A Week of Writing: 9/7/20 to 9/13/20

One more week of writerly doings.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote once again comes from Stephen King.

“Writers are often the worst judges of what they have written.

—Stephen King

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.

The Novel

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.

Short Story Submissions

Better but not great.

  • Submissions Sent: 2
  • Rejections: 3
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

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. 🙂

Market Spotlight

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.

  • SFWA- and HWA-certified professional market.
  • Short stories up to 7,500 words, flash and creative nonfiction up to 1,000 words.
  • No reprints.
  • No sim-subs.
  • Payment is .08/word.
  • “Most rejections will be sent out within a few business days, while stories being seriously considered may be held for up to a few weeks.”*
  • Accepting submissions until 9/20/20.

*This has been my experience with the publisher with the submissions I’ve sent.

Goals

Here are my writing goals for this week.

  • Continue to outline the new version of Late Risers.
  • Start working on the third revision of Hell to Play
  • Send. More. Submissions.

And that was my week. How was yours?

Submission Protocol: Mistakes Happen

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).

Mistake #1: I made on error on the cover letter.

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:

  1. story title (change)
  2. publisher name (change)
  3. word count (change)
  4. bio (add)
  5. email subject line (publisher wants title – word count – last name)
  6. publishing credits (remove; publisher doesn’t want in cover letter)

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.

Mistake #2: I sent a story to a publisher who has already rejected it.

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.

Mistake #3: I found a typo in a manuscript I submitted.

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.

A Week of Writing: 8/31/20 to 9/6/20

Another week, another writerly update.

Words to Write By

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.

The Novel

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. 🙂

Short Story Submissions

A slow, slow week for submissions.

  • Submissions Sent: 1
  • Rejections: 0
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 1
  • Shortlist: 0

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.

Publication

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.

Goals

Here are my writing goals for this week.

  • Continue to outline the new version of Late Risers.
  • Send. More. Submissions.

And that was my week. How was yours?

Submission Statement: August 2020

August has come and gone, and here’s how I did submission-wise.

August 2020 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 8
  • Rejections: 2
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 1

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. 🙂

Rejections

Two rejections this month.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 1
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 1
  • Personal Rejections: 0

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.

Acceptances

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.

Publications

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.

A Week of Writing: 8/24/20 to 8/30/20

Okay, gonna try and get back on track with these updates. Here’s last week’s writerly endeavors.

Words to Write By

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.

The Novel

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.

Short Story Submissions

Last week, I finally got my ass in gear and sent out a decent number of submissions.

  • Submissions Sent: 6
  • Rejections: 2
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 1
  • Shortlist: 0

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.

Acceptance

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.

Read “Toward the Sun” at The Molotov Cocktail

Goals

Here are my writing goals for this week.

  • Write and submit more short stories.
  • Keep absorbing notes from my critique partners on Hell to Play and start figuring out what the next revision will look like.

And that was my week. How was yours?

One-Hour Flash: What’s It Good For?

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.

  1. I’m deadline driven. It’s probably a remnant of working as a freelance game designer and magazine editor where the clock is always ticking, but I thrive with a deadline. In fact, I can’t simply sit down and write without some kind of goal or deadline in mind. I set deadlines for my short stories, my novels, and, yes, even my flash. The one-hour challenge just revs me up and gets me writing.
  2. Gets me out of my head. When you have to look at a prompt and come up with a story in five minutes, you don’t have time to overthink, you gotta go with whatever pops into your head. That works incredibly well for me. It leads me down roads I probably wouldn’t take if I had more time to think, and some of my best (and most original) stories have come from the one-hour flash challenge. I also feel more confident exploring new genres at this weird, rapid pace, and that too has led me to some great ideas.
  3. A constant source of new material. I’ve been doing the one-hour flash challenge for about eight years, usually every other week (though, I’ve missed a few), and it supplies me with a never-ending source of stories to work on, revise, polish, and most importantly, submit. Of course, not every story is going to be submission-worthy or even worth finishing. Sometimes it really is just an exercise, and that’s okay too.
  4. Feedback and a group dynamic. The one-hour flash challenge is my favorite type of writing group. Every two weeks we all have something new to present in a structured event. You get a bunch of feedback on your story from folks you trust, and you get the chance to read and provide feedback as well (always good for a writer). It’s a great community building exercise in my opinion.

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.

Rejections from The Rejectomancy Review

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.

Tier One

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.

Dear [Author],

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.

Tier Two

Another form letter, but this one would be for stories featuring one or more elements I liked.

Dear [Author],

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.

Tier Three

This form letter would essentially be my close-but-no-cigar, and it would look like this.

Dear [Author],

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.

  1. Too long. There’s only so much space and budget in any magazine, and if your story puts the editor over either, they might have no choice but to reject it. This is especially true with longer works, like novelettes, where a market might only accept one per issue.
  2. Too similar. If the market just published a story about vampire plumbers and you send in a story about vampire electricians, you might get a rejection. It’s just bad luck, but it happens, and I’ve received the “we just published a story like this” rejection a few times.
  3. Too different. If you stray a too far from a market’s usual fare, even if the editor really likes the piece, you might still get rejected. For example, if you submit a story to a sci-fi/fantasy magazine and your piece has a strong horror element, the editor might consider it a bad fit and reject it (while still praising the story). I’ve gotten that rejection a few times too.

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.

Novel Work: Round One Revisions

A little over a month ago, I finished the first draft of a new novel tentatively titled Hell to Play. I let it sit for a while to rest, refocus, and work on other projects, but now I’ve started doing the initial read-through and revision. I thought I’d talk a bit about what I’m trying to accomplish in this initial revision and why. As always, this post, like most posts on my blog, is how I do things. It’s not the only way or even the right way. It’s just my way. 🙂

The revisions in this first round will fall under the following four broad categories.

  1. Basic clean-up. I’m not really laboring over the prose at this point since much of it is likely to change. I am, however, trying to fix typos, dropped words, and particularly clunky sentences that might pull a reader out of the story. I’m also removing a fair amount of repetition, which is a problem area for me in long-form fiction. I expect I’ll cut a good 3,000 to 5,000 words from the manuscript (maybe more) by the time I’m done. I do all this because I don’t want my critique partners to get distracted by these little bonehead mistakes, and, anyway, they’re usually pretty easy to fix.
  2. Glaring continuity errors. This falls under problems I can see from space. Some of these are pretty simple, like where I’ve given a secondary character the last name Peaks in chapter one and then for some reason called him Richards for the rest of the book. Other times, it’s more world-building continuity stuff. For example, this book deals with occult magic. In the first few chapters it’s pretty loosey goosey and leans more fantasy than horror. Later in the book, I started using real-world occult sources and the magic took on a more gritty, realistic tone. So I’ve revised the way magic is portrayed early on to match the rest of the book.
  3. Plot holes. Whereas the continuity errors are mistakes you can see from space, the plot holes I’m shoring up this round are the drive-a-truck-through-it variety. For example, in the first act the main characters go on and on about how a minor villain gets access to certain tomes of forbidden lore. My intent was to weave this into the story in a way that supports the primary villains goals and motivations, and, uh, I didn’t do that. So I’m faced with either toning down the “how did he do that” in the first act or adding what is essentially a subplot to the second and third acts. The jury is still out, but I definitely need to deal with this.
  4. Character voice and motivation. This can fall under the first three items, but it’s important enough, especially in this book, that I treat it as a separate thing. I have two main characters in this novel, and the POV switches back and forth. So one of the things I’m really trying to do is make each character voice distinct. There are places where they sound a little samey, and I’ve been correcting that wherever I find it. Additionally, both characters have very separate goals when the story begins and those goals become more aligned as the novel progresses. That change in goals and motivation needs to feel organic and earned and not feel like I’m flipping a switch in service to the plot. Most of the heavy revision in this round will be focused on this point.

So those are the broad strokes of what I’m working on before the novel goes to my critique partners. I have no illusions I’m going to be able to fix everything because I need eyes other than mine to point out the other shit I missed. As the author, I have certain blinders on that make it near impossible to find all a novel’s issues on my own. That’s where trusted critique partners come in, and their notes are invaluable to getting a book to the next level.

Now where do we go from here? Once this revisions is complete, the book will go to my critique partners, as I mentioned. They’ll read it, compile notes, and get it back to me. I’ll then make another, more extensive revision based on those notes. I’ll also do a more focused clean-up of the prose. Then, the book will go to my agent, and it’s quite possible he’ll request additional edits. After that, well, hopefully I’ll have a marketable novel a publisher might actually want to buy. 🙂

Submission Statement: July 2020

Little late with this one, but here’re my July submission endeavors.

July 2020 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 4
  • Rejections: 5
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 1

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.

Rejections

Five rejections this month.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 5
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 0

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. 🙂

Acceptances

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.

Publications

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.

Rejection Reflection: Is This Market for Me?

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 – 20 Rejections

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.

  1. Keep trying. The slush readers and editors are seeing something in my work they like. I mean, they’ve said as much. That’s encouraging and more than enough reason to keep sending work.
  2. Use the info you have. With twenty rejections of all shapes and sizes from this market, I have a lot of useful information. If I look at the stories that got close, something jumps out. They lean more literary than my usual fare and take old tropes in new directions. That tells me a lot about what to send this market in the future and what might be successful with them.

Market B – 13 Rejections

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.

  1. Good stories, wrong market. Of the thirteen stories I’ve sent to Market B, I’ve gone on to sell nine of them, seven at pro rates and two at semi-pro (one of those to a very good semi-pro market). Within this group of rejections is, in my opinion, the best short story I’ve written to date. I think it’s fair to say I have good evidence that the stories I sent were marketable, just not to this publisher. Again, that does NOT mean this market was wrong for rejecting my stories. It means my stories weren’t right for this publisher. This of course leads back to the initial question posed in this post. Is this market right for me? Based on the evidence I have at hand, I’m leaning toward no, but read on.
  2. Use the info you have. Like Market A, I have a lot of information on Market B. If I look closer at that information, I see I have largely sent them horror, which they do publish, but little else. This leads into my next point.
  3. Keep trying? Maybe, but based on the info I’ve gleaned from submitting here and from reading the recent works published by this market, it’s possible my style just isn’t what they’re looking for. If I do try here again, it will need to be something completely different than what I’ve previously sent.

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.

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