writing

How to Submit to an Anthology

The call for submissions for Spoon Knife 7: Transitions dropped today.

I have submitted to, and been published in, every volume of the Spoon Knife anthology published to date – including Spoon Knife 5, which is currently available for pre-order. I also edited Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber.

Here’s what I’ve learned from being on both sides of the Spoon Knife submission process – and how you can apply it to submit works to this anthology or any other outlet you may come across.

Step One: Read the Call for Submissions

The first step to submitting anything to any outlet, ever, is to read the call for submissions and/or the general submission guidelines.

I don’t just mean skim them, or read them once over casually. I mean a close reading – the kind you did in school when you knew you were going to be quizzed on the material.

Because you’re going to be quizzed on the material. “Did you read the call for submissions?” is a pass-fail test. If your submission doesn’t follow the instructions in the submission guidelines, you fail the quiz, and your piece is rejected as a result.

Here’s the entire text of the Spoon Knife 7 call for submissions. I have bolded the parts I always look for in any call for submissions, and to which I think authors should pay particular attention. I’ll discuss why below.

Autonomous Press is now accepting submissions of short fiction, short memoir, and poetry for the seventh volume of Spoon Knife, our annual multi-genre neuroqueer lit anthology.

In these two sentences, two things stand out: (1) the call is for “short fiction, short memoir, and poetry,” and (2) Spoon Knife is “our annual multi-genre neuroqueer lit anthology.”

Right away, I as a writer know what types of writing I can submit and can’t. Short stories, poetry, and memoir are in; how-to articles and book reviews are out.

I also know that Spoon Knife has a history. There are previous volumes, which I can and should go read if I’m not already familiar with the kind of work that gets published in them.

(Secret Spoon Knife Hack: Nick Walker, one of the two editors on this volume, has also edited a previous volume, Spoon Knife 3: Incursions. Checking out that volume in particular will give you an idea of the kind of work Nick, specifically, is likely to want. Nick has also published stories in previous Spoon Knife volumes, so you can even see how she interprets things like “neuroqueer” and a volume’s theme as a writer.)

The theme for Spoon Knife 7 is transitions. All submissions should deal in some way or another with this theme, interpreted however you choose: transitions from one way of being to another, one stage of life to another, one perspective to another, one world to another…

This information further narrows down what I should or should not submit. It even provides some examples of what the editors are picturing when they use the word “transitions.”

(Secret Spoon Knife Hack: Spoon Knife is a particularly good place to interpret the theme/prompt broadly. Not all outlets are, but here, you can take the idea of “transitions” just about as far as your imagination will ride it.)

Preference will be given to submissions that are in some way flavored with queerness and/or neuroqueerness. These elements need not be central or explicit––we’ll consider submissions in which queerness and/or neuroqueerness are explicit themes; we’ll just as happily consider submissions in which queerness or neuroqueerness don’t show up directly at all, but subtly inform the author’s voice or aesthetic.

If the mention of Spoon Knife as a “neuroqueer” lit anthology didn’t tip me off that my submission should be somehow (neuro)queer, this section makes that very clear. It’s another clarification as to what exactly the resulting work should look like – and, once again, it points to “read a previous volume” as an excellent way to understand what kind of work is more likely to be accepted here.

(Secret Spoon Knife Hack: One imprint of Autonomous Press, the publisher of Spoon Knife, is Neuroqueer Books – where all the titles are in some way neuroqueer. Full disclosure: This includes my novels.)

Spoon Knife 7 will be co-edited by Nick Walker (co-founder and Managing Editor of Autonomous Press) and Mike Jung (author of Unidentified Suburban Object and The Boys in the Back Row), and will be published in Fall 2022.

Sometimes, knowing who the editors are helps. Among other things, you can go look up their work. You shouldn’t try to imitate their work, necessarily, but knowing where they’re coming from may give you some ideas to work with while writing a piece or deciding which of your existing works has the best chance of being published.

We are accepting submissions until January 31st, 2022.

All submissions must be sent as Word documents (.doc or .docx files). Prose submissions (fiction and memoir) must meet the following criteria:

12-point Times New Roman font, double-spaced.

First line of each paragraph indented.

No extra whitespace between paragraphs.

Consistent use of Oxford commas.

Thoroughly proofread and spell-checked.

Possibly the most important part of the entire call for submissions. Here’s the stuff you’re going to be quizzed on. If your work doesn’t look like this when you submit it, expect to be rejected – no matter how brilliant your writing is.

(Secret Spoon Knife Hack: There isn’t one. Follow these instructions.)

If you’re submitting poetry, you may send up to 5 poems (please put them all in a single document). Poems should also be in 12-point Times New Roman font, but do not need to be double-spaced.

Note the special rules that apply to poetry, especially if you are submitting poetry.

Maximum length for submissions is 10k words. Exception: you can assume this limit to be as flexible as you need it to be if you’re an author whom we’ve previously published or whose submission the editors have actively solicited.

Another rule with which your submission will need to conform. Or not. You’ll know if you’re one of the exceptions (and if you are, you probably aren’t reading this guide).

Authors will be notified of acceptance or rejection by the end of June 2022. Payment for accepted submissions will be 1 cent per word, to be sent by check near the time of the book’s release.

I cannot stress how important this line about payment is, nor how disturbingly many calls for submissions do not mention whether, how much, how, or when the writers will be paid.

Look for this line. Insist on it. Don’t be afraid to email the outlet to ask about payment if the call does not mention it. If the outlet has a problem with that, it was never one that deserved your work in the first place.

Email all submissions to nick@autpress.com. The title of your email should be “Spoon Knife 7 Submission.” The body of your email must include a 3–4 sentence bio written in the third person, with the exact name under which you wish to be credited in the book.

There are so many final rules here that they can be easy to skip over, but don’t. This part of the call is a case study in why it’s important to read the entire call for submissions and read it carefully.

(Secret Spoon Knife Hack: We copy-paste your bio out of the email and into the book – or at least I did. That’s why you need to make extra-sure your name is spelled correctly.)

Step Two: Ideas Are Cheap As Free

Now that I’ve read the call for submissions pretty closely, my next step as a writer is either to identify something I’ve already written that might fit the theme, or to find something I can write that might fit the theme.

Some writers write ideas as they come, then let the resulting story sit around until they find a home for it. I don’t. I rarely have finished stories (or anything else) that don’t have a home. For me, then, this step is about exploring my list of ideas that could make a cool story until I find one I think I can run with.

For example, here’s a quick stream of consciousness on the Spoon Knife 7 topic, Transitions:

Transitions…the first thing I think of is marching band season and winterguard, the trouble we have with what we call transitions there – moving the ensemble from one staging point to the next, meshing that with the music in some meaningful way. A lot of us struggle to write them; I remember Ibe (Sodawalla, director of Legends) once saying that he worked extra-hard on writing transitions precisely because he was aware of how much he struggled with them. Same in synchronized skating. What is it that’s hard about those transitions – timing, coordination, knowing when to hang on and when to let go, dropping the performer face as if you’re not still being watched, maintaining the energy from there to here even though you are neither here nor there…okay, that sounds like my gender performance, lol.

This is one of probably a dozen things my brain will ruminate on before I decide on what it is I’m actually going to write. Fortunately, I have over a year to play with ideas before the deadline.

Step Three: Write Something (and Edit)

This stage is, to some extent, unique to every writer. Eventually I’ll hit on an idea that won’t let me go, and I’ll sit down and write a rough draft, probably in one go. I’ll sit on it for a few weeks, edit it, pass it around to my beta readers (my spouse and best friend), edit it again, and eventually submit it.

Because the process of writing is so personal, I don’t have advice for the writing stage itself. I do, however, highly recommend referring to the call for submissions again before you start to write. Set up your document so that it automatically meets as many of the submission guidelines as possible: auto-indents, font style and size, margins, spacing and so on. This frees you up to write without having to think about going back and fixing things after the fact.

Step Four: Triple-Check and Submit

Here’s where you get the call for submissions out, read it again, and make sure everything lines up. This is the part where your goal is not to fail the quiz on “Did you actually read the call for submissions?”

For Spoon Knife, this means sending a piece to the right email address, with the right subject line (please – it really does make the editors’ lives so much easier), and that 3-4 sentence author bio in the body of the email.

If you’re not sure what to put in your author bio, think about what’s relevant either to your writing career or to the story itself. For example, if I do end up sending in some memoir piece about marching band, I’ll probably mention in my bio that I’m a colorguard/winterguard director and avid DCI fan.

Here’s my bio from The Spoon Knife Anthology, the last volume in which I wrote memoir:

Dani Alexis Ryskamp

Dani Alexis is a Michigan-based writer and Autonomous Press editor. In between freelance writing projects, she enjoys reading our submissions pile, writing science fiction, and ignoring requests for contributor bios. Next year, she will be the lead editor on Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber.

One of the things I love about Spoon Knife, and about publishing with Neuroqueer Books, is the opportunity to try things I probably wouldn’t be allowed to do with most publishers – like weave a nexus between my pseudonymous persona and my novel universe such that my author bios become part of that universe. To that end, here are my bios from 2, 3, and 4, all of which contain short fiction in my Non-Compliant Space series universe:

S. Verity Reynolds writes science fiction and changes addresses every six months. She is a co-founder of the Non-Compliant Space Project. Her first novel, Nantais, will be published by Neuroqueer Books in 2017, or you can read her short story here for an introduction to its universe.

S. Verity Reynolds is an anagram of Lee Harvey Oswald. Verity is the author of Nantais, Book 1 of the Non-Compliant Space series. The Non-Compliant Space expanded universe resides at danialexis.net. Book 2, Nahara, will appear in 2021 from Neuroqueer Books.

S. Verity Reynolds is 30-50 feral hogs in a writer suit. The author of the Non-Compliant Space series, she blogs under a stolen identity at danialexis.net.

If you’re not sure whether an outlet will grant you creative license in your author bio, you can of course write a straightforward one.

Step Five: Edits

Once you submit, you may or may not be asked for edits, depending on the outlet and the editors involved.

Do whatever the editors’ notes suggest, or explain why you cannot/will not make such changes, and send them back. If you do this enough times, eventually the editors stop sending you notes. Instead, they send the piece to someone who isn’t you, and you get to go write other things and wait for your big fat writer paycheck* to show up.

*fatness of paycheck is relative to thinness of wallet


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writing

The Atlantic vs. My Impostor Syndrome

The day my recent article in The Atlantic ran, one of my fellow writers congratulated me “on landing that pitch.”

“They asked me,” I admitted at once. “My impostor syndrome would never.” I said it jokingly, but it wasn’t a joke.

I’ve tweeted before about how the biggest misconception people tend to have of me is that I’m fearless, when I’m actually afraid of just about everything. If I were a pony, I’d be Fluttershy.

One of the biggest things I feared, before the Atlantic piece, was putting myself in positions where I might get shot down. I feared querying publications in case my best understanding of the things they published was somehow not even in the same universe. I feared editorial feedback because it would surely reveal that I am a fraud who doesn’t understand the basics of the English language. I feared extending myself in any way lest the entire world find out I’m a fraud and kick me out of the Adults Allowed to Do Things Club.

None of these fears, of course, is remotely rational. But it didn’t stop them from lighting up my lizard hindbrain like a pile of old tires doused in gasoline. And that tire fire has burned uninterrupted for my entire writing career.

At least until last week. Publishing in The Atlantic had some interesting effects – including cracks in what I once thought was an impenetrable fortress of my impostor syndrome.

Writing That Atlantic Piece Was Literally Just My Job

I’ve been writing since I was 7 and publishing since I was 17. I co-founded a publishing company. I’ve been an editor in some capacity for at least four publications I can recall, plus probably dozens more I’ve worked for on a freelance basis. I haven’t even tried to count the number of outlets I’ve published in or the number of pieces I have out there (with or without my name attached).

And yet, for some reason, I was convinced writing something for The Atlantic was an achievement I could never hope to attain. Writing this article disabused me of that notion completely.

Writing this piece for The Atlantic turned out to be a surprisingly familiar process. I wrote a draft. The editor sent back notes. I did whatever the notes said and sent the draft back. The editor sent back more notes. After a few rounds, there were no more notes. The piece got sent to someone who wasn’t me, and I turned my attention to making a coherent article out of the next pile of undifferentiated idea-slush on my desk.

This is literally just my job.

This is exactly the same process that my freelance work goes through every week. It’s exactly the same process I go through with my editor on each book. It’s a process I’ve been involved in as an editor and a publisher, so I know what it’s like to be the person sending notes back, as well as the person who gets the piece after there are no more notes.

My impostor syndrome had convinced me that The Atlantic and similar publications occupied some rarefied land beyond the mundane daily tasks of writing, one that would be forever beyond my plebian reach.

It doesn’t. It’s just writing.

I’m Wrong About Everything – Or At Least About Myself

One of the most nerve-wracking things I did post-Atlantic publication was to respond to email and LinkedIn messages from people responding to the Atlantic piece.

These weren’t nerve-wracking because the feedback was bad. On the contrary, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Rather, they were nerve-wracking to read and respond to because the feedback was positive. Because these were people who actually wanted to talk to me. Some of them even wanted to ask if I’d write stuff, for pay, for their outlets or businesses.

WE ARE DOOMED, my inner anxiety troll screamed. THEY KNOW HOW TO REACH US. THEY’RE SAYING NICE THINGS. IT BURNS, PRECIOUS. OUR SKIN IS MELTING.

(Thank you to everyone in elementary school who pretended to be my friend for laughs. You trained the troll well.)

What the hell am I thinking, answering these emails? I asked myself yesterday, while procrastinating on the task of answering those emails. These people are just going to find out I’m not really as cool and competent as they think!

Then it hit me: Maybe I’m the one who’s wrong about how cool and competent I am. Maybe everyone else is right.

Because it’s not just people who read the Atlantic piece who think I’m cool and competent enough to want to work with. It’s a wide range of people, from folks who know me not at all except what they learned from reading that piece, to the people who know me better than anyone else in the world, like my spouse. Lots of people, with varying degrees of familiarity with me, think I am cooler and more competent than I imagine myself to be.

Maybe it’s time for me to stop arguing with them.

I Still Hate Networking But Now I Understand It Better

The vast majority of the messages I’ve received in response to the article have been pretty standardized. Any of them could have been a template in a book about networking. Hello, here is my name and what I do. I read your article and enjoyed it. Would you perhaps like to discuss this topic of mutual interest?

I’ve never sent these types of messages myself. The impostor syndrome wouldn’t let me. After all, who the hell was I to think anyone would want to hear that I enjoyed their work – much less discuss with me a topic of mutual interest?

Being on the receiving end of these messages, however, taught me a few things about them.

First, they’re not the presumptuously intrusive nonsense I assumed they’d be if I sent them. In fact, they’re pretty easy to ignore if one has the desire to do so. Their impact on my mental health, once I got past the reptile hindbrain response of MY FACE IS MELTING, was actually neutral to slightly positive. I wrote a thing other people enjoyed! Enough to send me an email about it! That’s pretty cool.

Second, they are 100 percent about relationship-building, which means sometimes they go nowhere, and that’s okay. They’re the digital text equivalent of a handshake and a “So what do you do for a living?” Sometimes they pan out and sometimes they don’t, and either way they aren’t really causing harm. They’re also far less likely to transmit COVID.

Now that I see these types of emails as non-scary, I’m also able to see other types of emails as less threatening. Like the “Would you like me to write a piece about this topic?” email, or the “Here’s a story I wrote, publish it maybe?” email.

I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know

One of the main reasons I rarely submit short stories to publications, and almost never without an invitation, is because my impostor syndrome took that advice about “knowing your publication” a little too seriously.

You probably know the advice: Before you submit, read a few issues to get a feel for the kind of work they publish. Apparently, my impostor syndrome thought “a few issues” meant “entire back catalogs,” because I rarely felt like I knew a publication well enough to submit to it.

When it comes to writing sci fi and speculative fiction, my particular hobbies, I felt especially lost. What kinds of things do sci-fi and spec fic magazines accept? What are they looking for? Whoever shall solve this, the greatest mystery of our age?

(The fact that I co-founded a press that specializes in spec fic and edited a volume of its flagship spec fic series is not lost on me. Nor is the irony. Behold the awesome power of impostor syndrome to obscure even the most obvious facts from rational consideration.)

Since deciding that queries and submissions were probably just as not-scary as networking emails, I’ve looked up a few publications that might be a good fit for the kind of writing I enjoy. And I discovered something:

I could tell what kind of work a publication did by looking at the lists of authors it published.

That’s what years of making friends with people whose writing interests are similar to mine has done for me. That’s the result of heading up Spoon Knife 2 and getting to know the authors who go through AutPress. That’s how much I actually understand about this business.

I still read the stories, because I loves me some spec fic. But I found that I could predict pretty accurately what the oeuvre would be before I even opened the (digital) covers, because I already knew many of the authors.

As it turns out, I know quite a bit more than I thought I did. I certainly don’t know it all – the day I do is the day I need to quit writing – but I’m not the pathetic, ignorant sad sack my impostor syndrome convinced me I was for so long.


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the creative process, writing

Best of the Blog: My Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts of 2020

Insert “hindsight is 2020” pun here to launch this list of the top-viewed posts on this blog in 2020.

As it turned out, some of my most popular posts in 2020 weren’t actually written during the past year. For the sake of completeness, I’ve included these in the list – they were quite popular this year – but I’ve also marked them with an asterisk (*) to indicate they were written at some time prior to 2020.

I’ve also left off pages, like the “About” page, because they are…not blog posts.

Enjoy!

*10: If You Like It Then You Shoulda Put a Paycheck On It: My Real Problem With The Mighty

Written for the #CrippingTheMighty hashtag campaign in the mid-2010s, this post hits right at the intersection of two topics that are near to my heart (and life): Paying creatives, and recognizing disabled people’s work has value.

I don’t mean some intangible “all human lives have value” value. I mean recognizing disabled people’s lives have value in the only real language of value the capitalist world has: Cold hard cash.

You can read about my issues with the fact that “disabled voices” website The Mighty decided to invite disabled people to contribute to its site but not to pay them here.

*#9: Top Five Books for Figure Skaters

This post will be ten years old in June 2021, which means it’s due for an update. And by “update,” I mean I’ll be adding more books to it, because I still believe that the five listed here stand the test of time.

This post gets pushed into the top-searched posts by the advent of the winter gifting holiday season every year. I guess there just aren’t that many gift guides for figure skaters who also read.

Check out my top five recommendations for figure skaters here.

*#8: “Happy Birthday” Is the Worst Song Ever Written

I wrote this in 2019 because I hate the song “Happy Birthday.” You know the one. The one we all sing off-key at people when it is their birthday, not because we are all horrible singers (I am, but not everyone is), but because a song specifically written to be sung by anyone, anywhere, several times a year, is such a hot mess that it is practically unsingable.

I hate it. I hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. Here’s why.

#7: The “Tea Party” Is Back, But It’s Not on the Side You Think

During the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020, I got so heck-dang-frack annoyed with people comparing the protests unfavorably to the Boston Tea Party that I did a little research on the Tea Party.

Turns out that if you’re rooting for the Sons of Liberty on that one, you’re…er…on the wrong side of history.

Angryclick my controversial opinions on the topic here.

*#6: How Much Is My Girl Scout Handbook Worth, Part One

I wrote this post about a decade ago, when collecting Girl Scout handbooks was my Thing.

And, in true ADHD fashion, I then promptly forgot about the entire series. I didn’t write Part Two until 2018.

The Internet has not, however, forgotten that at one time I tried to help folks navigate the collecting of Girl Scout handbooks. This post and a couple other posts in the Girl Scout handbooks series regularly show up in my “most-viewed” stats, and there’s always at least one search term related to Girl Scout handbooks in the mix every month.

You can read Part One here and Part Two here. Check out the posts on 1912 to 1947 and 1950 to 1977 too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

*#5: Using Brodart Book Covers: Or, How to Protect Your Investment in 6 Easy Steps

Another post from the early days, in which this blog spent far more time thinking about book collecting and less time on freelance writing, fiction, writer lifestyles and silly AI antics.

This one is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: I walk you through how to put Brodart dust jacket covers on your dust jackets. Check it out here.

*#4: Keeping the Pace: Legal Writing Versus Academic Writing

I wrote this post during graduate school, exploring the differences between the legal writing I had been doing as an insurance defense lawyer and the academic writing I was being asked to do as an English literature MA candidate.

It’s also one of the most consistently-viewed posts on this blog. It’s also one of the posts that most often leads people here via search engine: “differences between legal and academic writing” and variations thereon appear in my top search terms nearly every month.

You can read what I was thinking about legal versus academic writing half a decade ago here.

*#3: Five Reasons I Hate Les Miserables (The Show, Not the Book)

I wrote this piece in a fit of pique nearly ten years ago, and it’s been one of the most enduring pieces on this blog. For some reason, hatred of Les Mis strikes a chord with viewers across time and space.

You can check out the five reasons I hate Les Mis (the show, not the book) here.

#2: How to Practice Social Distancing Without Losing Your Mind

I’m something of an old hand at social distancing, having grown up on a farm with parents even more introverted than I was and gone on to have a loner’s dream job of working from home on my laptop and (almost) never speaking to other humans.

When the pandemic began, I shared my tips on how to live this life. They’re still being passed around various social media sites, and you can read them here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Before we get to the top blog post of the year, here are a few that didn’t make the top ten but that I’m particularly proud of or otherwise love:

  • How to Ruin Perfectly Good Books: If you don’t want to ruin them, do the opposite of this.
  • So You Want to Write a Book About Autism: I co-founded Autonomous Press, which handles books about neurodivergence, including autism. Here’s my advice from the perspective of someone who used to approve (or, often, reject) manuscripts about autism.
  • Notes From My Upcoming AWP Recording Session: This post hasn’t had a chance to make it into the top most-viewed posts, since it’s only been up for about two weeks. I recently recorded a panel discussion on “Neurodivergence in Literature” with several colleagues. Here’s what else I would have said if we’d had several more hours.

And, finally, the most-viewed post on this blog in 2020:

#1: What It’s Like to Have Auditory Processing Disorder, as Demonstrated By Auto-Generated YouTube Captions

This post was my most-viewed of the year not only here, but also on Medium, where it was shared in at least one publication.

I wrote it after trying to watch old reruns of BraveStarr (I wanted to see whether it was a real cartoon, or just a fever dream I had during the chicken pox) with YouTube’s auto-generated captions running. I needed the captions because, having central auditory processing disorder, I struggled to understand what several of the characters were saying.

YouTube, as it turned out, struggled as well.

The result was a sample of what listening is like for me on a daily basis. You can read this blog’s top post of the year here.


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