From my ‘ask me a question‘ entry, I finally get around to answering the two last questions in the queue:
When do you retire (or trunk) a short story? I’m staring at my list of stories, and only a few of them I think are good. Should I trust my own instinct, or maybe I’m not best placed to judge them? Quite a few have been through my crit group, and none have been trashed.
I thought I’ve read you answering this before, but I can’t find the answer.
James, I’ve written over 130 short stories and published just over 30 of them, and about 95 of those are now trunked (and for those following along ‘trunked’ means ‘no longer submitting the short story you’ve written to any markets.’)
So what leads me to keep the surviving 5 out?
Basically there is still something about them that I believe is cool and worthy, but 2-3 of the 5 are starting, at this point, to look like I may retire them. I think realistically I have 2 pro quality stories lying around, but since I’m not entirely sure, I may continue subbing the five.
I use a couple things to figure out when to retire a story. As a writer, each year, you should obviously be growing enough each year that you look back at something you wrote a year ago and see flaws. If you’re not looking back on even earlier writing and seeing how much better you are now, then you are not growing as a writer. You should be able to see how much your earlier efforts suck, but also, you should also be able to spot bits of polish and neatness. So the earlier work is easy for me to spot what’s out of sorts.
If I don’t obviously see why the work sucks so bad it shouldn’t be submitted, the next metric I use is: has a work has exhausted all the markets I submit to? If so, then I retire it.
What’s the last market that something goes to? This can range from writer to writer. I get criticized for saying this, but I believe you should set a lower limit and not submit stories below that. It could be a money limit (nothing less than 3 cents a word, or 1 cent a word). From 1999-2006 I tried to make myself submit only to markets that paid 3 cents a word or more.
Even if I wasn’t sure about a story I still subbed it. Why? Sometimes an editor would spot something cool, and then give rewrite suggestions. I sold 2 stories that I knew had problems that way, because the editors were able to explain to me what I was doing wrong and I worked on fixing it. One of those led to a sale to a nice place!
Because of the worry that I was an apprentice, and because (rumors to the contrary), I’m not that much of a roaring ego-maniac, I tried to submit only to the big magazines and anthologies so that if my stories had issues, they would get professional help. Plus, aiming high seems to often produce high results.
If the story had been to all the markets paying 3 cents a word, then I retired it until another market came up, or the story obviously was full of fail. 95 stories of mine have either gone to all 3 c/w a word markets or I spotted lots of fail. The 5 left I submit to markets as I spot them, but they’re getting close to being retired.