It was pointed out the other day that, when published authors have learned the business a little bit, they tend to use words that up and coming authors may or may not understand, and I don't think that's fair to them, but it's sort of a hard thing to teach all in one session, so I gave up on that. What I can do is impart a little bit of the publishing knowledge. Now, we're all writers here, correct? So we can all make a first, unpolished, perhaps completely illegible draft, right (I know I can.)? Then we'll start there, with you and your rough draft.
It's a pretty rough draft. Kind of like no one thinks their kid is ugly, and how you love your children even if they do have a bit of a reptilian look and devil horns. It's that kind of blind prettiness and, I'm afraid to say, it must be quashed with vim and/or vigor. The only way to do that is to let it sit. I recommend at least six hours for a short story or piece of flash, at least a week for a novella or novelette, and at least three weeks (preferably a month or more) for a full length novel. Just leave it alone. Don't look at it. Don't think about it. This is the time to call your long-winded Uncle Gabe or make a cheesecake...personally, I'd prefer the cheesecake, especially if you share...
The important thing is not to be doing anything with your story. It has to sit there and fester alone, thinking about how ugly it is, that way it just spills its fears and problems with you as soon as you come back. Because, as it is, that is the only way for it to get better, it has to have that time.
Now is when you get to be Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. Surgeon-Man/Lady. Grab your whole set of scalpels and give it a read through, form beginning to end--and fix the living hell out of it. Cut scenes, cut sentences, add passages, change words, inject a new character if you must, just cut away, at the very least, all of the visible tumors on the outside and readjust the physical structure to compensate. You see? It's now much better, much more pretty.
On the outside.
Once you've done that initial edit, you get to the scary-ass part. Beta-reading/beta-editing. You see, the only things that remain are the things that you can't see, the things you're blind to, the vicious, malignant, internal cancers. You need a specialist, and that specialist is a beta-reader/beta-editor. Don't get discouraged--you probably have a lot more of them floating around than you think? Part of a writing group? Ask them. Have other friends who write? Ask them. Maybe the nice Frenchwoman down at the gas station the next town over is an avid writer. What's the harm in asking? You see? You have options. Now, of course, you can't just pick someone, and if it's your first time having this done, it can be intimidating. You need to first weed out anyone that doesn't understand your genre (i.e. generally, you don't let a deer-hunting bodybuilder/mechanic beta your chick-lit, unless you know it'll work). Now your pool of options is more precise. I'm sorry to say, however, that I can no longer guide you. You can be the best of friends with someone, but if their beta style clashes with you, you can't ever use them. Ever, ever, ever, unless you secretly hate them.
So you send it off (obviously remembering to offer to beta for them, as well) and wait. And wait. Again, a good time to do something stupid and menial, like wash the dog. When you finally get it back, you'll find it marked-up, red and blue all over, and looking for a little bit of sympathy. This is the time when you need the most distance, and the most balls-out confidence...
...and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
You now have to be humble enough to admit your mistakes to yourself, and that is unbelievably hard, believe it or not. Sometimes, your beta will point out stuff that you can't believe you missed, it's so obvious. Those are the times when you eat your crow (it goes down much better with chocolate) and fix it.
Then you'll want to kill them for something stupid, but aren't sure if it needs changing. This is where the confidence comes in. I got given two pieces of grammatical advice in one beta. One was sound, the other was stylistic only. I took the sound one and said f*ck off to the stylistic one, because it was idiotic. You have to remember that this is your story, not your beta-reader's, so don't change it if it needs to stay.
Now, you've edited and revised twice. That's the bare minimum I allow anything out of the door with. It's in your best interests to do it three, four, maybe five times, but that's a matter of your discretion. I've broken the rule, and it's worked out with one edit before, so who really knows?
Okay, polished story, but you're flailing in the water trying to find a market. Duotrope's Digest is your best friend. Love it, cherish it, and take it out to dinner. You just run over there, plug in your information, and hit search, and it pops up with markets galore that want to read your work. Let them, especially the high-paying ones. It's conventional wisdom that, in this situation, you would start with your highest paying markets. I normally start with Clarkesworld Magazine, because they have something like a one week maximum turnaround time, and they pay ten cents a word. Other big spenders are Daily Science Fiction (8 cents a word) Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show (6 cents a word) and Writers of The Future (1000 dollars for the top story). Of course, the top market is Tor.com (25 cents a word), bu they have a three year backlog of stories, so I tend to shy away.
If you've then exhausted half of your pro markets (5 cents a word and higher), I normally re-edit and start submitting to all of them (except non-paying...not yet, anyway). There are almost assuredly 100 or more markets for your story, enough that you'll probably find some you won't want to (or aren't allowed to) submit to. That's all right, because you can eventually find a market. It's just a matter of dropping your own standards down a bit more. If it's not getting into IGMS, ASIM, or some other fancy acronym-like magazine, maybe you can try something like a charity anthology, a coffee-table flash book, or some of the Static Movement press books. They don't pay, but exposure is exposure, and those are great ways to get some exposure.
Now, you'll probably get a rejection letter...or two...or five...or twenty...it really doesn't matter (Although don't delete them. There's a magazine that requires you turn in 6 or more rejection slips with your submission to even be considered!). They all hurt. Somebody else, someone you've never met, basically just told you that your baby is ugly and should be thrown into the pits of hell *insert evil laugh*
Okay, not really, but is does feel that way. I'm pretty resilient. I can get multiple rejections without it really affecting me. Of course, one too many and I go ballistic and decide that my writing is completely worthless and vow to live in a tiny house in the backyard and knit sweaters for a hundred and three cats. I'm serious, that's my plan if I'm ever going to stop writing...or maybe if I write and just want to be alone...it kind of sounds peaceful, doesn't it?
The cure? Chocolate and good, loud, angry music...and hugs. Hugs are good.
Of course, sex is probably really good too...never tried that one before.
Honestly, though, you need to deal with it however you deal with it, and quickly, because a stagnant story is no money, no exposure, and just compounds the problem.
In the next few days, I'll be putting up another post on writing for themes (like anthologies and the like). For now?