It Came From My Hard Drive Part 4 – “A Pointed Education”

Here’s another little vignette I wrote for a Dungeons & Dragon supplement that never made it into print. This one would have been the introduction to a character build focused on throwing weapons. It’s one of those pieces that’s always left me wondering what happened to the characters, and maybe there’s a longer story in here somewhere. Anyway, it’s called “A Pointed Education,” and like the rest of these, it’s high fantasy, dwarves and elves kind of stuff.


A Pointed Education

“Master, would it not be better to take up our axes and blades and face the enemy in honorable battle?” Arimus asked. The dwarven youth’s lips were turned up in a smirk as he balanced a practice javelin in one thick-fingered hand. “My father always said that missile weapons were for elves and cowards not true warriors.”

The other students had been pulling their own practice javelins from a row of vaguely anthropomorphic straw targets, and all turned to look at the insolent Arimus, as he prepared to match wits and wills with Master Iocretian again. A hush settled over the small practice range – anything that broke the monotony of daily drill was highly regarded.

Iocretian, the aging dragonborn master peltast, continued to pull his javelins – real ones with barbed heads – out of one of the straw targets. Once he had gathered his six missiles, each of which had struck the center of the target from nearly sixty paces away, he turned to regard his most difficult student with a toothy grin.

“Well, Arimus, your father may have a point there,” Iocretian said, scratching the spines at the base of his chin as if considering the dwarf’s words. “However, I seem to remember it was an orc javelin and not a battleaxe that pierced your father’s skull during the battle of Gulgur’s Canyon. Pity that orc wasn’t versed in the ways of ‘honorable combat’ like your poor sire.”

Arimus’ face turned bright red, his cheeks flaming through the fuzz of his first beard. It was a brutal riposte by the master peltast, and the other students shrank away from the awful truth of Iocretian’s words.

“My father was a hero!” The young dwarf shouted, tears filling his eyes. “He killed fifty orcs that day in Gulgur’s Canyon, and I’ll fight anyone who says different!”

Iocretian’s face softened, and his scales seemed to sag more than usual. He knelt down to the fuming Arimus and put one clawed hand on the young dwarf’s shoulder. “Arimus,” he said. “No one is claiming your father is a coward. Only a fool would name Utren Stoneaxe so. But you must understand your uncle sent you to me so you don’t suffer a similar fate as your father.”

“To die in battle?” Arimus said, his eyes now filled with stubborn pride. “There is no greater glory.”

“No, you young fool,” Iocretian said and cupped the dwarf’s bearded face. “Your uncle didn’t want you to die young like your father because he couldn’t be flexible in battle.”

“I don’t understand,” Arimus said, hurt and anger still staining his words. “My father was a skilled warrior.”

“Yes, your father was as skilled warrior, but he knew axe and shield and straight-into-the-teeth-of-the-enemy and not much else. Think, boy! If you’re father could have thrown a hammer or a javelin with the same skill he wielded his axe, it would be him teaching you the ways of a dwarven warrior and not your uncle and me.”

Arimus opened his mouth to reply, then shut it, his eyes wary but intrigued.

“Yes, now you understand,” Iocretian said with another toothy grin. “Flexibility, boy. Adaptation. These are the traits that will ultimately lead you to victory in battle not just a ‘glorious death’ in your first skirmish. Learn the way of the axe, learn the way of the shield, but let me show you a trick or two as well.”

“i’m . . . I’m sorry, master,” Arimus said softly, and then found something very interesting to look at between his feet.

“Keep your apologies, boy,” Iocretian said. “I’d rather have you hit that target more than three out of six casts.”

Arimus smiled. He had been the only student to hit his target three times, and the backhanded acknowledgement of that feat was not lost on him. “Yes, master, four at least on my next try. I promise.”

“Then let’s see it . . . young warrior.”

When Should You Reply to a Rejection Letter?

Should you reply to rejection letters? A good question, and 99.9 % of the time my personal opinion is a resounding NO. The most compelling reason is that many publishers will straight-up tell you not to reply to a rejection in their submission guidelines, and we always follow the submission guidelines, right? That said, here are some reasons writers sometimes DO reply to a rejection letter (and my opinion why they shouldn’t).

  1. To say thank you for an encouraging, personal rejection. A nice thought, but I think it’s generally unnecessary. Editors receive a lot of emails, and there’s a chance you’ll just be cluttering up their inbox with a (well meant) thank you. I think it’s kind of implied that you appreciate the editor’s time and consideration of your story, but if you really feel you need to say thanks for some encouraging words, I’d put a short note in the cover letter for your next submission to the publication. I’ve done that once or twice.
  2. You disagree with feedback. If you get actual feedback in a rejection and disagree with it, just ignore it and move on. This is a subjective business, and there are times an editor is going to give you feedback that doesn’t work for you. Replying to “correct” the editor isn’t going to get you anywhere, and it might hurt you chances at future publications with the same market. Now if that feedback is just off-the-wall bonkers, you might avoid submitting to that publisher again. In general, though, save your arguing for feedback on a story that’s been accepted.
  3. Because they were rude. Were they, though? I’m sure editors have been rude to authors in rejection letters, but out of the hundreds I’ve received not once has an editor been anything but polite. When I see authors getting upset over rejections (and talking about it publicly) it’s often because they received a short, to-the-point form rejection which they’ve interpreted as clipped, terse, or dismissive. Editors are busy folks, and sometimes all they have time for is a short “No thanks” or “Doesn’t meet our needs at this time.” Don’t take that stuff personally, and absolutely don’t send a snarky reply. Again, it’s not going to get you anywhere, and it’ll likely hurt your chances for future publications.

Now for the big question: When should you respond to a rejection?

In my career there has been only one instance where I felt it was appropriate to respond to a rejection letter. Here’s why. I received a rejection that wasn’t meant for me. The publisher made a mistake because my story and another author’s story had very similar titles (an understandable error). When I received the rejection and realized it wasn’t for my story, I replied with a polite “I don’t think this was meant for me” and received an immediate and professional apology rescinding the rejection. My story was eventually rejected, but the publisher’s professionalism in correcting the mistake definitely left a good impression. I’ll be submitting there again.

So, that’s my opinion on when you should respond to a rejection letter, i.e., almost never. I’m willing to be educated on this point, though, and it you know some good reasons to reply to a rejection (or disagree with my reasons not to), please tell me about them in the comments.

October/November 2016 Submission Statement

I didn’t have a chance to recount my submission efforts for October, so I thought I’d combine them with November and do one big ol’ update. What follows is a two-month submission report, and since I was fairly active, especially in November, there’s a lot to get through.

October/November Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 9
  • Rejections: 8
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Other: 2
  • Publications: 2

Rejections

I finished new stories in October and November and began sending them out to the usual suspects. I’m also documenting the progress of one of those stories through the submission process in Real-Time Rejection II: The Saga of “Story X1.” A good portion of the rejections that follow are for the two new stories.

Rejection 1: 10/22/16

Thank you for sharing your story with us at XXX. While it doesn’t meet our editorial needs at this time, please keep us in mind for future submissions.

This is a higher-tier form rejection from one of the top markets in the fantasy genre. That’s a bit of a rarity for me since I don’t write a lot of fantasy. I sometimes stray into dark urban fantasy, which is what this submission was. Anyway, this is the first time I’ve submitted to this particular market, and getting a higher-tier rejection isn’t the worst way to begin. I have another submission under consideration with them at the moment.

Rejection 2: 10/29/16

Thanks so much for entering our Flash Fear contest. We had so many quality entries this time around.

Unfortunately, your entry, “XXX,” did not make it into our Top 10. However, we are happy to report that the piece did make it through several rounds of cuts and was still in consideration until the last stages of judging. As a result, we’ve given you a “Close But No Cigar” shout-out on our Flash Fear results page.

We encourage folks who didn’t quite make the cut to think about submitting those pieces for consideration in our regular issues (free to submit). While there’s no guarantees, we have published a few that way in the past.

Thanks again for your participation, and for writing such an entertaining story.

The Molotov Cocktail held another flash fiction contest in October, and I sent off three submissions. This is one of the few times where I’ll violate my blog rule of keeping the name of the publisher secret (I cleared it with editor Josh Goller first) because they’ve published a bunch of my stuff and I have nothing but great things to say about them (not that I have anything negative to say about other publishers), and it’ll be obvious who the publisher is once we get to the publications part of this post.

Anyway, this is a “Close but no Cigar” rejection, which is kind of like a higher-tier form rejection. I’ve since sent this particular story out again.

Rejection 3: 10/29/16

Thank you for submitting “XXX” to our Flash Fear contest. We were very happy to see such high quality submissions. The judging process was a particularly arduous one. 

Unfortunately, “End of the Line” was not selected for our Top 10, but we very much enjoyed the chance to read it.

Thanks so much for your participation. We couldn’t do these contests without you.

This is a standard form rejection from The Molotov Cocktail for one of my three submissions to the Flash Fear contest.

 

Rejection 4: 11/9/16

We have read your submission and unfortunately your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. While we regretfully cannot provide detailed feedback due to the volume of submissions, we thank you for your interest in our magazine and hope you continue to consider us in the future.

This is the first rejection for “Story X1,” and it’s a higher-tier form rejection from one of the top markets in the horror genre. This is the first time I’ve managed anything but a standard from rejection from this particular market after many tries, so not a bad way for “Story X1” to kick things off.

Rejection 5: 11/10/16

Many thanks for sending “Story X1”, but I’m sorry to say that it isn’t right for XXX. I wish you luck placing it elsewhere, and hope that you’ll send me something new soon. 

Another rejection for “Story X1.” This one is a standard form rejection from another top-tier horror market. I generally hit all the pro markets with a new story first, so you’ll see a bit of a theme with the rejections for “Story X1.”

Rejection 6: 11/11/16

Thank you for the opportunity to read “XXX.” Unfortunately, your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now.

In the past, we’ve provided detailed feedback on our rejections, but I’m afraid that due to time considerations, we’re no longer able to offer that service. I appreciate your interest in XXX and hope that you’ll keep us in mind in the future.

Here we have rejection #3 for “Story X1,” and it’s one my fellow horror authors will likely recognize. This is a standard form rejection from one of the toughest markets to crack in the biz, and I could probably wallpaper my office with these things if I were to print them all out.

Rejection 7: 11/12/16

Thank you for your patience while our editors reviewed your submission. Unfortunately, XXX has not been accepted for publication in XXX. We hope you continue to submit to XXX in future and I wish you all the best with your publishing endeavours.

When you’ve received as many rejections as I have, they really do lose their sting, and I barely even notice form rejections at this point. This rejection, however, is the type that still leaves a bit of a mark. It’s a personal rejection after I received a further consideration letter from the publisher. These are always a little disappointing because you know got close to an acceptance (well, closer than usual, anyway). Still, this was my first submission to this publisher, and I got close. That means I need to send them more stories, which I certainly will.

Rejection 8: 11/30/16

Thank you for your interest in our magazine. Unfortunately, after reviewing your submission, we have decided that it is not for us at this point in time. As much as we hate to reject any work of fiction, please remember that it is not a value judgment based on your lovely skills and talent; it really is us, not you. We hope to see you on our submissions list in the future!

This is the fourth rejection for “Story X1,” and it appears to be a standard form rejection. Though this has some verbiage you sometimes see in higher-tier form rejection, this is a new market, and this is my first submission to them, so my gut says standard form rejection.

Other

I received a couple of further consideration letters in October and November.

Further Consideration 1: 10/31/16

Thank you for your submission to XXX.

Your short story XXX has made it through to the next stage of submission. This involves your story going to our editors at the end of the month for a final decision and can take a little while so we appreciate your patience.

Following is feedback from our readers.

– Nicely crafted urban fantasy story.

– Edgy piece, nicely written. I had to look up Baba Yaga to get the full meaning of the ending of the story, however.

I or the editors will update you on the outcome as soon as we are able.

This is a further consideration letter eventually resulted in rejection #7 above. This one is interesting because it offers some feedback from their readers. I discuss this rejection in further detail in this post.

Further Consideration 2: 11/20/16

I love this story! I have short-listed it. And it’s a short list.

Would you mind if I held on to this story until the close of submissions, February 1st? We just opened and we’ll receive a lot more submissions.

Please advise.

This particular further consideration letter is interesting for the simple fact the publisher gives me the option to pull the story if I so choose. I’m not going to do that, and I hope my story survives the winter. I discuss this letter in further detail in this post.

Acceptances

One acceptance for the last couple of months.

Acceptance 1: 10/29/16

You’ve done it again! 3rd place in Flash Fear for “Masks,” a truly imaginative piece with some bite to it. Really enjoyable read. 

By now we have your PayPal ID and you just sent over another bio, so just let us know if you want anything different for either. We’ll issue your prize payment within about 14 days.

Thanks again for writing such kick-ass stuff.

An acceptance and a third-place finish in the most recent flash fiction contest from one of my favorite publishers. It’s always great when you can find a publisher that digs your stuff enough to keep publishing you.

Publications

Two publications this month: a short story and a gaming article.

Publication 1: 10/31/16

“Masks” – The Molotov Cocktail

My one acceptance is one of my two publications in the last couple of months. My story “Masks” took 3rd place in The Molotov Cocktails Flash Fear contest. I’d been sitting on that particular story for years, but I thought it might be a good fit for the contest. Looks like I was right. You can read it by clicking the link above.

Publication 2: 11/21/16

“Weapons & Warriors: The Protectorate of Menoth Privateer Press/No Quarter magazine #69

My second publication is in No Quarter magazine for Privateer Press. I still write game-related articles for my former employer on a pretty regular basis, and this one kicks of a new series where I take elements of real-world fighting styles and apply them to the weapons and warriors of the Iron Kingdoms. The series lets me nerd out with two of my favorite subjects: fencing/martial arts and WARMACHINE/HORDES.


My apologies for the overly long post, but it was a fairly active couple of months. How was your October and November? Tell me about it in the comments.

Real-Time Rejection II: The 4th Rejection of “Story X1”

Nearly half-way there! The fourth rejection for “Story X1” has arrived. If you’d like to see the last three rejections, go here.

Okay, here’s what number four looks like:

Thank you for your interest in our magazine. Unfortunately, after reviewing your submission, we have decided that it is not for us at this point in time. As much as we hate to reject any work of fiction, please remember that it is not a value judgment based on your lovely skills and talent; it really is us, not you. We hope to see you on our submissions list in the future!

Again, thank you for your interest in our magazine.

This is a new market, and this is my first submission to them, so I can’t quite tell if this is a standard form rejection or a higher-tier form rejection. My gut says standard despite the mention of future submissions. It’s a nice form rejection, and it reminds authors of a very important fact: rejections are not personal and are often not a reflection on your ability as a writer. Not much else to say about this one since there’s no real feedback.

Pickings are a slim right now for horror markets, and a lot of my go-to publishers are closed to submissions until next year. I know I said that after the last rejection, but I managed to find this new market shortly afterwards. I really mean it this time (unless I find another new market). Anyway, it may be a bit of a wait for the next update.

Hey, tell me about your latest rejection in the comments.

Submission Protocol: The Escape Clause

I recently received a further consideration from a publisher that included what can best be termed an escape clause, and it prompted me to ask the following question. When should you, if ever, pass on a publication that is obviously interested in your story?

First, the letter:

I love this story! I have short-listed it. And it’s a short list.

Would you mind if I held on to this story until the close of submissions, February 1st? We just opened and we’ll receive a lot more submissions.

Please advise.

Thanks! 

This is a great further consideration letter, and I’m thrilled the editor digs the story. He’s also given me the option of pulling my story if I don’t want to wait until February. That’s a very considerate and professional thing to do, and I appreciate it. I really want to see this story in this particular anthology, so I don’t mind waiting, and I communicated that to the editor. Hopefully, my story survives the winter.

Though I decided to be patient and wait for this editor to make a decision, it left me wondering: Under what circumstances might I have pulled a story when given that option by a publisher? Obviously, if I submitted a story to a publisher, it’s because I want to see my story published with them, and I usually don’t have an issue with waiting, especially if the editor is very communicative and upfront like this one. I really tried to come up with a reason I would pull a story in a situation like this, but I kept coming back to the fact that a foot in the door with one publisher is almost always better than a cold submission to another. That said, here are a two plausible(ish) reasons you might pull a story when it’s under consideration

  1. More appropriate market. Say, for example, you wrote a story about giant radioactive katydids terrorizing a small town, and you submitted “Colossal Katydid Killers” to a semi-pro horror anthology. You get a further consideration letter from the publisher like the one above but at the same time, another anthology, Six Legged Apocalypse, a collection of stories about giant radioactive bugs, begins taking submissions, and it pays a mind-boggling 10 cents per word. Your katydid story is a perfect fit for that anthology, so, yeah, you might consider pulling your story from the first publisher and submitting to the perfect-fit publisher.
  2. Really, really long wait. The editor above asked me to wait roughly two months for a decision, which is completely reasonable. Most publishers take around 60 days to render a decision anyway. But what if the publisher wants you to wait six months or nine? That’s a long time for a story to sit idle waiting for a decision. That’s not to say I haven’t waited that long or longer, but I’ve never been given the option to pull a story under consideration from one of those publishers. I’d probably wait, with a bit of grumbling, but I could see why some writers might decide to try their luck elsewhere.

Personally, if I get a further consideration letter like the one above, I’m going to wait. Though an enthusiastic response like this one isn’t a sure thing, I like my chances. Couple that with a perfectly reasonable wait time, and I can’t see a real reason to pull the story.

I’d love to hear from my fellow writers about this one. Would you pull a story in this situation or one like it? If you would or have done so in the past, tell me about it in the comments.

Rejections and the Revision Decision

How many rejections do I let a story accumulate before I revise it? That’s a question I get asked a lot these days (maybe because I plaster my rejections all over the internet). It’s a good question, and my answer usually is something like, “Well, what kind of rejections are we talking about?”

It’s really the type of rejection that informs my decision to revise rather than the quantity of rejections. To show you what I’m talking about, let’s look at some of my recent rejections, and I’ll tell you how they factored into my decision to revise or not revise.

Rejection 1: Standard Form

We have read your submission and will have to pass, as it unfortunately does not meet our needs at this time.

I’ve received rejections like this a lot—most writers have—and, honestly, they barely even register on my revision meter. I mean, this rejection doesn’t tell me anything other than this publisher is not going to publish the story. Because there’s so little information, I would likely never revise a story on a rejection like this or even a few rejection like this. Now, if I get this rejection like ten times in a row, then I might reconsider. Thankfully, that has yet to happen on any story I’ve submitted.

Rejection 2: Higher-Tier Form

We have read your submission and unfortunately your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. While we regretfully cannot provide detailed feedback due to the volume of submissions, we thank you for your interest in our magazine and hope you continue to consider us in the future.

Yeah, it’s still a standard form rejection, but it does give me some information I can use. This letter doesn’t give me any specific feedback, but it’s from a very tough market, and a higher-tier rejection usually means they saw something they liked. If I get this rejection early in the submission grind, like the first three attempts, I usually take that as a sign to keep submitting the story as is. If this editor liked it a little (and these decisions often come down to matters of taste), the next editor might like it a lot.

Rejection 3: Further Consideration + Rejection

1) “XXX” has been accepted into our final round of consideration. We will be letting you know before the end of April whether or not it is accepted.

2) Thanks so much for letting us consider your story “XXX.” While it made it to the final round of consideration, I’m afraid that we chose not to accept it. We had a lot of submissions and there were difficult decisions to be made. Best of luck placing it elsewhere.

It’s always a good sign if your story makes it to the final round of consideration, or, with some of the top-end markets, past the first round of readers. A further consideration letter is always a positive in my book, and even if it results in a rejection, there was something in the story the editors liked. In this example, they didn’t offer any specific feedback, so it only strengthened my decision to send the story out again as is. That turned out to be a good decision, as the story was accepted by the next market I sent it to.

Rejection 4: Further Consideration + Rejection + Feedback

1) Your short story “XXX” has made it through to the next stage of submission. This involves your story going to our editors at the end of the month for a final decision and can take a little while so we appreciate your patience.

Following is feedback from our readers.

– Nicely crafted urban fantasy story.

– Edgy piece, nicely written. I had to look up Baba Yaga to get the full meaning of the ending of the story, however.

2) Thank you for your patience while our editors reviewed your submission.

Unfortunately, XXX has not been accepted for publication in XXX.

We hope you continue to submit to XXX in future and I wish you all the best with your publishing endeavors.

This further consideration letter was somewhat unique in that it included feedback from the market’s readers. They had some nice things to say about the story, but one of them had a solid bit of critical feedback that I definitely took note of. In this particular story, I banked on the reader being familiar with Baba Yaga, a powerful witch or ogress from Slavic folklore. I wouldn’t go so far as to call her obscure, but Baba Yaga is certainly not as well-known as other mythological figures. The problem, as the reader pointed out, is that the impact of my story’s ending suffers if you don’t know who she is. That’s a legit issue, and it has certainly given me reason to consider a revision.

It’s also important to note that this story has received a number of rejections like examples one, two, and three, so it’s been out there a lot and had a fair number of near misses. I didn’t revise it because it was getting close, but this little nugget of information might be one of the reasons it hasn’t been accepted yet.


So, there’s a little insight into how rejections play into my revision process. It’s not a perfect system by any means, and there’s no doubt I’m drawing the wrong conclusions from my rejections from time to time. That said, when I do revise based on a letter like the last example, I feel like I’m on firmer ground with a clear direction and clear problem to fix. In my opinion, that’s the best position to revise from.

How do rejections factor into your revision decision? Tell me about it in the comments.

Real-Time Rejection II: The 3rd Rejection of “Story X1”

Another notch in the ol’ rejection belt, and the third rejection for “Story X1.” If you need to get caught up on the saga of “Story X1,” go here.

Let’s take a look at that rejection:

Thank you for the opportunity to read “Story X1.” Unfortunately, your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now.

In the past, we’ve provided detailed feedback on our rejections, but I’m afraid that due to time considerations, we’re no longer able to offer that service. I appreciate your interest in XXX and hope that you’ll keep us in mind in the future.

This is a standard form rejection from another top-tier market. I’ve received this rejection a bunch of times, which is not exactly surprising considering how many submission his particular market receives. Like all the top markets out there, this one is extraordinarily difficult to crack, but you have to keep trying. Perseverance has paid off for me before, and I’ll keep submitting here and to the other top publishers in the horror genre until I get an acceptance or they literally tell me to stop sending them stuff.😉

Normally, I would have sent “Story X1” out again already, but a lot of the markets I normally submit to are closed to submissions for the moment. So “Story X1″may sit for a bit until one of those markets opens up, which should be some time in early December.

Got any rejection you’d like to share? Tell me about them in the comments.