Ranks of the Rejected: Andrew Bourelle

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  


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

 

Evolution of a Short Author Bio

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

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

  • Basic details
  • Accomplishments
  • Where to go/buy

Basic Details

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

Here are my basic details in 2016:

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington.

And, uh, here are my basic details now:

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington.

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

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

Accomplishments

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

My accomplishments look like this in 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Go/Buy

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

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

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

Here’s what it looks like now:

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

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

The Finished Bio

Okay, let’s looks at the final product.

Here’s 2016:

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

And here’s 2018:

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

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


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

Swings & Misses II: The Rejection Streak

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

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

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

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

Until next time, stay positive and happy writing.

Submission Statement: January 2018

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

Okay, first, here are the raw stats:

January 2018 Report Card

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

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

Rejections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


And that’s January. How was your month?