Learning by Doing

Most targets for our submissions, whether they be online zines, print magazines or book/novel publishers, do not offer any sort of feedback when they send rejections. I understand why. With so many queries and submissions, and slush piles that may sometimes seem to rival Mt. Everest, there isn’t enough time for staffers to send personal feedback to each and every would-be contributor or author. It makes sense, but it’s so frustrating to not know where I’m failing! It feels like doing your best through a whole year of school, then finding out you failed but not knowing why or which subject shot you down; or maybe it compares to taking a trip somewhere without a detailed map, then getting lost and not knowing how to get back on course. Without any specific guidance, how are we supposed to improve our craft?

I attended a science fiction workshop at The Muse Center (in Norfolk, Virginia) a few days back and came away excited, motivated and inspired. (Thanks, Jason, Matt and John!) I also came away with some new resources, which I’ll be adding to my links page soon.

One of those new potential targets was Metaphorosis, an online magazine for short fiction. I’ve read some of the entries on the site; they’re good. The zine pays, but the best part of its submission system is this: the editorial staff offers feedback if you ask for it.

I asked. And I learned.

The editor, B. Morris Allen, rejected my story, but at least I know why. First of all, my story’s concept was familiar enough they could predict (accurately, I might add) the ending. Morris suggested if I’m going to use a familiar concept, I have to do something new with it. Okay. I can deal with that. Second, Morris (and/or his team) rated my prose for that tale 3 out of 5, which basically means my prose was functional, but not exceptional. Could use some work. No problem. Now that I know where my weaknesses are, I can work toward improvement. In fact, the Hampton Roads Writers Conference (coming up later this month) offers several breakout sessions for improving prose. I’ll be attending as many as I can.

The “overly familiar concept” thing is something I’ll have to figure out. I stopped reading altogether for a long time, because I figured that if I was reading, I couldn’t be writing, and I wanted to spend ALL my “extra” time writing. Wrong. Erroneous thinking, and this is an excellent example as to why. If I’m not reading, I don’t know what other story concepts have been done. I thought the concept for “Switch” was clever. Shows what I know, and the only way to fix that knowledge gap is to fill it. By reading. And reading. And then reading some more.

As you know, I’ve been posting a book review every single week for a while now and while that alone shows I’m reading, it’s also keeping me so busy with novels and other full-length books that my new issues of Analog have been languishing. Bobby suggested I might review short stories, or particular issues of magazines. This makes sense, and I’ll probably start doing that as soon as I finish reviewing the Jemisin series I started last week (and continue this week). I’ve read many online stories, trying to get a feel for what various target magazines want, so there’s a lot of material to be had.

In the meantime, I’ll be sending Metaphorosis something else to read over. Maybe they’ll offer more input I can use. You should check them out – and if you like what you see, support them through Patreon. Zines like that one are good to keep around.