I was talking with a friend from the flash fiction circuit about contests and our desire to win at least an honorable mention with every entry.  As the discussion continued, I identified a few parallels with traditional short story publishing.  If you’re new to “writing for real” or if you’re a veteran and just need the reminder, I hope you find these helpful.

You Can’t Win ‘Em All

The most important and hardest thing to get through your ego-charged brain is that rejection is an integral part of writing.  For the most part, even established novelists don’t automatically get a green light for every book they dream up. There might be quality issues, and I’ll get into that later, but you have to understand, every judge and every publisher has different tastes.  Does everyone you know love country music? How about rap or rock?  Some people don’t even like music. *shiver*

The second piece to remember is very few people would want to read the exact same writer every single day.  Would you really like to eat the same dish for every meal and listen to the same song over and over and over again on the radio?  Probably not; variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

Read the [Fine] Manual

RTFM comes from the habit of individuals to start on a project and wonder why they get stuck after ignoring the instructions.  Read the rules of the competition.  Does it say less than 100 words or exactly 100 words?  How is the prompt expected to be used? 

The same goes for publications.  If the publisher only accepts hard sci-fi set on other planets, don’t send your Victorian romance or pulp detective story.  You’re wasting your time (since most markets don’t allow simultaneous submissions) and theirs.  If the editor asks for standard format, use it!  If the editor wants hot pink Monotype Corsiva in font size 43, make the adjustment.

Edit Revise & Edit Some More

Here’s a piece that even veteran writers often dread.  Make sure you at least read over your entry before you hit send.  We all make the occasional typo, but if a judge has to work hard to understand what you are even trying to get across, the chances of your winning are slim.

This is even more important with publishing.  Editors receive anywhere from dozens to hundreds of entries a day.  Don’t give the editor an easy reason to reject your story.  Spell check, grammar check, weed out overused words.  White-washing won’t turn a donkey into a stallion, but if you have two horses to choose from and only one is clean, what are you going to buy?

I’ve Heard It Before

You’ve followed the directions, you’ve written a well-crafted and carefully edited story and you still can’t get a nibble.  Fifty people can interpret a prompt in fifty different ways.   They can also interpret it in the same way.

Strange Horizons has a list  of story ideas which have been used many times before: http://www.strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-common.shtml

Throw out your first impression, everyone had that impression.  Open your mind to the possibilities. Push yourself to discover your own distinct voice and the story that is uniquely yours

No you can’t win them all, but if you keep writing, you will win some and at some point you might just surprise yourself.  If you're ready to practice, come join Motivation Monday.

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