Thursday, May 4, 2017

Emerging From the Slush - AWP Panel

There's a lot of stories in that stack.
How do you make your story stand out?
Another panel I attended at AWP this year was the "Emerging From the Slush - How to get your short story published" panel.  The theme was looking at "Robert's Rules" - the ten ways to get you and your story noticed.  They handed out a bunch of neat-o bookmarks with all the critical information on it, so it was easy to get the main ideas at a glance, and know who was there.  Panelists were Robert Kerbeck (moderator), Michael Lemberger, Sujata Shekar, and Zach Powers.  (As before, the room was jammed to capacity, and I could not see the panel table, so I could always be certain who was talking when.  I have names when I'm pretty sure who was talking) 

In any case, I thought I'd share the list here and some of my notes.  There is nothing earth-shattering here, and I can't say I agree with all of the suggestions, but it is nice to have all the ideas in one place.
  1. Find a Good Home
    Michael - Your work is not you.  Your work may be rejected, but that does not mean you are rejected.  Aim high, start at the top of your list, then move down it.  Send to the places that your favorite writers are being published, and don't take it personally when you are rejected.  Person speaking? - Don't forget your home town journals, which are good places to publish and to connect.
  2. KISS Theory
    Robert - "Keep It a Short Story" (2500-4000 words ideally).  Sujata - Experiment with different page lengths with the same story.  It builds skills.  Shorter stories are easier to fit into most mags.
  3. Non-Fiction, Baby
    Michael - Non fiction gets published.  Journalism, critical essays, memoir, slice of life - all good to consider.  Build a corpus of work around a theme that is not all fiction.  This is a great step into publishing.  Book reviews are useful and help build connections.
  4. Get Personal
    Zach - Be personal in your communications whenever possible.  For example, "You published an author I like," "I'm a subscriber," "I received a personal rejection and you said submit again," or "We met at AWP and you said to give us a try."  Find a tidbit that sets your cover letter apart.  Just one or two sentences, and then the bio.
  5. Be Strategic, Not Indiscriminate
    Zach - Submit a lot, but be discriminating.  Get to know some journals very well.  Study them.  Meet people from them.  Know where to submit.  Tier your favorites.  Michael - Know yourself and know your work.  Be yourself - you will get the readers you are supposed to have.  It's ok to pick some journals out of your comfort zone for submissions. 
  6. Let Rejection Be Your Guide
    Sujata - This is not some kind of personal rating.  For myself, I apply to only one or two contests a year.  I like themed issues where they request new work, and new authors.  I don't happen to submit places that don't take simultaneous submissions.
  7. Two for the Price of One
    Person speaking? - When you get an acceptance, send thanks.  Also, you can suggest that a brand new story is also ready to go if they are interested.  Michael - Can you pull together stories with a thematic link?
  8. Go on Vacation
    Robert - Go to Writer's conferences, retreats, workshops, and meetings to meet people, develop relationships, and advance your career.  Try Tin House, Bread Loaf, Iowa Writer's Festival, Vermont.  Sujata - Workshops, Festivals, and Retreats are very useful if you do not have a traditional writer's background.  Apply for the scholarships.  "Voices of our Nation."
  9. Be a Volunteer
    Sujata - Read the slush for a journal, you become a good reader and editor.  It depersonalizes the process and you see your own submissions in a new light.  You learn the myriad of reasons why things are rejected.  You learn what is out there so you can write something else.  Zach - Help run a reading series, organize events, etc.  Michael - Be happy for others. 
  10. Editors Don't Bite
    Editors are people.  Get to know them.  Network, establish relationships, but don't monopolize their time.  Just talk and be sociable.
Image Credit - Stack of papers.  CC 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

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