Brilliant In It’s Simplicity

In continuation of providing support to my fellow writers, today’s blog post offers further assistance with the publication of your short story.  I touched on how to format your short story for submission, but now I’ll address the query letter.  I don’t know about you, but those two simple words often strike fear in my heart.  After working so hard on your piece of writing, now you have to craft a brilliant letter to entice your chosen agent or editor in the hopes of receiving publication of your short work or a request to see more of your longer pieces.

The good news is that a query letter to accompany your short story is more like a cover letter.  You’ll probably spend more time researching magazines that are compatible with your work than you will crafting your submission cover letter.  In fact, I’m amazed I have this much to say about one of the shortest things you’ll ever write.  As an added bonus, this letter works for poetry, too.

Start you letter with your name and contact information at the top left-hand side of the document.  Immediately following is the name of the editor-in-chief or appropriate genre editor and the name of the magazine.  Next is the genre of the piece you are submitting.

Sidebar:  I must admit that I didn’t know short story was a genre especially since many people indicate that a piece is fantasy, horror, etc.  I double checked this because I always love to learn something new and pass it on.  It would appear to be true.  I suppose if one has written a piece in a more specific genre, such as those mentioned, you could state this.  I also suppose one would be smart enough not to send a short work of romance to a sci-fi journal.

The word count for the short story comes next, or if you’re submitting poems, indicate the number you have included.  A brief bio highlighting your previous publications should be included.  If you are well published, congratulations; however, resist the urge to mention every piece you’ve ever placed.  One or two of those placed with well-known magazines or journals will suffice.  If your education is relevant to your writing career or topic of choice, include that as well.  The same goes for your professional background.

Be sure to mention whether or not your submission is simultaneous.  There are a few places that will not accept a simultaneous submission, and I will withhold my opinion about them.  Some editors assume a submission has been sent to multiple magazines/journals, but they still want this noted.  Quite frankly, I can’t imagine why one wouldn’t be sending out simultaneous submissions especially if he or she is attempting to build reputation as a writer.  When your piece of short fiction has been accepted, immediately notify and/or withdraw it from other places to which you have submitted.

The good thing about cover letters for short fiction is that they do not require a synopsis of the written work.  Another unnecessary addition is your life story, so don’t be tempted to include it.  Only short works of non-fiction need this type of information, and even then, filter what you include.  Use good sense and don’t gush over the magazine/journal to which you are submitting.  Don’t tell how many times the piece has been rejected.

And that, fellow writers, is the long and short of it.

Go For the Gold

Writing goals are one of the things I hear debated quite often among writers.  For some reason, Stephen King is always mentioned in these conversations.  Awestruck statements of, “I heard Stephen King writes a thousand words a day” always leave me a little mystified.  I think to myself That’s great if it works for StephenLord knows the man has enjoyed some success and maybe that has something to do with his daily writing goalsMaybe not.  Because if we’re saying daily word counts are directly related to the number of books published which translates into success, then Stephen King far outstrips Harper Lee.  Yet I doubt anyone would consider Harper Lee a failure.

There is a place in King’s book On Writing where he says something like you have to shovel the shit every day, meaning no matter how bad the writing is keep it up until you reach your daily word goal and edit it later.  I don’t want to shovel shit.  I’d rather mine for gold.

Why would I purposefully layer word after word, line after line of bad writing on top of something good, or worse on top of something else bad, just to say I’ve reached a daily word goal?  I wouldn’t find that at all satisfying.  Now don’t get me wrong:  my work isn’t so perfect the first time around that it doesn’t need edited.  It is, however, very close to my vision for a particular story because I took the time to think it through.

The other thing my method does for me is alleviate the pressure I feel when writer’s block stumps me.  Again, I don’t feel the need to put anything on the page just to fulfill an arbitrary number.  In doing so, I free myself to explore the rabbit trails that usually lead me to the good writing as long as I don’t force it.

So yes, there are days when my best writing amounts to a single, brilliantly written sentence, and there are days when whole chapters are completed.  In either case, I count myself as successful because I’m more of a Ray Bradbury kind of writer when it comes to word counts:

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