Ranks of the Rejected: Robert J. Schwalb

This time around on Ranks of the Rejected, I spoke with writer, game designer, and game developer Robert J. Schwalb. I was pretty stoked when Rob agreed to a Ranks of the Rejected interview, not only because he’s a great writer and a fellow death metal fan, but he also brings a slightly different perspective to the ol’ rejection runaround as a pro game designer. Apparently, they get rejected too.

Although I’ve never personally worked with Rob, I’m very familiar with his work. Years ago, when I started getting serious about writing in the gaming industry, I would look at the names on the covers of my Dungeons & Dragons books and think, “Man, it would be super fuckin’ rad to be one of those people.” Many times, the name on the cover was Robert J. Schwalb, and years later, after establishing my own career in the gaming industry, I still have a growing collection of Rob’s books on my shelf.

Now, normally, it would be right about here I would assign a rejectomancer level to the interviewee. I’m not gonna do that for Rob. Mostly because I’m fucking terrified he’d check my work. It’s also because, in my opinion, he’s one of the best game designer’s in the biz, nigh on legendary, in fact. It’d be like trying to stat up Cthulhu or something. Sure, you can do it, but there’s always the chance you’ll displease the great old one and his minions, and then you’re really screwed. I’ll just play it safe and say Rob’s rejectomancer level is super epic and beyond the ken of mortal man.

Here’s a bit more about Rob:

  • Robert J. Schwalb is a writer, game designer, and game developer best known for his contributions to Dungeons & Dragons, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Robert launched his own imprint in 2014, Schwalb Entertainment. Shadow of the Demon Lord, his first game from his new company, is available now as a PDF at Schwalb Entertainment, DriveThruRPG, RPGNow, and d20PFSRD.org.

1) As a game designer and developer, how is rejection part of your professional life? Do you (or did you) get rejection letters?

Sure, it’s a big part of my professional life and one that has had the potential to undermine my creative energy whenever I encounter it. In the early days of my career, rejection was a giant looming shadow lurking just out of sight, watching, waiting to jump on my back and caress my neck with its tender kisses. Hitting convention after convention, roaming the aisles armed with business cards and desperation, I shook every hand I could, eager to take on any job to kick open the door to my career. I came to know the false smile, the blow-off, and the distracted affect as the heralds of rejection, and those early days haunted me for years, even after became a developer for Green Ronin Publishing. I can still slip back into that well of negativity when I’m not paying attention. I managed to nurse those bad encounters until they took root as a seed of hatred in my cold, black heart, and from which I draw the drive I need to succeed.

2) In your opinion, what can writers learn from rejection? What have you learned?

Of all the learning experiences one can have in striving to become a writer, designer, or something else in the creative field, rejection, for me, was the most important. It gives you a chance to rethink ideas, it helps you identify the good folks in the business and the not-so-good, and it has the chance to make you see things from different perspectives. When you create something or have an idea for something you want to create, it lives inside your little attic, a crudely formed thing that slowly takes shape as you refine it. When you are ready to bring it out of your head and reveal it to the cold light of day, rejection can force you to develop that thing in a different direction, reveal the weakness of the thing, or prepare you for the criticism you will get when you proceed with the project anyway.

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

I remember pitching a book to one company that focused on NPC classes and using them to tell a different kind of D&D story, one in which the characters weren’t superheroes, but were ordinary folk going up against the horrors stalking D&D land. I probably didn’t pitch it that way, and that was probably why the company sent over the rejection letter, saying something to the effect that no one wants to play experts and commoners, so why make a book no one wants?

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

Interpreting rejection as failure was a cancer to my soul. Here’s the thing: It’s not failure. You fail when you get accepted and don’t deliver, deliver late, or deliver crap. You fail when the product doesn’t sell, when the critics take up their knives to dissect your genius and find it lacking. You fail when no one talks about your creation, dismissing it to rot on the mountain of bad ideas. Rejection is a warning, a signal that maybe you should just let the thing in the attic grow and take a different shape before letting it loose in the world. Rejection can be surprising, humbling, and maybe humiliating, but it’s also the best way to avoid releasing crap to which your name becomes attached forever.

5) Okay, Rob, this one is really, really important. Think about your answer carefully. Here it is: Which metal band most exemplifies the bitter pain of rejection? (Bonus points if you give us a specific song. More bonus points if it’s a band I like.)

I’m going to go with “Chopped in Half” by Obituary from the 1990 Cause of Death album. The runner up is “Excoriate” by diSEMBOWELMENT off their 1993 album Transcendence into the Peripheral. [Rob gets all the bonus points for these two excellent choices.]

6) Plug away. Tells us about your latest project and why we should run out and buy it.

Shadow of the Demon Lord

Shadow of the Demon Lord has swallowed my life. It’s the THING I DO, the monster set free to prey on the hordes of gamers itching for dark, horrific fantasy gaming set in a world drowning in the destruction loosed by the Devourer of Worlds, The Darkness between the Stars, the Ender of All Things, the Demon Lord. The 272-page PDF spilled out of my brain womb and into the tubes of the Internet where it has been making converts, one gamer at a time. The print book arrives at the warehouse late November and should be in gaming stores worldwide soon after. Why should you buy this book and the kickass adventures and supplements by some of the finest designers in the business, including Shane Hensley, Steve Kenson, T.S. Luikart, Chris Pramas, Steve Winter, and more? My cats need to eat. Oh, and I think you’ll have a ton of fun with it too.

A List of Links: Quick Kills & Real-Time Rejection

Here’s this week’s list of potentially useful links for writers and rejectomancers.

1) I’m always looking for ways to bring more realism to combat scenes in the fantasy fiction I write, and one of my favorite resources is an article from Classical Fencing entitled “The Dubious Quick Kill” by Maestro Frank Lurz. Much of the article is drawn from historical accounts of duels from the 17th and 18th centuries and explores misconceptions about the lethality of sword wounds. A good read even if it’s not the kind of stuff you usually write.

2) Here’s another submission tracking website for genre authors called The (Submission) Grinder. It’s similar to Duotrope in that it includes a searchable database of publishers, but unlike Duotrope, it’s free (though they do accept donations). Personally, I prefer Duotrope, but if you’re looking for a free resource, then The (Submission) Grinder is a good option.

3) Another great reference for the fantasy fiction writer looking to bone up on historical melee weapons is the scholagladitoria YouTube channel. The channel is described as: “Videos by Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria, covering Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA)/Historical fencing, military history, antique arms and armour and general combat-related things.” Lots of good information here about weapons and fighting styles from various historical eras and cultures.

4) Lewis Editorial has posted the first in a series of prep articles for the upcoming NaNoWriMo. Good advice here and worth checking out if you’re going to take the plunge next month.

5) I found this interesting site a while back, and though I’m still not sure what to make of it, I thought I’d share. It’s called JukePop, and here’s the basic concept from their “about” page.

JukePop is a community for authors to release their story one chapter at a time, receive feedback from the community, fine tune as the story continues and publish when the story is completed. Readers receive portions of a novel in installments, building excitement and anticipation between chapters . . .

So, from what I can tell, authors post chapters of a novel, one at a time, and readers can “up vote” the story. Get enough up votes, and you qualify for cash rewards. Looks like there are other interesting aspects to the platform as well, including crowd funding and pay-to-read formats. It’s an interesting concept that might bear further research if the serialization format appeals to you.

6) Hey, it’s the look-at-more-shit-on-my-blog portion of this post. This time I’d like to draw your attention to Real-Time Rejection and the thrilling saga of “Story X.” The basic idea here is I’ve got a new story I’m trying to get published, and I’m charting the story’s progress in real time, posting the rejections letters as they come in. I’m up to four so far, and if I get to ten, I’ll post the story on the blog so you can all indulge in a little schadenfreude at my expense.

Got a useful link for writers? Share it in the comments.

September 2015 Rejection Roundup

Some of you are probably wondering, “Where are all the rejections on this rejection blog?” It’s a fair question, and the truth is I haven’t received many lately. That’s not for lack of submissions, though. I have a bunch under consideration, but the majority of the publications doing the considering have response times in excess of 60 days. So, in other words, the rejections are coming, likely including a few for Story X (if you’re not following the gripping saga of Story X, click here).

However, I did receive a few rejections in September, and I have listed them below in all their shameful glory for your pleasure/edification/mockery.

Here’s the first one.

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.

I’ve seen this rejection letter verbatim from this particular publisher a bunch of times, and I’ll bet a few of you will recognize it as well. They’re one of the more prestigious pro-paying genre markets, and they have one of the fastest turn-around times of any publisher I’ve encountered—usually under a week.

I’m tempted to call this one an improved form rejection letter because of the subtle invite to submit more work, but if I’m being honest with myself (which I fucking hate doing), this is a common form rejection. I could be wrong, but I think the “keep us in mind in the future” bit is just part of their basic letter, a nicer way to say no.

Okay, here’s the next one.

Thank you for submitting “XXX” for consideration. I was glad to have the opportunity to read it. Unfortunately, the story isn’t quite what we’re looking for at this time.

Thanks again for submitting “XXX”. I wish you the best of luck in finding a home for it.

What we have here is a sterling example of the common form rejection. This is about as garden-variety as it gets, so not much to see here.

Moving on.

Thank you for submitting “XXX” to us.  We have given it careful review, but I am sorry to inform you that we will not be selecting it for our next issue.

I sincerely appreciate you letting me read your work, and I wish you the best of luck in finding another market for this story.  I hope that you will consider submitting to us again.  

This one is from a new publisher, and as such, this was the first story I’d set them. I liked a number of things about this fledgling publisher. One, they’re a paying market right out of the gate. Not pro-rates yet, but solid semi-pro. Two, they were easy to submit to, asking for a simple Word doc submitted in Shunn format via email attachment. Three, they responded quickly–under two weeks. Finally, this is a really nice rejection letter. It pulls the Band-Aid off quick, and it’s very polite and professional. But what kind of rejection letter do we have here? Common or improved form rejection? Since this is the first time I’ve submitted to this publisher, I’m gonna go ahead and say improved and submit again. Now, if I get the same letter verbatim after my next submission, I’ll downgrade this to a common form rejection.

So, that was my September of rejections. Sadly, no acceptances last month, but October looks like it’s gonna be chocked full of activity. I’ve got about a dozen submissions marinating with various publishers, and a lot of them are getting close to or have exceeded the estimated response time. In other words, I’ll probably have more rejections to talk about very soon. Stay tuned!

How was your September? Acceptances? Rejections? Tell me about it in the comments.

A List of Links: Dark Markets & Tax Tips

Time for another weekly roundup of links and resources for writers and rejectomancers.

1) I’m always on the hunt for places to submit my work, and Dark Markets is a great website for finding new publishers. It is specifically aimed at horror authors, and all the markets featured publish horror or dark fantasy. Dark Markets lists publishers in five categories: anthologies, book publishers, contests, magazines, and online zines. Definitely worth a look if you write horror.

2) I love me some flash fiction, and I used to participate regularly in a one-hour flash fiction challenge over at the Shock Totem forums. Shock Totem publishes dark spec-fic, and the bi-weekly contest generally includes some horrific element, but you can write your story in any genre. The contest is pretty simple: someone posts a prompt, usually a photo or illustration, and then you have one hour to write a story of 1,000 words or less, edit it, and post it. Once the hour is up, the participating authors read all the stories and vote on a winner. The winner gets to post the prompt for the next contest. It’s a lot of fun and a great writing exercise, not to mention a fantastic story idea generator.

3) I found another useful article on cover letters posted on the Inkpunks website. It’s a great no-bullshit, direct-and-dirty article on the subject. I really dig the author’s voice, and the advice is right on the money.

4) One of my favorite writers, Dan Simmons, has a great series of essays on his site titled Writing Well. The first installment begins with the question “Can someone really be taught how to write well?” It’s a great essay, and there’s a lot of frank, objective analysis on the craft of writing and what it takes to be a professional.

5) Here’s a short article from Your Digital Publishing Cheat Sheet with tax tips for freelance writers. This is an area I’ve been researching a lot lately since I made the transition to full-time freelance. This article is pretty good place to start.

6) And another shameless plug. This time I’m going to point you all at my series of dubious advice on submission guidelines and such. They’re all under the heading Submission Protocol, but since we’re just getting all silly with links, here’s a bunch:

Got a useful link for writers? Share it in the comments.