Feel like procrastinating? Our Year of the Novel blogger, Caro, has been working hard this week, and she’s been looking for distractions…
If you stopped by my office this week, I would have greeted you from underneath a pile of literary magazines and post-it notes with an excited little squeal, even if I didn’t know you and even if you only stopped by to give me bad news or sell me a steam mop or something. At that stage, you probably would have noticed the highlighter all over my face and the crazy look in my eyes, and you would have wanted to run away and never return. But it would be too late. I would already have invited you in for a cup of tea and asked you to tell me all about your extended family and your pets and your favourite colour and your medical history – anything, ANYTHING, to distract me from the task I’d given myself.
Last year, I wrote a collection of short stories and this week I decided they’d been sitting around in the virtual bottom drawer that is my hard-drive for far too long. It was time to introduce them to the world – and that meant wading through the onerous process that is literary submissions.
First, I did recon. I hauled out my collection of literary mags and journals, and pillaged everything I could find on my friends’ bookshelves. I also downloaded all the competitions, anthologies and calls for online submissions I could find. I flipped through it all, noting style and substance, and left myself a trail of post-it notes with helpful little messages like: “short stories and flash fiction”; “promising focus on emerging writers”; “no longer in print – woe is the publishing industry” and “submission date closed last week – why didn’t you do this sooner, you STUPID STUPID IDIOT???”
Next, the process of matching stories to publications. This step is deceptively simple – all you need to do is choose the best fit for each of your stories. Easy. If you ignore all the self-doubty, second-guessy questions a decision like this raises. Is my work too political? Not political enough? What’s the publication’s likely position on love stories about a profane talking dugong and an aquarium attendant???
And finally the actually submission process – a marathon of formatting instructions and style guides. Font requests. Double spacing. De-identifying. Cover letter. No cover letter. Cover form. American spelling. Australian spelling. Oxford Commas. No simultaneous submissions. Em dashes. And wondering whether they prefer a second ‘s’ after the apostrophe on possessives when they’re associated with a character whose name also ends with ‘s’?
Giving myself a week to do this (and when I say ‘a week’, I really mean ‘the space free within a week after I deduct my full-time-job and other commitments like eating, exercising and personal hygiene’) was ambitious. I’m quickly realising it’s going to take much longer – and even then all I have to look forward to is a couple of months wondering why they haven’t called to welcome my submission with open arms: Maybe they didn’t receive the file? Maybe their internet got cut off because they spent all their money funding a sick brother’s medical bills? Maybe the plane the submission was sent on went down in the Bermuda triangle and now there’s a castaway somewhere wondering whether to use it to start a fire???
If you’ve been through this process before, you’ll know what I’m talking about – and if you haven’t, you will soon enough. In the meantime, I’m celebrating the fact that I’ve sent at least a few of them off with the smug, self-congratulatory-but-highlighter-marked face of someone who went into literary battle and survived.