Thursday, 19 March 2015

A Word on the Numbers

Words written 20977
Stories completed 1
Rejections 21
Acceptances 1

'Why do you write?' is one of those dumb questions asked by mercifully normal people who just don't, and never will, get, as in understand, the creative urge.

'Why do you write when you're obviously so crap at it?', is a far better, well-thought out question.

Let's have a look at the clues, to quote Lloyd Grossman.

Twenty-one thousand words written so far this year, many even spelled right.  Only one story completed, but mainly because I'm a chapter and a half away from completing the first draft of my third novel.  One acceptance, a story called 'The Root Canals of Mars', a humorous little piece, the brilliance of which has been spotted by Lakeside Circus.  God bless 'em and all who sail under their big top.

I hasten to add that that one acceptance is not the same story as sole one completed this year.  Like many writers I'm still trying to place many stories, in my case around twenty tales of various lengths from a few hundred to circa ten thousand words.  Some were written maybe ten years ago, most in the last two or three.  To me, they're my team, going out into the wilds to do battle with slush-pile readers, pushing their way towards the nirvana of publication*.  In reality, they're probably more like hard-to-house problem teens, but, hey, I'm welcome to my own delusions.

It's absolutely amazing how the world has changed in the last twenty years, from printing out hard copy and covering letters and filling envelopes and hauling the down the post office.  I can now at zero cost, either carbon or monetary, submit my stories 24/7 to presses small and large across the globe.  To be honest, I don't know where, geographically, I've been published - I should check - but certainly the UK, Australia, and various apparently united states.  It's slightly awe-inspiring.

But, and its a big but, the flip side of this is that marketing has become a full-time occupation.  My target list of magazines and small presses is seventy-odd in length, and when I look I find more and more.  There is a tendency for them to say - and I'm well aware that editors who are looking at my work may be looking at this blog - 'if you want to know what we publish, read our magazine!', but, at the same time, surprise us!

I'd like to read what you've already published.  It's not the money.  It's the time.  This is what happens in reality: I look at aforementioned website.  I check there's a fundamental overlap of our Venn diagrams - that you're more William Gibson and JG Ballard than JRR Tolkein - if not through explicit submission guidelines then more through your artwork than example stories.  I do pay strict attention to your online guidelines, amending a story of the correct wordcount I think may fit (no courier; must be courier; rtf only!; no underlining for italics: word count in top left hand, not right hand corner; argghhh!!) and I submit.  (NB: maybe this marks me out as utterly naive, but if it says no simultaneous submissions I only send off team-members not otherwise engaged).

What I rarely do is go out of my way to read the publication because, if you want me to surprise you, the last thing you want me to do is reproduce what was in your last issue.  And if I'm reading it to make sure that I'm not submitting something too similar (am I meant to read every issue?) then I very much doubt there's another tale about the Jewish ragtrade in a parallel 1970s downtime New York in which Frankenstein's monsters are a real, albeit unreliable, innovation.  I can't claim to be the world's best writer, but I think it would take the XXXL box of infinite monkeys with typewriters to cook up stuff that's like my stuff.

Time.  It's what drives all of this.  I barely have time to work, do stuff around the house, interact with children and wife, and write - let alone read as well.  Today was mainly spent sending off five stories and chasing on two ( have had a story for 18 months which augers well), amending files according to publishers' detailed requirements.  I don't think I got a single creative word written, although my mss was open on my desktop all day, just waiting for me to get past other priorities.

Time.  There'll be more of it tomorrow.  Even if I have a video-conference to attend and a near total eclipse of the sun to observe.  Watch the numbers, see how they run...

*On re-reading this, this makes them sound like Islamist suicide bombers - it's an unintended analogy I'm mulling over...

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