As an editor, I’m organizing the receiving, logging and reviewing of the submissions for Best Lesbian Erotica 2012. As a writer, I’m in marketing mode, trying to get my work out to the venues that will be the best matches for it. I’ve been keeping a fairly comprehensive tracking chart of the work I submit (both plays and fiction, as well as the occasional non-fiction or essay, applications for grants and residencies), since the early/mid 2000s. I’ve been submitting work a lot longer than that, but wasn’t nearly as conscientious about tracking it.
By my figures, I’ve sent out approximately 750 submissions to approximately 545 venues since 2005. If you count the lost years, I’ve sent out hmm…I’d say well over 1,000 submissions to 600-800 theaters, magazines, book publishers, websites, newspapers, anthology editors, contests…you name it. (And if you think that’s a lot, I know people who have been more prolific…and guess what: they’ve been published/produced a LOT.)
When I sit down to figure out what I’m sending out to whom, this is how I start: going over the available opps to see what THEY want, not what I want to send them; going through my work to find out what fits their needs, and in some cases deciding NOT to submit to a particular theater, contest, or festival when I don’t think it would be a good match (saves us all a waste of time).
If I have a piece that fits the theme of a festival, but it’s already been produced, and they want unproduced, I don’t submit it. Their loss. (And who needs a "world premiere" of a 10-minute play that hasn't been done within 1000 miles? These are the things I ask myself...as I move on).
I don’t try to wedge a piece (say, a play about a fireman) into a theme that’s not the same (“plays about cowboys”), by saying “well firemen are like cowboys” or trying to change the fireman to a cowboy.
I comb the ‘net for submission opportunities, and subscribe to several email lists I can cull them from. When I’m updating the En Avant Playwrights board (my OCD/hobby), I make note of the opportunities that might be a good match for me, and what the deadline is. (And sometimes life gets in the way, and I miss some deadlines I’d like to make).
We’re not perfect here. Last night, I sent out a selection of short plays to a theatre company via email, and this morning had a polite response that they needed a certain number of people in the cast. I’d misread/not seen that stipulation. Fortunately, I had a couple other plays with the right number of actors to send them. (A fellow playwright once complained about the weirdness/specificity of the themes out there, and said he was just waiting for a call for plays about Evil Clowns in Saloons).
I try to give my work every chance to be seen for what it is (not what’s missing). This group wants a bio; that festival wants a production resume; the other wants a synopsis; those guys want a blind copy. Theatre A wants 3 hard copies; Theatre B wants online submissions only; Theatre C would like you to upload a file and fill out a form on their website. Grant D wants six copies of your first 10 pages and the meaning of life.
It’s like dressing a child for school on a snowy day: do you have your earmuffs? Your mittens? Your permission slip? Your change of clothes in case you have an accident? Don’t forget your tissues!
And here’s where I segue into Editor mode.
I just started the database for Best Lesbian Erotica 2012. I’ve been getting submissions since summertime, but between now and April 1, they will start coming in faster, and I’d best have my recording/reviewing process in place. I’ve been tinkering with the guidelines, trying to make them both more user-friendly and more efficient for me. I’ve got them up on my website, and sent them to Cleis, and have been posting them around, and did a mailing to my own list of writers/teachers. So I’ve been getting some manuscripts at my PO Box, and some e-mail queries from writers wanting to clarify points in the guidelines.
Some of these are the kind of queries I expect from professional writers: asking me about whether/when prior publication might make a piece ineligible, about how much I pay, things like that. There was more than one query asking me if I’ll consider one-act plays. I look at my guidelines: “Submit short stories, self-contained novel excerpts, other prose.” (Firemen are not cowboys). I’ll stretch a little (I sent a long narrative poem to the judge in ’11), but work with me here.
What started me off on the thought-chain that led to this post was an email I got from a writer who has written THREE short stories and had been told they were “very captivating,” and would like to get a “professional’s” opinion on whether they were publishable.
Honey, don’t send your child out into the blizzard naked.
But rather than laughing at baby writers’ blunders (which, admittedly is fun), I decided to figure out a way to explain to her (without sounding too bitchy about it) how to break down the process that makes up the beginning of the journey. Maybe if I break it down, give her specific steps, she might sign up for a workshop, read everything she can get her hands on, start writing every day. (Who am I kidding? I don’t write every day…)
Or…take a look at the video below.
I have run into folks like the little bear (that’s a bear, isn’t it?) in the striped shirt. I’ve also seen people go from “Wow! I’ve always wanted to WRITE,” to acquiring a craft and getting published. Tristan Taormino, the founder of the BLE series, had a mandate to include new writers, and I’ve kept it. BLE 11 has four writers with their first published story, as well as stories from writers whose work taught me lessons about craft.
I remember the newbie who sent a letter to a writer on a TV show (picking a name off the credits) asking how to break into sitcoms. The screenwriter sent a detailed, encouraging reply, copies of scripts, and best wishes to the rookie. That aspiring artist was Pearl S. Buck. No, it was me.