“When I went to school, we walked both ways. Uphill. In snow!”
It was around 1992 when I took my writing serious. Since I was fourteen years old, the goal was to become a novelist. It was when I turned twenty-two I realized if I didn’t submit material I’d written, I could never reach that goal.
Writing offers me many different things. I find it solitary, and quite often therapeutic. It is, in a way, like reading. It transplants me somewhere else, is a means of escape. Instead of exploring fantastic worlds, I create them. I let characters come to life. They argue with me about how a planned story should divert from the outline. I think about them when I can’t be writing, laughing at the things they’ve said. Or shudder when I realize the things they are about to do . . . I enjoy writing. I look forward to my time in front of the keyboard. (When I started writing in 1983/84, I used an electric typewriter. I mastered winding two sheets of paper with a carbon sheet between around the machine’s roller. It was no easy task, let me tell you).
Submitting what I’ve written is another matter altogether. That involves sharing. Opening up. Letting people–strangers–into my head for the sole (soul) purpose of judging me, criticizing my friends, my ideas, my worlds! Who in their right mind would purposely, willingly, subject themselves to that kind of vulnerability?
I don’t think I thought that back in ‘92. I wasn’t looking for validation, or approval. Some might be, I wasn’t. I began submitting my short stories to magazines because I wanted to see my short stories published in said magazines. It was kind of that simple (for me). I craved building a portfolio of published works, hoping I could then sell a novel. That had always been the goal, the plan. And, decidedly, it was time to get crackin’!
By ‘92, I’d graduated from an electric typewriter to a computer (of sorts). The 18” monitor was black and white, with green text, and thankfully, Windows (and not DOS). It was bulky and needed a desktop at least three feet long, or it would never fit. The wide cartridge, dot matrix printer was on a small table on wheels by the desk. (If you have never loaded a dot matrix printer with paper, count your blessings. Aligning holes, and tabs, and feeding it evenly from underneath out of a box of a giant ream of continuous paper folded over in on itself . . .)
Work needed to be backed up in the ‘90’s, same as today. I had a box with a credible mix of 5.25” and 3.50” floppy disks. You had to be careful not to touch the thumb-print size of exposed magnetic media on the 5.25” disks though, or else risk erasing anything previously saved.
While the internet was still a growing viability at the time, physical resources were more essential. I spent plenty of money on updated editions of Writer’s Market, and Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. These two books were invaluable. A writer’s Bible. Inside an author found a list of markets interested in material from writers with guidelines on submissions. The info included:
- Who to address submissions to
- What they wanted
- just a query letter
- a query letter and the entire story
- no query letter, just the story
- sample chapters, and an outline
- just an outline
- the entire manuscript, with the outline
- How many pieces they publish a year
- what percentage of those pieces were by new/first time writers
- Expected pay
- per word
- per piece
- contributor copies
- contributor copies only
- Are simultaneous submissions okay? Are they okay if indicated?
- Are multiple submissions acceptable or not
- A list of authors they’d recently published (or titles, or awards)
- How long to expect to wait for a reply
One thing I hated was the dreaded self-addressed, self-stamped envelope. Once the story was printed out, the query letter, and such, you also needed to include one of two self-addressed, self-stamped envelopes.
If you filled out a normal business size envelope with your address info and a stamp, then the publication/publisher would simply send a rejection/acceptance letter once the submission was reviewed. However, if you wanted your entire submission back –if/when rejected– you needed to supply a large enough envelope with enough postage inside with your submission.
Don’t forget cost. Printer paper, ink, envelopes, postage stamps . . . it adds up, quickly. So at first you might think just the business size envelope and the single stamp should suffice. But, if the publication doesn’t want your story, it would be easier if they sent it back so you could send it out to someone else for consideration. Either way, submissions were not cheap (overall).
The different size envelopes caused different emotions when mail arrived. If I saw a manilla 8×10 envelope with a folded crease in the middle, my heart sank. I knew a rejection would be contained within. The business size envelope was a crap shoot. Could be an acceptance letter, might be a rejection . . . there was a spot of hope, a ray of light, as I’d walk back up the driveway and into the house. (Followed by the anticipation, and cold sweats of actually opening and reading the response).
It got to a point where I was submitting stories to magazines nearly everyday. The post office workers knew me by name. When they found out why I was there every day (“I’m a writer”) they wished me luck, and always asked if I’d received any news. It got to a point where I could self weigh my submissions, and be pretty close to postage costs. They thought I was hysterical. Ahhh, the good old days.
Now. If I don’t want to, I never have to leave my apartment (if not for my full time job). Email submissions rock. They’re free. No paper printed. No ink needed. No envelopes needed. No daily trips to the post office. No stamps. I have 2 thumb drives (back up, back-back-up) that hold more than my actual computer. I use a laptop. It’s light. Portable. My place has Wi-fi. Research on markets doesn’t cost a penny.
I am thankful I am older. I no longer need to walk to school both ways. Uphill. In the snow. Very, very thankful.