines will usually send out their submissions in batches. One weekend, they’ll submit a story to ten of their top magazines. Then, a few months later (after some rejections have come in), they’ll submit it to ten slightly lower-tier magazines. And so on.

Most sci-fi and fantasy and mystery and horror magazines do not allow this. You’ll need to submit a story to only one place at a time. However, average response times for these magazines (duotrope is a good place to figure out this as well) tend to be much shorter.

How should I format my story?

Some magazines have their own idiosyncratic submission guidelines, which you should look out for and adhere to. However, most magazines won’t yell at you if you give them the following:

  • File type – *.doc (not *.docx, since for some reason many editors won’t take this)
  • Upper Left Corner – Your Name, email address, phone number, and mailing address
  • Upper Right Corner – Word count of submission (rounded to the nearest hundred)
  • Then, the title of the story. On the next line, your byline, e.g. “By Rahul Kanakia”
  • Body text: Times New Roman, twelve point font, indented paragraphs, double-spacing
  • Section breaks: The space between sections is often marked off with a centered # symbol
  • Headers: None on the first page, then, on each subsequent page, a top header with your name, the story title, and the current page number. For god’s sake, do not add manual headers. Learn how to make headers and automatic page numbers in Word. It is very, very easy.

What should I put in my cover letter?

For email submissions, you usually attach your story. The cover letter is the stuff in the body of the email. Submissions sent in using online submission systems also usually have a space for a cover letter. What you put here doesn’t matter. Generally, people put a short list of their other publication credits. If you have none, it’s perfectly fine to just write:

Your Name

Your Email Address

Your Phone Number

Your Mailing Address

Dear Editor,

Please consider the attached short story for publication in your magazine.

Sincerely,

Your Name

In fact, this is what I recommend.

How long will it take me to get a response?

Anywhere from 1 day to 3 years. Usually if a magazine that is known for slow responses takes longer than six to twelve months to get back to me, I’ll write off the submission as a non-response and submit it somewhere else. If a magazine that is known for quick responses takes more than 100 days to get back to me, then I usually send an email to them (either to their query address or to their submissions address) and ask them whether they’re still considering the story. Sometimes it’s gotten lost in the shuffle (in which case I often re-send it), and sometimes they’re holding it for further consideration (in which case I whoop and holler in joy).

What should I do if I get rejected?

Don’t worry about it. All writers get rejections. As of Oct. 7th, I’ve received 886 short story rejections. I’d recommend that you just send the story out again to somewhere else. And that you write some new stories. Do not count on any particular story getting published. You’re more likely to get published (and become a better writer), if you are always writing, finishing, and submitting new stuff.

How should I keep track of my submissions?

Many people use the submissions tracker that’s embedded in duotrope. I don’t use it, but I’m fairly sure you can figure it out (you have to register to use it, but registering is free). Personally, I use an excel spreadsheet in which I record the name of each story, the date I submitted it, the place to which I submitted it, and all the places that have rejected it. The reason to keep track of your submissions is so you can assess what stories you have out and so you can avoid resubmitting a story to a place that has already rejected it.

Some magazines want me to pay a reading fee! Some contests want me to pay an entry fee! Should I shell out in order to submit?

It’s up to you. Just realize that 99 times out of 100, your story is not going to get accepted or win the contest. Magazine reading fees are usually a dollar or two, so that’s not too terrible (about what it costs to send a paper submission). But contest fees are usually like twenty dollars! I think there’s a limit to the amount of times that you want to lose twenty dollars. I have, on occasion, paid reading fees and entered contests, but it has never worked out for me. I’ve always lost my money. Nowadays, I try to avoid them, but sometimes I succumb.

How do I know if a story is ready to submit?

You don’t! It is very rare that someone will tell you “This story is done and should be submitted.” People will always find something that needs to be fixed. And they’re usually right. All stories have flaws. But, mostly, you’re not good enough to fix the flaws. A story doesn’t sell because it has no flaws, it sells because it is saying and doing something interesting.

If you have a complete draft and you’re not actively working on making it better (either by revising it or submitting it to a workshop), then you should really consider submitting it. It’s too easy to set things aside and think, “Oh, I’ll work on this someday” and then let it rot for years. There’s something good about getting stuff out there and clearing yourself up to work on something new.

What’s the point of writing short stories? Shouldn’t I work on novels?

From the beginning writer’s standpoint, stories are a bit easier because you can finish them and submit them in a month (or less). Writing, revising, and submitting a novel is going to take you about a year (or more). To some extent, the skills you get from writing short stories will also transfer over to novel writing. However, if you don’t read short stories or like short stories, then there is a good chance that your short stories won’t be that good. If you do read and like novels, then maybe that is what you should be working on. Although it’s difficult to finish a novel, it’s absolutely doable.

Furthermore, the rewards of publishing a novel are much greater than the rewards of publishing a short story. Even a new and unknown novel gets much more notice and (probably) has more readers than a short story in a top magazine. If you want to make a living as a writer, then you’ll probably need to start writing novels sooner or later.

I’d say that the main pitfall with a novel is becoming obsessed with your first one and revising it and revising it and revising it and refusing to let it go and submit it. Don’t do this! There’s a really good chance that your first novel is utterly terrible (even though you can’t see it) and that no amount of revising is going to make it good. You should polish it up as best you can and just submit it. Then go to work on the next one!

On a sidenote, though, if you want to continue to take creative writing classes and be involved with the whole workshop scene, then you’re probably going to need to continue to write at least a few short stories. For various reasons, it’s a bit difficult to submit a novel to most workshops.

I keep getting rejections! Didn’t you just say that I have, like, zero chance of getting published?

Your chances of getting published in a top magazine are low, initially, but it’s been my observation that people in the science fiction and fantasy writing world who work intensively on their writing for about 3-5 years are more likely than not to make at least one good sale. Age is not a factor here. College students get published all the time, as long as they do the work. However, there are also no guarantees. Some people write and submit for twenty years without getting any traction.

Wha…? Intensively? How hard do I need to work?! When is all of this gonna pay off?

For some perspective, my first “good” sale came during the summer after I graduated from college, when I sold a story to Nature. This was after about 286 rejections. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that any of you might do as well or better than that. During my first five years of writing and submitting (my senior year in high school + my college career), I only had about 250 or so days on which I did any writing. And on those days I did maybe 1-2 hours of writing.

Writing doesn’t seem to be like ballet or the violin. It’s been my observation that beginning writers don’t seem to put in as many hours of work, on average, as other kinds of artists. I’d say that if you wrote for half hour a day, every single day, you’d be working much harder than the vast majority of beginning writers (and harder than I, personally, worked at it during college). If you worked at it for one and a half hours a day (which is what I do now), then you’d way ahead of the curve. When you write, I’d recommend turning off the internet, however. Writing time isn’t real writing time if half of it is actually Facebook time. For myself, I use a software program called Freedom (macfreedom.com) to block the internet during my writing time.

Hah! I ignored your advice and I wrote myself a damn good novel! Now how do I sell this and reap my millions?!

Okay, I have less advice on this, since I haven’t sold a novel yet. But I will say that the general path, as far as I can tell, is to:

  • Write a query letter and 2 page synopsis. There are online resources that will help you do this. Ones that I found to be helpful were the following web posts:
  • Research literary agents using a service like agentquery.com
  • Look up the guidelines of a bunch of agents who rep the kind of work that you’re writing
  • Send the query to twenty of them or so. You can query as many agents at the same time as you want. Sometimes I’m tempted to just stay up all night and query every single literary agent and then be done with it.
  • Agents will either ignore you (about half the time), reject you, or ask for a partial or full copy of your manuscript. If none of the twenty ask for part of your manuscript, then you might need to revise your query letter.
  • If an agent reads your full manuscript and wants to represent you, then I have nothing more to teach you. At that point, it’s the agent’s job to sell the manuscript to a publisher.
  • At the same time as you’re searching for an agent, you should keep a look out for publishers that are willing to look at unagented manuscripts (sometimes there are open calls or contests or submission windows), and submit your novel to these as well.
  • Finally, if all else fails, you can self-publish on Amazon Kindle Direct and Smashwords (which’ll put your book into most of the non-Amazon ebook stores). I don’t have much experience with this, but some people have achieved tremendous success with it.

What about getting an MFA or a creative writing professorship or a Stegner fellowship or…?

Another way in which writing is unlike violin or ballet is its disregard for credentials. You really do not need any fellowships or degrees in order to publish. That having been said, the whole graduate writing thing isn’t a bad way to avoid real life and improve your writing. If that’s something you think you might want to do, then you should probably keep taking creative writing classes. Your undergrad creative writing classes are pretty similar to what a grad creative writing class would be. The only things to remember about creative writing grad school are: i) although you can get into a grad program without having published anything, you cannot get a professorship unless you publish a book with a fairly respectable publisher; and ii) you probably shouldn’t go to a creative writing program unless they waive your tuition and give you a teaching assistantship (the reason I am teaching you guys right now) that includes a stipend. Getting paid to go to grad school is extremely pleasant; spending $100,000 to go to grad school is much less pleasant.

Okay, fine…I read this all the way to the end. But you still haven’t told me where to submit my stories!

  • Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Markets (ranked according to my perception of their reputation)
  1. Top Tier – The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (the only major one that requires paper submissions), Asimov’s, Analog, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Tor.com (though they literally take years respond), Writers of the Future (this is just for beginning writers), Strange Horizons (I read submissions for this magazine),
  2. Not Quite The Top Tier – Apex Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, The Intergalactic Medicine Show, Cosmos, Nature (yes, the scientific journal — they publish 1000 word stories and are very friendly to new writers), Daily Science Fiction, Shimmer, The Universe Annex (kind of an odd submissions process; it’s an online workshop / submissions queue)
  3. A Third Tier – AE, Weird Tales (usually closed to submissions), Interzone (although this one is in the UK, and requires paper submissions), On Spec, Abyss and Apex, Ideomancer
  • Literary Markets (tiered according to my perception of their reputation and quality)
    • Top Tier – Agni, the Virginia Quarterly Review, Pedestal, the Vestal Review, Tin House, Glimmer Train, Zoetrope, Electric Literature, A Public Space, Boston Review, StoryQuarterly, McSweeney’s, Adbusters, Conjunctions
    • A Tier That Is Lower Than The Top Tier – One Story, Camera Obscura, 42opus, Ploughshares, Birkensnake, West Branch, Boulevard, Crazyhorse, Blackbird, Cream City Review, Hunger Mountain, Indiana Review, New Ohio review, Ninth Letter

I think this might be a record

I have thirty stories out for submission right now. Now, I can vaguely recall, right after writing, having a very high number of stories out. And I’ve not infrequently been in the twenties, but thirty is the highest I’ve ever had, I’m pretty sure.

I attribute this to two things. First, I’ve been aggressively trunking stories that would embarass me if they were ever printed. This means that I don’t have to worry about whether any story I am actively submitting is going to embarass me in front of editors, so I can send my stories to better markets. Secondly, I’ve been clearing up my revision backlog. I’m now down to only four stories in the revision pile, which is the lowest it’s been since I came back from the Clarion workshop (i.e. since I actually started revising stories).

I find it pretty difficult to write anything new when I have too many old stories that are unrevised / need submission. It seems like kind of a pointless endeavor, since if I write anything new it’ll just add to a pile that I am already too busy to deal with. So this is pretty good for me.