At the end of last year, we pulled into the station on a full twelve months of the 200 CCs experiment. The safest thing I can say at this point is that it’s been quite a ride and nothing like what I expected. It feels like it’s worth reflecting a bit and being as forthcoming as I’m able to be about the future of the endeavor.
I learned an awful lot last year as an editor. The first is that editing is richly rewarding, but also that it’s powerfully demanding. My own writing suffered in 2016 as a direct result of my work on 200 CCs. Now, that was a possibility I considered going in, but way back in December of 2015, my writing wasn’t going very well anyway so I felt good about the change of pace.
But, writing is (for me) a cyclic undertaking. By the time I felt like I was starting to get my mojo back, I was well embedded in the commitments of the 200 CCs project. The way this manifested was a total ball-drop of the zine aspect. I don’t know how many readers were enjoying the monthly issues, but once I hit the mid-point of the year (which I had been calling Volume 1), I could no longer maintain the schedule. Volume 2, Issue 1 slipped behind, then Issue 2 slipped behind that, and the collected Volume 1 edition stumbled as well. By the time it was late in September I was four issues behind and had to sort of quietly resign myself that zine editions would probably not be coming for Volume 2 at all.
Part of that slow burial behind the mounting work was a fresh output of new writing I was producing. I still liked the idea of the monthly issues, but I had the mounting sense they were redundant. The stories were already available here on the site. The tighter layout controls and guest editorials and so forth were fun and (I hope) aesthetically exciting, but it wasn’t always clear how much value those digital-only versions added.
The other factor that cannot be overlooked is that I bit off just slightly more than I could chew financially speaking. Sure, I had funding for the project as it was initially conceived: a weekly microfiction story and a few themed contests. But as the scope grew to twice a week and the contest prizes grew to accommodate the large number of wonderful entries, I had to dip past my reserves to cover costs. Given that the whole thing had zero revenue potential (and was originally just an excuse to keep fresh content on the website—paying for freshness with cash instead of time), there was no way to offset any of the expenses.
I don’t mean any of this as a complaint or an excuse. Most of the pitfalls I foresaw as possibilities and wasn’t blindsided by them. But, they do play into the future of 200 CCs as an entity and I’d be stupid to ignore or downplay their significance.
As much as I’ve loved having lots of great stories to post on the site and have enjoyed the increased traffic to ironsoap.com, I have to admit that none of it has made this site—ostensibly devoted to my own writing—a better place to come and find out about the writing of Paul A. Hamilton.
But a few things remain as true today as they were nearly a year ago when I cooked up this idea. One is that I still love microfiction—in particular the loose 200-ish word format that I’ve focused on. Seeing the expertise at which my contributors have displayed in wringing every last bit of pain and beauty out of those precious few sentences never ceases to thrill me.
Another is that I still crave a collaborative creative outlet where I can stretch beyond word-monkey and exercise my visual design skills, my eye for talent and execution, my photography, my editorial instincts. And lastly, I still crave the means and opportunity to pay writers for strong work that speaks to me (and hopefully others).
That all being said, I can confidently say that at this point I know I have one final trick up my sleeve for Year One of 200 CCs and beyond that any further exploration of this kind of endeavor will have to involve the following:
A sufficient infusion of cash to maintain the minimum semi-pro rates I’ve offered to date.
A separation of the microfiction stories from the ironsoap.com site.
A new schedule, format, or process that does not involve a nonstop cycle of twice-a-week publication (plus any other format variations).
What’s To Come
The one sure thing is that Year Two of 200 CCs won’t look like this past year. I don’t know exactly what that means, only that you shouldn’t expect twice weekly microfiction stories posted on ironsoap.com. My early visions include a lot more guest editors, zine editions first, and more like a bi-monthly schedule.
But all of it depends on that final trick I mentioned above. I’m currently putting together a 200 CCs Year One print edition, featuring (nearly) all the stories from the entire year. There will not be an ebook edition available to the public. The only way to get all these great stories in one place will be the book.
And the catch is that the proceeds will determine the funding for (or even the existence of) 200 CCs in 2017.
The experiment is pretty straightforward: if enough people buy the book to fund another year, I’ll make 200 CCs Year Two happen, in some form or another. If not, well, that’s the way it goes.
I hope it’s successful, but in a way there’s no chance that it won’t be. Even if nobody buys the book and we can’t fund future forays into 200 CCs, there will at least be a collection of last year’s wonderful experiment available, and I can’t think of a more fitting legacy to the project than that.
I’ve been submitting my fiction to markets for publication for over a year now. In that time I’ve sent out my work one hundred times. It’s not a massive amount of experience, truth be told. And this isn’t even an advice post, because I probably don’t have any advice worth offering. But I wanted to mark the round-number milestone of my triple-digit submissions by reflecting back on some of the things I learned and achieved along the way.
Rejections, We’ve Got A Few
While I’ve submitted 100 times, if I waited until I had 100 submissions processed, I wouldn’t be able to post this until probably around year two. Submitting to the slush pile is a slow, tedious process. And I tend to target markets with fast turnarounds, too. But I’ve churned through about 83 submissions and my acceptance percentage is… 8%. Duotrope says this is a higher than average rate for other authors who submit to similar markets, but it doesn’t say how much higher or what that average is. Not really hanging much significance on that.
Most of the rejections I’ve received have been form rejects. You know, “We have to pass, as it unfortunately does not fit our needs at this time.” I have gotten some personal ones and while those are really the kind of rejections you look for as a submitting author, some of them can be bitter pills to swallow. Here’s my favorite from the past year:
“The story itself isn’t very compelling. You don’t really have much of a plot here.”
It helps to remember that, ultimately, each acceptance or rejection is a personal preference. The rejection above, for example, was for Corkscrew, which went on to be accepted by Toasted Cake and quite a few people later told me it had a great story and was very compelling. So, to each his or her own.
I’ve also come to understand the exquisite pain of the shortlist. Several times in the last 100 submissions, I received a notification that my work had made it past a first reader and was being sent up the chain. Once I made it past two rounds of vetting. When this happens and you get an acceptance, the needled anticipation of the shortlist is quickly forgotten in the triumph. But when the reviewing editor or an editorial board receives the work (usually indicating an even longer wait for response) and then chooses to pass, it’s pretty rough. You can’t get an acceptance in some markets without this process. But since submissions are a numbers game anyway, and one you try to steel yourself against optimism while you play, anything that smacks of hope is kind of like the enemy.
I Accept Your Acceptance
I keep a list of statistics on the master spreadsheet I use to track my submissions. Sure, I subscribe to and use Duotrope extensively, but for me the value in that site is their market database, not the tracking feature. Since I have occasionally submitted to markets that aren’t in their database and I was submitting before I subscribed, I need a master list to track everything I’ve done.
Some of the stats I keep on that spreadsheet surprised me. For example, all those submissions I’ve made have only come from 18 “completed” pieces of writing. Which means over a quarter of the finished pieces I’ve tried sending out have been picked up. It sounds impressive until you realize that 13 finished works of short fiction is not much of a backlog. I have writer friends with dozens and dozens of stories they’re trying to find homes for. What this really says to me is that I need to write more.
But getting those acceptances has been wonderfully fulfilling and flattering. The trick is that so far it hasn’t been particularly lucrative. Getting work out where people can see it has been vital to my development as a writer. But the goal is to use those as stepping stones to sharpen my skills to the point where I can crack those pro-paying, high-circulation markets. There may be another dozen or two vanity indies or token-paying niche publications in front of me before I get to that point. I just have to remember it’s a marathon.
Progress Is Moving Forward
However, I can take some solace from the fact that for the most part the stories I’ve finished more recently are noticeably better than the crop I started with when I began submitting last spring. Some of those earlier works, even the ones I thought were my best work ever, have labored into double-digit rejects. A few of them are now undergoing heavy rewrites to bring them up to par with my current work. The things I’m writing now feel more promising than those I was convinced would get my writing career off the ground.
And through the slow and necessarily painful process of trial and error, I’m starting to see some of the weaknesses my writing suffers beneath, and taking steps to correct them. Or unlearn the habits. Or consciously fight to avoid. I’m trying to take bigger risks, let go of my crutches, dig deeper into my characters, and push myself so I’m not satisfied with anything unless it’s as phenomenal as I can make it.
So here’s to the next year and the next 100 submissions. Rejections or acceptances, there’s no way forward except through the gatekeepers. My ultimate goal is to one day submit something so relentlessly awesome an editor with no space left in the current issue has to order extra pages because they can’t imagine not buying and publishing my story as soon as humanly possible.
For this week’s Aspiring Voices, I talk with the savvy and articulate Alexandra Lynwood about her experience self-publishing and the opportunities opening up for new authors. We also talk about getting in The Zone, the siren song of the Xbox, and what still draws crowds into bookstores.
In this edition of Aspiring Voices I sat down to chat with ED Martin, author of the forthcoming novel The Lone Wolf. We talked about humanistic psychology and its role in her writing, how finishing her first book led to ideas for more, and the downside of having creative impulses in the morning.
Paul: So I was kind of drawn to the tagline on your website that reads, “…stories of love and betrayal, sacrifice and redemption”. What is it about those things that attracts you as a writer?
ED: I have a degree in psychology, and I really enjoy examining people’s motivations for their actions and reactions. The themes I write about are universal, no matter the genre. So many conflicts people have revolve around love, but for me there’s no story in that. For me, it gets interesting when you have a character who loves someone, but maybe he betrays her somehow. How does she react to that? Or a character loves someone, but her goal isn’t the same as his. What’s he willing to give up to help her? And more importantly, why does one character react one way but another reacts differently? These themes are something we can all relate to; by writing from different perspectives, maybe I can help readers open their minds and better relate to other people. Continue reading →