2.12.2007

How to Keep From Jumping Out a Window
Part 2 of 2 (reissue)

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write Fiction

Lou's Note: Since contributor M. M. DeVoe' short story was recently released (see post Paper Coach Contributor Published Again 2/6/07), it seems a good time to repost her earliest advice & thoughts for those subscribers who may have missed them the first time around.

by M. M. De Voe

3) A secret way in
The best way to really understand your market is to get a (probably unpaid) job as a reader. Just volunteer. Most magazines would be thrilled with 5 hours per week if you are dedicated and good. They all have slush piles taller than their nieces, and they really truly want to get through them - they just don't want to read it themselves. And while NYC is teeming with a zillion magazines, even most small towns have little literary magazines or local fanzines that could use your help. You can always quit after about six months, and the education is invaluable. And the best part is that you then know the entire editorial staff, and guess what? When you know editors, they tend to open your brown manilla envelopes.

4) How to keep from jumping
Nothing is working. You are just as brilliant as ever. You send out regularly, a story a week. You keep track of your submissions, and you send to the appropriate magazine. You even get great rejections with things scrawled across the bottom of the form-letter like, "enjoyed this, keep writing!" or "sorry about this, please submit again!"

Take these seriously. Editors who write you a note are serious about their notes. They don't have to write notes; they are trying to keep you away from the narrow ledge. Many times rejections are for stupid things like 1) we just printed three stories about old age, 2) we have a long story by [insert Famous Author] which we have to fit in this month, 3) the other submission was a prize winner and the author probably will publish a novel this month; if we print his story and not yours we'll probably sell more magazines.

There it is: sell more magazines. That's ALL that editors care about. They love to read good stories, they love to publish them too, but the bottom line is that they are trying to sell more magazines. So get the hell away from the window ledge and start writing again. It's a crap-shoot: if you write well, you are in direct competition with everyone else in the world who also writes well and has cool ideas and can follow writer's guidelines. All you can do to make yourself stand out is either 1) meet people in the industry or 2) distinguish yourself by your writing. Choose your course, and send out twice as many stories every week. It's tedious, but if you never send out, you'll never get published.

And if you're sending out a novel, make sure it's perfect. Think how easily you judge books that you read yourself, and realize that agents and publishers have even larger shelves of "I have to get around to reading these books". So forgive them their empty rejection letters and get an office on a ground floor.

- M. M. De Voe

M.M. Devoe's fiction has appeared in the Oklahoma review, THEMA, The First Line, the Columbia Daily Spectator, and been anthologized in both Stirring Up A Stormand Lithuania: In Her Own Words. Recently, she has won awards, mention, or been shortlisted for the H. E. Francis Short Story Competition 2002, the Fish Publishing's 2003 Short Story Prize, the 2004 Bellwether Prize, the 2004 Dana Awards, and the 2005 Pushcart Prize. Check her out at: www.mmdevoe.com

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