The Rejection Archives: Rejection #7

Got another rejection from the vault to share with you. This is the seventh rejection I received after I started seriously tracking my submissions through Duotrope. Let’s have a look.

Rejection Number: 7
Story Sent: 2/2/2013
Rejection Received: 2/21/2013
Rejection Type: Personal Rejection

Aeryn,

Thanks for letting us see [story title].  I regret to say that it’s not right for [publisher].

I loved the incredible vividness of this story, and thought the ending was rather awesome.  [Redacted detail about the story] However, the long digressions into [theme of story], while interesting and well written, really slowed the pace for me.  It ended up feeling like there was too much internal monologue for the bit of action the story provided.

Best of luck with this in other markets.

Regards,*

This was one of the first detailed personal rejections I received when I got serious about submitting short fiction. The editor kindly explains exactly what their issue with the story was. I also liked how they included qualifiers like “for me” rather than using imperative statements. Though I did not change the story based on this feedback, it does NOT mean the editor was wrong. It means my story was not a good fit for this market and this editor. I went on to sell this story to another publisher shortly after this rejection. Again, I am not trying to show this editor was wrong for rejecting my story. Instead, this is a good example that a rejection from one market absolutely does not mean it won’t sell elsewhere. These kinds of rejections can also be very informative, and I managed to sell a story to this particular market the following year, partly because the feedback here gave me a good idea of what they might like.

*You’ll notice I pulled some details out of this rejection. I did that because it would give away which story I’m talking about and possibly identify the publisher. That’s something I always try to avoid.


Thoughts on this rejection or this type of rejection? Tell me about it in the comments.

Also, check out the first post in this series below:

The Rejection Archives: Rejection #1

A Week of Writing: 2/4/18 to 2/10/18

After a month hiatus on the ol’ writing updates, it’s time to get back on that horse. Here’s how I did last week.

Words to Write By

This week’ quotes comes from Anita Shreve.

“To ward off a feeling of failure, she joked that she could wallpaper her bathroom with rejection slips, which she chose not to see as messages to stop, but rather as tickets to the game.”

– Anita Shreve

I love this quote. Referring to rejections as “tickets to the game” feels so on point to me, because I truly believe they’re part of the dues every writer pays to grow, to get better, and to get published. Basically, you don’t get into the show without spending some time in the minors taking your licks. (Sorry, baseball analogy.) While I don’t think you need to celebrate rejection, taking some solace and strength in what rejections signify, i.e., you’re writing and submitting your work, is a good thing in my book.

The Novel

About a month ago, I sent my novel Late Risers to my agent for his first read. Last week, he got back to me with feedback. He said the novel was interesting and even compelling, but there’s some work to do before he starts subbing it to editors. I won’t go into a ton of detail here, but the highlights are essentially as follows. Punch up the beginning so the book stands apart from others in the same genre. Fix some issues that do not pass the “reasonable man” test. Add more action-oriented scenes that demonstrate certain key plot points. What I’m most happy with about this feedback is that I agree with 99% of it. More than him hating the book, I was afraid he might want changes that would drastically alter what I wanted to say with the novel. That wasn’t the case, and I feel good about where the book needs to go. Better than that, I feel like I know how to get it there.

Short Stories

Slow week, and so far a slow month.

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

I only have two submission for February to date, but one of my favorite markets opens for publication next week and there are some new contests I want to enter. So, I predict I’ll end the month  somewhere between eight and ten submissions.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

2/5/19: The Rejection Archives: Rejection #1

A new feature on the blog where I’ll share a single rejection from my extensive library of no’s and not for us’s.

2/8/19: One-Hour Flash – End of the Line

Another entry into my one-hour flash series, hastily scribbled stories not quite good enough for submission.

Goals

The next revision of Late Risers will have to wait just a bit longer as I have a Privateer Press novella outline I need to work on. I’ll finish the outline soon, though, and get cracking on Late Risers again while the outline is under review.

Submission Spotlight

This week I’d like to call your attention to a short story contest hosted by one of my favorite publishers, The Arcanist. They’ve been a flash fiction publisher for the last couple of years, and this contest marks their first foray into longer fiction. The contest calls for short stories up to 5,000 words with a broad theme of magic. The deadline is 4/1/19. For more details about the contest, prizes, and whatnot, click the link below.

The Arcanist Short Story Contest


How was your writing week? Tell me about it in the comments.

One-Hour Flash – End of the Line

Hey, folks, here’s another bit of flash fiction from my vault of almosts, not quites, and something’s missings. Like a lot of these flash pieces, this one came about in a one-hour flash fiction writing exercise. Sometimes those exercises result in publishable fiction and sometimes they result in, well, something else. This is one of the latter. As usual, this is essentially a first draft.

Here’s “End of the Line.”


End of the Line

Arnold awoke to the rumble and vibration of a moving train. He opened his eyes and found himself face-down on cracked filthy boards that smelled of rot and old blood—sour and coppery. Above him the wind howled, and he rolled over onto his back to see that he was lying in an open-topped rail car. The car was walled with bare boards—newer than those that made up the floor—nailed together to form a kind of fence or pen. It was desperately cold, and he could see the ghostly white shapes of snow-topped trees flash by overhead as the train sped along.

He had no memory of how he’d gotten here. He had gone to bed last night, safe in his apartment. He remembered closing his eyes, looking up at the ceiling in his room as sleep stole over him. Then he’d awoken here.

He sat up slowly, his limbs heavy and aching in the cold. He vision swam and a spike of exquisite pain lanced through his skull. He moaned and rocked forward onto his knees, trying not to vomit, trying not to pass out.

“Sorry about that, friend.”

The sudden realization he was not alone cut through Arnold’s pain like a white-hot knife. He pushed himself away from the floor and onto his backside and scanned the rail car from end to end. It was little more than a bare box some twenty feet long by ten feet wide. The moon overhead offered some illumination, but thick shadows pooled in every corner—they could be hiding anything.

The shadows farthest from Arnold shifted, and their tenebrous mass took on a man-like shape. It slithered forward, and Arnold caught a glimpse of black cloth and the suggestion of a face, round and pale like the moon above. He couldn’t see much else; the shadows seem to gather protectively around the figure, obscuring all but a vague outline.

“I had to tap you on the head to keep you quiet,” the shadow man said. His voice was barely a whisper, but it reached Arnold’s ears unobstructed by the shrieking wind or the noise from the moving train.

“I don’t—,” Arnold croaked, his mouth was bone dry and his tongue felt like it was made of cotton batting. He tried again. “Where am I?”

“On your way,” the thing in the shadows said. Arnold heard a smile in its voice, or maybe he saw a flash of teeth—long, yellow, and sharp—in the flickering moonlight.

The answer meant nothing to Arnold, but it filled him with such horror he could scarcely breathe. He moved away from the voice, until his back brushed up against the far wall of the rail car. “Why?” he whispered.

Again the shadow man smiled, but this time he saw—with certainty—a pair of eyes, lantern-like above that ghastly grin. “He keeps me very busy,” it said and laughed—the sound sent tiny spiders of terror down Arnold’s back. It was like hearing breaking glass or splintering wood, a fractured, unnatural sound. “He is hungry, always hungry. I bring him the choicest morsels, the most delectable sweets, and that keeps him quiet.”

“I don’t understand,” Arnold moaned. “I was asleep in my apartment. How can I be here?”

“I know you don’t understand,” the shadow man said. “You don’t need to. I came for you because you have certain qualities he will enjoy, certain qualities that will keep him quiescent for a few more weeks and save many from his hunger.”

“Please don’t kill me,” Arnold moaned, terror robbing him of hope and dignity.

“I won’t kill you,” the shadow man said. “Not I. But why should you care? You have nothing; you are loved by nothing. I snatched you from your bed because your life is barely worth living. You are hopeless and pointless, Arnold Graves. He will give you purpose so those who deserve life can keep it a little longer.”

“But I don’t want to die!” Arnold howled. “I don’t—“

The shadows surged forward. A hand shot from the darkness and grasped Arnold by the throat, cutting off his scream with a choked gurgle. The shadow man lifted him bodily from the ground, turned him about, and slammed him into the wall of the rail car. He could see over the top of the barricade, where a black engine belched smoke into the night as it hurdled down rusting tracks through a nameless forest.

“End of the line, Arnold,” the shadow man whispered, his breath cold in Arnold’s ear. “Can you see him where the tracks end?”

Arnold tried to close his eyes, but long fingers reached over the top of his head and pried them open . . . and he saw what was waiting. It rose up from the forest, trees splintering in its wake, blocking out the moon and the stars with its enormity. The wind howled louder, and Arnold heard its voice carried in the screaming torrent. He felt its hunger, felt its mind, immense and alien, reaching out to gather his soul as its vast claws reached out to gather his flesh.

The shadow man released him. Arnold had time for one long, lingering scream before the dark and the cold swallowed him whole.


Okay, so this is another one I actually like, and I think it’s effectively creepy in places. The problem with it is my main character is just kind of blah. He doesn’t have much personality or anything, and he’s really there just so the monsters can do bad shit to him. If I were to expand this story, he’s the first thing I’d focus on, especially the part about his life being pointless and all that. That’s something the reader needs to see, to experience, rather than have a shadow monster mention it off-hand.

Check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series.

The Rejection Archives: Rejection #1

Something new on the ol’ blog today. I thought it might be fun to go through my extensive archive of rejections and share a few with you on a weekly basis. So let’s crack open the vault and have a look at some no’s, not for us’s, and we’re gonna pass’s.

Today I have the very first rejection I received in what I call the “Duotrope Era,” basically when I started seriously tracking my submissions.

Rejection Number: 1
Story Sent: 4/16/2012
Rejection Received: 5/5/2012
Rejection Type: Common Form Rejection

Thank you for submitting your story, [Story Title], to [Publisher]. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we’d just taken tales with a similar theme or any of a half dozen other reasons.

Best success selling this story elsewhere.

This is a pretty standard form rejection, but I like that the publishers lists some reasons why you’re story might have been rejected. As standard form rejections go, it’s a good one: polite, encouraging, and to the point. The publisher still uses this form rejection–I got one a few months back. If it ain’t broke, and all that. If you submit work in the same genres I do, you’ve likely seen this rejection a time or two.

The interesting thing about this rejection is when I received it, I hadn’t done much in the way of consistent story submissions, so despite this being a common form rejection, it stung. You see, I hadn’t developed that thick rejectomancer hide yet, and, like many authors, I read all kinds of things into this simple rejection. In the years since I’ve learned not to do that, that rejections are not personal, and the best medicine is to get back to work and submit the story somewhere else. Now I take rejections like this in stride because I know even if this publisher didn’t like the story, another might.


Thoughts on this rejection or this type of rejection? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Statement: January 2019

Well, here we are, one full month into the new year, so let’s see how 2019 is treating me so far.

January 2019 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 9
  • Rejections: 7
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 2

Nine submissions isn’t bad, and it puts me on pace for my 100-submission goal. Seven rejections is pretty average, and a lot of these were for submissions I sent in 2018. One acceptance and a couple of publications round out a decent month.

Rejections

Seven rejections for January.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 3
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 2
  • Personal Rejections: 2

Both personal rejections were for the same story, and one of them was a short list rejection. Those are always a little tough. You know you got close, just not close enough.

Spotlight Rejection

The spotlight rejection this month is one of the personal rejections.

Dear Mr. Rudel,

[Story Title] is a very good story, but unfortunately, it doesn’t quite match our needs for [upcoming] issues. I hope you find a good home for it elsewhere.

What I want to highlight here is something I talk about a lot–writing a good story is only one part of the equation (and important part to be sure) that gets you an acceptance. As the editor states here, sometimes a “very good” story does not get accepted because it just doesn’t fit the content needs of the publisher. There are, of course, many reasons that might be. The voice or style could be a little off for the market, or maybe the story doesn’t match up with stories they’ve already accepted for upcoming issues, or maybe they’ve recently published a story that’s similar, or maybe a dozen other perfectly valid reasons. The point is don’t take these kinds of rejections too hard, but do take the editor at their word and send that story somewhere else.

Acceptances

One acceptance this month from a market new to me. The story “The Sitting Room” is a reprint, and it’s one of the few pieces I’ve written that does not have a supernatural element. You can check it out under publications below.

Publications

Two publications in January, both reprints, both free to read online.

“The Sitting Room”

Published by Mystery Tribune (free to read)

“The Rarest Cut

Published by EllipsisZine (free to read)


And that was my January. Tell me about yours.

Off the Hook: More Fun with First Lines

For the past couple of years I’ve written blog posts examining the first lines of my short stories. All of this is based on an essay by Stephen King called “Great Hookers I Have Known” from his collection Secret Windows. In the essay, he examines first lines (from his works and others) looking for “hookers,” which are (in old-timey publishing lingo) first lines that grab a reader’s attention. It’s a great essay if you can find it, and I do believe a great first line can help you land a publication, but how important is it?

Let’s once again try to answer that question by looking at my own work. We’ll focus on some of the stories I published last year, those that are free to read online, and see how I did. You can check out the first line here, and it it grabs you, follow the link to read the rest of the story. I’ll score each opening line with a letter grade and tell you why I think it’s a good one or not.

1. “The Food Bank” published by The Arcanist

A beetle the size of a battleship came out of the afternoon sky, its gargantuan wings buzzing like the drone of a thousand helicopters.

I think this a pretty good sentence. It’s definitely weird, and I think it does what a good first line should do – get the reader asking questions. Grade: A-

2. “Simulacra” published by EllipsisZine

Ice and a snow weren’t the best material for the task, but Jason didn’t have much else to work with.

Not terrible, but certainly not grab-you-by-the-throat good. I think it works a little because it might get the reader wondering what Jason is working on here. Still, not fantastic. Grade: C+

3. “Two Legs” published by The Molotov Cocktail 

There had been no meat for too long.

Though it’s short, I think this one is solid. There’s something kind of icky and ominous about the word meat, and I think this sentence does enough to get the reader on to the next one. Grade: B

4. “The Inside People” published by EllipsisZine

Victor wiped the spittle from his mouth after another coughing fit and stared up at the tower.

Well, this one is definitely descriptive, and it does pretty well as an establishing shot. Grade: B-

5. “Do Me a Favor” published by The Arcanist

“I need you to shoot me in the head.” Howard tapped his temple.

This one gets your attention, doesn’t it? One of the better first lines I’ve written, I think. Grade: A

6. “The Last Scar” published by Trembling with Fear

The morphine is starting to kick in when Sergeant Freeman raps his nightstick against my door.

Like number four, this one falls into that establishing shot category. It’s descriptive and gives you a fair bit of information. It’s not knock-your-sock-off good, but it’s not bad either. Grade: B-

7. “What Kind of Hero?” published by EllipsisZine

“Look what I made.” Alyssa held up a black jumpsuit.

Yeah, not great. I think I got away with this one mostly because the story opens with some rapid-fire dialog, and the lines after are better and, well, you get to them quickly. Grade: D+

8. “Bear Necessity” published by The Molotov Cocktail

The knock on Jerry’s door startled him. 

This is a first line saved by a much better second line. In this case, that’s – He nearly jerked the shotgun’s trigger and blew his TV to atoms. Those two together is maybe a B+. Alone, this is not much to look at. Grade: C-

9. “When the Lights Go On” published by The Arcanist

We don’t turn on the lights in Moore, Idaho.

I think this is the best of the bunch, edging out number five by a hair. It’s short, subtle, and I think it sets the tone of the story right away. Grade: A


Of course, these grades are entirely subjective, and you might disagree with my ratings. The question remains, though, does that first line help you get published? Let’s look at the two best (in my opinion). I sold “Do Me a Favor” on the first try, and, yeah, I do think that first line might have helped me a bit. On the other hand, I sent “When the Lights Go On” everywhere, and though it garnered a lot of short lists and personal rejections, it took me 10 tries to sell it. I honestly think “When the Lights Go On” is the better story, but the best first line in the world is just one piece of the publishing puzzle. You still need that winning combo of right story + right editor/market + right time.

Thoughts on first lines? Tell me about it in the comments and/or share some of yours.

Works in Progress: How Many Is Too Many?

I often go hunting for quotes from authors about writing, usually for my weekly writing update posts. I recently stumbled across the following quote from novelist Philip Roth, and I really dig it. He said:

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”

-Philip Roth

It’s a great quote, and I think it cuts to the heart of the most difficult thing a writer can do–call something “done.” If you’re like me, then your hard drive is chocked full of flash fiction pieces, short stories, and novels languishing under the label “work in progress.” So I thought I’d take a dig through my files and see just how many projects I’ve started and yet to finish.

First some ground rules. These rules apply to me and only me. You can, of course, make up your own mind for what counts as a work in progress.

  • One, I will only consider a piece I’ve actually submitted as a work in progress if it is currently undergoing a major revision, like pretty much a total rewrite.
  • Two, I will consider a work as “in progress” if I have actually completed an outline. Jotted-down story ideas don’t count.
  • Three, anything I am contractually obligated to write I won’t count because it WILL be finished. To me, a true WiP needs a little uncertainty.

Okay, let’s have a look.

Flash Fiction WiPs: 13 (about 13,000 words)

The main difference with my flash fiction works in progress is that everyone of these is technically a finished first draft. That has a lot to do with how I generate my flash fiction, primarily in one-hour flash fiction contests/writing exercise that by their very nature ensure I end up with 1,000 words by the end. Most of these are in serious, serious need of revision, but a couple are almost there and will likely head out the door in the near future.

Short Stories WiPs: 22 (about 50,000 words)

My short story works in progress range from simple outlines to ancient completed works that need to be totally rewritten and everything in between.  A fair number of these might never see true completion and submission, but there are a half dozen I’ll finish in the next few months, let my critique partners read, and then send them out into the world.

Novel & Novella WiPs: 3 (about 65,000 words)

This includes one novel in which I’ve written about 35,000 words (my next project), a full novel outline, and a finished novella I’m still tinkering with. The novel that has progressed beyond the outline stage will definitely be finished, and I’m working on it now. The outlined novel I might get to one day, but it’ll be down the road a ways. The novella needs some revision, mostly because it’s the sequel to a published short story, and I’m not sure it works without that short story.

In Summary

In total, I have 38 works in progress totaling about 130,000 words. That’s actually less than I expected, though if I counted stories that have been submitted at least once and are not undergoing major revision, that number would be much, much higher (maybe double).

Now let’s answer the question I posed in the title of this post. Do I have too many works in progress? Maybe, but it’s more a question of identifying which works are actually worth completing and which I should maybe set aside as ideas that are not gonna pan out. If I did that, I guess I’d end up with half the number of flash pieces and short stories, and, as much as I hate to say it, that outlined novel might not make the cut either. This kind of winnowing of WiPs is probably a good thing for every author to do at some point. Basically, I want my creative energies going toward works that are meaningful and might have a shot at publication. Of course, that’s a tough decision to make, and, as you can see, I kinda suck at it.


How many works in progress do you have going? Tell me about it in the comments.