This is the part where I hype up my work and give a bunch of fun little backstory details about it, right? Right.
Anyway! If you're coming from my Twitter (@nessapples), you probably noticed that "The Infestation of Clary Moon" has been published in Not Deer Magazine's online edition, which means I can officially celebrate more of my horrible children entering the world. I get attached to every single character I write, and I can't help sprinkling them through different stories and novels. Both "The Mountain Under Vickwood" and "Clary Moon" have characters who pop up in my novels too because I find it so hard to let go of the weird, morally corrupt women I make up. (Sidenote: If any agents happen to stumble across "Clary Moon" and find themselves beguiled by Milliot, hit me up. I've got a cockroach book.)
It's been really exciting for me to see "Clary Moon" published, not just because it's one of the weirdest things I've written (and definitely the one with the grossest descriptions of a chicken dinner), but because it puts one of the characters who's existed in my head for the longest out there in view of the world. Milliot has existed for much longer than Clary, and she has the terrifying honor of being the first character I conceived and named once I decided to start writing original fiction.
And now she's here. Seducing women with her cockroachy wiles and offering up looks of disgust. I couldn't be prouder of her, really. I hope you like her, too.
I've been writing almost exclusively horror for the last six months of the pandemic, and I'd like to say it's only because that's where I've felt the most inspiration, but the truth is, the pandemic is just conducive to horror. We're living in unprecedented times and dealing with large-scale isolation and death in a way most of us haven't in living memory. It's frightening. It's monotonous. There's an aura of doom over everything, a calculated risk every time I go outdoors, every time I pass another person on the street, a ping of fear in my chest every time I see someone who still hasn't accepted the necessity of wearing a mask.
The atmosphere is straight out of a horror novel, so it's no coincidence that horror is by and large what I've consumed and written the most of as we all grow to accept that things aren't turning around any time soon. Other plans have fallen by the wayside, the future is uncertain, and nothing is better at portraying an uncertain future than the stakes and suspense of horror.
At times like these, I feel like horror gets me in a way other genres aren't—at least not right now. Sure, others provide the escapism I desperately need from time to time, but when I need to be empathized with, horror is the genre that has my back.
And so, as I turn another corner and write another piece of horror, and another, and another, and send them off with my hopes and dreams and resolve to keep trying until something changes, I realize that horror is one of the most optimistic genres I could be working on right now.
It's frightening. It's bleak and uncertain and drawn out. But like everything else, it eventually comes to an end. Characters are altered, sometimes irrevocably, and sometimes the familiar is permanently erased in favor of something bleaker, but in nearly all cases, despite the doom and gloom, life still persists somewhere and in some form.
This, like everything else, will pass.
I've submitted to a couple of contests in the past (RevPit, FictionFive) and done a decent amount of standard querying. Unfortunately, I've learned that I'm a neurotic, impatient person who can't do anything but sit around refreshing my email until I pass out in the middle of the day or drown myself in work.
It's not a great system, so I knew something had to change when I submitted to Pitch Wars this year. PW has the longest waiting period of any contest I've submitted to so far, and I know it's not going to be kind to me if I spend that waiting period banging on the walls of my glass case of emotion. Hence, I did the unthinkable: I actually tried to figure out what made me so impatient and how I could fix it.
Most of my issues, I realized, came from putting too much pressure on whatever manuscript I was submitting at the time. This was especially prevalent when I submitted to RevPit. I submitted the first manuscript I ever completed (though it had gone through a couple of rewrites), I didn't have another finished project at the time (just a few chapters), and most importantly, I was deathly attached to the work I was submitting because it was the only thing I had.
Even when I submitted the first five pages of my second completed manuscript to FictionFive, I put way too much pressure on it in my head. It was a fun contest, but not a make-or-break moment for my writing career! More importantly, it was a fun manuscript, but not a make-or-break piece of work. I've realized that there's something terribly unfair about putting so much pressure on any one thing even if it's a completed manuscript you're very proud of. Working on one thing at a time and getting fully immersed in the world is great, but it can't start to overshadow everything else. Have hope for your work, but don't have blind faith in it.
Recognize that you probably haven't written your best work yet. You probably haven't peaked, especially if you've only been writing seriously for a year, like me. You probably haven't peaked if you've completed one single manuscript, or even two. Plan a new book! Write that book! Get out of your own head! (I'm mostly yelling at myself here, but feel free to take it personally if it applies to you, too.)
We've all read the advice articles that say the same thing over and over again: you probably won't sell the first book you write. You probably won't get an agent with the first book you write. We've all looked at those articles and thought "Well, I'm special! That doesn't apply to me." It does. It does apply to you. It applies to me and you and probably 99% of people who get agents and go on to successfully publish their work. You are not the 1% and neither am I, because we both need to learn how to write books before we can sell books. Building a writing career isn't a race, and it will be a long, slow process before either one of us builds up our skills enough to say "This is the best thing I'll ever write" and mean it.
A contest is just a contest. A manuscript is just a manuscript. Neither one will make or break your livelihood, but they'll both help you grow as a writer.
Spoiler: I don't think it's possible for something to be too gay, but as a nonbinary lesbian who almost invariably writes about lesbians and nonbinary people and the Venn diagram connecting them, it's something I worry about when I'm writing. And why should I? Well, aside from the internalized biases that make it impossible for any marginalized person to feel 100% great 100% of the time when writing about characters like them—that's a given.
Instead of explicitly answering this question, I'm going to recount some of my experiences with representation and then weasel around to how I really feel about stuff like this.
First off, the hegemony of cishet white people writing about stuff convinced me I didn't like entire genres of literature. I'd never read science fiction I liked until I read Binti. I hate Wuthering Heights. I love Mexican Gothic. Wheel of Time bored me to tears and Gideon the Ninth laughed me to tears. I spent a solid three years of my life as a non-reader—or more specifically, as someone who didn't read for pleasure because I didn't know where to look.
When I did start reading for pleasure and found books that were really and truly fresh and fun and exciting, it was kind of life-changing for me. And it validated my writing process! Who knew, right? Reading new books gives you a better perspective on reading and writing!
Despite all the great books I've read in the last year and a half (and I had a lot to catch up on!), I'm still starving for stuff that I can see my own experience as a lesbian in—something that messes around with gender and promotes a rightfully trans-inclusive understanding of what lesbian means. There are trans women who are lesbians, there are nonbinary people who are lesbians, and lesbianism is a fantastically nuanced thing. I want that in the things I read and write, and I want to be able to put it out there in the world.
Most importantly, I want they/them and he/him and trans lesbians in speculative settings—in fantasy and horror and scifi and all the genres I've discovered I love. If I'm physically capable of writing them, why shouldn't I go for it? Why shouldn't anyone go for it and make their experience heard without having to contend with fear and shame and regret and worries that people will call it too gay? It's not too gay. It's never too gay.
Can you tell I'm writing this blog post as a form of self-encouragement while drafting my third consecutive manuscript with a main cast entirely comprised of women who like women? Probably not. I'm very subtle.
At the beginning of last month, I decided to enter the CritiqueMatch FictionFive Contest (hereafter referred to as "the contest" because boy that's a long name). It was a pretty spur-of-the-moment kinda deal, and I usually don't enter anything that comes with a fee, but hey, some of the proceeds were going to the ACLU and it's a contest with guaranteed benefits even if you don't win—all entries receive their scoresheets with feedback from five high-rated CritiqueMatch users. I received my scoresheets yesterday morning, and today the embargo lifted so I'm allowed to talk about my results!
In this post, I've decided to share an overview of my scores, the feedback I received, and my overall thoughts on the costs and benefits of the contest. Let's roll!
The basic premise of the contest was simple: submit the first five pages (about 1500 words) of your manuscript for judging. The top 3 scores in each category and the highest overall score all receive prizes. The contest has five categories for entry: fantasy, science fiction, romance, thriller, and mystery. I entered JAM in the fantasy category (it's YA contemporary fantasy with some horror influences, but the specifics aren't a big deal here).
Entries are then judged first by CritiqueMatch users and then by editors. Every entrant receives five scoresheets with written feedback and explanations for each score. The top three scores in each category get professional editorial feedback, and the grand prize winner gets a $250 gift card. Two honorable mentions from each category are listed on the website along with the winners, for a total of 25 writers getting website exposure.
Each scoresheet has a maximum point total of 40 and is split into eight sections worth five points each. The eight sections are opening, characterization, plotting, world/setting, pacing, voice, dialogue, and craft. The maximum point total of all five scoresheets was 200.
Here are the scores I got back for JAM:
Sheet #1: 35 points. On this sheet, I got very positive feedback overall with some suggestions for improvement in clarifying the setting and opening lines.
Sheet #2: 34 points. Again, pretty positive feedback but this time with specific praise for the opening and suggestions for clarifying the setting. A pattern emerges! As the old rule says, if two or more people point out the same concern, take it seriously.
Sheet #3: 25 points. A pretty big drop in score! But even though this sheet didn't give any category more than 4 points, it came with very positive feedback for the opening and craft along with generally positive feedback in most areas. The lowest-scoring section, characterization (2 points), came with feedback on the clarity of my MC's motives, which I'll take a closer look at further down.
Sheet #4: 34.5 points. Once again a pretty positive sheet, this time with different suggestions for clarification in characterization and shortening some of my sentences.
Sheet #5: 40 points. I pretty much lost my mind with this one. There's absolutely nothing better than getting glowing, across-the-board positive feedback from a complete stranger who just happens to get exactly what you're trying to do with a book. I might frame it for whenever I start doubting myself.
Total points: 168.5/200 with an average score of 33.7 per sheet.
Patterns of Feedback
There weren't any severe patterns of error that became clear to me after this, which I'm counting as a win. However, because two reviewers mentioned the setting wasn't clear, that's definitely something I'll be fixing up. Characterization was also a pattern of error, but I'm going to handle this one a little more delicately. "But why, Ness?" you may ask. "Patterns are patterns!" And you're right. But let's take a look at some of the characterization feedback and pull a direct quote:
Sheet #3 gave characterization a 2/5 and listed the following feedback: "I think by the end of the chapter, the MC is characterized and we unveil their motivation more. But up until the last two paragraphs, I was confused by their actions (I thought they were the villain, and I got the impression that this novel has themes of horror)."
Sheet #3 is right! JAM starts off with the titular character breaking into a woman's house via the plumbing, and for the first three pages or so, the reader is made to believe Jam is a malicious and possibly homicidal fish. Which she is, technically—she's an antihero and there are definite horror themes present. This tells me I might need to double-check to make sure it's 100% obvious Jam is the MC, albeit a malicious MC, but I probably won't need to make any large changes to how and when her motives present themselves.
On the positive feedback side, my opening, voice, and craft scored quite high across the board, which I'm thrilled about. The concept is definitely out there (I've described the plot as a mashup of Ponyo and Beetlejuice, replete with things like ska and pirate drag), so it was a relief to hear each scoresheet respond positively to its originality and dark comedy. But I won't pat myself on the back too much because now it's time for...
Would I recommend this contest? Totally. And I'm not too biased, because it's not like I took home the grand prize or anything—though I did snag an honorable mention for placing 4th in my category! The real benefit here is the feedback, because in a world where everyone agonizes over form rejections, FictionFive guarantees something with substance. I entered this contest for the feedback and got feedback. It's a win/win.
Writing is subjective, but the analytical part of my brain loved seeing numbered breakdowns of what I did well and what I could've done better on in addition to the more subjective commentary. I thrive on pretty much any kind of feedback, so I'll be rolling every comment I got around in my brain for the next couple months while I get JAM ready for querying (and maybe PitchWars...*crosses fingers*).
If you have $25 for the entry fee, I'd highly recommend it next time a CritiqueMatch contest rolls around. You're basically paying $5/per deep dive pass on your opening scene from highly-rated betas who are there to help you get better at what you do. I see it as less of an entry fee and more of a good deal on useful services. I mean, I'd plunk down $25 for five separate critiques even if it wasn't a contest. And this isn't just a set of critiques: CritiqueMatch has the option for you to request to become critique partners with a judge if you really liked their feedback. Finding good betas and CPs can be hard, and if you're not great at networking, this is a pretty solid option.
Mandatory disclaimer: Be wary of paying to enter contests that don't guarantee you anything in return for your entry fee. Always do your research, weigh the costs/benefits, and make sure the contest has your interests at heart. Is the contest run by a reputable organization? How many winners will there be—and how many of them will be getting prizes and/or website exposure? Do you know anyone who's participated and won? Better, do the people who participated and lost still have good things to say?
Another disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with CritiqueMatch—I just have a lot of enthusiasm.
Identity is weird. I've spent most of my life knowing identity is weird without really being able to explain how or why. I didn't know how to interrogate the weird, crushing surreality of looking at a reflection that didn't feel like my own. I didn't know how I wanted to be perceived while navigating the world, and I didn't know how to put my orientation and gender together in a way that felt cohesive.
Let's fast forward.
I know how to do that now. I know who I am, and I'm comfortable with it. I feel at home in my own skin and in the identity I've stepped into. I'm a nonbinary lesbian, which is something I figured out for myself through reading (and talking about) Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues (seriously, if you've ever found yourself wondering "but how can a lesbian use [set of pronouns other than she/her]," SBB is good reading*). It's by no means a new or unique way of approaching lesbianism or nonbinary-ism, but stepping out of my circle of friends showed me just how hard it is even for well-meaning people to grasp.
This became obvious to me as soon as I started seriously editing my first manuscript.
Coming out is something I've done little by little, because it's a constant process. My friends are completely familiar with my pronouns and identity and because we're all LGBT+, there's no doubling back and explaining the orientation/identity relationship to them. Ever. Seriously. I know so many nonbinary lesbians. When I started branching out and finding additional beta readers for my manuscript, I hit a brick wall.
My first attempt to find beta readers was on Reddit. I know. But I can honestly say the prejudice I encountered was not overt. I enlisted a couple of beta readers from the site who were kind, patient people in every respect, and they gave me reader reports that were totally fascinating and totally cemented my fears about the way my characters were perceived.
The manuscript I sent to betas (and am currently querying) features two protagonists: an older teen girl and her adoptive parent, who is nonbinary. While it didn't surprise me when my beta readers misgendered my nonbinary character (hey, we're not all used to singular they/them right out the gate), it surprised me that both my initial readers misgendered them in the same way.
I later discovered that all my Reddit beta readers and my in-person writing group beta readers (months before the pandemic) unanimously misgendered my nonbinary protagonist by using he/him. Naturally, I love dissecting why this happened, and I should note that I don't think any of the misgendering was actively malicious—I would say 70-80% of the time, my cis readers used the correct pronouns.
So, why the consensus? Why he/him? Here's where my thoughts went:
If this seems like a short list, that's because it is. Honestly, it was a surprising but enlightening experience for me to see how people referred to Bennie when they stopped consciously trying to apply singular they/them. Most of Bennie's hobbies in-text are traditionally domestic or effeminate and while that shouldn't matter, none of it should really matter, you know? Clothes, hobbies, wife, name...ideally it'd all be water under the bridge and everyone would pick up on the subtleties of gender expression.
But that's not where we're at, so instead I'm sitting here writing introspective blog posts. And I'm cool with that. I see everything I'm writing in the future coming out full of gender nuances, and I'll probably be back with an update post once my fish book starts going out to bettas (get it? like the fish? and a misspelled version of the reader?). The fish book features a drag king who goes by he/him for the duration of the manuscript, but he's still regularly referred to as a lesbian. Because he is. And so's Bennie. And so am I.
Being nonbinary is a broad experience. It's not all they/them, it's not all one singular aesthetic of white androgyny, and it overlaps across orientations. There are nonbinary lesbians and nonbinary gay men, because gender is just like that. There are nonbinary people in all facets of the trans experience. There always have been, and I love writing about it.
Happy quarantining, stay safe, and have fun.
*Stone Butch Blues is a phenomenal book and I seriously endorse it for its depiction of the age-old lesbian struggle with gender identity and expression in addition to its inclusion of trans women in the lesbian experience, but it's pretty heavy. If you plan to read it, I'd recommend researching its content warnings first, which include police brutality and sexual assault.
I participated in RevPit 2020 and...*drumroll* I didn't win! And yet life went on. Now that the winners of RevPit 2020 have finished their edits and their glimmering new materials are visible in the RevPit showcase, it feels like a great time to dig into the innumerable benefits of participating, losing, and learning something along the way.
When I entered RevPit, I set my alarm so I'd know exactly when the submission window opened. I had my materials. I'd double and triple-checked them. I'd agonized over which editors to submit to. And I still almost didn't enter. Knowing what I know now, I kind of want to go back in time and hit my hesitant self over the head. Participating and ultimately losing did so much for me, so in this post I'm going to give you my personal opinion on the many, many benefits of losing and happily taking your participation trophy.
Based on what I saw during my RevPit experience, I don't think many people will disagree with me on this one. Contests like this are a great way to meet new people, bond with your existing writing community friends, and swap chapters for feedback. Timed events have a way of getting people together and focused on one thing, and they're precious in that way. Take advantage of it! When RevPit season rolls around, pretty much everyone is jazzed about working on edits.
Seeing everyone else so motivated got me to brainstorm edit ideas for my novel before I even heard the contest results. I drafted 20k words of a new novel while waiting for the results! I had an awesome time and the outpouring of creative energy was phenomenal. Motivational tweets ahoy!
Don't make the mistake of thinking winners are the only ones getting feedback from RevPit! While I can't speak for Pitch Wars (I'll be entering for the first time this fall), RevPit editors sent personalized feedback to every writer they requested additional materials from. This is invaluable, and it'll totally give you a kickstart towards making more substantive changes. Of the two editors I submitted to for RevPit 2020, I received one request for additional materials and got excellent feedback from that editor.
In the weeks since the RevPit winners were announced, I've even seen editors offer feedback to submissions they didn't request additional materials from. Keeping up with the editors on Twitter will help you keep track of opportunities like this, so don't miss out on the chance to get free (free!) feedback from professionals.
Overcoming Your Fears
Are you afraid of submitting to contests because you're worried about getting rejected? Guess what! There's no better way to get over a fear of rejection than by actually getting rejected. If you hold out until you think you have something that can't possibly receive a rejection, you'll just end up depriving yourself of the opportunity to grow. The road to publishing is paved with rejection, and the sooner you come to terms with it and start checking the rejection letters off with a grin, the better you'll feel about your work.
Rejection can happen for so many reasons. Sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with you. Shortly after submitting to my RevPit editors, one tweeted apologetically that she wasn't in the right space to accept stories focused on grief. This is a perfect example of the ways in which we can't control the subjectivity of the industry.
I've seen many querying writers agonizing over rejections with the standard "Remember, this industry is subjective" closing line, but it's the truth! Submitting is a long road of taking your work, bundling it up, and rolling it tentatively in the direction of people who you think might be interested in it. Rejections are part of it, and sometimes getting used to it in the context of a contest can make it easier to get used to them when it comes time to query.
So what's the bottom line here? Basically, there's no harm in submitting to contests. You think you won't win? No problem! You can still get feedback, make friends in the community, learn to cope with rejection, and think about your work in a whole new way. And who knows, right? You might win anyway!
It happened! Yesterday, issue 6 of Novel Noctule was published and with it, I finally became a published short story author. "The Mountain Under Vickwood" is my first work to be accepted for publication and I hope you'll take the time to check it out here on the Novel Noctule website along with my Writer's Spotlight.
I'm incredibly grateful to Novel Noctule's editor-in-chief, Mx. Jacqueline Dyre, for giving me this opportunity, and I'm newly inspired to take on even more writing-and-submitting challenges. When I started researching ways to get my work published, I searched out tons and tons of blog posts like this one. Naturally, it only feels right to throw out another "How I Got Published" blog post out into the universe so I can pay it forward. And that's what this is! It's my advice and honest experience getting from point A to point B, and I hope it helps someone.
There's no getting around this one. If you think you have a short story or a book in you, as most people do, write it. Start sooner rather than later, because the first couple of things you write probably won't be genius pieces of art right off the bat. I know. I didn't believe it at first, either. But as of right now, I've written and edited eight short stories, two books, rewritten one book three times and another twice (working on a third rewrite now), and I have one thing published. It's a marathon. Be ready.
For short stories, your attention to detail needs to be off the charts. Shorter work means there's less margin for error. There's a lower tolerance for typos and a nonexistent tolerance for bad storytelling—I should know, because I've done my fair share of both. Remember that longer isn't always better. "The Mountain Under Vickwood" is around 1600 words, and it sits comfortably in the range of what most short story publications are interested in.
Some publications have minimum word counts in the range of 1000-3000 words or maximum word count caps at 5000-7000. Don't build your whole story around a word count, but keep these numbers in the back of your head while you write. If length turns out to be a problem, edit yourself by cutting filler words ("that" and "just" are my biggest offenders).
So you've written a phenomenal short story with no typos! Great job! I knew you had it in you (you, specifically you). Time to find it a good home. There's no shortage of places to submit, but before you send your work anywhere, you'll want to get a good idea of what the playing field is like. I love using Horror Tree to find publications looking for dark fantasy, horror, and sci-fi. I think it does a great job of providing updated information, and it shows which publications pay for your work. Other great sources are Twitter searches (yes, really—even small publications have Twitter accounts), blogs with top-ten lists of new and open magazines, and your friends in the writing community.
As you whittle down your list of places to submit, keep an eye on the submission guidelines. Ninety-nine out of a hundred times, a publication's submission page will either say "no simultaneous submissions" or "simultaneous submissions accepted." If a publication forbids simultaneous submissions, you can only submit to that publication. Until you hear back from them, you better not send that story anywhere else.
If you're interested in publications that fall on both ends of this spectrum, I'd recommend starting with those that forbid simultaneous submissions. This gives you a chance to send your work to one publication at a time, get responses (and maybe feedback, if you're lucky!), and edit your cover letter and story accordingly. While some writers might not like the idea of only submitting to one place at a time, bear in mind that publications forbidding simultaneous submissions typically have shorter reading periods and will respond more quickly than those which allow simultaneous submissions.
Before submitting your work, you still have a few more steps to complete: your cover letter and your short story formatting. The cover letter for a short story is different (and a little less stressful) than the all-consuming query letter for novels. Here's the body of the cover letter I sent to Novel Noctule:
"Submitted for your consideration is “The Mountain Under Vickwood,” a short story of 1600 words. It is an LGBTQ take on cosmic horror, and I think it might be a good fit for your publication.
I have a BA in Philosophy, and I work as an English tutor and ESL instructor.
Thank you for your consideration."
Short, right? I included the title, the word count, a very broad overview of the story, some info about me, and a nice thank-you. If you have previous publications, mention them in the about-you line, but at this time I had never been published. Some submission guidelines will ask for additional information in the cover letter, and some will ask for less, so read the guidelines carefully. Nothing I say in this post should take precedence over an actual publication's submission guidelines.
That goes for formatting, too. While there is a standard, acceptable short story format that the vast majority of publications will want you to use (here's a good post on that format), follow the publication's submission guidelines first. Double-check what font they want, if specified. Double-check how they want their paragraph indents (some won't say, but some strongly prefer 0.5" indents rather than the tab key). Double-check where they want the title. Double-check everything. Get rid of any possible reason for an automatic rejection.
Submit and Wait
You've formatted your story, written your cover letter, and your dazzling short story is gleaming off the page. Now you can send your submission emails (or upload to a submission portal) and...wait. You'll probably be waiting for a while. When I submitted to Novel Noctule on May 4, I got my first response on May 25 and it was a very kind rejection for the upcoming issue...and a request to hold onto the story for consideration in the next issue! On June 21, I got an acceptance. That's a little under a two-month wait, which is still pretty quick by industry standards. Novel Noctule has a quicker turnaround because it's monthly, but submitting to an anthology or seasonal publication will often involve wait times nearing or exceeding six months.
Patience is key, and lots of publications have "nudge windows" listed on their websites, i.e. how long you should wait before asking if your submission was received or considered.
Wondering what to do with all that waiting time? Write another story. And another. And another. Rinse and repeat. Best of luck!
Are you interested in cosmic horror? Do you like baby bugs and psychological turmoil? Do you like snow covered mountain villages with golden lamplight and adorable effigies? "The Mountain Under Vickwood" has you covered.
I'm not going to say "here's how I turned a global pandemic into an OPPORTUNITY!" because that's totally asinine and not at all true. I am going to say "here's how, while coping with this new reality to the best of my ability, I've managed to stay productive." And maybe it'll be helpful! Who knows.
Despite quarantine, general isolation, and nebulous employment, I've managed to stay pretty productive by giving myself a sense of structure that flat out does not exist in a lot of other areas of my life. I'm no expert by any means (and if you need a refresher on my credentials, you're basically taking advice from someone who's published a grand total of one thing and has no formal training in this area), but it seems to me that publishing is doing okay in these uncertain times. Things are functioning remotely. Maybe they're not stellar, but they're functioning. That's more than can be said for most other industries.
Thankfully, this means publishing still employs wonderful, wonderful things like deadlines. Oh, deadlines, how I've missed you. How I've missed structure.
This strategy guide basically consists of taking existing deadlines, brute-forcing them into your life, and giving yourself month-by-month goals to stave off the burgeoning urge to creep around your yellow-wallpapered room.
As an example, here's what my notebook schedule looks like for the month of July:
July 29th: SFFPit (Pitch Book 2?)
July 31st: FictionFive Results!
Writing goals: Two shorts, Prompt 3 and Prompt 4
Editing goals: Three shorts, Prompts 2, 3, and 4
Planning goals: Book 3
Query goals: Book 1, rolling basis
Not too bad, right? I mean, it's a lot, but it's for the entire month. I've redacted the titles of my shorts and books, but I think you still get the gist. Let's break it down:
They're here to give you structure. Do some research. Find out if there are any Twitter pitch events, submission deadlines, or contest entries coming up that are relevant to you. I promise, having something to count down to makes it better. You should be able to find at least one thing per month and if you can't, plan something. Have a discussion night with your critique partners over Zoom! Put all your beta readers in one Discord server and go nuts. Bam, there's something to put on your schedule.
The writing goals are arbitrary and can be modified to fit your schedule as needed, but I know I can write at least 30k words a month if I stay accountable. Here, that 30k includes writing, editing, and planning. It all counts! Give yourself credit!
I'm going to be a little stricter about the submission goals and say that I think you should try to have at least one thing out to at least one person at all times. That's not so bad, right? Your mileage may vary depending on whether you're writing shorts or books or what have you, but waiting for emails is a valid reason to get up in the morning and keep making stuff. Right now, I have no shorts out on submission (I'm writing and editing pretty hard to get ready for a themed issue's submissions in August), but I'm querying a book I hope to one day share stats for. When I use "rolling basis" up there to describe the way I'm querying, it basically means I send out a new query every time I get a query response. I have a dozen out at a time, and so far things seem fine. Mostly.
This is all about having something to look forward to. Maybe you're looking forward to a rejection email, or the results of a contest you forgot you entered, or feedback from a beta, or a magazine opening for submissions, or a pitch party, or any of those things. The point is to find something. One or two things a month. Stack them up, give yourself some goals, and you've got the beginnings of a very solid list of reasons for not giving up.
If you give up now, you'll miss that pitch party right around the corner! If you give up now, you'll miss this magazine's themed issue submission that sounds so perfect for your writing style! If you give up now, you'll...possibly find it even harder to cope with the pandemic.
Writing helps. Making things helps. Doing stuff when you can helps. It's still hard and draining and isolating, but you've got this. We all do.