One more week of writerly doings.
This week’s quote once again comes from Stephen King.
“Writers are often the worst judges of what they have written.
I know, I know. I use Stephen King a lot. In my defense, the dude is a writerly quote machine. Anyway, again he clearly and concisely sums up my thoughts on an important aspect of writing. Yep, writers generally suck at judging their own work. This, uh, suckage, cuts both ways, though. Sure, we can get down on ourselves and become convinced what we’ve written is total garbage when it’s actually pretty good. Worse than that, though, is when you believe you’ve written something that’s pure gold and it’s spray-painted lead at best. For me, this is where my darlings in need of killing are often found. All of this is why you need eyes other than your own on your work, especially long-form fiction. As the author, you have blinders on (for a lot of reasons), and folks who can tell you what’s good and what needs work are invaluable.
Another critique partner has finished with Hell to Play, and his notes are different from the first reader. This is a good thing, and I’ve chosen critique partners who will come at the story from different angles and perspectives. One might focus more on character motivation and backstory and another might drill down on the plot and world building. There’s always overlap, of course, and since they’re reading the novel in Google docs, they can respond to each other’s comments. That’s great because when they agree, I’m pretty confident whatever it is needs to be addressed. When they don’t agree and explain why, I can make an informed decision on which bit of feedback fits my vision for the story and revise (or not) accordingly. Anyway, I’ve got a number of things to work on that range from fixing trivial details that just need to be consistent throughout the novel to overhauling chapters that illustrate a character’s central motivation.
In other novel news, I’m continuing to outline the new version of my last novel Late Risers. I’ve slowed some, but I like where it’s going so far.
Better but not great.
Two subs last week, which puts me at 62 for the year. I need 38 more to hit my goal of 100, which might be difficult at this point, but it’s all about the attempt. If I land somewhere in the 90s with an acceptance percentage around twenty percent, I’m not gonna complain. The rejections were all standard form rejections, and the only noteworthy thing about them is they all arrived on the same day. 🙂
This week, I want to highlight Nightmare Magazine, a great market for horror and dark fantasy that is accepting submissions of short stories, flash fiction, and even poetry for the next week. Here’s some of the relevant details from their submissions guidelines.
*This has been my experience with the publisher with the submissions I’ve sent.
Here are my writing goals for this week.
And that was my week. How was yours?
There may be no worse feeling for an author than realizing you’ve made some boneheaded error in the submission process after you’ve sent the submission. Panic sets in, and you begin to catastrophize about the end of your career and how the editor and all their friends will gather around your mistake, point and laugh, and add you to some DO NOT PUBLISH list from whence you will never return. Uh, well, I assume that’s how other writers feel about it anyway.
But here’s the truth. We all make mistakes, and most of the time, it’s not a big deal. In this post, I’ll present three common submission mistakes, what to do when you make them, and how to avoid them in the future. In case you’re wondering, yes, I have committed each of these submission sins (and survived to tell you about it).
Mistakes on cover letters are pretty common and run the gamut from typos to more egregious copy-and-paste errors where you list the wrong story title or publisher name. Have I made this mistake? I sure have. I once misspelled my own name on a cover letter. How’s that for making a first impression on an editor? 🙂
What to do. Look, editors are human beings, and human beings understand that other human beings make mistakes. I think the vast majority of publishers will overlook an error on a cover letter and judge the author on the quality of their story. A number of editors of prominent genre markets I follow on Twitter have said this very thing. So, if you discover you’ve made a mistake on a cover letter, try to relax, it’s likely not going to hurt your chances of getting published. You don’t need to alert the publisher or send a revised cover letter.
How to avoid making this mistake. Use a templated cover letter, one you’ve thoroughly proofed and know is typo free. Then, make a little checklist of the elements you need to change or add and anything from the publisher’s guidelines you need to pay special attention to. Like this:
Just check off each element as you complete it. Once your checklist is complete, check the publisher guidelines again to make sure you haven’t missed anything, then proof the cover letter (and maybe one more time after that), and you should be in good shape.
I have made this mistake twice (I can barely stand the shame of writing about it). I keep very good records, but a minor lapse in concentration (and a story title change) resulted in this ghastly submission sin.
What to do. As soon as you realize the mistake, send an email to the editor letting them know what happened. Be polite, be professional, and apologize. Like I said earlier, editors are human beings and often quite reasonable ones. The last time this happened, the editor responded with a very kind email, thanking me for alerting him. The first time I didn’t get a response, but the publisher did accept my next story, so I guess they didn’t hold the mistake against me.
How to avoid making this mistake. Keep thorough and accurate submission records of every story you’ve submitted and the result of that submission. The easiest way to do that is to use an online submission database and tracker like Duotrope or The Submission Grinder. They’ll keep your submission records for you, and if you want to download that data into a spreadsheet, it’s just a few button clicks away. Before you submit a story, check your records to make sure you haven’t sent it to that publisher already. You might be asking how could you not remember where you sent a story? Well, after 500 some submissions and stories with double digit rejections, things can get a little fuzzy. So check your records and check them again before you hit send.
Well, first, don’t go proofing manuscripts you’ve already submitted. 😉 Yeah, this happens, and I’m sure just about every manuscript I’ve submitted contains at least one typo or a dropped word or some other minor error.
What to do. Nothing. Editors expect a few typos and whatnot in the manuscripts they receive. This is why they edit and proof stories before they publish them. I recently sold a story where I’d used the wrong name for a character once. How was I punished for my misstep? The editor pointed out and fixed the error when they asked me to approve the changes they’d made.
Do not send an editor a corrected manuscript. That’s a bad look, and it creates more work for the editor, who is likely overworked as it is. If the error is a huge one–like you accidentally uploaded a half-finished version of the story–you might email the editor, let them know what happened, and withdraw the piece. Honesty is the best policy with mistakes, and, in my experience, editors are often very understanding about such things.
How to avoid making this mistake. You should thoroughly proof your manuscripts, and, if possible, get eyes other than your own on your work. But even with all that proofing, a few minor mistakes are going to slip through from time to time. Like I said, editors expect a few typos, but if you’re consistently making larger errors on your manuscripts and catching them AFTER you submit the story, it’s likely time to reevaluate and improve you proofing process.
Have you made any of these errors in your submissions (or others not listed here)? Tell me about it in the comments.
Another week, another writerly update.
This week’s quote comes from Harper Lee.
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
—Harper Lee, WD
To say I agree with Harper Lee is a bit of an understatement. This can be a tough biz, and if you want to write, and especially if you want to publish, you are going to be told “not for us” or “does not meet our needs” or “we have decided not to publish” or a dozen other versions of no. And when you do publish, you are going to get bad reviews, and people who don’t like your work will tell you so. None of this is a reason to quit (or not try), but it is the reality of writing and publishing. Like Harper Lee says, you need a thick hide, but that doesn’t mean rejections and bad reviews don’t sting. Of course they do, but that thick hide–made ever thicker by each setback–keeps them from cutting deep and hitting anything vital.
Hell to Play is still being reviewed by my critique partners, though one of them has finished, and the notes are very positive. There’s not a whole lot I can do until the other readers complete their reviews, so I’ve turned my attention to another big project. I have grudgingly accepted that my last novel, Late Risers, is, well, not working in its present form. Right now, it’s a trunk novel, but I like the concept, so I’ve begun outlining it anew. I’m changing the POV from third person to first person, rewriting the main character’s personality, and making the book more action-oriented. I am keeping a number of concepts and characters from the original, and the basic plot is similar, but the approach will be completely different (less mopey, more humor). Will it work with these changes? I think so, but the only way to find out for sure is to write it. 🙂
A slow, slow week for submissions.
Only one submission last week, which puts me at 60 for the year. Still a lot of days left in September, so I should be able to right the ship. Yesterday, I received three rejections, and those stories will go out again this week. I also have a new story to clean up and send out, so that’ll bump up my submission numbers too.
The publication this week is not a story, but the first of my monthly Rejectomancy columns at Dark Matter Magazine. How did this come to be? Well, Rob Carroll, the editor and founder of Dark Matter, contacted me a few months ago and asked if I’d like to write a column focused on some of the topics I cover on my blog. It sounded like a lot of fun, so I agreed, and you can read the first column, “The Quest for the Perfect Publisher”, by clicking the banner below.
Here are my writing goals for this week.
And that was my week. How was yours?
August has come and gone, and here’s how I did submission-wise.
August 2020 Report Card
Pretty good month. Eight submissions is solid output, and though I still have some work to do to hit my goal of 100 submissions for the year, this is a step in the right direction. The lack of rejections is mostly the result of submissions pending at markets that take upwards of four months to respond and the lack of submissions in June and July. I’m sure that issue will be sorted next month, and the nos and not for us’s will start pouring in again. 🙂
Two rejections this month.
Not much to discuss here. The rejections were both form rejections, though one was a higher-tier. I am closing in on 400 total rejections for my freelance career, which is a milestone I’ll discuss at length, with a ton of stats, in the very near future.
My acceptance in August was at The Molotov Cocktail. I managed to win the Flash Odyssey competition with my story “Toward the Sun.” That gives me eleven acceptances for the year and keeps my streak of at least one acceptance per month in 2020 going. My acceptance percentage this year is better than it has been in years past and currently sits at around 23%. Hopefully, I can keep that up.
The publication last month was the aforementioned “Toward the Sun” at The Molotov Cocktail. Make sure you check out the other nine stories that placed in the competition. There are some fantastic tales from a group of incredibly talented authors.
And that was my August. Tell me about your month.
Okay, gonna try and get back on track with these updates. Here’s last week’s writerly endeavors.
This week’s quote comes from one of my favorite books about the craft, Stephen King’s On Writing.
“In the spring of my senior year at Lisbon High—1966, this would have been—I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: “Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.
“I wish I could remember who wrote that note—Algis Budrys, perhaps. Whoever it was did me a hell of a favor. I copied the formula out on a piece of shirt-cardboard and taped it to the wall beside my typewriter. Good things started to happen for me shortly thereafter.”
–Stephen King, On Writing
Like all writing “rules”, this won’t work for everyone, but it’s done wonders for me. I also tend to write puffy in my first drafts. Much of that puffiness is over-explanation of the character’s motivations and way, way too much procedural nonsense with characters crossing rooms and opening doors and sitting on chairs and shit like that. I try to cut as much of that out as I can in my first pass. I did okay with Hell to Play, my current WIP, excising a good 5,500 words, which is around 7% of the total length. The novel is now with my critique partners, and they’ll get me the rest of the way there. I want the leanest, meanest novel I can get when I hand the manuscript over to my agent, and King’s 10% rule is a good place to start.
As I mentioned above, Hell to Play is with my critique partners. The notes so far have been coming in are encouraging. There are, of course, many things I’ll need to address in the next revision, but I feel like this book is in much better shape at this point in the game than my last novel, Late Risers, which is likely destined to be a trunk novel without a serious rewrite. I feel it in my bones that this novel is better than the last. It’s tighter, the writing more honest, and the story one I’ve wanted to tell for a while. Does that mean fame and fortune await? Probably not, but I like my chances with this novel more than with the last.
Last week, I finally got my ass in gear and sent out a decent number of submissions.
Six subs last week is great, and it gave me eight for the month and 59 for the year. Still off my pace of 100 for the year, but I think I can catch up. The two rejections were form rejections of no real note, but they did push me closer to a rejection milestone I’ll discuss at length in an upcoming blog post. The acceptance is a good one, and even better, it keeps my streak of at least one acceptance per month in 2020 intact. I’ll discuss the acceptance and the publication below.
The acceptance last week was from The Molotov Cocktail. I managed to win the Flash Odyssey contest with my story “Toward the Sun.” I’ve been entering the Molotov flash contests for six years, and though I’ve placed and even cashed a number of times, I’ve never taken home the big prize. It was nice to get that win, and I think the story is one of the better pieces of flash I’ve written in a long time. You can read “Toward the Sun” by clicking the link below.
Here are my writing goals for this week.
And that was my week. How was yours?
If you follow my blog, you’ve probably heard me talk about writing one-hour flash fiction. It’s something I do every other week in a group writing exercise and friendly competition, and, I shit you not, it’s one of the “secrets” to my publishing success. The exercise is simple. Someone in the group posts a writing prompt, usually a photo, but it can be a phrase or even a short piece of music, and then everyone, at the same time, has one hour to write a story of no more than 1,000 words. Then, we read all the stories, give a little feedback, and choose the one we like best. The winner gets to pick the prompt on the next go around. I first encountered the one-hour flash competition on the Shock Totem forums, and when it faded away there, I introduced it to my writing group, and it’s been quite a hit.
Look, I know; writing a complete flash story in an hour seems daunting, and it is, especially at first, but I think there are huge benefits to timed and prompted writing exercises. Before we get into the reasons I think the one-hour flash competition could be good for writers, let me tell you what it’s done for me. I’ve participated in 107 one-hour flash challenges. I have gone on to publish 39 of those stories. Some I’ve expanded into short stories, but the bulk of them remained flash and not too much different than their one-hour incarnations. So, clearly, one-hour flash works for me; now let me tell you why.
Now, of course, this is why the flash challenge works for me. It might not work for you, but I’d recommend giving it a try. A lot of folks I know who never believed they could write anything coherent in an hour have become enthusiastic supporters of one-hour flash. It’s important, though, that you find a supportive group that shares your writing goals. The one-hour flash challenge can get, well, ugly in the wrong hands. So, as always, vet your writing groups carefully.
Thoughts on the one-hour flash challenge? Have you ever tried it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
Let’s have a little fun and pretend I’m the editor of a new genre magazine. We’ll call this imaginary publication The Rejectomancy Review. If I were to run this hypothetical publication, what kind of rejections letter would I send? What would they look like? What would I want them to convey to the author? Let’s talk about that.
Before we get started, I should state that I have worked as a magazine editor in the past, and I’m occasionally tempted to try running a small genre zine on my own. Then I remember how much work heading up a magazine was, and I, uh, focus my creative energies elsewhere. Anyway, if The Rejectomancy Review was real, I’d use three tiers of rejection letters that allow an author to see a progression over multiple submissions. I’ve always liked that approach. Now, of course, I’m not saying markets that do not send rejections like this are doing something wrong. Not at all. There are factors like sheer volume of submissions and the limited time a magazine staff has to review them that might prevent them from sending anything other than a standard form rejection. This is just a “if I had my druthers” scenario, and, well, if I did end up running a magazine, I might immediately change my mind on how I send rejections. 🙂
Okay, let’s write some rejection letters. Like I said, we’ll do three tiers, and the language in these letters will be gleaned from or inspired by actual rejections I’ve received.
This would be a standard form rejection I’d send for stories that didn’t work for me. It could be the writing, the subject matter, or even failure to follow submission guidelines, but, ultimately, it would be the rejection I’d send when I don’t have much else to say besides no.
Thank you for submitting your story “Zombies Ate My Homework” to The Rejectomancy Review, but I’m going to pass on this one.
Best of luck placing this story elsewhere.
I wouldn’t want an author to read much into a letter like this, so I’d keep this one short and to the point. It should be noted that a standard form rejection does not mean the story doesn’t work. It often just means the story doesn’t work for that editor. I’ve gone on to sell stories that received this basic no many times.
Another form letter, but this one would be for stories featuring one or more elements I liked.
Thank you for submitting your story “The Care and Feeding of Kaiju” to The Rejectomancy Review. I read the story with interest, but the narrative developed too slowly for me.
Thank you for your interest in our magazine, and I hope to see more of your work in the future.
As you can see, there are more encouraging notes in this rejection, and I state at least one reason why I rejected the story. I’d send this rejection for a good story that wasn’t to my taste stylistically or maybe had one major flaw (which I might mention in the rejection), but I’d want an author to see definite progress from the first form rejection to this one.
Thank you for letting me read “Werewolf? There Wolf”. I thought your take on lycanthropy was original and fascinating and enjoyed the piece overall. Unfortunately, the story is not a good fit for The Rejectomancy Review at this time.
I wish you the best of luck placing this story elsewhere, feel confident you will do so, and hope you’ll try us again with your next story.
The biggest difference here is that I’d turn this into a personal rejection with some personal notes on the story. I’d send this rejection for a story that has no appreciable flaws other than it being the wrong fit for the magazine. The final sentence contains some verbiage I’ve seen in other “good” rejections, things that made me feel a little better about the no.
So why would I or any editor reject a story they liked? It’s a good question, and one I’ve covered in this blog before, but here are three possible reasons.
So that’s how I might write rejection letters if I were running a genre zine. Of course, this is just one way to do it, and I based my theoretical rejections on what I like to see as a writer. The sheer volume of submissions often dictates what kind of rejections a market sends, and I my three tiers might be overly optimistic. 🙂
Thoughts on my faux rejections? Something you like to see as a writer? Tell me about it in the comments.
Little late with this one, but here’re my July submission endeavors.
July 2020 Report Card
More rejections than submissions is indicative of a not-so-stellar month. The four submission in July puts me behind the eight-ball to hit my goal of one-hundred subs for the year (I’m currently sitting at 51). I did manage an acceptance, which continues my streak of at least one acceptance per month in 2020. I better get some submissions out, though, or that streak is on gonna come to a screeching halt.
Why have I been lagging so much with submissions in the last couple of months? I’d like to blame it on the fact I’ve been neck-deep in a new novel, but I finished the first draft in early July and took a break from it. So, you know, that doesn’t hold water. If I’m honest, I’ve been struggling to finish stories. I have at least four I really like sitting half-done. I just need to suck it up and finish a couple of those. New stories always translate to more submissions.
Five rejections this month.
Every rejection in July was of the common form variety. One of them was a little disappointing, as my story was held for quite some time, and though I never count on an acceptance, I thought I might get a higher-tier or a personal rejection. It’s quite possible the market just doesn’t send them or, you know, I’m reading too much in to how long my story was held. I am a rejectomancer, after all. 🙂
The acceptance last month was notable, in that I sold a story in a genre I rarely write. I placed my story “The Night, Forever, and Us” with a cool new gothic market called Love Letters to Poe. I thought I had pretty much no chance at an acceptance when I fired that submission off, so it was a nice surprise when the yes rolled in. I’ll point everyone at the story when it’s published.
The publication last month was with my old pals at The Arcanist. They took a shine to my goofy, post-apocalyptic story “Outdoor Space,” which is about, uh, real estate. You can read or listen to the story by clicking the image below.
And that was July. Tell me about your month.
One of the toughest questions writers sometimes ask themselves is if a particular publisher is a good market for their work. When the form rejections pile up, you begin to wonder if maybe they just aren’t into your style, voice, tone, etc. That’s entirely possible, but make sure you’re not jumping the gun. To illustrate what I’m talking about, let’s take a look at a couple of markets I’ve sent a bunch of stories to without a single acceptance. Let’s see if it’s a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” or if I need to keep trying. I won’t use the names of these markets because this isn’t about calling out a publisher that has rejected my work (because that’s silly and counterproductive). It’s about examining my work, looking for ways to improve, and more importantly, looking for ways to be a more efficient and ultimately successful short story writer.
Market A is a well known SFF market, and I’ve submitted there a total of twenty times, each submissions ending in a rejection. Now you might look at that number and think, well, here’s one market that just doesn’t like his work at all. Based solely on the number of rejections, I might agree with you. If you look closer, though, you’d see a lot of those rejections are higher-tier, and three of them are final-round, you-almost-made-the-cut types. So, what does that tell me? Couple things.
Market B is another prestigious SFF market to which I have submitted many times, to the tune of thirteen total rejections. In contrast to Market A, however, I’ve received mostly form rejections with one hold, which was then rejected with another form letter. Let me reiterate, this post is not about trying to prove Market A is right and Market B is wrong (this isn’t a wrong or right situation to begin with). It’s about reading between the lines, taking a good hard look at your work, and possible redirecting your meager writing resources. Now, if I look deeper at the rejections from Market B, what might I learn? Three things.
So when the form rejections keep rolling in, it’s only natural to ask yourself, “Is this market for me?” The answer to that question could be, no, they aren’t a good fit for you, but make sure to do your research. You don’t want to give up on a Market A scenario. Remember, not all nos are created equal, and some, like the ones I’ve been getting from Market A, are what I’d call good nos. In my experience, good nos can and do sometimes lead to a yes in the end.
As usual, this post is drawn entirely from my own experience, which informs the opinions you see here. I’m sure there are folks who went on to publish at a prestigious market after many, many form rejections, and there is definitely merit to that kind of tenacity. Ultimately, every author needs to decide how best to utilize their writerly resources, and it’s never a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.