Weeks of Writing: 8/19/19 to 9/8/18

Way, way behind on these things. Time to catch up.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Amy Poehler.

“Most authors liken the struggle of writing to something mighty and macho, like wrestling a bear. Writing a book is nothing like that. It is a small, slow crawl to the finish line. Honestly, I have moments when I don’t even care if anyone reads this book. I just want to finish it.”

– Amy Poehler

Though I have never heard likened writing to wrestling a bear, I’ve certainly heard it described with as much hyperbole. Amy Poehler’s second and third sentence are what really resonate with me, though. The slow crawl to the finish line has definitely been my experience, and I have absolutely gotten to the point where finishing the book became an all-consuming need that eclipsed any thoughts or dreams of publishing the damn thing.

The Novel

Well, the revision is done, and the manuscript has been sent back to my agent. Hopefully, the next step is he begins shopping the book, and then, if the writing gods smile on me, some publisher will actually want to buy it. A lot of folks ask me how I feel about the book, and it’s a complicated answer. I’ll see if I can sum up with three yes or no questions.

  1. Is it better? Yes, undoubtedly. Notes from my agent and critique partners helped me shape the story and characters into something more compelling. It also feels more finished, like a complete product now.
  2. Is it done? Yes, for now. I think I’ve done what I can do with it. If a publisher decides to buy it, there will undoubtedly be further revisions, and I am a-okay with that.
  3. Is it good enough? No idea. As hard as it is for this impostor-syndrome-inflicted writer to admit, I think the book is “good.” I think my premise is different and my approach to a well-travelled trope is unique enough to get a reader’s attention. But is it good enough for a publisher to offer me a book contract? I just don’t know, and like any short story submission, I’m gonna have to wait and see.

Short Stories

With my focus on the novel, I haven’t sent nearly as many submissions as I should have over the last three weeks.

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

Just one submissions sent in the last three weeks, though I did score an acceptance and a couple of stories were published. I’m currently sitting on 57 submissions for the year, which means I need to send out around 11 subs per month from here on out to hit 100 subs for the year. I can do it, but I’m gonna need to bust my ass and write some new material.

The Blog

Two blog posts over the last three weeks.

8/19/19: A Week of Writing: 8/12/19 to 8/18/19

The usual weekly writing update.

8/29/19: Proofing Checklist: Just Nod & Smile

Another entry in my proofing checklist, this one covers overused body language and nonverbal cues.

Publications

I had two pieces of flash fiction published in the last few weeks. Both are free to read, and you can check ’em out by clicking the links below.

“The Grove” published by The Molotov Cocktail

“Ditchers” published by Aphotic Realm

Goals

For the first time in a long time, the novel will not be one of my goals for the coming week. Instead. I need to finish a novella outline for Privateer Press, get my ass in gear with short story submissions, and work on a surprise project I’m very excited about and can’t wait to share with you all. 🙂


That was my week(s). How was/were yours?

A Week of Writing: 8/12/19 to 8/18/19

Here we go. Another week of writing gone by, and here’s how I did.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Stephen King

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”

— Stephen King

Yeah, that’s, uh, a little grim, but the message is a good one. Kill, kill, kill your darlings. It’s a difficult process, but one that must be done, as Mr. King says. This last week as I wrapped up what will be the penultimate revisions of my novel, I removed a lot of subplots and extraneous characters, so that the focus would be on the central events and how they move the story along. It was difficult because I liked a couple of those subplots and a few of those secondary characters, but when I took a good long look at them I realized they were largely just in the way of the story I was trying to tell. So, out they went. If I’m so lucky as to sell this novel and get to write it’s sequel, then maybe some of the characters and subplots will return. We’ll see.

The Novel

As I said above, I wrapped up the second to the last revision last week. Now, what I need to do is fairly simple. I need to clarify a few scenes with some additional information, add one new chapter at the end to tie everything up, and then just give the whole thing one last proofreading. I aim to finish that in the next ten days and hand it back to my agent. Then I’m going on vacation and I will do my best not to think about the damn book for seven days (I will almost certainly fail).

Short Stories

Slow progress, but, you know, progress.

  • Submissions Sent: 3
  • Rejections: 0
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

Three submissions is okay, but I need to get out a few more if I want to get back on pace for my goal of one-hundred. I’m at 55 for the year, and I’d like to end August with 60. That would still be off the pace, but with a good September I can catch up. Getting the novel off my plate should free me up to finish a number of short stories in various stages of completion. More new stories always means more submissions,.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

8/12/19: Get Your Hooks In: Even More Fun With First Lines

In this post I take another look at the first lines in some of my published works.

8/16/19: 2019 Acceptance Rate Check-In

Checking in on my acceptance rate for the year.

Goals

I’d like to be finished with the novel by the end of the week and have it back to my agent. It might take me an extra day or so, but my goal is to not begin September with an unfinished novel on my desktop.


That was my week. How was yours?

2019 Acceptance Rate Check-In

With 2019 three quarters of the way through, let’s see how I’m doing with regards to submissions and rate of acceptance. In this post I’m gonna run the numbers for the year to date and compare it with the numbers for all the years I’ve tracked my submissions through Duotrope. Before I get to the numbers, let me first tell you about my methodology. The acceptance rate is calculated with the following formula: total acceptances/(total submissions – pending subs and withdrawals). Obviously, the pending subs only applies to the current year. Additionally, these numbers only count short stories I’ve sent to various genre markets and contests. It does not count any of my contract work for Privateer Press or when I’m invited to submit a story to a market or basically anything that more or less guarantees publication.

Note, 2019 looks a little weird, mostly because of how Dutrope tracks certain things (and because a few of my submission went to publishers not in their database). In other words, the 2019 numbers are very close, but not perfect (though we’re talking fractions of a percentage when it comes to acceptance rates). When I do my end-of-year calculations, I’ll sit down and figure out where the discrepancies are and publish a final, correct 2019 accounting.

Okay, with all that out of the way, here’s eight years of submissions:

Year Subs Reject L/N/W Accept Acc %
2012 6 5 1 0 0%
2013 16 14 2 0 0%
2014 38 29 4 5 15%
2015 46 37 2 7 16%
2016 53 43 2 8 16%
2017 73 64 4 5 7%
2018 120 100 4 19 16%
2019* 55 42 0 11 22%
Total 407 334 19 55 14%

*year to date

I always aim for a 10% acceptance rate. If I get above that, awesome. If I dip below it, as I did in 2017, then I am a sad writer. Luckily, it looks like 2017 was more anomaly than trend and things got back on track in 2018 and look pretty solid for 2019. Full disclosure here. Three of the acceptances for 2019 were part of a #vss365 Twitter anthology, and they were not submitted in the usual sense. They were chosen from microfiction I’d posted on Twitter during the “submission window.” If you remove those three acceptances, then my acceptance percentage for 2019 is 16% (which seems to be about my average).

That 15 to 20 percent mark seems to be where I live for the most part, and I’m okay with that. Of course, I’d like to crack more professional markets, as more than half of my publications in the last three years or so have been at least semi-pro (though a bit more token this year). Not that I’m complaining, mind you, just that I’d love to see my name in certain publications. I’m sure most of you can guess which ones. 😉

In short, 2019 is going okay. I’d like to have submitted more, and though I’m still hoping to hit 100 submissions, at this rate I’ll be closer to 80. That’s not terrible, of course, and if I can keep up the submission rate, maybe I’ll get close to 2018’s acceptance numbers.


How’s your 2019 submissions going so far? Tell me about it in the comments.

Get Your Hooks In: Even More Fun With First Lines

For a while now I’ve been revisiting my published stories specifically to look at the first line and determine if it’s the kind of line that immediately hooks the reader. Once again, this is because of an essay by Stephen King called “Great Hookers I Have Known” from his collection Secret Windows. It’s a great little piece where King looks at the first lines from his novels to see if they qualify as “hookers.” That’s apparently old publisher slang for a first lines that grab a reader’s attention.

So let’s look at some of my recently published stories and see if I’m getting better, worse, or just treading water with my first lines. I’ll give you a link to the story if it’s free to read online, then the first line, and an excuse, er, I mean an explanation of why it’s a good or not so good.

1. “The Thing That Came With the Storm” published by The Molotov Cocktail

I’ve burned all the furniture and every scrap of paper in the house.

Pretty good. Like a lot of interesting first lines, I think it gets the reader asking questions. In this case, that question is why is he doing that? That’s the kind of thing that usually keeps a reader reading. Grade: B+

2. “Big Problems” published by Jersey Devil Press

Gorrus crawled on his hands and knees, squeezing through the narrow halls of his house.

Meh. This is one that gets a whole lot better when paired with the second sentence. His bedroom was the only room that could accommodate a giant’s frame because he’d knocked down the walls of the adjoining rooms. There’s an argument to be made, of course, that you should focus on the first paragraph as a hook, and this is one that probably supports that argument. Grade: C+ (B with second line)

3. “Paint Eater” published by The Arcanist

Ajay tossed the empty can of black Krylon on the ground and stepped back.

Yeah, bleh. I have a good paragraph to open this story, but this first sentence is kinda boring. The black Krylon is, I guess, mildly interesting just because you don’t read those words together very often and it tells you something about the story. Still, not awesome.  Grade: C-

4. “Far Shores and Ancient Graves” published by New Myths

Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” Grace smiled, hoping the stuffy looking British archaeologist had a sense of humor.

Not terrible (a little cliche maybe). This one gives you a little character note from the get-go, but it’s not exactly knock-your-socks-off. British archaeologist gives a hint at what the story might be about, but I’d say this one is just okay. Grade: B-

5. “Old as the Trees” published by Ellipsis Zine

Simon stood next to an ocean of waist-high weeds, their thin yellow stalks so densely packed you’d have to walk on top of them rather than through them.

I like this one. There’s some good imagery here, but it doesn’t tell you a whole lot. This is a horror story, and if I’d been able to inject something ominous into this first line it would really sing. As it is, it’s not bad, but not great. Grade: B

6. “Time Waits for One Man” published by Factor Four Magazine

Okay, so you’re immortal?” Nadine set her iPhone on the table and pressed record.

Here we go. This is a good one. I love starting a story with dialog when I can, and I think it works here. The question “Okay, so you’re immortal?” is pretty interesting, I think, and I believe most folks would want to keep reading (the whole point of a good first line). Grade: A

7. “Beyond the Block” published by Tales from the Magician’s Skull

My cell is not far from the executioner’s square, and the headsman is already at work.

Another solid first line. This one tells you a lot in a short space. You immediately know the narrator is in some kind of trouble and there’s the threat he’ll get his head chopped off. That’s pretty good. It’s not the best of the bunch, but well above average. Grade: A-


As usual, these grades are super subjective, and your mileage may vary. A lot. Ultimately, all these stories were published, and the question, as always, is did the first line help or hurt the story’s chances? This is not scientific or anything, but I will say the stories in this batch with better first lines were rejected fewer times or even sold on their first attempt. There are, of course, other factors at play. I’ve sold to a number of these markets more than once or even a lot, so the editor might give me the benefit of the doubt and read past a boring first line (bless them). Or, it’s entirely possible that some editors don’t really care about the first line and read every story start to finish and judge it in its entirety (also, bless them). Who knows? But it remains a fun little exercise. 🙂

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

A Week of Writing: 7/29/19 to 8/4/19

Another week, another bunch of words in roughly the shape of novels and stories and stuff.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Salvador Dali.

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

― Salvador Dali

It’s been said that perfection is the enemy of done (or something like that), and in my experience that is very true. I find you have to give up the pursuit of perfection at some point, and you must be able to step back and say, “good enough,” and get that story submitted or put that novel in the hands of your agent. Right now I’m steaming toward done on my novel, and though I will put it back in the hands of my agent before the end of the month, I have no illusions it will be perfect. I’ll be happy with finished, and I believe (and hope a little) that it’s good.

The Novel

As I mentioned above, I’m getting close. I started what will be the last revision pass on the book. I’ve made changes and added all the new material based on notes form first readers and my agent, and now it’s just a matter of cleaning it up and making a few more small changes. It’s time. I’ve done the work. I’ve slaved over the thing for what feels like too long, and I need to get it out in the world and find out if it’s good enough. My general feeling after reading it for what has to be the 100th time is that it is a good book. Good enough? We’ll see.

Short Stories

Not fantastic, but this is an improvement over the last couple of weeks.

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

Two submissions is a start, but I need a good 8 to 10 more by month’s end to catch up. I’ll submit one or two flash pieces this week to The Molotov Cocktail’s WildFlash contest and then at least one to The Arcanist’s monster contest. The rejection is from a pro market I’ve been trying to crack for years. This marks my 15th rejection from the market, and maybe I should I give up, but I’ve cracked markets after a dozen rejections, so why not fifteen? 🙂

The Blog

Just the one blog post last week. I promised I’ll have some a bit meatier than a writing update this week.

7/31/19: A Week of Writing: 7/22/19 to 7/28/19

The usual weekly writing update.

Goals

I’ve been making good progress on this last revision on the novel, and my primary goal is just to keep pushing on that. Short story submissions will also happen.

Publications

I’m a little late with this, but I did have another story published with The Molotov Cocktail. The story is called “The Thing That Came With the Storm.” You can read it for free by clicking the link below. (God, I love Molotov’s issue covers.)

“The Thing That Came With the Storm”


That was my week. How was yours?

Submission Statement: May/June 2019

Playing catch-up again. Here are my submission endeavors for May and June.

May/June 2019 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 11
  • Rejections: 12
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 0
  • Submission Withdrawal: 1

May was fairly productive with 7 submissions, but I stumbled in June and only managed 4 more. A few of the rejections were from stories submitted prior to May and June, but most were for those sent out in that two-month period. I withdrew one story and sent it out again last week.

Rejections

Twelve rejections for April.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 2
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 5
  • Personal Rejections: 5

Lots of personal rejections lately and a few of those were shortlisted rejections, and number of them had similar feedback. I have some stories that seem to be falling between the genre cracks, and I’m essentially getting “not horror enough” rejections from horror markets and “not fantasy enough” rejections from fantasy markets. I’m not one-hundred percent sure what to do about that except try and find markets looking for broadly speculative submissions. I think I may have found a few, and I did resubmit these stories there, so we’ll see what happens.

Spotlight Rejection

This is a shortlist rejection, and it’s one that highlights many of the things I talk about on this blog.

Thank you for your patience. This submissions period was perhaps the most competitive I’ve ever had here at [publisher], and my final decisions were extremely gut-wrenching. With my current production schedule, I’m only able to produce two stories a month, and must reluctantly turn down many stories that I would love to accept. Unfortunately, [story title] is one of these. Thank you for making my decision so difficult. I hope to read more of your work in the future.

This rejection illustrates that writing a good story, even one the publisher likes, is not a guarantee of acceptance. You’re often up against a lot of competition for just a few spots (two in this case), which, as this publishers says, forces them to make tough decisions. Sure, these shortlist rejections can be disappointing, but, like always, it’s important to keep things in perspective, never take a rejection personally, and look for the silver lining. If a story is getting shortlisted, that means it has potential, and you should definitely keep submitting it. Also, I think it goes without saying that a shortlist rejection means the publisher likes your writing, and you should believe them when they say something like “I hope to read more of your work in the future.” I’ll send this story out again soon, and I’ll definitely send this publisher another piece during their next submission window.

Acceptances

One flash fiction acceptance that I’ll announce soon. It’s with a new market for me, so that’s always good. That brings me to 7 acceptances for the year, which is a bit behind my total from last year at this point. Hopefully, July will be a more successful month in that department.


And that was May and June. Tell me about your month(s).

My Most-Rejected Story (24 & Counting)

One of my favorite things to talk about on this blog is my most-rejected story. It’s a battered and beleaguered urban fantasy tale that has endured more close-but-no-cigars, shortlists, market closures, and of course plain old form rejections than any other story I’ve ever written or submitted. Of course, it may be time to take the hint and trunk or self-publish the piece, but before we get into that, here’s the story’s report card.

  • Submissions: 27
  • Rejections: 24
  • Withdrawals: 3
  • Personal Rejections: 8
  • Short Lists: 3
  • First Submission: 9/20/14 (rejected 9/25/14)
  • Last Submission: 3/4/19 (rejected 4/1/19)

So, yeah, this story has been around the block a time or two or, you know, twenty-seven. It’s piled up the rejections, but what’s kept me going is the fact it keeps getting good feedback and the occasional shortlist. It’s also seen a bit of bad luck. Two of the withdrawals came about because the market in question closed down. One of those markets had the story shortlisted at the time.

It may be I’m blind to the story’s faults at this point or just stubborn about them. I have listened to the feedback I’ve received, though, and said feedback comes in two stages: prior to a substantial rewrite and after. Much of the feedback before the rewrite mentions how the story feels like a prelude to something longer. I took that to heart and expanded the tale, adding a bit more world-building and character background. The second stage of feedback is the more general close-but-no-cigar stuff. Basically, praise for the story (especially the overall concept), but still a no.

I think the rewrite improved the piece, but obviously not enough to get it accepted. For score-keeping purposes, four of the personal rejections and two short lists came before the rewrite and four personal rejections and one short list came after. So, pretty even there.

The real problem here is this story has gone to twenty-seven different markets, and I’m running out of places to send it. Now, I wait for fledgling fantasy markets or anthologies to pop up on Duotrope before I send the story out again.

Back to the original premise of this post. Should I trunk, self-publish, or stick to my guns and keep firing the story out there? Let’s look closer at those options.

  • Trunk/Rewrite: Some of the feedback I’ve received indicated I might have a good idea in the wrong story. Or a good idea that needs more than a short story to tell properly. So maybe not a trunk story but one that needs to be something much longer, like a novelette.
  • Self-Publish: Now that I have a good venue to pursue self-publishing (Curious Fictions) this option is more attractive. In fact, I could do something like I outlined under the trunk option, turn this into a longer piece, and serialize it. That could be fun.
  • Keep Submitting: I’m sure some of you are shaking your head that I would even consider this after twenty-four rejections. I hear you. I really do. Buuuuuut, I know authors who have placed a story after this many rejections and more, and I personally placed one after sixteen rejections. That’s anecdotal, sure, but it does give me hope, and, hey, one-third of the rejections on this story were of the personal variety and had nice things to say about the piece.

Ultimately, I’m still on the fence about this story. Though, if pressed, I’d say I’m leaning toward a combo of rewrite and self-publish.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.