Storks Eat Babies: Taking the Myth out of Submission

funny-evil-angry-stork-eat-babies-bird-picsI read a lot of writing blogs. I can find some useful nuggets of information in any blog, whether it is a new technique, a new idea, or just some good, old-fashioned inspiration. Writing websites tend to lean toward the romantic. It makes sense. We are writers. Writing is an art, and arts are often thought of romantically.

We push the general notion that art is special, and that our words are somehow divinely inspired, as if the muses sweep down, choose their target, and pour poetry though his blessed lips. Articles on submission can be nearly as romantic as articles on creation. Create something you truly adore, they say. Find the market that would be perfect adoptive parent for your word baby. Drop it off in a basket with a professional cover letter.

It’s a nice idea, sort of like how the stork is a nice idea. Who wouldn’t want their kid dropped off in a crisp white sheet carried by graceful, elegant bird? Except that is not how it happens. Trust me. I was there. Babies are born in to visceral environments full of pain and bodily fluids. They arrive not sleeping, but screaming. By the way, storks eat small mammals. You know what happen to be small mammals? Babies.

I’m not a nice idea guy. They don’t help me that much, and I think they can cause damage when they fall apart. In my experience, they fall apart during the submission process.

You will not love everything you write. I’ll be upfront about that. Some of your writing will speak to you. It will stimulate your brain and leave you with a buzz like nothing else. Some of your writing will seem purely perfunctory. The thing that no one tells you is that the two aren’t that different. If you love it, it’s probably not as good as you think it is. If you don’t love it, it’s probably better than you give it credit for. Not everything you write will be at the same level. But, in general, your writing quality won’t waver that much. As you keep writing, it will become more and more consistent.

The truth is, you may absolutely love a piece and have a rough time trying to sell it while some piece that you thought was just okay gets picked up in a heartbeat. For one, you are too close to your work. Your mind fills in blanks and creates meanings that just aren’t there for the reader. For another, you never know what someone else is looking for.

Finding your perfect market is even more of an issue. You spend hours weeding through listings and websites to find that perfect market, one that is everything that you desire. You send off your polished masterwork of love. You cross your fingers every day as you open your email. Then, days, weeks, or even months later…BAM! Form letter rejection. It’s like dating. You may think that Kate Upton is perfect for you, and that you could make her happy in every way. Unfortunately, Kate Upon may not feel the same about you. She doesn’t want your baby. Besides, Justin Verlander is a big dude. I wouldn’t mess with him.

Feel free to get romantic about certain markets. I have a few that I would love to crack. Cemetery Dance and Black Static, just to name a couple. Unfortunately, they are off cavorting with Stephen King and Jack Ketchum. They don’t even know I exist, sort of like Kate Upton. I take my shot at them. But when I get rejected, I quickly move on. Richard Thomas’s “Chasing Ghosts” is in the current issue of Cemetery Dance. Richard published over a hundred short stories elsewhere before he got accepted there. Do you think he got hung up on the perfect story and the perfect market? He just kept working and kept getting published where he could. Get a general idea of what a market publishes. Find something that seems to fit your tone and style. Follow their guidelines religiously, and then submit. It doesn’t have to be terribly detailed research. I can usually tell in less than five minutes if a publication is my style or not. If you get rejected, find another market in that style and send it out again. Do it immediately. Don’t wait.

Ideally, if you want to take a shot at being a prolific writer, you need to finish everything you write and submit everything you finish. Unless you think it is garbage, submit it. If you DO think it’s garbage, have someone else read it and get their honest opinion. You could be wrong. (It’s good to have other people read your work, in general.) Even though I don’t make my living by writing, I try to approach writing as if I do. I don’t get paid when I write something. I get paid when I publish it. I doubt Stephen King loved everything he ever submitted.

If you only submit the work you fall in love with to the market you think are perfect, you aren’t going to get much out there. Maybe you’ll be Harper Lee. You’ll write your To Kill A Mockingbird and then walk off in to the sunset. Personally, I consider it a great tragedy that Lee never wrote another novel. I want to be Stephen King. I want the sheer physical weight of my writing to bow bookshelves.

I appreciate that articles on writing try to make what we do special. I appreciate the need to use good judgement when submitting to markets so that writers don’t waste their time (not to mention the publisher’s.) But you are going to be rejected. It’s going to hurt. The only way to move past it is to realize that writing is tough, gritty business and that it is difficult for everybody. Writing is hard. Submission is mostly disappointment. Kate Upton doesn’t like you. If you had a stork, it would eat your baby. Suck it up, dig in to the mess, and keep moving on.