Lost in the Shuffle
I’ve been writing long enough to remember how it was when I had to write a cover letter, print up a copy of my manuscript, stuff it all in an envelope, then apply postage, mail, and wait. And wait. And wait to hear back from a magazine or publisher. I’ve also worked on the other side of that coin. I was the poetry editor for a literary magazine, an assistant editor for a news and entertainment magazine, and a production assistant for a newspaper.
This means I’m familiar with the fabled “slush pile”. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it refers to the pile of unread manuscripts that would cover a portion of every desk in the production office. More often than not, these piles would grow dangerously tall, threatening both life and limb if they were to topple over. For the staff they were the mountains we could never conquer. For writers, they were the black holes that swallowed our hard work and dreams.
Nowadays, I think the traditional slush pile has faded into obscurity, replaced by folders on our computer desktops or on one of our various drives. While less dangerous than their predecessors, they still have the ability to overwhelm magazine and publishing house staff. They also still swallow the hopes and dreams of aspiring writers. The more things change the more they stay the same, right?
Over my careers I’ve probably spent more time preparing, submitting, and waiting for a response to my short stories than I spent actually writing them. It’s a frustrating process and I can sympathize with parties on both sides, but as a writer I know how terribly annoying it is to send a story out for consideration with the understanding that someone will get back to you in a few months, only to have the deadline pass. I know I’ve sent many a polite inquiry, only to continue being ignored by the staff. What makes it even worse is when magazines or publishers say “no simultaneous submissions”…so I can’t even send my story to another place because I haven’t heard back from the first one. Argh!
I went back recently and reviewed a spreadsheet I used for tracking story submissions. It was interesting to see that, for example, out of thirty stories I submitted over a five year period I had five acceptances, ten rejections, and the rest disappeared into the ether. I liken these lost submissions to those socks that go missing when you’re doing laundry. I just hope they’re in a happy place frolicking among their own kind.
So at what point do I marked the submission as a lost cause and move on? What if I submit a story to a second publisher, but then the first one gets back to me (even though it’s three years later)? These were things I worried about because what’s the point of being a writer if you aren’t anxious and indecisive?
About two years ago I decided, no more! I’m no longer going to submit my work to other entities. I’m done with the process, with the waiting, with the lack of responses. I’m going to self-publish from now on. No more being lost in the shuffle. I feel that my stories deserve better. They should have the chance to see the light of day, for someone to read them. I know, I know, magazines and publishing houses can reach a broader audience, can market my work, and I can make more money. But that’s not why I do this.
To me, it’s more important to simply put my stories out there and let people find them. I don’t want to waste my time managing a spreadsheet and waiting for responses that may never come. My stories deserve better, and so do I.