Friday, March 26, 2010

Pardon Me, But Your Roots are Showing

The last few months I’ve found myself thoroughly entrenched in the world of novels: writing, revisions, market research, queries. It’s a world in which I’m feeling more and more comfortable. My roots though, well my roots are in short stories, and this week I’ve had the comfort of returning to my roots.

I spent a good part of tonight working on revisions for a short story that will be appearing in an anthology in a few months. The revisions for the story have been fairly extensive, but I always find it a great learning experience to work with an editor on making a short story publication-ready.

Before I sold my first short story I never really thought about the work that might still have to go into a story post-sale. I can’t exactly say that I believed that just because an editor decided to accept a piece for publication that it would be perfect. It was more, I guess, that I had never actually given it much thought. In fact, I realize now how many things I’d never realized about the short story publication process.

What I’ve come to realize is that sometimes you need to put as much work into a short story after you’ve sold it as you do when getting ready to submit it. And that’s not a bad thing. Sure, sometimes it’s exhausting, and sometimes--when you just can’t seem to get a particular scene right--downright frustrating, but any time you have the opportunity to make a story even stronger, you should go for it.

I’ve sold a number of short stories, from small press anthologies to national print magazines, and the editorial process is always a little different. Sometimes there aren’t edits at all, or the edits are minor and happen behind the scenes. Other times the edits are extensive and require weeks of back and forth between writer and editor. Sometimes it’s just a matter of saying, “I agree,” and okaying the editorial suggestions. Other times it’s a process of rewriting and rewriting again to get it just right.

The edit I’m working on now is definitely one of the more challenging ones. It’s for a great anthology of dark speculative fiction that I’m excited to be a part of--I’ll let you know more about it soon--and the story I sold to them is an older story, but one for which I’ve always had a special fondness. The editors have really impressed me, too. Their editorial suggestions have been insightful and detailed. They’re making me work to get it right, and I’m grateful for that, because I know that the all the effort is going to pay off in the final product.

Truthfully, I welcome these chances to work with editorial staff for another reason, too. I think it’s helping to prepare me for the bigger edits that will come if and when I sell a novel. I’m learning not only how to work with editors, but how to be an author that editors want to work with. I’m realizing it’s not only writing skills that make a good author, but interpersonal skills as well. In some ways, writing isn’t as solitary a gig as people would believe.

I sent those edits off a little while ago, and I felt good about it. Hitting send on that email brought me a great sense of accomplishment. And what I love most about it is knowing that at the end of this journey, I'll have an anthology to hold in my hands, one with my story inside.

Now it’s time to return to the world of novels with its synopses and pitches and query letters, but it’s always nice to return to my roots. I think I’ll do it more often.

3 comments:

  1. I think we should all stick to our roots. I have a style of writing I'm most comfortable with and I drag it around novel to novel. I don't mind my roots showing one bit. ;)

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  2. Thanks so much for commenting over on my blog - exACTly the kind of advice I was seeking! Your blog looks terrific, and it's awesome to read some "insider" stuff that relates to short story publishing. Best of luck (and kudos to your cat's name; I once owned a cat I named Roland, after King's Dark Tower series, lol).

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  3. Thanks T. Anne. I guess our roots are a big part of who we are, after all, and we should embrace that.

    Thanks, Zoe...and you're welcome. I'm glad I could help. I love to talk about short stories. Funny about my cat, because I call him Salem for short, so a lot of people don't know his full name, Salem's Lot. After I'd boarded him at our vet's office on our last vacation, I came back and happened to call him by his full name. The vet's assistant overheard me and said, "His name is Salem's Lot, after the Stephen King novel?" I said yes, and she said, "Well that explains a lot!"

    And Roland...what a great name. I named a cat Derry once, too, a long time ago.

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