Posts Tagged ‘rejection’

I Submit to You by Michael J. Soloway

May 8, 2013

I Submit to You

By Michael J. Soloway

The Rule of Twenty-Five

Sheepshead Review. Serving House. Newfound. Northwind. Palooka. Thin Air magazine (4x). fwriction review. Utter magazine. Superstition Review. TINGE Magazine. The Boiler Journal. Passages North. Thomas J. Hrushka Memorial Nonfiction Prize (3x). Prick of the Spindle. The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. Hippocampus Magazine. Ploughshares—just to name a few.

lit magsIn all, I’ve received more than twenty-five rejections over the past thirteen months. They come in all shapes and sizes, with their own length and own voice. Like poems all titled, “Unfortunately…” Some offer compliments and encouragement; others simply cut you off at the knees and leave you feeling paralyzed with fear and insecurity. But a loss is a loss, whether it’s by thirty points or one.

Rejection is part of life, part of The Writing Life. But it’s also a word I associate with immaturity. After all, this isn’t one of those dreams where you’re late for a test without your No. 2 pencil; it isn’t high school. There is no prom to obsess over or folded notes to pass to potential dates—even though, at times, it may feel that way, as you ask yourself: Why not me? What’s wrong with me? I say: Nothing, especially if you haven’t even taken the plunge and submitted your work yet! And that doesn’t mean sending pages to your parents or friends or “one contest years ago.” Hilary Homzie, a children’s author at Hollins University, and a former mentor of mine, once told me: “You should always have twenty-five pieces of work in process at any one time.” Twenty-five? Yes, twenty-five. Five projects you’re writing; five you’re editing; five query letters you’re producing; five pieces you’re in the process of submitting; and five you’re waiting to hear back from an editor, agent, or publisher. Like sales, or any other business, it’s a numbers game—which simply means persistence is rewarded.

The Rebuff is Not Just For Cars

What’s the difference between a writer and an author? Have you ever turned this over in your mind? We call ourselves writers, but aren’t we already writers, all of us. Everyday, whether you’re writing or not, you are a writer; if you’re reading this then you most certainly are.

Perception and self-actualization is vital to growth and a continued formation of a positive identity. It’s time to start thinking of yourself as not only a writer, but an author as well. Whether you’ve published an essay or article or book or poem or blog or chapbook or a piece of haiku that began on a dinner napkin or if you haven’t published at all, give yourself permission to be an author. After all, we have Author pages on Facebook, not Writer pages. Be positive, then stay positive. Have your “Author’s Bio” ready. Know, deep down in your heart, that you’ll need it soon enough.

Along with my thirty aught rebuffs (a word I prefer over rejection, because it reminds me of polishing, that my work simply needs another run-through and that it’s not me that’s being rejected), I’ve also had successes this year as well—three essays and two memoir excerpts in seven different literary magazines over those same thirteen months. How have I done this? Quality work is only one ingredient to success. But courage and persistence is, by far, key to turning pages in an attic into pages into “print.” By rebuffing your work, and putting that first toe into what can sometimes be murky waters, you’ll be well on your way to becoming published—never immune to rejection, but an author ready to build upon success. After all, a translucent ocean does not reflect like the black sheen on the surface of a dark summer lake, it’s mystery reflecting your own image back at you, an identity that’s actually clear, if you stare long enough and catch the right amount of light.

Time is Relative (A Distant Cousin, Twice Removed) 

Excuses are never about time; they’re about energy.

clockTime, after all, is just a state of mind—we make time for what we want to make time for. “I can’t go to the gym, I don’t have time.” “I can’t cook dinner, I don’t have time.” “I can’t write a query letter, I don’t have time.” I have the same excuses: a full-time job, school, family, which includes a 21-month-old daughter. And I had the same self doubts you may have over your shoulder like a backpack—something to keep your work safe, but oh so heavy to lug around. I used to think one rejection meant my work was “no good.” Giving up is easy. But the only notion you should be giving up at this point is expectation.

A friend and peer, who many of you know from the Wilkes Creative Writing Program, Danielle Poupore’s, MFA (AKA, Danielle E. Curtis), essay, “Lilac Blossoms: A Dead Squirrel Story” was rebuffed fourteen times before being published in Split Lip magazine in March. Persistence, perseverance, and faith in your own words are your greatest tools. Use them to your advantage. Time is not the enemy. It’s simply a distant relative passing through town looking for a place to “crash” for the night. Learn to invite them in with open arms; embrace the time you do have, even if the only room you have left in your soul at the end of the day is a worn couch without pillows. There is pride and reward in effort.

It’s “Submittable” and More

Once you have a submittable story, set of stories, or script, depending on your genre, visit Poets & Writers website (www.pw.org). In the top navigation, find “Tools for Writers.” Underneath that you’ll see “Contests,” “Lit Mags,” and “Small Presses.” Once there, you can segment your search by Genre, Subgenre, Format, and Payment. And don’t get overwhelmed by your search results. There are 885 literary magazines that pop up without conducting an Advanced Search. But if I specify, “Creative Nonfiction” and “Autobiography/Memoir,” then my results are a much more manageable 133. Remember, this is a numbers game, but not a race. Concentrate on upcoming deadlines first, then make a commitment to submit a piece at least once a month. Follow the Rule of 25s, but unlike writing goals, submissions are not supposed to be part of a daily routine. I submitted my essays and excerpts sporadically over an entire year.

Most online magazines have made the transition to electronic submissions, which not only makes it easier to submit your work but also to track them through a system called “Submittable.” Once you make your first submission, and your account is set up, you can check the status of a piece any time of day. Be sure to read each publication’s submission guidelines carefully—word count limits, publication deadlines, and anything else that a specific journal prefers. There are still many “traditional” publications that will require a more detailed project description, query letter, or even a paper submission.

“Simultaneous Submissions” is your best friend. Find magazines that accept them and send, send, send. Just be sure to follow their instructions. If one of your pieces gets picked up, then notify the other magazines immediately so they can take your submission out of consideration—unless, of moneycourse, they permit reprints. I’ve had two essays “reprinted,” so look for those opportunities as well. And don’t forget about contests. Just be aware, most have submission fees. So, that option can get costly. On the flipside, contests offer monetary awards and oftentimes, major publication opportunities. Look for contests no more than $15 per entry. There are literally thousands, depending upon your genre.

Another word of advice—don’t expect payment, if your work is accepted. We all want to make a living at writing, but right now the focus should be on getting published, putting your name out there into the Universe, and forming a strong identity as an author. As of September, when my seventh piece is scheduled for publication, I will have earned exactly $45 from my yearlong submission/publishing efforts. So, if you’re looking for a mammoth payday, consider becoming an actuary or a nurse anesthetist.

Sticks and Stones

Rejection is not a 4-letter word, even though it may elicit a few when you get that response from an editor, agent, publication, or contest. Just remember, reject and accept have the same number of letters. The word you would rather hear is obvious, but one rejection does not an author make. They’re just sticks and stones. But the forest ahead doesn’t have to be so bleak. Turn any rebuff into feathers and leaves falling harmlessly at your feet and keep walking until you reach a clearing—every deep wood has one.

So, what am I really trying to say? Who do I think I am? Today, I hope I’m your drill sergeant, your platoon leader. I’m your inspiration, your mentor. I’m your best friend, your confidante. I’m that devil on your shoulder; I’m that saint.

Today, I’m an author. And so are you.

Being a writer is a complicated relationship. Don’t just look for The One. Find the many—you deserve to be an author for years to come.

So, what now you may ask? In the words of a wise mentor, teacher, writer, author, and friend, Kevin Oderman: “Onward.” I submit to you—there’s no place else to go.

***

Michael J. Soloway grew up eating oranges, catching lizards, and listening to the gasp of tennis ball cans being opened in south Florida. He received his Masters Degree in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and will earn his MFA in January 2014. In addition, Michael has served as Michael Solowaymanaging editor of more than a dozen nonprofit magazines and just finished his first memoir Share the Chameleon, about attempting to break his family’s cycle of abuse, as he becomes a father for the first time in his 40s. Brevity Magazine published Michael’s short essay, “Introducing Mother Nature,” in 2012. In addition, Split Lip magazine published his nonfiction essay, “Sticks and Stones,” about his grandmother’s slide into dementia, in March 2013. His work has also appeared in Red Fez, Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts, and Under the Gum Tree magazines. An excerpt from Share the Chameleon will appear in Split Lip magazine in September 2013.

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Screenwriters, Beggars, and Whores By Bill Prystauk

May 25, 2011

When I first heard about a one-page screenplay contest at Moviepoet, I gave pause. This site had offered this free contest in the past and my first one-page idea about a murder was ill received. The feedback, however, proved valuable and it was clear I hadn’t executed a story with a solid beginning, middle and end. And with the broad margins, type and spacing associated with screenwriting format, getting a story on one-page had proven difficult.

Though I never read the script, I’ve seen the short film “Shot of a Lifetime”  – a story told in a mere five seconds and it worked. This one-pager then, this one minute of film, was a challenge I wanted to meet head-on – Hell, I had another fifty-five seconds to play with. But coming up with a story that wasn’t the equivalent of a bad joke was far from difficult. I wanted to do something dramatic and poignant.  I’m not exactly sure where the idea came from, but I imagined a “manly” man cross-dressing for a contest, winning said contest, then going home in drag to confront his wife. I pounded out the story of “Catalyst” in short order, revised and tweaked and submitted.

When the results came out a month later, I was disappointed. My script hadn’t even earned an honorable mention. Most comments involved questions that could only be answered if the script was a feature. Many people (it’s open judging for any writer logging into the site once registering for free) could not determine where the “catalyst for change” even appeared in the script. Needless to say, it was evident I had written something obscure and I hadn’t delivered my tale completely.

Rejection Hurts, But Can Lead to Better Writing

Theme had apparently been unclear and my beginning, middle and end didn’t work. As a writer, I had failed. Regardless, I had other scripts to write and would simply learn from the exercise to tell a better story.

But that was a lie. I knew in my heart the story was solid and that in one-minute I had delivered a complete tale to the audience. The story made sense, the catalyst for change was clear and the theme was solid. Then, I received some more feedback from a couple of people who had voted on the scripts for the contest. They thought the script was “brilliant.” One, a close friend, Chris Messineo, who didn’t know I had penned the screenplay because it was blind viewing, thought it was the greatest short I had ever written. Damn. He encouraged me to send it elsewhere and try to get it produced. (When Chris is thrilled about something, he means it.)

Remarkably, I discovered a one-page script contest from WILDsound in Toronto. I entered and soon learned I was a Finalist. Actors in Toronto then performed the script on-stage and the clip was placed on the WILDsound site. The bad news: Judging would be determined by internet voting. For the first time, the fate of my work would not be handled by a group of professional writers, producers, directors or even agents. I was suddenly in the midst of a popularity contest.

Of course I wantedto win. After all, the winner would have his/her short produced. This meant the writer would receive that all-important screen credit – something every screenwriter lives for. So I did something I loathed and despised: I contacted everyone I knew via WebCT, Facebook and regular email to get them to vote – as well as their families and friends, and so on.

Even America's Sweetheart Spent Time on the Streets

I told Ken Vose, a screenwriter in the Wilkes University MFA Program, that I felt like a beggar and a whore, to which Ken replied, “You’re a screenwriter. You’ll be a beggar and a whore forever. Get used to it.” I continued to beg right up to the very end – but ultimately fell short by a handful of votes. “Catalyst” came in second place.

Chris Messineo, the man behind Off-Stage Films and the New Jersey Film School, made me feel a little better. Apparently, the winner of the previous WILDsound contest had his film shot and it was awful. Not the story per se, but its filming. I found the short films of previous winners and noticed that the lighting was bad, many camera angles were weak and the overall feel was one of sterility. Still, I was out of a much desired credit and now had another script that would just collect dust in a drawer. The announcement of “Catalyst” as a produced piece of creative work would not appear in my CV, making that tenure tract position at Kutztown University all the more harder to attain.

I was ticked.

Then, something unbelievable happened.  Out of the blue a high school friend, Debbie Valenta, contacted me from Los Angeles. She had produced several films and worked with Roger Corman for a couple of years. Debbie had recently formed a yet unnamed production company with two other women and was looking for a short script they could film. She knew I wrote screenplays, and even read “Catalyst” when I was “begging and whoring” for votes on Facebook. I submitted four short scripts – and they chose “Catalyst.” Collectively, they loved the story. Whew. The tale did indeed work and my original gut feeling was validated. The only dilemma, and it was a small one, was that they wanted the short to be five to ten minutes long.  Knowing Debbie’s level of expertise and penchant for detail, I am not concerned about the film’s quality. However, I realize that not winning the WILDsound contest may have been the best thing possible for me. This is made clear by the fact this new production company will use “Catalyst” as their calling card to attract investors and talent. In the world of screenwriting, that’s a big deal.  Regardless, even though the script hasn’t been shot yet, it has the best chance of seeing the light of day. And if it does, I will get that credit and maybe more opportunities will come my way if the short is well received. Time will tell.

Once again, the advice to all writers is not to quit. And even if your script is shopped around, this does not mean you can’t resubmit years later. Ken Vose recently sold a horror script that is older than me, as he told me.  As long as we’re honest about the quality of our writing, there is a chance that work will find a home somewhere, and this goes for all screenwriters, playwrights, poets, fiction and non-fiction writers.  Sure, we may feel like we’re a “beggar and a whore” on occasion, but as long as we’re respectful and devoid of cockiness, we’re simply just asking to be heard. We’re pitching. We’re selling. Just like we do in an interview for a job. And if we don’t sell ourselves we’ll never achieve anything with our writing.

Who is Bill Prystauk?

In 2011, Bill’s dramatic horror, “Ravencraft” is currently a Top-Three Finalist in the 2011 AWS Screenplay Contest. His dramatic ghost story, “Risen” was the First Place Winner in the 2010 Horror Screenplay Contest and is currently being shopped around Hollywood. Furthermore, Bill’s character driven, crime/action/horror script “Red Agenda” was the First Place Winner in the 2008 International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival and was a Top-Five Finalist at Screamfest. In 2006, he was the Second Place Winner of the Screenwriters Showcase Screenplay Contest for his erotic crime thriller, “Bloodletting,” which is now a novel under consideration by award winning, Akashic Books.

Bill Prystauk Loves a Pink Background

Bill has also won numerous awards for other screenplays as well as poetry. He completed the Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University in June 2011 to earn his MFA with concentrations in screenwriting and fiction. Bill currently teaches English at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, and is exploring the use of homes in horror movies in his book, “Home is Where the Horror is.”