Submitting to anthologies

Here’s how I see anthology calls for submissions: They’re cool writing prompts that could lead to publication. Sometimes this works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The story I submitted to “Strange Fire: Jewish Voices from the Pandemic” got accepted (and the anthology is out this month!). Stories I’ve written for consideration in other anthologies have gotten rejected, and I’ve been researching magazines/other publications to send them (some sources I like: The Submission Grinder, Erica Verrillo’s Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity blog).

But sometimes the stars align and an already-written story fits what an anthology editor wants. For instance, my story that just got accepted for “Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging,” out in 2022 (preorder link to come when it’s available). So you never know. But I’m pretty happy about both of these acceptances.

The same goes for contest submissions. I didn’t advance in this year’s NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, but I did end up with a fun sci-fi rom-com story that I hope to find a home for.

If you’re willing to accept the risk of your story getting rejected—which is kind of a requirement for being a writer—then writing for anthologies or contests can be a good part of an overall submission strategy. Good luck and have a creative week.

Little wins and big wins

I did the final proofread on a short story of mine that’s being published in an anthology. I lost a regular writing/editing gig, since the one remaining newspaper I freelanced for is shutting down. I sent out new queries to magazines on short stories and to agents on my novel, and got some encouraging rejection letters. It’s been an up-and-down couple of weeks.

But that’s the creative life, whether you’re writing for pay or writing for the love of it (ideally both?). Up, down, forward, back. Be happy at the good news, roll your eyes at the bad news, keep going.

Any success this past year is worth celebrating. Any ability to achieve anything close to normal is worth celebrating. Listen, I just got my first haircut in a year and a half. The little wins are big right now.

So I hope you’re achieving little and big wins, and you’re being as creative as you’re able to under the circumstances. And I hope you’re able to get vaccinated (I’m Team J&J, how about you?) so we can get past this thing once and for all. It’s getting warmer out, and I’d like to be someplace besides my back yard.

Congratulations on whatever wins you achieve this spring.

Common rules of editing

As part of my day job, I edit everything from novel manuscripts to news stories to healthcare content to nonprofit papers. Yes, I do like the variety. But there are some common rules that I rely on, no matter what type of work I’m editing. Here are a few:

  1. It’s not my byline. My name won’t be appearing on top of the article, on the cover page of the book, etc. This isn’t my work, I don’t own it. Ultimately, my job is to best serve the writer. My ego has no place in the process.
  2. Use the writer’s voice. Everyone, if they’ve been writing long enough, has a “stable” of words and phrases they use regularly. They tend to use commas in a certain way, or love to throw in the occasional em dash. Their sentences are long and flowing, short and powerful, or somewhere in between. If I tweak or rewrite something, I make sure to use words the writer would use, or structure the sentence the way they would. I keep it in the writer’s voice.
  3. Add compliments. Creative people are a neurotic, insecure bunch and everyone has imposter syndrome. (Including me.) The tendency when editing is to focus only on what needs fixing, but that can come off as too negative. If a joke works, a line of description is especially lyrical, or there’s really good information shared in a clear way, I make sure to note that. People deserve to feel good about their work.
  4. Stay open to suggestions. The writer’s suggested rewrite might be better than mine. And that’s fine by me.
  5. Be prepared to explain myself. At various publications, I’ve worked with writers who shrugged at whatever changes I wanted to make, saying “I trust you.” I’ve also worked with writers who challenged everything I marked on their articles. Sometimes my explanation satisfied them; sometimes they asked for a different change instead. But if I couldn’t justify the changes I wanted to make, did I have any right to make them? The writers were trying to have some say in the final version of their work. (See rule #1.)
  6. Look everything up. I work with the Associated Press Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style, and whatever individual house styles different publications use. That’s a lot of different style guides, some of which contradict each other. (Do I use serial commas this time? Are there spaces around the em dashes or not?) It’s not possible to keep all of that in my head, so I don’t try. Editors and copy editors are more likely to get into trouble when they think, “I know this,” and don’t check to make sure they’re right.
  7. I don’t represent all readers everywhere. I might not be the target market for the work. That doesn’t mean the work should be written to appeal to me personally. That means I need to keep in mind who the target readers are, and edit accordingly. And if that means I need to look up something I don’t know, well, looking things up is my job.

It all comes down to the Golden Rule of editing: Treat the writer the way you would want to be treated as a writer. And that rule has worked well for me.

What we’ve accomplished

President-elect Joe Biden has won the election for approximately the 473897328763287643th time, front-line workers are starting to get vaccinated, snowpocalypse is coming tomorrow. Already it’s quite the week.

For Hanukkah, we did a chilly outdoor get-together with my parents, chatting behind masks until the wind was too much. For Christmas, we’re doing nothing. My in-laws live too far away, outdoors isn’t an option, staying there isn’t safe. It would’ve been nice for the kids to see their grandmother since they lost their grandfather to cancer in April, but that would’ve required more people (not to mention our leaders) to follow virus restrictions this year, wear masks, care about other people instead of blah blah blah freedom, so here we are.

If I sound angry and frustrated, that’s because I am. Those “we’re all in this together” ads have never been true, not once.

Still, those of us who are still here have managed to survive the pandemic and the horrific political climate of the past few years, and that’s an accomplishment.

If you’ve managed to create anything during this year, that’s an accomplishment, too.

In between rounds of edits on my middle grade manuscript, I started writing short stories again. One was published in Daily Science Fiction. Another will be published in an anthology called “Strange Fire: Jewish Voices from the Pandemic,” out next year. A third is waiting in a submission queue (argh).

I haven’t found an agent yet for my kidlit work, but I’m ending the year with two middle grade manuscripts that are stronger than they were in January.

I worked with some wonderful author clients this year on their manuscripts, including one for the second time. My coaching client got another article posted. And I picked up some new freelance writing work.

What about you? Did you create something? Did you make a sourdough loaf? Did you keep your household going despite all odds? All successes. We’re still in the tunnel, but there’s a light at the end of it.

So whatever you celebrate, have a happy, safe, quiet holiday. If you need an editor in the coming year, please do reach out. And go easy on yourself. You’re surviving a pandemic. You’re doing fine.

Do what you can

This morning, the kids had online orientation sessions with their teachers for the start of virtual school next week. I confirmed to the board of ed that my son would rather continue occupational therapy virtually than do it in-person at the school. And I’ll be taking him “school shopping” for clothes that his classmates will only see part of, onscreen.

And the weirdness continues.

There are no good solutions here, and there are no winners. In-person classes raise the risk of the virus. Remote classes don’t let kids socialize. Parents aren’t qualified teachers. Teachers and school staff shouldn’t have to risk their lives (or their families’ lives) for their jobs. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between their kids or their jobs. Families shouldn’t have to worry about loss of income because they don’t have child care. None of this is right.

But normal isn’t an option. We don’t get normal until we beat the virus.

If you walk around silently seething at the world under your mask, trust me, you’re not alone.

So we do what we can. We make school work, in whatever version of it we have. We get our work done, by whatever means necessary. We order out to support local restaurants and go shopping to support small businesses and we take walks on nature trails because we’re still not comfortable with fitness classes. And we write at midnight because that’s when the house is quiet.

(Okay, all of that was me.)

How do you stay creative during an endless crisis, or rolling series of overlapping crises? Cut yourself lots of breaks. You’re tired, take a nap. Your mind’s shut down, have ice cream and watch “Galaxy Quest.” Stuck on writing one thing? Write something else for a while.

I’ve spent a lot of this year revising my middle grade novel, to the point where I wasn’t ready to work on another novel. So in between rounds of revision, I started writing short stories again. They came out much better than I thought, and switching around loosened up my brain so that I was better able to focus on revising the novel. I like feeling productive, and that’s what keeps me going.

So much is wrong with this moment in our history. The way we get through it is by acknowledging that nothing is normal—shouting it from the rooftops if necessary—and by taking care of ourselves and each other.

Happy holiday weekend. Wear a mask, stand up for what’s right, keep writing. And however you’re voting this year, GET IT DONE.

Telling our stories

Apropos of nothing (ha!), I’ve been thinking about which stories get told, and which don’t.

I never learned about Juneteenth in school, or the “Black Wall Street” massacre in Tulsa. And I learned more about the civil rights movement from Rep. John Lewis’ “March” books than I ever got in school. All of that makes me angry. How can we have useful conversations about racism if we don’t all have the necessary knowledge?

But I already knew that the history we were learning wasn’t complete, because sometimes I learned something different in Hebrew school.

For instance: the Crusades. I learned in elementary school that the Crusades led to the expansion of trade routes throughout Europe, and about how that impacted European civilization. I raised my hand and, shaking with the effort, pointed out that the Crusades also led to the slaughter of many Jews and Muslims, which was what I’d learned in Hebrew school. The teacher said “Mmm-hmm,” or some other non-response, and after a short pause, went on with her lesson. And I sat there, still shaking, realizing that I’d challenged the teacher for nothing.

If we’re going to teach history, we have to teach all of it. We shouldn’t be leaving out the parts that make us uncomfortable, or that might make our “side” look bad. All of it.

Which is why it’s so important for people from all backgrounds, with different experiences and perspectives, to be able to tell their stories. That’s how we learn. That’s how change happens.

I’m telling my stories. I hope you’ll tell yours.

Little lockdown victories

So, how’s everyone doing?

How’s your sourdough starter? Your new at-home exercise routine? How are all of your Zoom meetings going?

If your answers to the above are: 1. awful, 2. sourdough what now?, 3. nonexistent and 4. where do I look on the screen, who even is talking, do I need a fancy background AAAHHH THE PRESSURE, that’s OK too.

(For the record: Banana bread is more my speed, define “exercise,” and I find Zoom confusing. And New Jersey canceled in-person classes for the rest of the school year, which was not a shock but still upsetting, so I’d say we’re doing … eh.)

We’re trying to survive a pandemic. We don’t have to accomplish great things. We don’t even have to accomplish a sourdough starter. We just need to get through the next day, the next week, the next month, until we’re out the other side, whatever that looks like.

I managed to clean out my closet, after at least five years of meaning to do it, and I’m going to take that as my big (little) lockdown victory.

So, whatever you’re able to accomplish creatively is fine too. I’ve finished revising one manuscript (which I started revising pre-lockdown) and noodled around with another. Writing anything whatsoever makes me happy. If it makes you happy, too, go for it. Two words. Eighteen words. Three chapters. Whatever you’ve got. If the thought of being creative in any sense is a crushing weight hanging over you, don’t even try. Get through the day.

And if you’re in a relatively good space, meaning you have money and food and a peaceful home, maybe you can do something to help other people. Donate to a food bank, or your local hospital. Sew masks. Give blood. (I’ve done a few of these things, except sewing masks, because that would require sewing ability. I bought my mask off Etsy.) Support the Postal Service—write someone a letter. Support your local journalists and buy a newspaper.

And I’m going to echo the advice of the two nurses and a respiratory therapist I interviewed last week for an article: If you are able to stay home, if you can afford to stay home, keep staying home. You’re not just helping yourself. You’re helping them.  

Any writing counts

So recently I’ve written about a grocery service that delivers your order in reusable containers, then picks up the empties afterward; a (possibly?) haunted house that was featured on a ghost-hunting TV show; a trio of artist friends who’ve been exhibiting their work together since the ’80s; a book club discussion about white nationalism; and a popular teen “Real Talk” program at a Massachusetts library. The day job offers much variety.

None of this has much of anything to do with my fiction work. That’s fine. I don’t expect the day job to overlap with my kidlit projects. And many writers, artists, and other creative types have a day job of some sort. Because there are bills.

So, is it breaking my “brand” if I write about all these different things? Will it confuse people if they see my articles and also hear me talking about my manuscripts? I don’t think so. Everything you write is part of who you are, so why hide any of it?

Writing about one topic, in one particular style, doesn’t stop you from writing about other things as well. Switching up what you write about keeps your mind sharper. And the storytelling techniques are about the same no matter what story you’re telling. The real difference with me? The articles are about real people, and me quoting what they say. The manuscripts are about people who live in my head.

Writing is writing. The more you do it, the better you get, whether it’s a magazine article, a blog post, a press release, or a manuscript. Just make sure you set aside time to focus on the type of writing you love the most.

 

Remember it’s subjective

Here’s where the day job is at (AKA, the newspaper/magazine writing): I heard from one editor who’s happy with my work. Then I heard from another editor who doesn’t like my work and wants changes.

And *shrugs* that’s how it goes.

Different people are going to react differently to your work. Some will love it, some will hate it, some will go “meh.” When it’s an article, or some other type of work-for-hire, well, revisions are part of the deal (which is why I’m revising). When it’s your own work — say, your novel — you’ve got a bit more leeway in how you respond to those reactions.

But here’s the key: These opinions will vary by person. This is why literary agents usually have a line about “this industry is subjective” in their rejection letters. A manuscript that leaves them feeling “meh” might completely wow the next person to read it. You are the same person, and your work is the same work, no matter who’s reading it. You can’t control the other person’s reaction.

I’m not saying writers (or artists) need to toughen up, or grow a thicker skin, or whatever other figures of speech are floating around. But it is useful to take someone’s reaction, positive or negative, and evaluate it to see if there’s anything you can learn from it. If so, then go ahead and use that feedback. If not? You’re entitled to nod politely and move on.

Your opinion of your work, in other words, should exist a little apart from the opinions of others. And it should sustain you on the negative days.

Rejection evolution

When you get a rejection from an agent or editor, you should:

  1. Grumble loudly and stomp around the house
  2. Eat ice cream
  3. Announce to the world that you are never ever writing a single word again
  4. No, seriously, take a breath, it’s OK

(Please guess 4.)

Hey, 1. and 2. are fine. I’ve done both, sometimes at the same time. But the thing about rejections is, they really aren’t personal. They don’t mean you’re a bad writer. They do mean you should keep trying.

I deal with rejections at the day job as well as with my fiction. Not every article pitch gets accepted, even from editors who know and like my work. Maybe they just ran a similar article, or maybe the topic doesn’t wow them. It’s not personal, so I shrug and move on to the next thing.

But for a while, I had a harder time doing that with my fiction. Those stories feel like pieces of me in a way that something I write for a magazine or other publication doesn’t. So I stomped around the house, got epically frustrated, silently begged friends and family not to ask how my writing was going. And ate ice cream.

I finally had to ask myself why I was doing this. Was it helping me improve my writing or my chances? And how could I teach my kids about persevering and working to achieve their goals, if I weren’t willing to do the same?

So I changed my reaction. I quit taking it personally.

This week I got a rejection on a short story I’ve been sending around. I read the email, shrugged, and moved on with my day.

It’ll find a home somewhere, or it won’t. The point is to keep trying.