The Queries Series: Talkin’ ‘Bout My Motivation

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Editor’s Note: Many thanks to author Sean R. Robinson for contributing this guest post!

It’s funny that at this point in my life, numbers drive so much of my writing. Or maybe I’m driven (a little crazy, perhaps) by numbers.

When I was in high school about a decade ago, I loathed math. With all its special functions, and groupings and…stuff. I didn’t do so well. I had to re-take geometry one summer and only passed algebra II because the teacher and I decided that  re-taking his class was probably not going to be successful for either of us.

Before I discuss staying motivated while submitting stories, I figured a few numbers wouldn’t hurt.

In 2014, I submitted a total of 124 times to various markets. Some were professional (paying 6 cents a word, as defined by SFWA) while others were semi-pro, or offered token payments. I netted 3 acceptances. At present, I have 24 submissions out and have had 1 acceptance thus far this year.

These numbers may seem kind of arbitrary, but they are (at least to me) interesting. There are markets that I’ve submitted to repeatedly, many that I’ve received the dreaded “Near Miss” rejection from. But overall, I use the submission numbers to keep myself informed and motivated.

As I write this, I am sitting in a café in New Hampshire and I’ve started twice. The wonderful Sarah (whose wisdom you’re used to seeing here on the page) invited me over to wax eloquently about remaining creative while querying your writing. I’m not sure how eloquent the waxing will be, but I have a few thoughts that will hopefully tide you over between the nerve-wracking moment when you hit “submit” and the dreaded ding of the e-mail with your response from an agent, publisher, or other market.

A little bit of background: submissions require a really thick skin and a lot of tenacity. Also, your ability to submit your stories has nothing to do with your ability to write them. They are different muscles and, much like writing, you will need to develop them over time. To send a query is to send your prized baby out into the wilderness. Some people can do that all the time, other people can do it once or twice.  Rejections sting but over time, you build up your rejection calluses and they roll off you like water off a duck’s back. Maybe. Hopefully.

The numbers I provided earlier are short fiction numbers. I am also currently sending out a novel-length manuscript. Those numbers are a little different, as the publication and representation system in novels is nothing at all like the Short Fiction process. At present, I have six queries out to agents. Some of them have full copies of the manuscript, some have twenty pages or less. The process is different, but no less exciting.

kittySo how do you stay motivated?

First step, don’t stop writing. Once one project is done, treat yourself to coffee, or tea, or chocolate, or a nice dinner out. And then start writing again. Keeping the pump primed is where it is. You work hard on your wring muscles, and you don’t want to let them atrophy. It’s easy to say that you’re “re-energizing” or “waiting for the muse”. This is a great way to have your engine grind to a halt. Keep writing.

Second, figure out what your relationship to your e-mail is going to be. If you are the kind of person who refreshes their mail a hundred times a minute (that’s me) then give yourself permission to do it. Or not. Letting your anxiety get away from you while you wait is a sure-fire way to talk yourself out of writing or self-reject your work. You put the work in, keep the faith! Because if you don’t, no one else is going to.

Third is the hardest. Even if you’re a New York Times Bestselling author, you will get rejected. If the rejection comes in, don’t stew about it. Publishing is a fickle, arbitrary place. There are too many intersections to judge how a story will be received at a particular market at a particular time. I got a lovely rejection from a market saying they’d just bought a story like it and were really sorry. When you get rejected, send your story back out again. Don’t let it sit and collect dust. It will find a home, it may just take some time.

So that’s the numbers and the submission game. Remember why you started writing, the joy it gives you and the blood sweat and tears you pour into it. Make it the best that it can be, and then send it out to the world. Keep the faith.SeanRobinsonAuthorBio

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