Newburyport nude, 2007, pencil on brown paper sack, www.carolineallen.com
A lot has been written about how to get your short stories out to literary magazines, how to polish the stories for final version, how to find mags, how to write a query. Because over the past two weeks I’ve had the honor of helping two clients polish a story/essay, write queries, find literary journals, and then send them out, I decided to add my two cents. I’ve also resurrected five of my old short stories and have reworked them and sent them out; so I’m interested in this on a personal level as well.
I believe a writing coach should be actively writing; a writing coach’s fiction career should be even more important than the coaching they do. (And yes, I meant “even more important”, not “as important”, because I believe that’s just someone trying to sound politically correct.) We should always have our own artistic health at the center of our lives. If a writing or artistic coach is not doing their art, I worry they might lead those they’re coaching astray. They might want to live their own frustrated dreams through their clients. They might even have buried anger and frustration that gets projected onto the client. So, this is why I put my own writing first; so I can be a more fulfilled person and a better coach.
At any rate…some advice on sending out that short story/essay:
First, do not send out a sloppy story. This is so obvious, but rarely followed. You’re excited by the rough draft you’ve finished. You’ve worked it a couple of times in revision. You want to send it out, see if it makes a splash. STOP! Put it away for a week or two. I used to put my stories on “ice”. Friends would come for dinner and find a 25 page story covered in frost in the freezer. (I had to reprint it to send it, of course, but I needed the symbolism of putting it in the freezer so I wouldn’t keep worrying it, wittling it down to nothing by obsessiveness!) After two weeks, peel it off the frozen roast, thaw it out, and go through it very carefully for spelling, grammar, punctuation. As a newspaper editor, I learned to trust a gut response. When I’m reading, if one or two lines bother me, I now stop and reread those two lines and ask why they are bothering me. I will not send out the story until I figure out the what and why of those two lines and revise them.
Make sure your theme is strong. In other words, don’t have several themes competing with each other. Pick one and stick with it.
After the revisions, go online and find a good literary journal. You can use the classifieds section of poets & writers magazine pw.org/mag, or subscribe for just $3.99 per month to the online version of Writer’s Market.
If you find a literary journal looking for the sort of story you’ve written, go to their website and READ THE WEBSITE. So few people do this in their haste and excitement. First, you’ll find a submissions guidelines page, telling you how they like to receive their stories, eg., double spaced, via email, snail mail, how soon they’ll respond, etc.
Write the query. DO NOT DO THIS QUICKLY! The query should be at least an all-day affair. Here’s an example of a query I just wrote for an anthology on modern fairy tales as advertised in poets & writers mag.
November 28, 2007
Susan Richardson, WP
P.O. Box 44810
Boise, ID 83711
Dear Ms. Richardson:
In response to your ad in Poets & Writers magazine, I am sending a short story, a fable for the 21st Century, entitled, “The princess, the sadhu, the jewels.”
The enclosed story was inspired by a trip to India in the 1990s, and by a personal study of karma, shamanism, and past lives.
In the story, we begin by meeting an old woman and a little girl in modern America. The old woman reads loose strings as if they are tea leaves, and takes hold of the ankle of the little girl to read a piece of yarn on her sock. Instead of reading the future, however, the old woman finds she is plunged into the past, to an Indian village, where the girl once lived as a princess.
What follows is the story of a pampered little girl, of an exotic life of thick marble and strong aromas, a story of a sadhu who befriends the princess, of the jewels she names and drops into a silk handkerchief for him, of a lesson in poverty and humility and of the ongoing cycle of relationships that live beyond death. In essence, it is a story of undersanding our mundane lives as fairy tales, so that we can rise to the soul and poetry of life, and not fall victim so easily to modern ills.
As a former international journalist, I worked for 15 years as an editor and writer in Tokyo and London, most notably during the death of Emperor Hirohito, and the death of Diana. I’ve had hundreds of articles published. I traveled across Asia, and was most affected by the energy, myth and profound color of old India.
I now write fiction full-time, teach writing, read at public venues, and coach writers. Besides having short stories published in literary journals, I just finished my first novel, Earth, and am seeking agent representation. Clips of my work, including a small excerpt of Earth, are posted on the website, www.artofstorytellingonline.com.
I also am a visual artist and fine art photographer, www.carolineallen.com. I am deeply interested in myth and archetypes in my writing and my artwork. Thank you for your consideration.
Print the story and query letter on nice paper. Send it in a nice manila envelope. Sit back and wait. Wait and wait. The response can last months. I have two stories with Glimmer Train. They say they’ll respond within 12 weeks. It’s been about 10 — more than two months! I know they’re still within their stated time limit, but I tell you, that doesn’t stop a girl from the demons of her impatience.
A coach can help you improve your writing, stick to a writing schedule and get your writing to market — email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, for a free intial telephone consult. www.artofstorytellingonline.com