Empty Pages – The Results of My First Submission (Episode 13)
This episode talks about my experience with my first ever submission.
Welcome to Empty Pages, which chronicles my journey from first draft to published manuscript and beyond. I’m your host, Ian MacTire.
Happy 2022! Hopefully this year will be better than the last. If you’re a returning listener, welcome back! If you’re a first time listener, welcome. I hope everyone’s holiday was at least gentle, if not happy. I do apologize for the lateness of this episode, I had hoped to be back sooner, but I was really sick for a little over three weeks and it took me down. During that time I was unable to do much of anything, much less write or do podcast related stuff. But I’m back! And new episodes will be coming each week.
As for the holidays, other than being sick, mine was alright. Prior to getting sick, I submitted a short story pitch and writing sample to an open submission call for Weird Tales that I’m excited for. If you’re not familiar with Weird Tales, they’ve been around for several decades, and was the publication that published HP Lovecraft’s work. It would be an amazing honor to have my first story published by them, but we’ll see.
I did manage to put the finishing touches on the short story I previously announced that I would be publishing to my website. However, about the time I finished was when I got sick, which derailed a lot of things for me.
At one point during my hiatus, I also made the mistake of upgrading my laptop to Windows 11. After upgrading, it severely slowed my system down to a crawl, which made writing and editing nearly impossible. I then rolled it back to Windows 10, but that didn’t fix it and required a completely new install, along with all the fun things like applying all the updates and reinstalling all the programs I use, along with any of their attendant upgrades. So it all conspired to push me a little bit behind, but I’ll catch up at some point.
Aside from that, I did find out the status of the short story I submitted. For those of you who have been listening, you’ll know what I’m talking about. For those who are listening to this for the first time, you should go back and listen to the previous episodes, but in a nutshell, I submitted a short story for possible inclusion in a horror podcast. I will refer to this story as the “podcast story” because I don’t want to reveal the name or what the story is about, for reasons I’ll touch on later.
Normally, a short story runs between 5k and 10k words, however the submission guidelines required that the story be no more than 2400 words. It could be less than that, but it couldn’t be more than that. The story I submitted was not the original story I had planned to submit. In trying to write that one, I couldn’t get it down to 2400 words or less and have it still be effective.
Part of my goal as a horror writer is to write lean, effective horror, but I also want the story to be able to breathe. As such, when I sit down to write a story, I don’t go into it saying “this one will be a novel” or “this one will be a short story”. I write the story, I do as many edits as necessary to reach the final goal, and it’s the final goal that tells me what it is, with rare exceptions.
In this case, the original story is needing to be longer than 2400 words. I’m still working on it, but last look there was over 6000 words so far. Where it will end up is anyone’s guess, because I still have to finish the first draft, then do the edits. So knowing that this story was not going to be able to meet the guidelines, I sat it aside and came up with a different idea. This one actually worked.
The final version came in at exactly 2400 words. I was not intentionally trying to make it 2400 words exactly. If the story came out to be half of that at 1200 words and was lean and effective, I would have been perfectly happy with it. It just happens that I nailed it right at the limit. There were several times when it went over that amount, but usually not by much. While writing it, I wished several times that the limit was actually 2500 words, because that would have been helpful. I never broke the 2400 word limit by much, I think the most I went over was 24 words. Still, it would have been nice, or so I thought at the time.
During the first draft, I tried to keep the 2400 word limit in mind, but I also didn’t keep it as a hard limit. The reason for this was twofold: 1) it was a first draft, so it wasn’t about the final version so much as it was just getting the story out of my head and onto paper (or computer in this case), and 2) I knew the word count was going to vary as it went through edits, which did happen.
I did keep 2400 as a hard limit during the editing process though. I won’t talk a lot about editing in this episode, as I feel it deserves its own episode devoted specifically to the topic, but I will say that some people aren’t fond of this step. To me, it’s as fundamental to the writing process as the writing itself. Editing is what takes your rough, messy draft and turns it into something much better. I happen to enjoy this process. While I enjoyed writing my short story, I watched as my story steadily improved with each edit. If I showed you my first draft, I would be proud of what I wrote. But after all the edits and getting to the final version, I can’t put into words how elated and fucking excited I am about this story.
Once I had finished and submitted it, I had some mixed emotions about it that I hadn’t expected.
I did go in to it being okay with being rejected. Stephen King’s first novel, “Carrie”, was rejected 30 times before it was published. So if that happened, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. It would suck, but it wouldn’t be enough to make me stop. Well, unless I was told not to quit my day job. So here I was, having just submitted my first story ever.
On one hand, I was elated. After several decades spent never finishing a story, and believing I wasn’t cut out to be a writer, I now found myself with not one, but three completed stories, and by completed, I mean that it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, not that it was necessarily a finished product ( and in case you’re keeping score, that would be one first draft novel, the first draft of the story I will be publishing on ianmactire.com and this one). I was doing it! I was doing the writer things!
On the other hand, I felt a little nauseous. It was one thing to share things in a more personal setting, it’s another thing to put that out there to the professional world altogether. When you share them with friends and family, if you’re lucky you get support in the form of “that’s pretty good” and “that’s a good story”. If you’re not, then you just get complete indifference or torn down over it. But to put your story out there? In front of people who have read hundreds, if not thousands, of story submissions? That’s a huge risk.
If you’ve listened to previous episodes, then you already know that I bought into a lot of people’s bullshit regarding my writing. So here I am, wanting desperately to believe that I could be a good writer despite what I was told in the past. Yet I’m also risking that I find out that what I was told in the past was true, and I’m just being delusional.
That latter feeling almost made me not submit my story. However, I decided to submit anyway. Better to rip the proverbial Band-Aid off the wound than try to remove it a bit at a time. I resolved myself to accept whatever may come of it.
If it was published, great! If not, then that was the way of it. The person taking the submissions had stated that he would provide feedback for anyone whose story didn’t get chosen. So, the way I saw it, if I was chosen, then obviously I was good enough of a writer, and I would continue writing. If I didn’t get chosen, I would get some valuable feedback which would let me know my next course of action.
Unfortunately, I did not get chosen.
I did get feedback though, and what I got relieved the sting. I will read the person’s exact words, with some editing. I have left out the parts that specifically refer to events in the story. The reasons for this are numerous. One, I still plan to try to find it a home somewhere, because I would really love to see this story in print. Two, because it’s no longer limited by 2400 words, I want to take a few more passes at it and see if I can make it a bit better. I am completely fine with this version, so if it stays at this length, I am more than fine with it. That said, it can’t hurt to take another pass or two. Three, based on feedback I’ve gotten from others in addition to the podcast host, the story works. It’s lean and effective, and it works exactly how I intended it to, and I wish to avoid spoilers, because the end is way more effective without them.
Now to the feedback. Per the podcast host:
“I loved your story. The only reason I didn’t select it for this round was simply because the story I did for October had [BLANK] in it and I had a variety of excellent stories to choose from this time around, so I had to look for reasons to narrow it down. “
He didn’t write blank, that was an edit by me. He actually mentioned the subject matter, but again, I want to avoid spoilers. Continuing on.
“As far as feedback for your story, I loved the ending….I like how you let the audience put 2 and 2 together instead of spoon feeding them.
Structurally, your story came through as all one paragraph. Not sure why, but I would say for submitting anywhere you should make sure your title, name and contact info is at the top, and that you structure your paragraphs correctly. A more prestigious competition might toss your story out without reading it first just based on the formatting. I’m certainly glad I didn’t because it was a great read! Honestly that’s my main feedback for you. I thought your story was the perfect length for what you were doing. It moved quickly, I came to the realizations you wanted me to right when it felt right, and all in all it was a ton of fun. You should do a little work to restructure it. Maybe take a few more passes to see if anything creative comes up that you can add or refine upon, and submit it a few more places! Good stuff. Genuinely sorry it didn’t make the cut this time, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used in the future. I’ll reach out if i find a spot for it in a future episode!”
There was some compliments specifically regarding certain story elements that I left out because again, no spoilers. I also read the part about the formatting, because I think it will be useful for people. The way they wanted it submitted was to fill in a form on a website, and attach a copy of the story, with the story being formatted as a Word document with 12 pt Times New Roman for the font. I’m not sure what exactly happened, because when I went back and looked at the copy I submitted, it was properly formatted.
I use Scrivener to write, and then I compiled it to a Word document. I don’t own a copy of Office (and as I don’t use it all that often, I refuse to subscribe to Office 365), so I used the online version of Word to open it and make sure it was formatted correctly. The online version of Word didn’t show anything unusual. I sincerely hope that the online version of Word doesn’t do stupid shit to force you to subscribe, because if so, my last submission to Weird Tales might end up getting rejected before they read it.
In any case, I’m sincerely grateful for him not rejecting it and actually reading it, and yes, I did respond and let him know that.
Did it suck to get rejected? Sort of. The feedback I received lessened the blow considerably. It’s nice to know that I didn’t get rejected because I suck at writing, but because the subject matter was already done and they didn’t want to repeat it so soon. I get that. For any podcast, magazine, or anthology book, you want to keep things fresh to keep readers and listeners coming back. If you just did a zombie story, you may not want to do another zombie story so soon (and no, this wasn’t a zombie story). It was good to know that he genuinely thought it was good story and should be submitted to other places. Even more so, to know that my story actually worked the way I intended it to was probably the best compliment I could ever get.
So, I will take some time to see if I can apply any of his feedback and try to make it better, and then go from there. So there you have it, the results of my very first story submission. I haven’t heard anything back from Weird Tales, but I’m going to assume that it will take awhile to hear back one way or another, and once I do, I will let you know. Oh, and as far as the short story that I had planned to publish to my website, that will be done soon, so keep an eye out for the announcement.
In the meantime, stay classy and write – and submit – those stories!
This has been another episode of Empty Pages. If you enjoyed what you heard and want more of it, you can follow me at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts from. Please leave me a review, as that really helps me out, and if you do, you might find your review featured in a future episode. You can find me at ianmactire.com, as well as on Twitter and Instagram as @ianmactire. Until next time, I’m Ian and this is Empty Pages. Stay classy and write those stories!
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