writing portfolio of Stephanie Lenz



Yesterday morning I went to Lowes for a quart of deep sea blue paint. Okay technically I’d been thinking a maroon or rusty orange but I have a weakness for oceany-indigo, especially with a name like “Salty Dog.” My plan was to redo the mudroom and make it more functional and visually appealing. The plan behind the plan was to do something creative in order to spark further creativity. I’d written 1900wc Wednesday and I’m on a slight roll right now (did another 1500wc yesterday) so I wanted something physical to counter that.

When I got back, I found #PitMad trending on Twitter so I checked it out and it was a writing challenge: pitch your novel in a tweet. I can’t resist a challenge like that. Restraints are parked firmly in the wheelhouse up my alley, especially when they involve word count limits/parameters or (better yet) character limits. Since I have all my query materials ready to go at any time, I just pulled the WS material, edited it, and sent it out:

The professional lesson to take is one that I’ve espoused before but not since I created this version of a personal website: always be prepared with your query materials,  including  a concise pitch in your mental file. Be ready to share (1) what happens in the story and (2) what the story is about.

The personal lesson here is that life happens and I haven’t queried in years because raising two kids who have special needs takes up time and energy that I’m more than happy to expend because they are spectacular human beings. But sometimes there’s a little nudge from the universe and I was lucky enough to catch that nudge yesterday.


Simultaneous submissions

What follows is part of a response I wrote to an author who sent a note to TC after my latest Absolute Blank article about submissions:

I wrote as “I” not “us” so these checkpoints apply to my criteria for submissions.

Simultaneous submission means just what it says “simultaneous.” Many journals do not accept simultaneous submissions and TC is one of them. A simultaneous submission is one sent to several journals at once, the metaphorical equivalent of “casting a wide net.” The reason we don’t accept simultaneous submissions is that, too often, we shortlist or accept a story that has already been accepted elsewhere, sometimes published elsewhere.

This is clarified in our submission guidelines: http://tclj.toasted-cheese.com/submission-guidelines. We’ve embedded a link to the announcement of when we decided not to accept simultaneous submissions in our guidelines for those who are confused about what a simsub is.

We shortlist every month, as you know, and we notify authors of shortlisted submissions of acceptance or rejection on a quarterly basis, usually within 90 days of even the oldest submission for a particular issue. If a journal doesn’t communicate with you about the status of your submission in a timely way, I think it’s wise to consider it rejected. We’ve heard from authors who thought a piece had been rejected, then submitted to us, then had the piece accepted. That’s no fault of the author. That’s a shortcoming of the editor(s) of that journal. I don’t consider that a simsub.

Simsubs were a huge problem when we decided to be firm about not accepting them. The simsubs dropped off, then started up again. Theryn began to include in our shortlist notifications a note asking the authors to reply and confirm that the submission is not under consideration elsewhere. Some authors don’t reply to this (we note this lack of response when we do final read; personally, it factors into my consideration). Some authors reply that it is but they’ll withdraw it, either from TC or from the other journal(s). Most reply, quickly, that it is not.

In my experience, the authors we shortlist are excellent at following the submission guidelines. The ones whose work we accept have followed the guidelines to the letter. We don’t shortlist or accept them based on their ability to follow directions. It just so happens that the people who pay attention to a journal’s guidelines and respect & follow them are the ones who provide work we want to publish.

We’ve had another uptick in simsubs lately and the disappointment of “this was already accepted” combined with the frustration of seeing multiple journals as recipients of the same generic email got me thinking: what if people don’t know what a “simultaneous submission” is? So I added a quick & dirty definition to our submission guidelines, along with that beautiful explanatory essay crafted by Theryn more than 10 years ago. A search for “simultaneous submission” turns up the definition in big letters in a box from Writer’s Relief.

Some authors include “this is a simultaneous submission” in their cover letter. If I happen to catch that before I read, it saves me some time. That said, I appreciate the honesty. I would rather an author be upfront with the original submission rather than reply to a shortlist notification with “yes, I have it out to ten other journals.” I keep thinking of George Costanza’s “Was that wrong? Should I not have done that?” feigned ignorance speech.

Simultaneous submissions are such a black and white matter and so important to editors and literary agents that when we fill out forms about our journals or their guidelines, there is always a separate question asking “Do you accept simultaneous submissions?” Journals with a very long response time or high submission volume tend to accept simsubs. Journals with a quick turn-around or moderate to low submission volume tend not to accept simsubs.

I have absolutely no problem with an author sending a note asking to clarify our submission guidelines. I do have a problem when authors make no attempt to familiarize themselves with the terms editors and publishers use or when they believe that submission guidelines are for other authors, not them.

That’s why simsubs are in the #1 spot on my list of how to make sure your piece doesn’t make the cut. It means you either didn’t read our guidelines, disregarded them, or didn’t understand them. Our guidelines are standard. They have been our guidelines, with a few tweaks, for the 15 years of Toasted Cheese’s existence.

DOW 2015

We had a nice number of Dead of Winter entries: enough to be competitive but not so many as to be overwhelming. As has been my experience in the 15 years I’ve judged this contest, there were about ten entries left for rereading and, from those, I had three clear favorites. My favorite popped right into my top spot. That’s not to say it’s a guaranteed winner; Erin and I still need to collaborate.

Still frustrating: stories that don’t follow word count parameters, stories that arrive late, stories that aren’t horror stories (DOW is a horror story contest), stories that don’t use the theme, and stories that have the theme shoehorned in rather than written into the story. This happens every time. Sometimes a single entry checks off a couple of those boxes.

Invariably, this eliminates at least 25% of the entries. So if you stay within the word count parameters, use the genre, use the theme, and send it in time, you’re already in the top 75% of entries.