For the past several weeks, I’ve been researching literary magazines to try to find homes for the short stories I’ve written. It’s the first step in getting published and one that has only taken me, oh, three and a half years to take.
This is my second stab at taking this plunge, the first being a day much like this one last year. I had just finished watching the movie Nebraska, was sitting writing notes about its characters and plot development and, overall, feeling pretty good and smart about things.
So good, in fact, that I gathered the courage to scan the website for the literary mag Tin House, which has received piles of awards.
This, in the end, did not prove useful.
Before me was a collection of short stories, beautiful, impressive ones, coupled with beautiful, impressive artwork. Here were scholarly reviews, the same kind that had so intimidated me in grad school. Here were the submission guidelines telling me the editors received so many stories a year that, should I submit, it would take about six months before I’d hear whether or not I’d been rejected.
So here I was, sitting in the middle of snowy Kentucky, with no master’s in creative writing, stomach in knots, no clue what I was really doing, and I was going to what? Submit to this thing? Was I serious?
I closed the website down quick and put my head back in the sand by watching an episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Because that’s who I was, people: watcher of trash TV, failed writer, Tweedledumdumdum.
Anxiety, I’ve realized, has been such an essential part of my writing life that it’s possible that it, and not the writing itself, has been in charge. I’ve always wanted to write stories and books, but instead, for 17 years, wrote everything else: papers on literature, articles for magazines, articles for newspapers, stories for a health blog.
It was probably this column that got me closest to what I really wanted to be doing, but it was still safe: still just chatty instead of arty, fun instead of serious.
Anyway, it took another year to have the stones to open up another literary mag. By now, I had a book and 10 short stories to play with, not a big body of work, but not nothing either. So two weeks ago, I started, telling myself I would take the month of January to research and submit. I found a website that directed me to the best literary magazines out there and dove in.
I was amazed to discover that I didn’t feel any anxiety at all. Somehow in the back of my mind, I must have been working this out, preparing myself for this time. So I have scanned about 75 magazines and have submitted two stories. By the end of this week, I hope to make that four.
Reading countless submission guidelines is an interesting way to spend your day. Editors get frustrated, it’s clear. Some of them are so strict and promise you so little, you almost feel chastised by the time you’re through.
It’s tedious work and I’ve found myself looking for anything that seems hopeful or distracting. For example, I’ve drank a whole lot of tea this week simply because it means I can take two trips to the kitchen: one to turn on the kettle, the second to fill up my cup.
But there have been a few moments of levity. Take a look at this little gem from an editor and see if you like it too: “Please read an issue of the magazine before you send us your work in order to get a feel for the kind of writing we publish. You’ll see that we don’t publish science fiction, fantasy, other genre fiction, or anything with talking animals.”
Another included these tips, “Please — no earnest stories about your unresolved ‘daddy issues.’ Please — no earnest stories about the absurdity of organized religion. Comical stories on this topic are another matter. The magazine does not care to read any more stories written from the point of view of a fetus. (For that matter, please also do not send stories about the Y2K bug, Sept. 11, the 2003 Toronto blackout, or tsunamis.)”
Overall, I know my chances for publication are extremely small — most magazines accept about 1 percent of what they receive and receive hundreds of submissions for every issue. But I’m going for it. It’s time and I’m ready. So I’ll sign off here so I can get my next cup of tea. Then I’ve got work to do.