Way back in August of last year, I was joking with my wife about writing a baseball monster story featuring a certain type of monster. I offered the title Effectively Wild as a haha-isn’t-that-funny and got the appropriate eyeroll. Well, friends, that slightly silly idea began to take shape in the ol’ brain meats, and it wasn’t long before I had outlined a novella. Now, I love baseball, and I love monsters, so once I got started on this thing, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It wasn’t even the first time I’d done the monster baseball thing. Back in 2016, I published a story with Pseudopod called “Night Games”, which you can check out here.
Anyway, I finished a first draft of Effectively Wild, ran it through two excellent critique partners who pronounced it good, and then started submitting it. I knew it was gonna be a tough sell. For one, it’s more supernatural thriller than straight up horror, so that was strike one. Two, it features baseball, and, well, some folks are really not into sports, so strike two. Finally, there aren’t many short fiction markets that publish novella-length work. Strike three. I did try one short fiction market and received the simple form rejection I knew was coming. That led me to believe that independent book publishers interested in novellas would be a much better bet. So I went that route, and after two more rejections, I sent the novella to Grinning Skull Press. To my very pleasant surprise, I received an acceptance about six months later.
This will be the longest piece of fiction I’ve published outside of media tie-in (where I’ve published multiple novels), so this is an exciting development for me. Working with the staff at Grinning Skull has been a real delight, and a few days ago, the previewed the cover of Effectively Wild, which you can see below along with a short synopsis of the story (that’s spoiler free). I couldn’t be happier with the old-school 80s vibe of this thing. Check it out.
Martin Wagner, an aging catcher in the San Francisco Giants farm system, is offered a new assignment—take a promising young pitcher under his wing and show him the ropes. Martin’s manager is cagey about the new player, giving only his name, Andrei Dinescu, and his country of origin, Moldova. Despite the mysterious circumstances, Martin accepts the assignment, hoping to earn a return to the big leagues.
After his first bullpen session with the strange new pitcher, Martin is shocked by Andrei’s lack of physical ability and his unfamiliarity with the game of baseball. However, with each passing week, Andrei’s strength and skill grow exponentially, and his miraculous leaps in both ability and velocity begin to frighten Martin. This fear is compounded by the organization’s obvious attempts to keep Andrei separated from the rest of the team.
At the height of his prowess, Andrei is put into the rotation for his first start with Martin behind the plate. Before the game, the manager offers a devil’s bargain, and the source of Andrei Dinescu’s bizarre abilities becomes horrifically clear. Martin is faced with a desperate choice: walk away from baseball and everything he has known or deal with the monster on the mound and earn his way back to the majors.
This is just the cover reveal. The exact release date has yet to be determined, but it will be sometime in the Fall. Preorders are the next step, and I’ll post links to those as soon as I’m able.
Hopefully, there will be more monster/baseball mashups. I’ve got ideas for a bunch of them all loosely connected to Effectively Wild. I’ve even been tinkering with one tentatively titled Deep Count. 🙂
I recently received a further consideration/hold letter from an excellent pro market. This is my third story to make it through a first reader and be recommended to one of the editors for further review. Now, it can be hard to quantify exactly what it means when you get over that first hurdle. There a lot of questions you might ask. How many total submissions does the publication receive? How many stories make through the first round? And, finally, of those stories, how many end up accepted? Usually, all you can do is guess at those answers, but the editors at Apex Magazine recently gave us some hard numbers and shed some light on the situation.
I’ll link the Twitter thread here, but here’s the basic math.
According to the Apex editors, they received roughly 5,000 submissions through mid-May of this year, about 1,000 subs per month. Of those 5,000, around 100 were recommended to the editors (made it past the first reader). That’s around 2% of the total submissions received. Of those stories that made it through the first round, six stories were accepted for publication. That’s 6% of stories recommended to the editor and 0.12% of total submissions. I encourage you to read the Twitter thread, as it contains a more granular breakdown, but these are broad strokes.
I think you could expect similar numbers from other big genre markets like The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and others. These numbers do NOT mean you shouldn’t submit to these markets, but it’s good to understand the odds you’re up against, and, more importantly, what those odds mean. Let’s dive into that.
This kind of information is exceedingly helpful. So from this writer and I’m sure dozens of others, I would like to offer a sincere thank you to the editors of Apex Magazine for giving us a peek behind the curtain. It is very much appreciated.
Thoughts on these numbers and other pro markets? Tell me about it in the comments.
Submitting short stories to genre and lit magazines is a process that can be, uh, well, let’s just say discouraging. Why? Because rejections are inevitable, multiple rejections for the same story are expected, and even two or three rejections in the same day are not out of the ordinary. Most writers have a thick enough skin to withstand the fusillade of NOs, but what about when the rejections pile up and there’s not an acceptance in sight? Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that the dreaded rejection streak is also not that uncommon. I have endured three that crossed the twenty-rejection threshold. In fact, one just ended a few days ago. As I have done before with rejection streaks, I’m going to break down the latest one and see how it compares to the others. Then we’ll talk about why these streaks happen and what you can do about it.
First, data! Stat for my three rejection streaks in the table below.
|Duration||12/9/17 to 2/18/18||12/27/20 to 4/1/21||4/12/22 to 6/4/22|
The key difference in the three rejections streaks is duration. The other numbers are eerily similar. I mean, look at the unique stories line. That isn’t a mistake. Those with triskaidekaphobia would be understandably horrified. The rest of the data–number of markets, types of markets, and lengths of stories–are all pretty much the same. So what’s happening here? I’m a modestly successful short story writer with lots of publications. Why am I running afoul of these long streaks not-for-us’s? Now that I have a lot of data, some of my answers to that questions have changed, while some are evergreen and immutable. Let’s discuss.
So what’s the takeaway here? Essentially, the more you submit work, the more rejections you get, and occasionally, through bad luck and a few other factors, those rejections pile up. You honestly can’t avoid it, in my opinion. The thing to remember though, is that streaks, by their very nature, must end. You just have to be patient, try to take an objective look at your work, and see if there’s anything you can adjust. Often times, there isn’t, and it’s really about getting the right story in front of the right editor at the right time. So, hang in there, keep writing, keep submitting, and keep going.
May is in the books, and here’s how I did.
Well, as you can see, I was not particularly productive in May on the shot story front. I spent more time working on my current novel and doing freelance work. That might be because the seven rejections in May give me twenty-two in a row. I’ve hit these streaks in the past, and this one, though long, is still not my longest. I need twenty-seven to turn that trick. So, what do you do when you have two discouraging months in a row? One, you keep writing and you keep submitting. Two, you look for patterns in your stories and submissions that might illustrate the need for change in one or both. You have to be careful with that second one, though. When you hit a rough patch, the urge to change something can be strong, but it’s important to remember that what you’re doing has resulted in success in the past. Anyway, I have some new stories to submit in June, and I feel pretty good about them, so that’s where I’ll put my short story focus. All streaks, good and bad, have to end some time, right?
One anomaly this month is the single no response. It’s an interesting one because the market in question says in their guidelines that if you don’t hear back from them in 90 days, then assume they are not going to publish your story. I hit the 90-day mark and marked the story as no response, but, in truth, this is a no-response rejection. I’ll likely change it at some point, you know, after my next acceptance. 🙂
Seven rejections in May.
It sounds funny to say it, but the quality of rejections in May was much better than it was in April. Three personal rejections tell me the submitted stories are likely to find homes at some point. As I said above, the no response is probably just a rejection, so it’s eight for May rather than seven.
I did have one publication in May. The third volume of THE REJECTONOMICON, my Q&A column over at Dark Matter Magazine, went up last month. You can check it out below. As always, I need your questions, so check out the guidelines, and send them to me. 🙂
Here’s how to send writing and rejection questions to me.
Got it? Then send me those questions!
That was my May. How was yours?
Well, I am more than a little behind here, so let’s catch up. Three weeks of writerly doings all at once.
Today’s quote is from author James Lee Burke
“Every rejection is an incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.”
— James Lee Burke
Well, since I’m on a rejection streak (19 and counting), I figure a quote about rejections is appropriate. I think you have to look at rejections as accomplishments to some degree. Yeah, they’re not exactly a good time, but they show you’re working, that you’ve got the guts to send your work out there to be judged, and that, hopefully, you are willing to learn and improve. That last bit is what I think James Lee Burke is getting at. Every rejection is an opportunity to grow as a writer, even if it’s a tiny, incremental amount. I learn something with every no and not for us. Sometimes, it’s what’s wrong with a story or my work in general, and sometimes it’s don’t send this market that kind of story or even don’t send this market anything. Each rejection teaches me something, even when I’m not really in the mood to learn. 🙂
Although April was a strong submission month, I have not been very active in May.
Only three submissions in the last three weeks and three rejections to boot. That’s not great, nor is my current streak of nineteen straight rejections. I have a number of stories that need to go out, so I expect to send three or four this week. Hopefully some of those will come back with a much-needed acceptance. The rejections have been particularly disappointing of late because I thought the stories where good matches for the markets, but I missed the mark. It can be hard to keep going after so many rejections in a row, but you have to keep writing, keep submitting, and know that acceptances will come. I did have two stories published recently and the reaction to those was very good.
I may have been a little lax with my short story submissions, but I keep on trucking with this novel. I added over 12,000 words to the manuscript and broke the 50,000-word mark, which I think is about halfway. I’m writing this novel slower than usual, at about 1,000 words a day, because there’s a lot of research that needs to go into it. I’m stopping a lot to look things up, check my notes, and check my outlines. I’ve come to terms with that, and, hey, I’m still looking at a complete first draft sometime in early August. That’s totally fine. I think this novel is the best idea, concept, and characters I’ve yet created, so if I need to take it slower so I don’t fuck it up (much), then that’s what I’m gonna do.
Two publications in the last three weeks, both of which you can read for free on line. The first is a piece of crime flash called “Left is Right” published at Shotgun Honey. The other is a dark sci-fi take called “Fertilizer” in Radon Journal’s inaugural issue. Click the images below to read the stories.
Keep working on Hell’s Aquarium and send more submissions.
Those were my weeks. How were yours?
Not gonna lie, April was a tough month. Read all the gory details below. 🙂
Any month where the number of rejections eclipses the number of submissions is probably gonna be a bad month. Add to that exactly zero acceptances or publications, and, well, I’ll just stand by my opening statement. If I search for a silver lining, I guess it’s that I sent 9 submissions, giving me 36 for the year and a pace of 108 for 2022. So there’s that. Still, it was a tough and disappointing month. I really thought a couple of those rejections had a good shot at being acceptances, but it was not to be.
Ten rejections in April.
Yep, ten form rejection. If I squint, I might be able to call a couple of the rejections upper-tier, but that would be disingenuous because I’m not certain the publishers in question actually send upper-tier rejections (many publishers don’t). The ten rejections in April bump my current rejections streak to fifteen. Not my longest by a long shot, but, you know, fifteen is enough. I also had a couple of multi-rejection days in April that made the rejections sting a bit more.
Okay, I’ve complained about my pile of rejections enough. The truth is, as always, rejections are just a reality of writing and submitting. If you do both long enough, you’re all but guaranteed to run into these little (or large) streaks of no’s and not for us’s. That said, if you’re a long-time short story submitter as I am, you know these streaks come to an end, and an acceptance is right around the corner. You just have to be patient, keep writing, and keep submitting. So that’s what I’ll do. 🙂
That was April. How was your month?
Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is talent. Specifically, writing talent (obvs). A lot of this comes down to my specific version of impostor syndrome, which says, “Yeah, you’re good, but you’re not good enough.” Impostor syndrome is a real asshole, huh? Still this belief that I have talent, just not enough of it persists. So when I find myself pondering this awful conundrum, there are two quotes by Stephen King I like to think about. To me, they handily sum up the “good” and the “good enough”.
Quote 1: “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” – Stephen King
King’s formula for talent is pretty simple. If someone is willing to pay you for something you wrote, you probably have talent. I’ll add on to this and say, if multiple someones are willing to pay you to write things, you probably have enough talent to piece together something resembling a career in writing. This covers the good part. People who get paid to write, even a little, are probably good at it. (Of course, money is not the only measure of talent, but it’s an easy one to identify.) Still, having talent is not what I worry about. The second quote covers that.
Quote Two: “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” – Stephen King
There it is. The good enough part. When I say good enough, what I mean is good enough to land that dream agent, publish my novels, be recognized as a writer of note. You know, the big dreams, and, dare I say it, the improbable ones. I think what King is saying here is that talent is the baseline, the starting point for most of us. It’s not what makes us successful (whatever your definition of success might be). No, what we need to do is focus on that second part. The hard work part. Why? Because it’s the only part of the process we control. You can’t control whether an agent or publisher is gonna like your story or book or whatever. You can’t control if readers are going to love your work, hate it, or simply ignore it. What you can control is putting words on the page, making those word the best you can possibly make them, and then putting those words in front of as many agents, and editors, and readers as possible as many times as it takes. If you do that, and you have that little bit of talent, I like your chances.
Okay, let’s get to work. 🙂
Two more weeks of writing. Let’s dive in.
Today’s quote is from author Allegra Goodman.
“Know your literary tradition, savor it, steal from it, but when you sit down to write, forget about worshiping greatness and fetishizing masterpieces.”
Great quote, and one I’ve somehow missed all these years. I think a lot of us start out trying to sound like our favorite authors. I know I did. Those are the literary traditions I think Allegra Goodman is talking about. You read your favorite works and authors, and think, well, this is how a successful author should sound. Then, what happens is a subtle shift, you start to draw inspiration from those authors, those literary traditions, and weave them into your own voice. Sure, I take a little Stephen King here, and but of Elmore Leonard there, and maybe a touch of Robin Hobb over there, but again, how and what they write is inspirational, and I’ve long since stopped trying to sound exactly like them. (God, I hope). So, I no longer worship. I no longer fetishize. I do, however savor and maybe borrow just a little, and I think that’s okay as long as I sound like me and not like them. 🙂
I was pretty active over the last couple of weeks.
Six submissions over the last couple of weeks, which gives me 36 for the year. That’s exactly on pace for my goal of 100. I just sent another this morning, so I’ll end up with nine for April at a minimum. Not bad. That said, April has seen A LOT of rejections. I’m on a streak of 15 in a row, and last week I has two multi-rejections days. These little slumps happen from time to time, but, I’ll admit, I thought at least one of the rejections I received in the past week was going to be an acceptance. That’ll teach me to get my hopes up. 🙂 Anyway, the only thing you can do in these situations is keep writing and keep submitting. Those acceptances are around the corner.
About four years ago, I had a great idea for a novel. I started writing it, got about 35,000 words in, and then got spooked about all the research I needed to do. I moved on to write two other novels in the next four years, and while I enjoyed writing those books, I have yearned to return to Hell’s Aquarium. Last week, I did that, and I produced over 5,000 new words in the manuscript. I detailed how I’m going about reclaiming a novel I haven’t worked on in four years in this post. Anyway, I’m taking baby steps back into this book, writing at about half the speed I usually do on a first draft (1,000 words per day as opposed to 2,000). I’m sure I’ll pick up the pace eventually, but this is enough for now, and I feel pretty good about where the book is going.
The second volume of THE REJECTONOMICON, my Q&A column over at Dark Matter Magazine, went up last month. You can read it by clicking the banner below. The third volume is coming in May, and I’ve already got some great questions, but as usual, I want MORE!
Here’s how to send writing and rejection questions to me.
Got it? Then send me those questions!
Keep working on Hell’s Aquarium, send more submissions, and finish up a short story or two.
Those were my weeks. How were yours?