May is short story month.
Have you ever heard the phrase hurry up and wait?
This has been my experience with the world of publishing. It's quite a lot of up and downs (much like the industry in general, really). It's also my experience as a reader and a bookseller, too, so there's a nice symmetry there. If you're not quite sure what I mean, I could mention Christopher Paolini, or George R.R. Martin, or - I think the current reigning champion - Jean M. Auel. Sometimes, you have to wait years - or nearly decades - for a book you want to read to actually hit the shelves. I hear that pain daily from people in the store: "Isn't it out yet?"
Being on the flip side? Same thing.
I think I've mentioned before the roller-coaster ride that "Heart" was. I'm probably going to mess up the dates a bit - but the timeline of FOOL FOR LOVE went further back than FOOL FOR LOVE by quite a bit. I got paid for "Heart" in March of 2007. I'd written it and sent it off prior to that amazing day, and it had been accepted. My first publication! I was over-the-moon. Back then, "Heart" was going to appear in an anthology called MOONLIGHT AND ROSES. It had the same editors - R.D. Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert - but the publisher closed, and that, as they say, would have been the end of that.
Except for the tenacity of others, of course. MOONLIGHT got a new name and a new home at Cleis Press and became FOOL FOR LOVE, in February of 2009. Two years later. That book was the little engine that could, only with ink and paper.
I should add here that I had another story accepted to another anthology with the same publishing house that went under at the same time - so my first two stories that had been accepted had both looked like they'd never happen. Alas, "Last Call" didn't have the same happy ending "Heart" did, and sat on my computer thereafter.
This isn't to say the two years route is typical. It's not. The opposite end of the spectrum happened shortly thereafter - I was asked if I'd like to submit something to I LIKE IT LIKE THAT, which had an incredibly short turnaround time. I think I submitted the piece, got edits, worked on my edits, sent them in, and saw publication in about three months - around October of 2009.
That's not typical, either.
So in the hurry up and wait scenario, I'd done both in the first two things that saw the light of day.
You can also apply the same adage to hearing back once you submit something to a call. I love the feeling of clicking the send button and sending a story off to a call. I usually then try not to look at it again - inevitably, I'll find a typo or something else I'd like to change, even though I've read and re-read it a dozen times and had others do the same - but trying not to think about it never works. I start to compulsively check my e-mail first thing every morning. And when the reply does come? Yes or no, it's a relief. Yes, and I'm in the stratosphere. No, and sure, I'm bummed - but sometimes that rejection comes with some criticism that's useful, and that's a win.
Now and then, I've just never heard anything ever again. That's frustrating - and, unfortunately, part of the situation. It's kind of a kick in the pants to find out your piece wasn't accepted only when you see the table of contents posted on a website somewhere, but again, that's part and parcel of the whole experience.
Assuming there's a yes, the edits then pop up at some point thereafter.
I'm told I'm crazy, but this is my favorite part.
I love seeing what others saw, or didn't see, and making changes to make the piece stronger. An editor generally has a truckload of experience to deliver, and these little marks and notes are a goldmine of information for the future. I've got a little checklist of things I know I need to look at before I fire off a submission, and most of them are due to the editors I've worked with. Oxford commas, or no Oxford commas? Drop all the U's from colour and the rest of my Canadian words. Do a find-and-replace to swap out my automatic two spaces after a period for a single space after a period. Count how many times I've used "and" and get rid of at least a third of them. And so on, and so on. It's fun. I've rarely had an edit that's made me stop and argue, and even then, usually it's a sign that something wasn't clear.
Often this part also has a healthy dose of the "hurry" part. "Here are your edits, and I need them back by yesterday afternoon." I also love this, but I've already said I'm crazy. Feel free to judge away. With a short story, though, it's not like this is going to take hours and hours.
After firing off the edits, that "wait" part comes back into play.
I've been really lucky. I'm in five collections that you can go and buy right now, and I've had a banner year so far with short story submissions. I think - barring incidents and accidents and the counting of chickens before they hatch - that there will be ten more books in which I have a story out there by the end of 2011. But not tomorrow. The NEW FICTION FROM THE FESTIVAL was the first of this year, but for the most part, everything happens September, October, November, and December.
So I'm waiting.
And checking my e-mail again.