The Submission Grinder Really is a Diabolical Plot (but in a good way!)
By Sara Codair
Whenever I log onto the Submission Grinder, and see the words “Diabolical Plots” in the URL, I grin, because I know diabolical The Grinder can be.
Diabolical Plots is the title of a website that publishes speculative stories and articles. The Submission Grinder is part of it. For the writers, The Grinder can be as diabolical as any of the plots in the stories. It generates nail-biting suspense and encourages obsessive behaviors.
Unlike Submittable, The Moksha Submission System or other submission managers, users, not literary magazines, update The Grinder. It’s not a system for tracking your submission through a specific market’s slush pile. It’s a system from tracking how quickly markets respond to writers and for keeping track of where you’ve submitted what, how long it took to get a response and what that response was.
This may not seem too diabolical at first glance. It’s not like the Clarkesworld submission manager where you can watch your queue number drop, see your story change from Received to Under Review to Rejected. Nothing changes on your submissions unless you change it. The danger is in watching how markets you submitted to respond to other people.
A couple months ago, I submitted a story to a market called Beneath Ceaseless Skies. When my story had been in-progress for approximately 40 days, I saw people post rejections for times like 35 days or 30 days. This made me think that they had read my story, and put it aside for further consideration. When I saw an email pop up in my inbox at 45 days, I though for sure it was going to be an acceptance.
It wasn’t. On the bright side, it was a personal rejection that gave feedback.
You’d think I would have learned my lesson here.
I check the grinder multiple times a day. I study how long certain markets take to send acceptances versus rejections. I monitor how long my pieces have been out and mentally categorize them as ones I might hear back from soon and ones I still have a while to wait for.
While this is a little, or very, obsessive on my part, it has a lot of benefits.
Without it, I would be checking my email twice as much as I do now. I’ve found way more markets to submit to than I would have just searching through Google or directories people posted on blogs because The Grinder’s advanced search feature is amazing! It lets me search by genre, length, and pay category. I can even limit my search to publications with a quick turn around. And unlike Duotrope, it is completely free!
Yes, I do obsess over The Grinder, but the results have been more or less positive. I’ve gotten a few stories accepted to places I’ve found on The Grinder. They were how I discovered Foliate Oak, the market who published “The Closet: His and Hers” and 101 Fiction who will be publishing a micro story called “Maturity” next weekend.
So when I say The Grinder is diabolical, I don’t mean it’s bad or evil. It’s like a collection of good stories. It sucks up my attention, and it leaves me in suspense. Eventually, I find a happy ending, take a brief breather, and then dive into the next story. If you haven’t used it yet and are trying to publish fiction, I suggest you give it a try.
And if you use, and get absorbed in the suspense of the submission process like I do, try to evoke that kind of feeling for your readers. Make them feel the suspense and make them want to know what happens next. Use your struggles through in the slush pile to make your fiction better!
Almost three weeks ago, I got an email from Women on Writing notifying me I was in their top ten for their Winter 2016 contest. I happy danced all the way from the women’s restroom in Flatbread back to my table. It was exciting and boosted my confidence.
The days between now and then were full of rejections. Sometimes, I would get three or four in one day. One morning, three came in a couple hours. I’ve developed pretty thick skin when it comes to rejections, but the onslaught was starting to wear it down and erode my confidence. It made me wonder what wasn’t working with my stories or process, wondering if my idea of what was “good” and what editors and slush readers thought of as “good” was just too different.
Yesterday, I spent the morning selling what is left of my seaglass jewelry at a yard sale in Maine. I was trying not to check my email to much because I was almost out of data on my phone. Around 9:30, I gave in to my curiosity and refreshed gmail on my phone. The first thing I saw was a rejection from Clarkesworld. The second was a newsletter from Women on Writing. I opened it, expecting to my story as the last runner up, only to find my face staring back at me as the second place winner.
Let’s just say that everyone at the yard sale was notified of my win. I was very excited to not only have another “published” story, but to actually get paid for it.
I don’t write for money. I write because I need to write. However, everything in contemporary America costs money, and in order to justify the amount of time I put into the writing, I need to get compensated for it. Knowing my story was selected over hundreds of other and getting money for it felt good. It proved writing was more than just a hobby. It made me feel like artist, and like a professional.
I did it once, I can do it again. I will not let rejections get me down. I’ll keep pushing against the tide until I reach the next island – the next acceptance letter.
If you are interested, you can see my story, and the other winners, by clicking this link: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/69-FE1-Winter16Contest.html
Here is a goofy cat story to brighten your Friday:
By Sara Codair
I see you thought the kitten as it skulked toward the cheesecake.
The cheesecake didn’t say anything back. The kitten took that as a sign that the cheesecake didn’t see him. Just to be safe, he crouched a little lower to the ground. He didn’t walk straight towards the cheesecake, but took a drunken path, zigzagging across the room, hiding behind every obstacle he came across before he reached the table.
He stared up at his prize – just a little further. He wiggled his behind, ready to pounce, when he heard a faint buzzing. Looking around, he spotted a fly hovering near a porcelain vase.
Turning in a circle, he wiggled again, adjusting his angle, and leapt towards the fly. It zipped upwards seconds before his paws crushed it. He leapt again, landing on the end table, knocking the vase over as he sprung towards the curtains. Up and up he climbed until he was level with the fly, which was resting on the ceiling.
He threw himself off the curtains. His paw grazed a smooth carapace before they both tumbled down, landing smack in the middle of the cheesecake. The kitten ate the fly in one bite, then proceeded to lick the cheesecake until his little belly was full.
I hate empty space. Fortunately, this helps my writing process more than it harms it.
When I see emptiness, I feel the need to fill it. If there is a room with too much empty floor, I want to get more furniture. If the table is empty, I get urges to clutter it up with books and papers. When I clean, I move the clutter, wash the dirt away, and put the clutter back.
My disdain for space is one reason why painting or drawing has never worked for me. Last summer, I went to a bachelorette party at a paint bar in Arlington, MA. We were painting a hill in Boston with the skyline in the background. I closely followed directions for the sky and hill, but replaced the buildings with mountains, because I hate cities. Even though they are lacking empty spaces, they are filled with the wrong things.
If I had just followed directions after that, put in the prescribed three trees and small clumps of flowers, I would have been fine. But I felt like the foreground was too empty. So I kept adding more trees and flowers until the whole front was just utterly cluttered with my doodles. What could have a been a clean painting of a park overlooking a mountain range morphed into a chaotic jumble of rotten broccoli-trees, dotty flowers and distorted, oversized lupines.
Most of the time, my compulsion to fill space is an asset to my writing process. It means I seldom get writers block because if I see the blank page in front of me, I need to fill it with whatever stories or ideas are wrecking havoc in my head. What I write isn’t always good, but I keep going through the crappy parts of my mind until get back to better writing and sometimes, some of the crap turns out to be salvageable with significant revision and editing.
What often worries me with this compulsion is that I may add too much to a story later when I should be cutting back. I’m not worried that I will write too much initially. I don’t think that is possible. The more I write, the more I know about the character. What worries me is revision. Will I make the story drag on too long? Add scenes and characters that weren’t needed? Somewhere along the line, I will come to a point where I need to stop revising a story. Period. But how do I know when I’ve reached that point?
Right now, my answer is when that particular piece gets published. However, for the ones that don’t, I occasionally find myself worrying if draft seven might have been better than draft eight.
Maybe as more of my work gets published, I’ll get a better sense of what “done” means to me. On the other hand, I may have to concede that the concept of “done” just doesn’t apply to writing.
One was a form rejection from the Drabblecast for a flash piece called “The Largest Looser.” I just shrugged it off and started thinking about where to send it next. The flash story is hardly a month old been only been submitted to four places. I have plenty of other paying markets left to send it to.
The second was a rather encouraging personal rejection from Fantasy and Science Fiction for a piece titled “Berserker.” In fact, when I saw the words “The opening scene of this grabbed me and it held my attention to the end, and I think it’s an interesting premise,” I actual thought it was going to be an acceptance. Then came the dreaded “but” followed by a pretty justified reason for turning the story down. Fortunately, I think this is something another revision can fix, so maybe, the next time I submit it somewhere, it will get accepted.
I don’t revise every story after every rejection. Sometimes, a story gets rejected simply because it just doesn’t line up with what the editor wants to put in his or her issue. Sometimes it just isn’t the editors style. Writing is subjective. Different people like different kinds of stories. Editors are people. Just because one or two don’t like a story doesn’t mean its bad. However, when I get personal rejection from a well respected editor that compliments the story then makes a few suggestions, I certainly am going to revisit the story and give his suggestions some serious thoughts.
Fortunately, God, The Universe, and/or my own Hard Work softened the blow of waking up to a double rejection. My article, “Slow and Steady?” was published on Women On Writing’s The Muffin. The piece is a reflection on how an inpatient personality like mine can be both a gift and a curse when writing and publishing short fiction. Right now, the sprinter in me wants to resubmit both these stories without revising. While I might do that with the flash piece rejected by Drabblecast, My gut tells me its better to revise the longer piece rejected by Fantasy and Science Fiction. That piece has gotten a lot more rejections, and the number of pro-paying markets I can send it to is shrinking.
While Fantasy and Science Fiction is now another place I won’t be able to publish, I feel like I am starting to get a better sense of what they look for in a story. Sooner or later, there won’t be a dreaded “but” and “I’m going to pass on this one.” Until then, I’ll just keep swimming.
Life through the lens of a Petri dish: love sacrificed for knowledge. After twenty years searching for truths too small for the naked eye, suffering in my lab, driven mad by failed experiments and failed relationships, I found the answer.
Hours later, I read Studies in Pathology and discovered a twenty-something post-doc discovered it last June and published it today.
She gets the glory, and I get an empty apartment filled with dust and loneliness. She gets a card congratulating her. I get revenge as yellow bubbles grow inside her brain.
“I’ve spent like, a total of 12 hours on this essay and my instructor wants me to revise it again! This is the third draft! It has to be good!”
Four Lessons About the Writing Process I Didn’t Believe Until I Started Teaching
By Sara Codair
As a professional tutor working in a busy community college writing center, I often find myself repeating the same bits of advice to students over and over again. However, even as I am telling students “be specific” and “don’t procrastinate,” I am wondering if I follow my own advice when writing fiction.
After some careful, end of the semester reflection, I not only realized that the writing advice I doll is applicable to fiction writing, but also that many of those insights emerged from my experience working with students, not the workshops, MOOC’s and traditional classes I’ve been taking since middle school
1. You have to start somewhere
Many developing writers stare at blank screens for hours wondering how to begin. They type the first line, delete it, type it again, delete it, and repeat this process all night then show up to class the next day with nothing.
There is one student I worked with regularly throughout the fall semester. His process is something like this: Write a paragraph, ask the tutor if it is good. Write another paragraph, ask the tutor if it is good, repeat.
Others like to free write stream of consciousness style, make a few changes and turn their paper in, think it’s gold then turn it in.
The ones who get A’s are somewhere in the middle. The do the stream of conscious free write, then revise like crazy before letting someone else look at their essay. They get feedback from their peers and from a tutor, then turn the essay in.
Don’t let anxiety stop you from writing, but also make sure you revise before you let your friends and critique partners read it and revise more before you send anything out to publications.
2. Time is your friend. Procrastination is your enemy.
There are two common breeds of college student: the ones who wait until the night before (or morning before) the paper is due to start, and the ones who start it the minute it is assigned.While those who start early always write better than the procrastinators, starting early doesn’t guarantee an A, or in my case, publication.
My novel is on its 8th draft, and I’m still not happy with it.
I revised “Above the Influence” close ten times before submitting to Mash and getting shortlisted. Even then, my feedback report revealed the judges still found problems. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s terrible, just that I may have needed 11th or 12th draft in order to have a winning story.
Revision takes time. You have to write the story. You have to let it rest. You have to revise. Let it rest again. Repeat. If you put off starting the story, or wait until a few minutes before a deadline, then you are not going to get a good draft.And even if you do all this, it still might not be good enough. Or maybe it might be good to you and your critique group, but not so good to the slush goddesses, because after all, writing is subjective. What works for one person may not work so well for someone else.
3. Your story is yours. Don’t write what you think people want you to say. Write what you want to say
One mistake I have seen students make over and over again is just writing what they think the teacher wants to hear. I get it – they want a good grade – but it doesn’t work.
Fiction writers do this too. They wonder if their story is marketable, and make the mistake of writing what they think their readers want. Let’s face it, we all want to get published and make money, but if we just write what we think other’s want and don’t stay true to ourselves, our craft will turn into our crap, almost literally, if you really think about it: consume suggestions, digest them, excrete them.
Your story should be your baby, not your shit.
A story I wrote called Costume Connection got six rejections before getting accepted by Centum Press. Two of those rejections came with feedback. The first feedback report had some rather helpful suggestions that helped the piece grow into the version that got accepted. The second had some comments that just didn’t make sense to me. I decided that the piece just didn’t work for those people, and I wasn’t going to change it because of them. I’m glad I trusted my gut, and am looking forward to seeing a story of mine published in a tangible print book
4. Let it rest, leave time to proof read, let it rest, cut clutter, let it rest.
Your draft is detailed and specific. You’ve revised several times. You are happy with the content and think you have caught most of the grammatical errors. Other people have read it, possibly more than once and most importantly, you are happy with the result.
You are note done.
You are note done.
Put it away.
Hide the file.
Just don’t look at for at least 24 hours. Try to leave it alone for a week if you can.
When you just can’t stay away from the thing any longer, that means it is time to edit and revise. Catch all those grammatical errors. Make sure you are showing, not telling. Restructure your sentences so you have minimal glue(words that don’t carry meaning). Replace as many adverb/verb pairs as you can with specific verbs . You don’t have to get rid of them all, but just remember a strong verb kicks ass.
Leave it alone for a few days. AGAIN.
Read it with a fresh eye. Make any changes you think of whether they are on the sentence level or the story level. Let it rest again. Revise again.
Whenever I talk to teachers who aren’t writers or English teachers, they seem to be under the impression that college students can’t write. This isn’t because the students can’t compose good essays. It’s because they don’t have time to let the draft rest. When they get a paper back they haven’t seen in a week, they could revise without seeing half of the instructor’s comments.
Even a night of rest would have made the difference between an B and A. There have been plenty of times when I have sat down in the writing center with a more who printed the paper out at night, and brought it to me in the morning, a couple hours before it is due. As we are reading through the paper, the student see’s all the sentence level errors she missed when she did her 2 a.m. proof read.
While different genres of writing follow different rules and styles, the process is more or less the same whether you are writing a college research paper, an article or a short story. Once you understand the style and structure of your genre(s), you can continue to improve your writing by studying and improving your process. Be mindful of what you do. Practice metacognition. Journal about your process. Read what other writers have written about heir process and compare it to what you have written about your own. Revise the process accordingly. Write on!
My mom is an antique dealer, and has been since I was about three years old. She choose that line of work so she could have a flexible work schedule that allowed her to earn money without taking too much time away from me. She was always able to pick me up from school and be the mom that drove my friends and me everywhere, and in the summer, I went to work with her.
We would spend our Saturday mornings trolling from one yard-sale to another, searching for treasures that she could make a profit on. During the week, we would antique all over the five New England states. When she started, she sold in a publication called the Antique Trader. That allowed her to sell things nationally for higher prices than someone could get in a store, and by the time I was in elementary school, Ebay made her work much more profitable. Now, she could take a piece that sold for $20 in a New Hampshire shop, and sell it to someone in California, Japan or Germany for $200.
I never fully embraced the business myself, but it left me with a keen eye for undervalued items.
I can usually tell when one person’s trash would be treasure to someone else, and I can spot connections between her success as an antique dealer and my journey as an emerging writer.
Persistence and faith pay off.
My mother has always been a devout catholic, and persistent when it comes to supporting her family. We were never rich, but I never went without. Whenever money got tight, my mom would keep searching through shops until she found something that she could sell to pay the bills. Even now, with me out of the house and my dad on the verge of retirement, she is still going strong. This week, she was getting overwhelmed with vet bills and expensive car repairs. Just when she thought she wasn’t going to be able to pay everything off, she found and purchased an Elvis Presley dress for $10. She put it on Ebay, expecting it to sell for a couple hundred. When the auction ended, the high bid was over $2,000, which was more than enough to cover the veterinary and mechanical bills.
When it comes to my writing, the rejections can be overwhelming. No matter how tough it gets, I have to keep swimming against the tide. I keep revising and submitting, believing that eventually, something will get accepted. Last week, I was starting to get down and doubt myself. I thought if I saw another “Thank you for submitting ___. Unfortunately…” I was going to chuck whatever device I was reading on across the room. While I was out to eat with my mom and a friend, I took a trip to the restroom. While I was waiting in line, I refreshed my email on my phone. There was a response from Women On Writing in my inbox, telling me my story had made the top ten in their contest. This means the story will definitely get published, and I will get paid for it. I still don’t know if I am a runner up who is getting a $25 amazon card, or one of the top three who gets a cash prize. Either way, it will be the most money I have gotten for a story so far.
No matter what happens, I need to keep going and believe that things will fall into place, sooner or later. Faith is important whether it is in a higher power, numbers, or both.
Just because several people reject something, doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out there who wants it.
This morning, I met my parents at a local flea market called Todd Farm. We filled our shared table with items that had languished on internet markets like Etsy and Ebay without selling, no matter how low we dropped the price. It was refreshing to see the items fly off the table, especially when the customers didn’t even try to haggle. By the time the unseasonable cold winds drove me from the field, my boxes were nearly empty and my wallet was full of cash.
It reminded me of how my favorite authors got dozens of rejections, in some cases, more than 100 rejections, before having their books become bestsellers, and how some short stories get accepted to pro markets after being rejected by dozens of other publications. I have some stories nearing ten rejections, but my experiences with the flea market renew my hope that sooner or later, they will sell.
Writing and antiquing aren’t all that different. They both deal in stories. They both deal with rejections. They both offer rewards for those who are persistent enough to withstand the rejections and just keep searching for the next Kodak moment.