Submission Top Ten: Longest Waits

Recently I sent a few submission status queries and even a withdrawal letter, and it got me thinking about long wait times and how they turn out. So I went back through my submissions and pulled my top ten longest waits to see how each resolved. It’s an interesting mix of results, I think.

Days Out Avg Wait Status Queried Notes
1 419 180 Withdrawn Yes Closed
2 324 128 Pending Yes
3 310 317 Rejection
4 286 180 Acceptance Yes Closed
5 277 57 Withdrawn
6 211 153 Withdrawn Yes Closed
7 203 239 Rejected Closed
8 189 90 Rejected Yes Closed
9 187 173 Rejected
10 159 180 Rejected Closed

Kind of a mixed bag, huh? Let’s take a look at each one, and I’ll quickly fill you in on the details.

1) 419 Days. Yep, this is the longest I’ve ever waited . . . sort of. I actually queried and withdrew this story, but the publisher didn’t respond to either email, so I started submitting the story elsewhere. Then, like a year later, they sent me a very nice close-but-no-cigar rejection. To add to the weirdness here, the only other times I submitted to this publisher they rejected the story in a single day. This market has now closed, which is a common theme on this list and may be a contributing factor to some long wait times and eventual story withdrawals.

2) 324 Days. This is an interesting one in that it’s still pending. Why have I not withdrawn it? Simple, the publisher has been incredibly communicative and promptly replied to my query letters. This length of story is not their usual fare, so it’s taking a little longer. Since they’ve been so awesome and upfront about everything, I’m totally okay with waiting.

3) 310 Days. This is an anthology submission, and you’ll notice I didn’t send a query. That’s because it was clear based on this publisher’s past anthologies (and their average wait time) that it was going to take a while. They allow simultaneous submissions, so I was fine with the long wait.

4) 286 Days. The one on the list that ended with an acceptance. One thing to note here is that I did send a query letter, and as you can see the publisher was certainly not offended by it. Don’t be afraid to send those submissions status queries if you’re following the guidelines and an appropriate amount of time has passed. I’ve yet to have a publisher respond negatively to one. Sadly, this market has also closed.

5) 277 Days. This submission was a bit earlier in my short fiction career, and I should have queried. Instead, I simply waited (too long) and finally sent a withdrawal letter. Thing is, I know this was an anomaly for this publisher. They’ve since published one of my stories and rejected two more, responding within their average wait each time. This was likely just a lost submission.

6) 211 Days. This is a standard wait, query, and withdraw with one oddity. The publisher responded to both the query and the withdrawal letter, which is unusual when I actually get to the point of withdrawing a piece. The fact they they have recently closed up shop might be an indicator of what was going on, but I don’t know for sure.

7) 203 Days. Nothing odd about this one. It’s a one-time anthology that responded well within the wait time they promised. As such, I didn’t query because I knew it was going to take a while. Like many publishers and anthologies that have long wait times, they were open to simultaneous submissions. They’re closed, but that’s just because it’s a one-shot anthology.

8) 189 Days. After waiting a reasonable amount of time on this one (around 120 days I think), I sent a submission status query. They didn’t respond, and I was about to send a withdrawal letter when the rejection came in. This market has also closed down.

9) 187 days. I knew going in this market had a long wait time. I didn’t mind because a) the story was a reprint and b) they allowed sim-subs. They rejected the story right around their average wait time.

10) 159 days. This is the same market that accepted my story after 286 days. This time, they rejected the piece right around their average wait time.


That’s my top ten longest wait times. I think the most important lesson to be learned here is don’t be afraid to query. If you follow the publisher’s guidelines on when and how to query, they’re not going to upset, and, like I said, a lot of the time they’ll get back to you with some kind of response.

Got any long wait times of your own you’d like to share? Tell me about it in the comments.

Why I’m Not Writing: Procrastination

Let’s talk about procrastination, one of the myriad demons that plague writers and keep them from achieving their goals. I believe procrastination generally stems from fear. You know, fear of failing, fear of writing badly, fear of that really difficult scene that’s out of your comfort zone, and so on, and so on. This is why I procrastinate, anyway.

Procrastination’s enabling bosom buddy is distraction, and, well, the writer’s world is chocked full of distractions (I’m sitting in front of one right now). I typically fall prey to the following distraction duo.

  • Something more “important.” Instead of working on the thing that scares me, I must write this blog post, or edit this short story, or start writing this novel outline. This is a tricky one because I’m still writing and being productive, but I’m absolutely avoiding the project I should be working on (he says, kind of avoiding the next revision of his novel). Shit, I may have created an entire blog for this purpose . . .
  • Internet and social media. Sometimes I tell myself my internet nonsense is actually “something more important,” you know, like, uh, marketing and stuff. Usually, though it’s more like: Yes, I know I need to start writing, but I need to watch these twelve YouTube videos about a dude restoring a one-hundred-year-old kitchen knife he found buried in his backyard. (Oddly, watching someone methodically remove rust is really soothing). Note, reading Rejectomancy posts does not count as procrastinating. I promise. 🙂

So, how do you deal with procrastination and distraction? Every writer who gets anything done has some method, but this is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Here are three methods I’ve employed in the past and how well they’ve worked for me.

  1. Iron Will. Yes, some writers defeat procrastination and distraction by just giving them both the middle finger and getting on with it. I know writers who sit down at their desks and say to themselves, “I will now write for eight straight hours,” and then, you know, do that. Crazy, right? I mean, for God’s sake, who’s checking their Facebook and Twitter feeds?! I have nothing but mad respect for these authors, but for we mere mortals such rigorous devotion can be difficult. I’ve had some success with this method, usually because I’m under the gun with a deadline and it’s write-or-die time.
  2. Distraction elimination. Some folks leave their homes and write on laptops or other devices that aren’t connected to the internet, so giving in to distraction and procrastination isn’t even an option. This is similar to the Iron Will strategy, though more attainable because you can’t access the thing keeping you from writing, so you might as well write. This is certainly effective, though it does require you to have a dedicated writing machine. I’ve tried this a number of times with some success. I also find changing your writing location every once in a while–a coffee shop, a park, a library, whatever–can be good for staying on task. Thing is, I’m not a big fan of writing away from my desk, so I don’t use this tactic as often as I could.
  3. Giving in. A little. This is my favorite and the one I use the most. It involves giving in to those distractions a little without going too far down the rabbit hole. What I do is make a deal with myself, and that deal is, “Hey, if you write 500 words or edit 25 pages, you can screw around on the internet for 10 minutes or work on that blog post a little.” Seems childish, I know, but it totally works for me, and I can bang out 2,000-3,000 words or edit 100 pages in a day pretty reliably. Of course, screwing around on the internet might be actual work too (research, answering emails, etc.), but if I want to watch that rust removal video, I don’t have to feel guilty. Well, I don’t have to feel guilty about not writing for 10 minutes.

How do you deal with distraction and procrastination? Tell me about it in the comments.

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.

A New Rejection Record

I’ve written a couple of posts on my various rejections records, lists of dubious achievements in number, speed, and type of rejections. Because I send out so many submissions, it should come as no surprise that a lot of these records don’t stand for long. Today, I’d like to share a new rejection record with you and tell you why this particular record is a source of motivation rather than a source of frustration.

The record I recently broke (multiple times) was for most rejections from a single publisher. My old record was nine (9). Before I get to the new record, there are some honorable mentions I’d like to discuss.

  • Honorable Mention #1 – Rejections 8; Acceptances 1
  • Honorable Mention #2 – Rejections 10; Acceptances 1

As you can see, after a healthy number of rejections (even a short-lived record-setter) I finally broke through with these publishers. One is a pro market and the other is semi-pro. The reason I mention these two is to encourage folks not to give up on a market just because they’ve been rejected a bunch. Sometimes you have to keep trying until you find the right story. I managed to do that with these two markets, and it’s a highlight of my year.

Now, on to the record.

My new record for most rejections by a single publisher is . . . SIXTEEN (16).

I know, some of you are  thinking, goddamn, take a hint! I might think that too, but let me tell you why I keep trying.

First, this is a professional market with a very low acceptance rate. As with most top-tier markets, they’re tough to crack even with a good story. I know that kind of sounds like an excuse, but I’ve seen editors from similar markets publicly state they turn away quality stories all the time for a myriad of (good) reasons. (Another reason you shouldn’t give up on a market or story, but more on that below).

Second, my rejections from this publisher are getting “better.” Earlier in the year, after a bunch of standard form rejections, I received a second-round rejection (sort an upper-tier rejection), and my last rejection was a short-list rejection, which means I was at least within spitting distance of publication. I’d call that progress.

With these factors in mind, I’ll continue to submit to this market because I have a better idea of the type of story they want, and my chances at publication are better than they’ve ever been (still not great, but better). Again, I’m telling you this because rejections don’t necessarily mean you should give up on a market (or a story, for that matter). If you’re working on and refining your craft (and your submission targeting), then keep trying, keep submitting, and you might find the right story to crack that tough market.

If you’d like to see my other rejections records, check out these posts.

I’v broken a few more records this year, so look for an updated list of my rejectomantic achievements in 2019.


Got a rejection record you’d like to share? Tell me about it in the comments.

My Three-Part Flash Fiction Formula

I write a lot of flash fiction, and I’ve been lucky enough to publish a fair amount of it. What follows is my basic formula for writing stories under 1,000 words. It is not, of course, the only way to write flash fiction or even the best way to write flash fiction. It’s just my way. Okay, with that disclaimer up, let’s dive in.

Before I get to my formula, let’s establish a few things that flash fiction needs no matter how you go about writing it. It needs to have a plot and it needs to be a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. My formula doesn’t ensure these things will happen (trust me), but when I follow my self-imposed rules, I find they’re a little easier to pull off.

Here are the three guidelines I generally follow when I write flash.

  1. Start near the end. What I mean is begin your story as close to the inciting action or event as you can. With 1,000 words or less, you simply don’t have the space for a lot of setup, you gotta get to the meat right away. I notice in a lot of my flash, at least the ones I’ve managed to publish, the inciting event, whatever it is, generally happens in the first few paragraphs, leaving me a lot of space to resolve the conflict I’ve set up.
  2. Keep your character count low. I like a lot of dialog in my stories, and in flash that means I have to watch how many characters are taking up my precious word count with all that talking. As such, I often don’t have more than two characters in my flash fiction (speaking characters, anyway). That way, they can have lots of dialog, which is how I generally prefer to tell a story, and I don’t eat up too much space with it. Having only a few characters also lets me spend some time developing them, again, usually through dialog. Of course, you can have more than two characters in a flash story, and I’ve managed to pull that off a few times, but I probably would still limit speaking parts to two or three.
  3. Limited locations. Same idea as keeping the cast of characters small. I tend to limit the locations of my flash fiction to one or maybe two spots. That way, I don’t have to worry about transitions from one place to another, and I don’t need to spend a lot of time describing new locations. If you read any of my flash, you’ll probably notice a lot of it takes place in a single spot, usually somewhere small and cozy like a bar, a bedroom, a house, a church, and so on.

So, that’s my basic formula, and, again, it is not the end-all-be-all of writing flash fiction. It does work for me, though, and I’ve been fairly successful with it. I’ve also found if I follow two of the rules above, I sometimes have room to ignore one. For example, if I start near the end, and I have only two characters, then I can probably fit in a couple of locations. Or, if I keep my character count low and I limit my locations, then I might be able to start a little further from the end and get in a bit more backstory and setup.

To further illustrate my little formula, here are some flash fiction pieces I’ve recently published where you can see those three guidelines in effect (more or less).

This one is pretty much the poster child for my flash fiction formula. It ticks all the boxes. One small location (a bar), few characters (two), starts pretty much at the end.

So, this is one my stories with more than two characters. I think I have three speaking parts in this one, and a whole town full of people are present. That said, I do start near the end, and I restrict my location to one spot (a church). This is an example of where I follow two guidelines so I have more room to mess around with the third.

Another three for three here. Just two characters? Check. One location? Check. Start near the end? Check(ish). This one has a tad bit more setup than usual for my flash, but following my other two rules allowed me a little more space for it.

This is an example of flash stripped right down to the frame. It definitely follows my three guidelines in that it has one character, one location, and it’s, uh, the end of pretty much everything. Of course, you don’t have to go to this extreme to write good flash, but sometimes a story only needs a bare-bones treatment to work.


So that’s how I write flash fiction. How do you do it? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submissions: No Accounting for Taste

The old saying goes one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. That’s applicable to a wide variety of creative endeavors, and writing is no exception. What I mean is that when you send out submissions, whether or not you get published is due to a number of factors. The two biggest are write a good story and make sure that story is appropriate for the market. Another important one, I think, is editorial preference. Even if you nail the first two elements (good story and good for the market), the person reading your story has to, you know, like it, and that is a pretty subjective thing. Let me see if I can illustrate the point with some of my own submissions.

The chart below includes eight stories and five markets – two pro markets, two semi-pro markets, and one token market. I send a lot of stories to these five publishers and they all generally publish the same type of material, namely speculative fiction that includes, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. I also end up sending the same story to these markets after one or more of them rejects it. Take a look.

Pro 1 Pro 2 Semi-Pro  1 Semi-Pro 2 Token 1
Story 1 Accepted Rejected
Story 2 Rejected Rejected Accepted Rejected
Story 3 Accepted Rejected Rejected
Story 4 Rejected Accepted
Story 5 Accepted Rejected Rejected
Story 6 Accepted Rejected
Story 7 Accepted Rejected
Story 8 Rejected Accepted

I’m not using the names of the stories or the names of the markets because I don’t want to give the impression that any of these publishers are wrong for rejecting my stories or right for accepting them. This is just a sampling of my submissions to illustrate my point that editorial preference (which is neither right nor wrong) plays a role in getting published.

If editorial preference plays a significant role, how do you improve your chances of acceptance? Well, that’s where submission targeting comes in. For starters, you should read sample stories from the magazine, which’ll give you a good idea of the content the editors like. That said, I find once I start getting responses from editors in the form of rejections or acceptances, I can really drill down on their preferences (especially if they’re kind enough to give me some feedback).

Sometimes you hit the mark right off the bat. For example, pro market 1 and semi-pro market 2 accepted the first stories I sent them, and that helped me narrow down what to send them next. The result? I’ve been accepted by both markets a number of times. On the other side of that coin are pro market 2 and semi-pro market 1. I had seven and ten stories rejected by those markets respectively before I broke through. The stories they accepted had a very specific style and that told me A LOT about what I should be sending these publishers.

The take away here, for me at least, is there’s no exact formula, no foolproof plan to getting a story accepted. You have to commit to perfecting your style and craft, be diligent with your research, and, yes, accept a fair amount of trial and error. In addition, don’t give up on a market just because they’ve rejected you a bunch. It might be that you simply haven’t sent them the right story yet.


Thoughts on editorial preference? Tell me about them in the comments.