Ranks of the Rejected: Andrew Bourelle

This time on Ranks of the Rejected I spoke with an author who directly inspired me to get off my ass and start submitting stories on a regular basis. I met Andrew Bourelle through his brother Ed Bourelle, a friend and colleague, and we started trading stories about six years ago. Not only did Andrew give me great feedback on my work, his dogged persistence in the face of rejection is part of what inspired me to start this blog. In fact, whenever I tell a story about a “writer friend” to demonstrate some point about not letting rejections get to you, half the time I’m talking about Andrew.

Folks, this guy is the poster child for sticking to your guns, working on your craft, and not letting rejections slow you down. His perseverance (and oodles of talent) have resulted in some well deserved success over the last couple of years, and I couldn’t be happier for him. So check out the interview below, absorb the wisdom therein, and then go read Andrew’s stuff.


1) What genres do you typically write? Do you have a favorite? If so, what about that genre draws you to it?

 My writing tends to be pretty varied, I think. I’ve published stories in literary journals, and I’ve published genre stories as well: mystery, horror, science fiction, etc. I’ve never really been able to confine myself to one genre. I don’t stop myself and say, “Wait, you’re a literary writer—you can’t write a post-apocalyptic monster story.” If I have an idea, I write it. And if I think the story is halfway decent, I make some attempt to find a place to publish it.

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of mystery/thriller fiction. I love to be surprised by what I read, and mysteries and thrillers are built to surprise readers. I like to put my foot on the gas and take readers for a fun ride. I’m working on mystery/thriller novel that’s giving me a chance to do that.

2) You recently published your first novel, Heavy Metal. Tell us a little about how that book came together and how you went about the business of getting it published.

I wrote Heavy Metal as an experiment to see if I could write a novel. It’s a coming-of-age story set in the late 1980s. The main character is contemplating suicide, and in many ways the book is a character study. But I also wanted the narrative to pull readers in and keep them engaged. The novel has been described as suspenseful, intense, heartbreaking—which are all adjectives I’m happy with.

As I wrote it, I didn’t really think about how it could be labeled or marketed. I just wrote the story that was coming out of me. However, when it came time to find an agent or publisher, no one really seemed to know what to do with it. Is it a literary novel? A Young Adult novel? I didn’t care how it was categorized. I just wanted to write a book that might resonate with readers. But I imagine most agents took one look at the query letter and said, “Eh, I don’t know how to sell this.”

After a few years of failing to find an agent to represent the book, I pretty much gave up hope of ever seeing the book in print. Then it occurred to me that literary publishers often hold contests and publish the winning manuscripts. It’s one way that story collections and literary books that don’t seem to fit into easy commercial categories find a publisher. I figured I’d give it a shot. It ended up winning one of the first contests I entered—the Autumn House Fiction Prize. I’ve read past winners of the prize and am honored and humbled to be in their company. I think my editor told me there were more than 500 submissions. Somehow, from that pool, Heavy Metal was selected to be one of a dozen or so finalists, and the final judge, William Lychack (the author of a wonderful coming-of-age novel called The Wasp Eater), picked it as the winner. I always thought if the right person would just read the book, they would want to publish it. That’s essentially what happened; it just took longer than I thought to find the right person to read it.

3) Your story “Y Is for Yangchuan Lizard” was recently chosen for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018. This is your second go-around in the anthology, and I know your last story led to something pretty cool. Tell us a bit about that.

A story of mine called “Cowboy Justice” was picked to be in The Best American Mystery Stories 2015, which by itself is one of the highlights of my writing career. But it also opened up a really interesting door for me. James Patterson was the guest editor that year and picked the final selection of stories. Around the time the anthology was coming out, his people contacted me and said he was getting ready to launch a new series of short thrillers, called BookShots, and wanted to know if I was interested in coauthoring something with him.

We worked on a short thriller called The Pretender, which was published in 2016 in Triple Threat, a collection of three of his BookShots. The Pretender is also available as a downloadable audio book. It’s a fun story about a retired diamond thief who can’t outrun his past. It was an extraordinary experience to work with James Patterson, and I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity.

4) Okay, this blog is called Rejectomancy, so tell us about your first rejection letter or the first one that had a significant impact on you as a writer.

I think my first rejection came in high school. My teacher knew I liked to write and passed along information about a “short short story” competition. (I wish I could remember what journal held the contest, but I’ve forgotten.) I think the stories had to be 250 words or fewer. I wrote something and sent it in, knowing 100-percent that I wouldn’t win. But the act of sending something out seemed really important to me, like I was telling the universe that I wanted to be a writer.

In some ways, receiving the form rejection was validating to me. No one laughed at me. No one said, “Are you crazy, kid? You’re out of your league!” I got the same form rejection all the other real writers got. I have no idea if they took my story all that seriously, but it at least felt like they had.

 5) Got a favorite rejection? Memorable, funny, just straight-up weird?

The worst rejections are the personal ones where an editor’s critique of the story is unhelpful. I recently received a rejection where the editor said that the “tense shifts were distracting.” I thought, “Oh, there are tense shifts in there? What a rookie mistake.” I carefully reread the story and there weren’t any tense problems. I thought, “Did you copy the text from your last rejection into my rejection by mistake? Did you even read my story?”

On the other hand, there have been times where editors have made editorial suggestions that turned out to be valuable. I remember my short story “Little Healers” was rejected by Pseudopod, and the editor made a note about a problem he had with the story. I hadn’t noticed the issue before, but once it had been pointed out to me, I agreed with the assessment. I revised the story and sent it elsewhere. It was published in the anthology Swords & Steam Short Stories and was listed as an honorable mention for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. If it wasn’t for the rejection, I might never have seen the problem.

6) What’s the toughest part of rejection for you? Pro tips for dealing with it?

I think one of the keys to not letting rejections get to you is to have plenty of stuff out there under consideration. If you only have one or two stories that you have under consideration at one time, then a rejection can feel like a real setback. But if you’ve got 10 or 12 stories under consideration at 15 to 20 different publications, then you always have stuff in circulation. A single rejection doesn’t hurt much because you have other stories under consideration at the same time.

When I was submitting stories early on, I would only have one or two that I believed in, and I’d submit those to one publication each, even if simultaneous submissions were allowed. Then I’d wait however many months for a response and be bummed when a rejection rolled in. The key for me was writing more stories, getting more out there under consideration, and not putting too much hope in any one submission.

7) Plug away. Tells us about some of your recent projects and why we should run out and buy them.

You mentioned my story “Y Is for Yangchuan Lizard” is coming out in this year’s volume of The Best American Mystery Stories, which will be published in October. I was unbelievably excited when I got the news. The table of contents includes authors like T.C. Boyle, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Joyce Carol Oates—writers I’ve read, admired, and learned from.

Another big publication on the horizon is a second project with James Patterson. Texas Ranger, a novel he and I coauthored, is scheduled to be released in August. It was a lot of fun to work on. I recently received an ARC, and it was a real thrill to see my name on the cover with James Patterson. I can’t wait to see the novel in bookstores!

  


Andrew Bourelle is the author of the novel Heavy Metal. His short stories, poems, and comics (illustrated by his brother Ed Bourelle) have been published in journals and anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories, D Is for Dinosaur, Equus, Florida Review, Heavy Feather Review, Prime Number Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Weirdbook Magazine, and Whitefish Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewBourelle.

 

Evolution of a Short Author Bio

About two years ago, I wrote a blog post outlining how to write a 50-word author bio, or at least how I write one. I mentioned in that post that an author bio is a living thing and should change and grow as you change and grow as a writer. Well, let’s take a look at that bio-building process and see how my 50-word bio has transformed in the last two years (and how it might change again in the future).

Like last time, my short author bio will include the following elements:

  • Basic details
  • Accomplishments
  • Where to go/buy

Basic Details

The who, what, and where. Like I said in the first post, keep potentially sensitive data out of your bio. No need to give all the identity thieves in the world a head start by plastering your phone number and address all over the place.

Here are my basic details in 2016:

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington.

And, uh, here are my basic details now:

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington.

Yep, I still live in the same place, so no changes here. I guess I could say something like novelist instead of freelance writer, but with only two novels under my belt and a lot more short story and gaming credits, writer just feels more accurate.

Also, like I said in the first post, I’ve decided to reveal the city I live in. In a big city like Seattle, I don’t feel like there’s much risk there, but I could make it more vague by saying something like the Pacific Northwest.

Accomplishments

This is where you let folks know about the cool stuff you’ve written and published. Like everything in this bio, you should keep it short and to the point. List a few of your more prominent publications, awards, and the like.

My accomplishments look like this in 2016:

His short fiction has appeared in The Devilfish Review, Evil Girlfriend Media, and The Molotov Cocktail.

Here’s what I’ve been going with recently:

His second novel, Aftershock, was recently published by Privateer Press.

Obviously, the big change from 2016 to 2018 is I’ve published a couple of novels with Privateer Press. I chose to mention the second and most recent novel because it implies I’ve written more than one without, you know, listing them both. Now, when I publish the third novel this year, I might go with something like: He is the author of the Acts of War trilogy. That would also leave me plenty of room if I wanted to list another significant publication.

Yeah, I could have listed some of my more recent short story publications, a few of which are with pro markets, but I think the novel is more significant. It also allows me to trim some words I’ll use elsewhere.

Where to Go/Buy

If folks like your work enough to actually read the bio at the end of your story, definitely give them a link to click so they can check out more of your stuff. Blogs, websites, even things like Amazon author pages are all possibilities.

In 2016, my where to go/buy looks like this:

Learn more about Aeryn and his work on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.

Here’s what it looks like now:

Aeryn occasionally offers dubious advice on the subjects of writing and rejection (mostly rejection) on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.

Yep, it’s essentially the same, but did you notice my oh-so-clever and self-deprecating humor? Doesn’t that make you feel sorry for me/want to check out my blog? 🙂 All kidding aside, I think injecting a little of your personality into your bio is a good thing. But a little dab’ll do ya. Like any of the sections in a 50-word bio, keep it short.

The Finished Bio

Okay, let’s looks at the final product.

Here’s 2016:

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington. His short fiction has appeared in The Devilfish Review, Evil Girlfriend Media, and The Molotov Cocktail. Learn more about Aeryn and his work on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.

And here’s 2018:

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington. His second novel, Aftershock, was recently published by Privateer Press. Aeryn occasionally offers dubious advice on the subjects of writing and rejection (mostly rejection) on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.

My 2016 bio is 37 words long, and my 2018 bio is 38. So I’m still well under the 50-word limit. That gives me plenty of room to expand in the future, and I’ve earmarked those extra words for the accomplishments section when I have something else I want to share/point folks at.


How has your author bio changed over your writing career? Tell me about it in the comments.

Swings & Misses II: The Rejection Streak

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know rejections don’t generally bother me. I accept them as just part and parcel with the whole writing gig, a necessary aspect of improving at the craft. One writer friend even described my apparent immunity to the rejection blues as my writerly super power. (Why can’t it be some kind of spidey sense about which markets will accept my stories?) Well, damn it if I didn’t go and find my kryptonite. It’s not any one rejection or any specific type of rejection. It’s, uh, 27 rejections in a row.

Yes, friends, I have hit the longest rejection streak in my writing career. It doesn’t cover a large stretch of time, only a couple of months, but goddamn if it doesn’t feel like years. Despite the temptation to turn this post in to a woe-is-me affair, that’s not my style (or my brand), so I’m gonna engage my aforementioned anti-rejection super power and do these things instead.

  1. Send more submissions. I’m a firm believe in ABS. No, not anti-lock breaking systems (though, those are good too). I mean Always Be Submitting. Yep, I find one of the best cures for the rejection blues is to get those stories right back out there, especially if they’re getting “good” rejections, which leads me to my next point.
  2. Apply rejectomancy. As you know, rejectomancy is the arcane practice of trying to divine what a rejection means. It’s also the practice of staying objective about rejections. They’re not personal, they don’t (always) mean you’ve written a bad story, and sometimes they can tell you if a story has legs but just needs a different market. So, even though 27 is a lot of rejections, it includes a lot of good rejections: personal rejections and higher tier rejections from pro markets. In other words, it doesn’t hurt to look for the silver lining.
  3. Write more stuff. If your current batch of stories isn’t landing (for whatever reason), then get started on the next batch, hopefully after you’ve learned a few things from all the rejections you’ve received. Even if you feel like your current stories are fine and their forever homes are just around the corner, working on, and more importantly, finishing new material can be a nice confidence booster. Continuing to create when you’re dealing with a little adversity is a good skill to develop and maintain.
  4. Get a little help from my friends. Writing can be a lonely business, and it’s easy to feel isolated and alone when you’re dealing with a rough patch. That’s why I think it’s really important to surround yourself with supportive writer pals. There’s a couple of reasons for this. One, it’s always nice to get a little pep talk (or a much-needed kick in the ass) here and there from people who know you and your work. Two, it’s vitally important, in my opinion, to see that other writers are going through the same things you are. Now, I’m not talking about schadenfreude (being happy about someone else’s setbacks is a dick move). It’s about solidarity and understanding that rejection and maybe even the dreaded rejection streak is not unique to YOU. Lots of writers suffers through these things at some point.

That’s how I deal with the rejection blues: submit more, write more, apply rejectomancy, and get a little help from my friends. I have no doubt these practices will see me through to my next acceptance, at which point I’ll wonder why I was being such a whiner in the first place. 🙂

Until next time, stay positive and happy writing.

Submission Statement: January 2018

January has come and gone, and here’s my first submission statement for 2018. A very productive month, and since this level of production will likely be the norm this year (I hope), I’m changing the format of these posts so you don’t have read the same rejections over and over again. 🙂

Okay, first, here are the raw stats:

January 2018 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 20
  • Rejections: 15
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0

I sent, to put it mildly, a fuck-ton of submissions in December. (Yes, that the proper industry term.) That’s mostly because I finished a bunch of new stories. Though productive, it was a disappointing month in one obvious way. I was hoping for at least one acceptance out of the pile of submissions I sent, but it was not to be. Hopefully, my efforts will bear fruit in February.

Rejections

Yep, a whole bunch of these. It’s not all bad news, though. I’m focused primarily on pro markets now, and though they are tough to crack, some of the rejections I’ve received tell me I’m at least getting in the ballpark. Here’s a breakdown on the types of rejections I received in January.

  • Standard Form Rejection: 5
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejection: 5
  • Personal Rejections: 5

Like I said earlier, I’m not going to show you every rejection. Hell, you’ve probably seen most of the form rejections anyway. Instead, I’ll just show you a few highlights from the month. Oh, and you’ll notice I’ve stopped using XXX to hide the story title and the name of the publication. That’s because the combo of “submission” and “XXX” come up pretty frequently in Google searches that, uh, have nothing to do with writing. I can’t imagine how disappointed those folks must be when they end up on my blog.

Highlight Rejection 1: Sent 12/27/2017; Rejected 1/25/2018

Thank you for considering [publication] for your story [story title].

Though several of our staff members enjoyed the story, it did not receive enough votes to make it to the third and final round of voting. We wish you the best of luck finding a home for this story elsewhere and hope you will consider us for future submissions. 

This is a higher-tier form rejection and a good one. Here’s why. I’ve been trying to crack this pro market for a while, and this is the closest I’ve gotten to an acceptance. Sure, close-but-no-cigar rejections can be disappointing, but this gives me some indication of the type of story they are more likely to publish (in addition to reading the stories they offer on their site). It’s good data, and armed with that info, I feel like I can better dial in the type of submissions I send to this market.

Highlight Rejection 2: Sent 1/8/2018; Rejected 1/17/2018

Thank you for sending [story title] to [publication]. We enjoyed this story, but unfortunately, it’s not quite right for us. We have to reject many good stories for a variety of reasons unrelated to their quality. We wish you the best in finding this a good home and look forward to your next submission. 

We loved this story’s core concept, but we felt it lost steam once things fell back on [ending plot point]. 

This is a type of personal rejection I’ve seen with some regularity with pro markets. It’s a standard or upper-tier form rejection with an added note from the editor. As you can see, they liked the central concept of the story but weren’t crazy about the ending. This is good feedback (always appreciated), and I’ll file it away for a possible revision.

Highlight Rejection 3: Sent 1/12/2018; Rejected 1/22/2018

Thank you for giving me a chance to read [story title]. I thought this was a clever premise and had some really fun moments in it, even if overall the story didn’t quite win me over as a good fit for the magazine. Although I’m going to have to pass on it for [publication], I wish you best of luck finding the right market for it and hope that you’ll try us again with your next story. 

Okay, the best of the bunch. This is a rejection with an editor’s note from one of my bucket-list publishers. If I apply a little rejectomancy (can’t help it), part of the reason for the rejection (the not a good fit part) might be that I sent a story with strong horror undertones to a magazine that primarily publishes fantasy and sci-fi. The story has some sci-fi elements and a liberal dose of dark humor, but if I’m honest with myself, that’s just the crunchy candy shell on what is essentially a light horror story. Anyway, this tells me (along with two other rejections in the same vein) that the story might have legs if I can find the right market for it. Oh, and I will absolutely send my next (more appropriate) story to this publisher.


And that’s January. How was your month?

Reprint Submissions: Old Stories, New Markets

Looking to expand the ol’ publications list and get some of your best work to a wider audience? A reprint submission may be the way to go. If the term reprint is unfamiliar to you, it’s simply a story you’ve already published. (It’s also a story where certain rights have reverted back to you. More on that in a sec.) When you send that story to another market who accepts previously published works, it’s a reprint submission.

I’ve sent a fair amount of reprint submissions over the last couple of years (even published a few), so I thought I’d talk about some of the basic info I’ve learned along the way, plus a few pointers on how and where to publish them. Let’s get to it.

The Right to Reprint

One thing you must know before you send a reprint submission is if you currently have the rights to republish the story. You might be thinking, “Hey, this is my story. How could I not have the rights to it?” Well, when you sold the story initially, you should have signed a contract that granted the publisher certain rights to the work. Some of those rights were likely exclusive, and you can’t publish the story again until that period of exclusivity ends (usually six months to a year).

Your contract should include language that addresses the rights the publishers is looking to obtain (print, electronic, audio, etc.) and how long they’re looking to hold onto them. If you’d like to see examples of the language I’m referring to, the SFWA model contract (a good standard by which to judge such contracts) is an excellent place to start. Keep in mind I’m not an attorney, and my understanding of contract law is, well, embryonic, so do your research and read your contract carefully. Make sure you understand the terms you’ve agreed to and make doubly sure you have the right to republish a story before you send it out as a reprint.

Finding a Reprint Market

If you have the rights to republish your story, you need to find a market that accepts reprints. The good news is almost every publisher addresses reprints in their submission guidelines with a pretty straightforward yes, we take ’em or a no, we don’t. If a market does accept reprints, the guidelines will look something like this:

We don’t mind if your story has been previously published online or in print (though we do need to know publication and date).

Now the bad news. In my experience, a lot of standard genre markets don’t accept reprints. For example, according to Duotrope, there are currently 58 pro or semi-pro science fiction markets open to short story submissions. Of those 58 markets, 15 accept reprints. With fantasy, it’s 56 and 17. Horror, 31 and 8. There’s a ton of crossover here. It’s not 40 markets accepting reprints, it’s more like 17 that accept some combo of fantasy, horror, and sci-fi. Note, I left a certain type of publisher out of the numbers above; you’ll see why in a sec.

If you’re looking to submit a reprint, certainly look at your favorite markets to see if they accept them. You might have more luck, however, if you focus on a specific type of publisher:

Audio Markets: Podcasts and other audio markets are one of your best bet for reprints. They generally love ’em because they’re not really reprints to them. If a story has never appeared in audio, an entirely different media format, most audio markets don’t care one way or the other. Some might pay you a bit less for a story that’s been published elsewhere; others don’t even make that distinction. Here are some of my favorite pro and semi-pro audio genre markets (all take reprints):

Preparing the Reprint Submission

A reprint submission is often just like a standard submission with a few minor changes (always read the guidelines carefully). The publisher might ask you to alert them in the subject line of the email that the submission is a reprint and may ask you to tell them where and when the story was initially published in the cover letter. That cover letter might look something like this:

Dear Editors, 

Please consider my short story “Night Games” for publication at Pseudopod. The story is approximately 4,300 words in length. This story was original published by The Devilfish Review on June 27th, 2014. It is available to read on their site at this link: [link to story].

Regards, 

Aeryn Rudel

Some publisher may also ask you to provide a link to where the story was originally published if it’s available to read online. This publisher, for instance, even added that link to the podcast.


That’s the basics on reprints, so dust off those old published stories and get them out there again. There may be a whole new audience waiting to read them. 🙂

Have any thoughts on reprints? Maybe a hot tip on a market that accepts them? Tell me about it in the comments.

One-Hour Flash – For Abby

Time for another installment of One-Hour Flash and another opportunity to exorcise a demon from my hard drive. All these stories were written in one hour for a writing exercise/contest, and for one (good) reason or another, I haven’t done much with them. So instead of letting them pile up rejections like the the good lord intended, I’m sharing them here. Like all the stories in this series, this is more or less what I ended up with after an hour of writing.

This one is called “For Abby,” and it’s the touching tale of a man trying to find the perfect pet for his daughter. 🙂


For Abby

The place wasn’t like any pet store Dale had ever seen. There were no cages filled with frolicking puppies and kittens, no aquariums sporting colorful fish, no soft chirps of parrots and finches. It was empty; a square room with a bare concrete floor. A red door behind a counter against the far wall stood as a single, ominous note of color. The shop smelled like rotten eggs, and Dale wrinkled his nose as the door shut behind him.

A curious symbol had been scrawled on the concrete in front of the door: a big circle with a five-pointed star in the middle. To Dale’s relief, there was enough room to step around it.

“Hello?” Dale said and approached the counter.

The smell, the weird symbol, and the shop’s emptiness began to unnerve him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the post-it note Dr. Falders had given him. She’d written an address and two words: For Abby. This was the address, though it had been exceedingly difficult to find, in an area of town he’d never visited, had never known existed.

“Is anyone there?” Dale called out. This time he heard muffled footsteps behind the red door. It swung open and disgorged a stink so revolting he slapped a hand over his mouth and turned away.

“Can I help you?”

Dale turned back to the counter. A woman in a white dress now stood behind it. She had long black hair, pale, almost alabaster skin, and curiously large eyes, almost too big for her face. Her age was difficult to determine. She could be eighteen or thirty.

The smell had faded and Dale took his hand away from his mouth. He set the post-it note on the counter. “Uh, yeah,” he said. “Dr. Falders sent me . . .”

The woman nodded and smiled. Her lips were very red. “Of course. The doctor said you would be coming.”

“It’s about my daughter. She needs a new pet. Something a little more . . . resilient than a dog or a cat.”

The woman’s smile brightened. “I understand completely, Mr. Richards.”

“She doesn’t mean to hurt them,” Dale continued. “But puppies and kittens are so fragile.”

The woman placed one long-fingered hand on Dale’s forearm. Her skin was cold and smooth. “You don’t have to explain. Dr. Falders told me all I need to know.”

Dale grimaced. What else had the doctor had told this woman about Abby? “So you’re a pet store?”

“Of sorts.” The woman removed her hand from Dale’s arm. “We cater to very special clients with very special children, like you and Abby.”

Dale glanced around the “shop.” “I don’t see any cages.”

“We keep a very limited stock,” the woman said. “But I have just the thing for Abby.”

“Really? That would be great. Her fits are always better when she has something to play with.” Dale was afraid to hope, but Dr. Falders had been right about everything else.

“Step around the counter, Mr. Richards.” The woman opened the red door again, and the stink returned, but it didn’t bother him as much. If this shopkeeper could help Abby, he could put up with a little stench. He followed her into a small dark room that held a big cage, the kind you might keep a wild animal in, like a tiger or a bear. There was something inside, but it was too dark to see it clearly.

“Let me turn on the light.” White light flooded the room from an overhead fixture, and Dale gasped. The thing in the cage lay on its side, its massive head turned in his direction. At first, he thought it might be a dog, but it was too big. Plus, the horns, the burning red eyes, and the shark-like teeth all added up to something very much not a dog.

“Jesus,” Dale said and instantly felt the shopkeeper’s icy grip on his arm, painfully tight.

That is not a name I like to hear in my shop, Mr. Richards.”

“Uh, sorry,” he said. “Abby doesn’t like it either.” He changed the subject. “What is that thing?”

“A pet for a very special child.” Her smile returned and she released his arm.

“It’s a little big.”

“Look closer.” The shopkeeper pointed one finger at the cage.

He took a step toward the cage and saw several small, squirming shapes in the straw beneath the beast, nuzzling its belly. He realized with mingled disgust and delight the squirming things were the creature’s young.

“I can have one of the, uh, puppies for Abby?”

“You can,” the woman replied. “It will weather your daughter’s . . . affections quite well. When it is grown, it can protect her from those who might wish to harm her.”

Dale nodded, remembering the priest at the hospital when Abby was born. He’d thrown a fit about the birth mark on her arm, and the police had removed him. There had been others, doctors mostly, a few neighbors. They’d moved several times since Abby was born.

“I’ll take it,” Dale said. “What do I owe you?”

He felt the shopkeeper’s cool touch on the back of his neck and shivered. Her voice was in his ear. “Nothing, Mr. Richards. Just keep her safe. All will be repaid when she is ready.”


So, this is one of those flash pieces that suffers from vignette syndrome. I like the premise here and the weird pet shop, but nothing really happens, and there’s no character arc. This happens quite a bit in these one-hour flash challenges. I’ll come up with a decent premise, but what I end up writing is the beginning to a longer tale rather than a complete story on its own. What I have here could make a decent start to a short story, though, and maybe I’ll return to it at some point.

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

Bring the Pain: The March to 100 Rejections

Today I’m excited to present a guest post from my writer pal Sarah Beaudette, who has recently completed a harrowing yearlong journey to 100 rejections. You might ask why someone would aim to compile 100 rejections in a single year, and I’ll let Sarah answer that in a moment. I’ll just say that such an endeavor is absolutely legit and takes both perseverance and real dedication to the craft. I mean, hell, I run a blog called Rejectomancy, and I didn’t even come close to 100 rejections this year. In addition to possessing the submission bravery of a screaming berserker, Sarah is a hell of a writer whose stories run the gamut between literary and genre, and I strongly urge you to check out some of her work at the end of this post. So without further delay, here’s Sarah and her tale of rejection mastery


Bring the Pain: The March to 100 Rejections 

by Sarah Beaudette 

Why Aim for 100 Rejections?

To tell you the unflattering truth, I wanted to aim for 100 rejections in a year because I’d heard of other authors doing it and snagging a bunch of acceptances. To a tenderfoot like myself, it sounded great. Surely if I attacked writing with the battering ram of volume, I would splinter a few holes in the door? Snag a few prestigious acceptances for myself?

Looking back, I pat my past self on the head. What an adorable thought! Now I know 100 rejections is no guarantee of acceptance. As it turned out, aiming for 100 rejections did jump-start my writing career–just for different reasons than I thought.

Here are some vague goals of mine from the beginning of 2017. I’d been lucky enough to sell a couple of short stories in 2016, and I wanted to sell more in 2017. I wanted to build a bibliography I could send to agents when I actually had a novel to pitch. I thought it would be, you know, cool, to get paid.

Aiming for 100 rejections in a year was one way to map these vague goals to a concrete measurement. If I racked up 100 rejections, it would mean I’d written a lot of new stuff. It would mean I’d learned about Duotrope, about payment tiers, acceptance rates, “good” and “bad” rejections. In short, it would give me a place to start–find out what I was good at and who, if anyone, liked what I wrote. To find out what I wasn’t as good at, and who, if anyone, would be kind enough to tell me.  

Primary Benefits of 100 Rejections

A rejection goal is more rigorous in terms of volume than a straight submission goal. It inures a novice writer to the inevitable rejections, those stones heaped one by one onto your sugary pink unicorn soul until your heart grows a black crust and your lungs flatten into paper cutouts that draw no air. Actually meeting this 100 rejection goal convinced me I had definite areas in need of improvement. I also learned I have a high tolerance for ego-pulverization. I will happily eat up rejections for as long as I live, if it means I’m writing every day. 

A rejection goal of 100 requires you produce new material on a fairly regular basis. It requires you to familiarize yourself with scores of markets. Don’t get me wrong, if I have a story I’m really excited about, I’m still submitting first to places like F&SF and Apex, magazines that I read, love, and have admired for a long time. While those giant markets are on my bucket list, I’d been remiss not to submit to the plethora of other great markets out there. The big markets not only have a style and tone they’re looking for, but they turn down enough good stories to fill volumes. There are markets who will love what you have to say and how you say it. You’ve got to take the time to find them, and a rejection goal will incentivize you to take that time. Publishing a story exorcises it from my psyche, neatly ties it into a bow and lets me move on–to improve. 

Other Benefits of 100 Rejections

Personal and upper-tier rejections: If you’re aiming for 100 rejections and are tracking your personal feedback, trends start to appear. Out of the 40 pieces of personalized feedback I received from editors, it became clear my prose is at or near the level it needs to be, but that I could work on structure and pacing. This is hands down the best reason, for me, to aim for 100 rejections in a year. This is as close as it gets to objective, professional feedback at little or no cost.

Not to mention, if your publication stats aren’t improving but your upper tier rejections are, it’s a balm. A few kind editors took a moment to check you out, chuck you on the chin, and tell you to try again next time.  

Best rejection: “Your story generated some conversation, so I thought I’d include it here. [two paragraphs of thoughtful feedback follow]” That generous feedback from a pro-market helped me fix a story I’d been working on for two years and get it accepted somewhere else. 

Worst rejection: “Your ending was a flop.” The silver lining here is the rejection also taught me the importance of trusting your gut about feedback. I read the story two more times and still felt the ending was the best fit for the story. The story was accepted without edits by another goal market of mine.

A Few Things I Learned

  • There aren’t as many dark fiction and horror publishers as literary fiction, SF, and fantasy. If that’s what you write, don’t feel too bad about low acceptance rates. You might not be doing anything wrong.
  • In general, editors and first readers are kind. They really don’t want to crush your soul, and many put a lot of time into crafting a form letter that encourages rather than discourages. The worst rejection above was preceded by compliments about other aspects of the story.

Overall Stats

General

  • Submissions in 2017: 116
  • Rejections in 2017: 111
  • Acceptances: 5
  • Acceptance rate: 4.3%
  • Paid acceptances: 3
  • No pay bibliography builders: 1

Acceptances by Genre

  • Lit-fic: 2
  • Genre: 3
  • Poetry: 0

Rejection Types by Percentage

  • Overall upper tier rejections: 36.5%
  • Lit-fic upper tier: 15%
  • Genre upper tier: 26%
  • Poetry upper tier: 9%

Production

  • Unique stories: 34
  • Lit-fic subs: 39
  • Genre subs: 61
  • Poetry subs: 11 

Will I try it again?

In 2018, my goal is five acceptances from markets on my goal list. I’d love to tally 100 rejections in 2018, but if 2017 was about getting my feet wet and gathering the data, 2018 is about putting it to use. I’ll aim to get those five acceptances in 50 submissions instead of 100. My list of goal markets is more definite. My areas of improvement (vs. refinement) are clear. This profane, battle-scarred unicorn now understands the kinds of stories she wants to write and the markets who might be persuaded to publish them. All that’s left now is to scrape 2017’s crusty buildup from my soul and spend 2018 amassing the rejection and growth again.


Sarah Beaudette is a nomadic writer living in Mexico. When she’s not writing or reading dark fiction, she’s drinking high-octane coffee, side-eyeing the cats who follow her in the alleys, and trying to raise two charmingly weird kids. Her short fiction is published and forthcoming in places like NewMyths.com, The Masters Review Micro Fiction Contest Series, and Monkeybicycle. You can find her bibliography at http://theluxpats.com/about/ or sporadic tweets on @sarahbeaudette on Twitter.