The unwritten-rule book for finding an agent (and subsequently selling your manuscript) suggests you need credentials to be recognized, e.g. winning awards or being published in literary magazines. But finding the right magazine and/or contest is key.
When looking at a few of the well respected literary journals, I’ve noticed an interesting catch. Most of the journal’s short stories are written either by published authors or by graduates of fancy MFA programs. Hmmm.
Okay, you say, I’ll win a contest first. But when considering which contests to enter, think about this: Prize amount, entry fee, reputation of the judges. If you win an award for a contest no one’s ever heard of, did you really win?
Poets and Writers, Inc. lists contests by submission date. Over the past three months, I’ve entered nine contests and am about to send another for a February 1 deadline (yikes, I have only four days!) I look for contests specific to my genre (literary fiction a.k.a. the “no-genre” genre) and those having either semi-exciting dollar awards or judges by whom I’d like to get noticed. The negative results are in on four, one of which didn’t make it to the final judge: Joyce Carol Oates.
I don’t look at my not placing as failure. I’ve entered novel excerpts and short stories, a few culled from my first manuscript, and they’re being read. But if I’m really a novelist, am I wasting my time trying to be a short story writer. After all, I don’t normally seek out short stories to read. So, should I write them?
One of my critique partners recently pointed me to the Rejecter's blog about credentials. Here is the rejecter’s advice: “Don't stress over short stories if you're not a short story writer. Some people aren't. If you are, by nature, a novelist, then you might burn a lot of time and frustration trying to get some short story that you threw together for the query letter published. The magazines/journals we care about have very, very high standards and way too many submissions to publish everything they would even want to publish.”
Whew. Now I can get back to work on what I do best. But if by some chance I place in one of those contests, you can be sure I’ll mention it in my next query letter.