He Who Finds Mercy series

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Rules for Writers (more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules)

For years I read the advice in writer's magazines: "Study the publication before submitting."

And for years I ignored that advice.  Of course, I wondered why I couldn't sell any of my stories!

Sometimes I read the magazine.  Once I even bought a subscription.  Sometimes I sent for writer's guidelines.  But because of new writer enthusiasm I never really studied what each magazine was publishing.
One of three rejection letters I received from MZB before she accepted one of my stories.

After three rejections by the same editor, I decided it couldn't hurt to take that oft-repeated advice.  I wanted to write for her anthology.  There were several in print, so I found most of them at Half-Price Books and/or the library.

And I studied them.

I not only read the stories, but I read the editor's comments in her introductions to each story.  I discovered I'd been sending her stories and themes she would NEVER publish!  I'd been hopelessly clueless, and I hoped she'd give me another chance.

So I wrote another story, this time avoiding the editor's taboos as well as incorporating humor, which she "could not get enough of."

And--surprise!--I sold the story, which was also my first fiction sale.

Advance was $0.02/word but over 14 years earned several hundred dollars in royalties
When a second sale didn't come right away, I took a writing friend's advice and sent out queries for nonfiction articles.  But FIRST I studied the publication and its guidelines to discover exactly what the magazine needed.

When my query was given the go-ahead on spec, I typed out a similar article to get a "feel" for length, style, intro and ending, etc.  Then I "slanted" my article to fit the magazine's requirements.

And, not quite so surprising this time, I sold the article.

I think the second sale was even more satisfying than the first.  I had begun to believe the first acceptance was a fluke and would never happen again!

Since 1992 the publishing world has definitely changed, but there are still "rules" and "guidelines" to be followed.  As with any creative endeavor, more than enthusiasm and even talent is required to be successful.  It takes continuous self-education, re-dedication, and persistence to find success, no matter how humble.

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