Someone needs to dust in here.
Hi everyone, it’s been a while! I lay low this summer, busy writing fiction and enjoying it, as well as just immersed in the literary Twitter community. But I would never abandon my academic blogosphere! I hope to go back to writing in this space more regularly, once or maybe twice a week.
I think I got swept by fiction writing because it’s something new, where I have room to improve, and—this is most important—it all depends on me. I don’t have to train anyone; I don’t have to find ways to lift anyone to competence; I don’t have to figure out how to make them even want to rise to competence. What I produce is all mine; what I do with it is all mine; no one to consult, no one to ask for permission, I can just do whatever I want. Sure, there are rejections, but I have to say they don’t bother me nearly as much as professional rejections, perhaps because writing isn’t my career; I see on Twitter that writers who are much more serious about their craft do suffer after rejections a lot.
The grant game is soul-crushing. NSF reviews have become completely nuts. This year, the reviews I received were borderline unhinged; they had nothing to do with the proposal. I have been at this long enough (and this particular proposal was funded by another agency in another capacity) that I know it’s not my profound inability to explain myself. No, this time a reviewer went on about a proposal weakness being the use of a technique that I never proposed to use at all and that has nothing to do with my project, save for perhaps a passing similarity in the name.
And this goes on and on, this insanity of having to write grants to NSF, year after year, only once per year per directorate, in order to get some pittance of money, and what you get back are these half-assed—nay, no-assed—reviews written by God knows who about God knows what, because they sure as shit weren’t about what I’d written.
I have a new crop of students, who need to be trained from scratch. Among them, it seems one is quite capable and independent, the rest appear average, which means they can do well but need a lot of hand-holding at the outset. I understand that’s my job and I will do it…
…But, boy, am I exhausted just thinking about it. In my heart of hearts—and maybe my midlife crisis is speaking here, too—it’s not all that interesting to, yet again, take new people and spend years bringing them to competence on so many little details, only to have them leave right after they’ve achieved it. I have a new postdoc who is not from my immediate field, but I needed at least someone energetic and senior enough to help me wrangle all the new students. Right now, the postdoc is a costly addition of still undetermined helpfulness.
We spend so much time being negative in science. Finding reasons not to fund something, not to publish something. That’s what it’s about when it comes to money and prestigious papers, if we’re being honest. We’re all about sniffing out the claims that are too bold, the ideas that are not that novel, the reasons why something can’t, shouldn’t, won’t work as promised. Sure, we should evaluate, but at the core of peer review is a distrust of authors, of their work, of their claims, and the reviewers (who we pretend aren’t deeply affected by their own biases, insecurities, and jealousy) are these shiny knights, supposedly protecting science from the outrageous! preposterous! money-wasting! but most of the time really decent, serious, solid, if incremental work.
So I write short fiction. I write fiction, because I don’t have to train anyone but myself. I get to be weird and creative, as opposed to serious and evaluative. I worked as an editor for a bit, but dropped it because it sapped my creativity and made me bitchy; I didn’t want to evaluate and reject people on yet another front. I want to create, freely, to the best of my ability. It’s sad that I don’t get to do that in my work. I haven’t in a long time. I wish I could find a way toward it again, but it’s too late — I am too deep into working with students, having to maintain funding to feed them, having to spend energy on training them, having to keep the pipeline full.
Instead, I write short fiction to feel creative and vibrant, and to have no one to answer to or worry about but myself. And I’m getting really good at it.
A nice piece of flash fiction that academic readers will enjoy — “Grade Book” by Cheryl J. Fish in Cheap Pop:
Last year was good in terms of grants, so I am entering the next three-year period well funded (knock on wood). I also have a relatively new group, with only one senior person and the rest are brand new or only a year in. I have enough funds to cover everyone for the next three years, and also funds to pay self summer salary and not stress out about going on a yearlong sabbatical next academic year. The group members seem bright, content, and jovial.
Then comes an additional student who wants to join the group.
Pro: He seems to be really strong in math and physics and really into the type of stuff we do. Based on what he’s done so far, he might be an outstanding talent.
However, there are two cons.
Con 1: He is extremely uncommunicative. I don’t know if he’s shy, socially awkward, terrified of me, or perhaps he’s simply not neurotypical. My students who met him all brought this up with concern. He has serious issues respecting personal space (stands really close to people), which really weirds me out. Honestly, I don’t know that I have it in me to deal with all this.
Con 2: I didn’t actually plan to hire anyone else. I would love, for once, to not have to stretch every last penny until it breaks. I want to pay myself more than a month of summer salary and not always have to use that money to cover additional students instead.
Basically, he might work out great, but it would be tough money-wise (not so much tough as not as relaxed as I’d hoped) and I have serious concerns about my ability to work with this kid and about his ability to become part of the group.
Esteemed academic blogosphere, what say you? Would you take a chance on this kid or not?
I was wondering if you could give a bit more insight into how you are getting your writing ‘out there’. Do you treat it like grant applications and submit to as any venues as you can, fearless (or used to…) rejections? Do you submit to contests? Fees/no fees? How did you first start? Or maybe you did elaborate on that already and I missed it? I’m just really curious…
I know most folks are here for academic fare, but I hope you won’t mind a bit of a detour, as I am in the mood for some writing talk.
First things first: I cannot give advice on writing novels. From what I gather, in order to publish a novel, you first need to get an agent, and then the agent tries to sell your novel. Getting an agent is not easy, and it helps if before writing a novel one has good short-story credits. The short pieces really help to develop the craft as well as serve as bullets on one’s creative-writing CV. I know a couple of excellent short-story writers who recently got agents; I don’t know if they have finished whole novels or submitted excerpts, but I know they have some stellar prior credits. (I personally don’t see myself writing a novel ever, but you never know.)
However, I can give some advice on writing short fiction. I’ve only been doing it for a year but with reasonable success, so take it for what it’s worth. My first piece (a micro) was published on September 14, 2017.
Let’s assume you have written a piece of fiction and are thinking about publishing it.
1) Do you know what your piece would be lengthwise? Do you have a flash (<1000 words), a short story (1-7.5k), a novelette (7.5-15k), a novella (15-40k), or a novel (40k+)? The lengths are somewhat flexible, but not too much. I am quoting lengths from Duotrope, a search engine described below.
2) Do you know what genre your piece is in? Further below you will find some links on how to classify your story by genre, but here are some quick rules of thumb:
2a) Is your piece set in a realistic world, either present or past? Are the beauty of the language, character development and/or setting much more pronounced than the plot? Then this sounds like a piece of literary fiction.
2b) Is it set in a realistic world but is plot-centric? Then it falls under genre fiction, such as thriller, mystery, crime fiction, romance, erotica, some types of horror, etc. (If things are happening in the past, but a realistic past, then add “historical” in front of the genre).
2c) Is it set in a world that’s mostly realistic, but has some supernatural elements? It could be surrealism or fabulism. Under certain conditions, it would be magical realism (I recently learned this term refers to postcolonial narratives).
2d) Is it set in a world that differs significantly from the real one, either present or past, and does so through either extrapolation of scientific advances or through supernatural elements that are critical for how the world operates? Then you are in the realms of science fiction and fantasy, respectively, each with many subgenres. Science fiction and fantasy constitute what is known as speculative fiction.
I personally write literary and speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy), horror, humor, and a smattering of creative nonfiction. Horror and humor tend to cut across the genres listed above, so more on them shortly.
Where to send your story? Now you know that you have, say, a short story (X words long) in the Y genre. Ideally, you read a lot in the Y genre or adjacent genres. You could try sending to the short-story magazines that published the stuff you liked. But if you have no idea where to start from, there are search engines Duotrope (for a fee) and The Grinder (free), both listed below, that let you search by length and genre and tell you which magazines and anthologies (market is the term typically used) are open for the length and genre of the story you have. You can order the markets the search engine gives you according to pay or, if you have the personality of an overcaffeinated bunny as I do, order them according to their response time, from shortest to longest.
A note on horror and humor:
2e) If your piece really scary? Some horror belongs to speculative fiction, but to do so it has to have strong speculative elements. For example, aliens eating humans is dark sci-fi/sci-fi horror, i.e., a speculative brand of horror, and as such could be sent to horror markets or to speculative-fiction markets that are open to dark fiction. On the other hand, Creepy Joe Nextdoor eating humans would be (realistic) genre horror, i.e., one of the genres discussed under 2b, and as such should be sent to markets (magazines or anthologies) that specialize in horror or thriller/crime fiction or even dark literary fiction if the language is beautiful, but it should definitely not be sent to speculative-fiction markets.
2f) If your piece hilarious? Humor is sometimes its own genre (think satirical Onion pieces) but is also a style, i.e., you can have humorous realistic or humorous speculative fiction. As such, you could send to straight-up humor markets, or you could send to literary or speculative fiction markets that are open to humorous pieces; many will take funny stories on a case-by-case basis.
When choosing where to send your work, it helps to ask yourself what you want from your writing. It’s OK if you don’t know and it will probably change over time anyway. I started wanting to have anything published and I did (a whole bunch of literary fiction and some humor). Then I wanted to have anything speculative published, and I did. Now I am moving toward wanting to get speculative fiction published in higher-tier paying markets: I have sold stories to token-paying markets (under 1 cent/word) and recently to semipro (1-5 cents/word) but I want to be able to sell reliably to semipro markets and move to occasionally sell to professional-paying markets (6+ cents/word). I don’t expect to get rich, but I would like to one day become a member of the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) and/or the HWA (Horror Writers of America), which both require a certain number of words published in magazines or anthologies that pay at least 6 cents/word (5 cents/word for HWA). Also, with at least one so-called pro sale there are other opportunities, such as becoming part of exclusive writing critique groups (e.g., Codex).
It’s a good idea to read widely, use the search engines, and then start submitting. There will be many, MANY rejections, but that’s only natural.
Now as to BioBrains’s specific questions: I tend to submit to magazines and only rarely to contests (there are people who really like contests and do well in them). I have submitted to some literary contests, but haven’t gotten far; I don’t think my literary writing is literary enough for what is usually sought; it is on the drier, less florid, more plot-centric, genre-leaning side. Actually, over time I’ve been drifting towards speculative fiction more and more, as my writing style is more acceptable there plus the speculative element tends to relax me. (Btw, horror writers are the nicest and coolest people you are ever likely to meet, perhaps because they deal with their demons on the page.)
As I don’t think what I write is a natural fit for most literary contests, I no longer submit to them, except very rarely, when Twitter writer friends twist my arm in a “let’s submit to this call together” pact. By the way, short-fiction writers on Twitter are a phenomenal bunch; they make everything so much more fun than it would be otherwise. I will not submit if a contest requires an author to pay money to enter…unless I actually really really like the contest and think I have a realistic chance. I did recently get longlisted in a cutthroat dark-fiction competition, & that story was probably the best thing I’ve ever written; I’m currently shopping it around. There’s also a humor contest I’ve entered some stories in; we’ll see if I place.
The submission game is quite interesting. Literary magazines — even some very good ones — often don’t pay to publish your stories, but encourage simultaneous submissions (sending your piece to multiple magazines at the same time; once one of them accepts, you’re supposed to withdraw from the other places). Speculative-fiction magazines are more likely to pay, but those that do pay typically don’t allow simultaneous submission (i.e., send only to them and wait). No simsubs is fine by me if the magazine takes a few days or a couple of weeks to respond, but it’s downright inhumane if it takes months. I am extremely impatient and will not send to markets that are too sluggish to respond, no matter how coveted they are.
Rejections. So, so many rejections. My best pieces tend to get rejected more because I am more likely to send them to “reach” markets, while the stories that I am not that in love with I perhaps even shortchange a little, but they find homes quickly. (In that sense, it’s just the same as sending to Glamour Magz vs society journals for academic writing). No magazine is a sure thing.
Duotrope reports my success rate of about 25%, which they say is higher than average. I have had stories accepted by the first magazine that I submitted to, and I have had a story accepted after 22 rejections (my maximum so far).
The rest of this post contains some resources I’ve collected over the past year. I hope you find them useful.
Please leave questions in the comments, or if you have something specific you can always email me.
General resources for short-story writers
Duotrope — statistics on markets (each market’s recent response times and acceptance rate, how much they pay, interviews with editors, listings of markets based on response times and selectivity, etc.); free trial for a week, $5/mo thereafter
The (Submission) Grinder — free search engine with recent publishing market stats, giving you the same type of information that you get from Duotrope for pay (recent response times for rejection/acceptance, acceptance rate, etc.). Plus awesome graphs! It is particularly good for speculative fiction markets; for literary zines, there is sometimes less user-reported data so poorer statistics.
Ralan.com — a comprehensive and up-to-rate list of speculative-fiction markets, organized according to pay rate, with critical information (subgenre, response time, story length, editor names, etc.) presented in a compact format
Poets & Writers — information about various publishing markets
On Writing (Heinlein’s Rules) — by Robert J. Sawyer
How to classify your story by genre (from Suzanne Vincent, the editor of Flash Fiction Online)
Managing story length (same author as above)
How to write a short story (elucidates the “moving parts” of a successful story)
Standard formatting for a short story (many markets link to this template for desired formatting)
A list of tired speculative-fiction tropes as per Strange Horizons magazine. The list is so long and exhaustive that it will likely make you wonder, “Why bother? They’ve obviously seen everything.”
Common tropes to avoid in fiction (from Alisa Golden, editor of *82 Review)
Tropes to avoid in humor (from editors of Defenestration Magazine)
Top Ten Plotting Problems (by Alicia Rasley)
Why Stories Get Rejected, Even Good Ones (from the editors of On Spec)
A Comprehensive and Totally Universal Listing of Every Problem a Story Has Ever Had (hilarious and informative, from the editors of Andromeda Spaceways)
From the Slush Pile (by Marie Vibbert)
Rejectomancy — this excellent blog written by Aeryn Rudel sheds light on the process crafting short fiction, the expectations that accompany submitting work for publication, and learning from inevitable rejections.
Chris Fielden’s aggregator of short-fiction advice, competition calls, and other writerly goodness
Six Questions For… Blog by Jim Harrington, where editors and publishers discuss writing flash fiction, short stories, poetry, and novels.
Publication markets that might be suitable for the type of fiction I write
This is mostly a list for myself. Some of the markets below focus on science fiction, some on literary fiction, and some welcome all genres.
The list is in no particular order, other than by maximum length and/or somewhat by genre (lit/spec; humor has its own list as there are few dedicated markets). I am definitely drawn to markets that are fast and likely to give personal feedback. (If you want a finer search by length, DL Shirley has a great list.)
MICROFICTION (generally up to 101 words)
50-Word Stories (exactly 50 words, weekly best story gets a small prize)
Blink-Ink (50-word stories, themed issues)
101 Words (exactly 101 words)
Microfiction Monday Magazine (M3) (no more than 100 words)
The Drabble (no more than 100 words)
Martian Magazine (100 words exactly, science fiction)
101 Fiction (speculative fiction only, themed issues; 100 words plus a one-word title)
Speculative 66 (speculative fiction only; 66 words sans title)
Nanoism (no more than 140 characters)
FLASH FICTION (generally up to 1000 words, but some require shorter)
Jellyfish Review (very fast response and very personable)
Ellipsis Zine (web zines plus print anthologies)
Every Day Fiction (great variety, but 4-6 months for response)
Daily Science Fiction (speculative)
Factor Four Magazine (speculative; up to 1,500 words, prefer under 1,000)
The Arcanist (speculative)
The Molotov Cocktail (dark)
The Grievous Angel (speculative; up to 750 words; newly SFWA )
Zeroflash (up to 300 words, monthly prompts; generally speculative)
CHEAP POP (up to 500 words)
HUMOR (many other zines will take humorous stories on a case-by-case basis;
Lee Blevins has a comprehensive list of humor markets here)
Space Squid (SF and humor, slow to respond right now)
SHORT STORIES (consult The Submission Grinder or Duotrope for more listings)
Short stories — literary (woefully incomplete)
Note: Many will also take speculative or slipstream
Gone Lawn (fast response)
Riggwelter (fast response)
Sick Lit Magazine (no length limit; magazine emphasizes author-editor interaction)
Jersey Devil Press (<4,200 words; they like wacky, humorous, beautiful fiction)
*82 Review (very short fiction and art)
The Nottingham Review (quite fast) (“…looking for diverse characters, voices and settings in stories that focus on the ordinary, mundane aspects of contemporary life…”)
3Elements Review (quarterly issues, story must include three specified words)
Short stories — speculative (shamefully incomplete)
(List of pro-paying zines that qualify for SFWA membership can be found here; directory of semipro zines can be found here; the best thing is to use The Submission Grinder and seek open markets for your story by length, genre, payment, and/or response time)
Unidentified Funny Objects (anthology)
Metaphorosis (SFF with focus on quality of language, atmosphere; very fast, gives personal feedback)
Aphotic Realm (dark fiction)
Alien Dimensions (“Set it in space, in the future, and include some friendly non-humanoid aliens”)
Here are OTHER PEOPLE’S LISTS that I found very useful (some skew literary, some SF):
https://thewritelife.com/publish-a-short-story/ (emphasizes some up-and-coming markets that are, as Doutrope would say, approachable)
http://www.thereviewreview.net/publishing-tips/extremely-helpful-incredibly-comprehensive-g/ (as promised, they are incredibly comprehensive)
http://www.sfwa.org/about/join-us/sfwa-membership-requirements/ (click to see the markets that qualify for the membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America)
http://semiprozine.org/semiprozine-directory/ (directory of semipro zines)
Ralan.com — a comprehensive and up-to-rate list of speculative-fiction markets, organized according to pay rate, with critical information (subgenre, response time, story length, editor names, etc.) presented in a compact format
Reader PT (pre-tenure) has a question:
Has anyone switched departments within the same institution, say pre-tenure? I was hired as part of a multi-unit search, matched to two, and shunted to one for political reasons. Now the department has known issues, and my research interests better match the other unit, which is the background for my training. They are also much larger, have actual procedures and distributed responsibility.
Wise and worldly academic readers, what do you say?
*tap-tap* Is this thing on?
Hello academic blogosphere, I hoped you enjoyed your summer. I’ve been MIA for the most part and it’s been restful (again, for the most part; another week of house guest; DH jokes we might need a second vacation).
You thought I’d be back with some academic fare? PSYCH! as my kids would say. No such luck for you today, dear readers. Instead, put on your oxygen mask and goggles, we’re diving into my navel again.
So it turns out that Eldest doesn’t know me. Apparently, he, who’s known me all his life and with whom I have always had great rapport, thinks I am some sort of a super tough lady. He has no idea, because as he rightly says he’s never seen any evidence to support the following assertion, that on the inside I am a giant hypersensitive sniveling wuss who feels and is bothered by everything, thinks everything is her fault, and that how I relate to the world is really through a twelve-inch-thick armor so as to protect said sniveling wuss from getting its feelings hurt (again!) and to prevent the world from exploiting the wuss’s myriad vulnerabilities.
I despise my vulnerabilities/wimpiness/mopiness. So much that I channel everything into rage. Yes, just like a dude. My transformation is complete.
For instance, DH’s brother is here and was playing some old-timey folk songs from Godforsakia. These are the songs often played at weddings in rural parts and it’s also the music to which people get piss-drunk after breakups.
That stuff is forbidden around me (not that anyone would play it; DH stopped craving it long ago) because I get all nostalgic and mopey and I abhor it. Also, the pop culture stuff we listened to and watched in our youth is also forbidden, for the same reason — hatred of inescapable weepiness.
We are where we are. We live how we live. I understand being nostalgic fresh off the plane. Nostalgia after 20 years in a different country is useless, self-indulgent bullshit. A luxury. This is my credo. YMMV.
In interpersonal relationships, I always wait for the other shoe to drop. Other than my immediate family (that’s DH and the boys) I am always on the lookout to be disappointed. I don’t want to try to be friends with moms of my kids’ buddies because I don’t want to freak them out by being the needy mess that I am; they are also giving all they’ve got to not freak out over my accent; better to stay away. I think I terrify most of my colleagues. How people make friends in this country is still mysterious to me and will likely remain so forever. DH doesn’t need people at all; I kind of envy him for that. I do need people, but the interactions are always a disappointment — they are either pro forma or, if I let my guard down, I am too much. So, to be accurate, the interactions are a disappointment because I am.
Enough of the disgusting pity party. I have some writerly friends and am supposed to even go to a writing workshop (!). I expect the workshop to potentially be useful but for meeting writing friends to be a letdown, because I am far cooler on literary twitter and here than IRL. (Not hard; I am really lame IRL; not being humble, it’s true.) Actually, I might still just back out at the last minute from the workshop.
So my son thinks I am really tough, which I probably am, and it makes me sad because I thought my kids have been the only ones who’ve always loved me unconditionally, for whom I’ve always been enough. It turns out, that’s because they, too, don’t really know me. Do we ever really know each other? I suppose I don’t really know my parents; I kind of do know my mom now, but my dad I still don’t. Or perhaps I know them as much as you can know people who are family but not soulmates.
In other news, which on the surface aren’t related to the above but kind of are, I’ve written a lot of horror, dark fantasy, and dark sci-fi in recent weeks. Horror would not be a genre I’d peg myself to write when I started out, because I’m a scaredy cat. Seriously, I can’t watch horror movies because I can’t sleep, but I love reading creepy stuff, I really do, and it turns out I can write it. I guess one needs to be able get creeped out in order to creep others out. I’ve had a really disturbing body horror short story accepted for publication and two more awaiting, alongside a fairy tale (!), a dark sci-fi story, and a whole bunch of shorter dark sci-fi stuff.
Writing speculative fiction is much more comfortable than writing creative nonfiction or even realistic fiction, because the latter two make me feel too exposed. Speculative fiction gives me just enough of a protective buffer, a cloak of sorts, that I am able to relax and delve into some real feelings and visceral stuff. Writing fiction is an amazing, half-otherworldly process. When you hit “the flow,” it’s you but not entirely you; it comes from a semi-conscious place. Writers tell you that the characters take on a life of their own, and they are not lying. It’s a little like giving birth vaginally without meds. When the time comes to push, you feel an overwhelming urge to do so; there is no stopping it or controlling it. (Yes, what you see on TV people yelling push is complete bullshit, unless you’re numb on pain meds and don’t feel contractions). Hehe — I told you I write gross stuff now.
Concluding this navel-dive drivel.
Do we really ever know other people?
Do our kids really know us as people? Should they? Can they, once they are adults?
How to cure/survive being a square peg surrounded by round holes?
Is human connection overrated? Is it OK if I spend the rest of my life having only small talk with everyone except my immediate family, writing body horror, and spilling my metaphorical guts to strangers on the blog?
How do I quench infinite impatience that is the main reason why my stories don’t go as high up the publication totem pole as they could (cause I cannot/will not wait 6 months for a form no from a magazine that doesn’t permit simultaneous submission)?
Aaaaaargh! (okay, technically not a question)
How’s your summer going?