Back in late 2017, I suffered the longest rejection streak of my writing career. If you’re interested, I covered that streak in a post titled Swings & Misses II: The Rejection Streak. Well, friends, I am currently working on the second-longest rejection streak in my career, though in terms of actual duration, this one tops the charts. I thought it might be interesting to look at these two periods of, uh, unsuccess, and see if there are any similarities, any differences, and, well, anything that might give me a clue as to why I’m not seeing the ball very well (to use baseball parlance). First, lets take a look at the raw numbers for each period.
|Duration||12/9/17 to 2/18/18||12/27/20 to 3/12/21|
As you can see, there are quite a few similarities between the two streaks. They both occurred at almost the exact same part off the year, lasted roughly the same amount of time (though my current streak is ongoing), and included about the same number of stories. The ratio of flash to short stories is similar as are the types of markets I was submitting to. These numbers are interesting, but do they tell the story of why I’m missing more than hitting? I have some thoughts.
I will say that this current slump doesn’t have me quite as dejected as the last one. Back in 2017 I started to believe I’d never sell a story again, but then I went on to sell something like 50 stories over the next three years. I know I will break this current streak, just like I broke the last one. I have enough faith in my writing now that I am certain there is light at the end of this tunnel, even if I can’t quite see it yet.
Have you ever had a lengthy rejection streak? Feel free to share and commiserate in the comments.
(Fun fact: The 18th rejection in my current streak arrived between the writing and posting of this article.)
A couple more weeks of writing come and gone. Check it out.
This week’s quote comes from Joseph Heller.
“Every writer I know has trouble writing.”
~ Joseph Heller
I feel this one in my soul. Writing is rarely easy for me. I struggle to get started, I struggle to keep going, and I struggle to finish. I actually accomplish these things by gritting my teeth, steadfastly ignoring the demons of doubt and fear, and just getting on with it by sheer force of will. Maybe it’s not this way for some authors, but I’m with Joseph Heller. This shit is hard, and though it does get easier to some extent the more I do it, it has yet to get easy. But, you know, maybe it shouldn’t be easy. Maybe the struggle, and more importantly, overcoming that struggle, is how you produce your best work. There does seem to be a correlation between how hard a piece is for me to write and how good it is (or how quickly I sell it). So maybe I need to embrace the trouble and come to terms with the idea that it just means I’m on the right writerly path.
Making excellent progress on Late Risers, and I’m nearly finished with revisions (like 95%). I’m also working on the synopsis, my author CV, and a few other things I need to start shopping it around. I received a third set of critique partner notes on my other novel Hell to Play, and with the other two sets, I now have a clear course charted on how to take the book to the next level. I hope to get Late Risers out the door this month, and then dive into Hell to Play in April.
A few more submissions in the last couple of weeks. Not too bad.
Three submissions in the last two weeks, which puts me at eighteen total for the year. More or less on track for one-hundred. I basically need an average of two per week, which, so far, I’m doing. Other than a couple of subs, I did have a story get shortlisted at a pro market I’ve been trying to crack for years. I’ve been shortlisted there before, though, so I’m not gonna get my hopes up too high. Only one rejection in the last couple of weeks and still no acceptances for 2021. This is a weird business. You can go gangbusters for months and then just run into a dry spell that’ll suck the confidence and motivation right out of you. The only thing you can do is keep writing, keep submitting, and keep trusting in your work.
I did make substantial progress last week on a new short story, which I should finish this week. That’ll give me more submission grist for the rejection mill. 🙂
We’re getting closer to the release of my first collection of flash fiction Night Walk and Other Dark paths. Last week we interviewed Valerie Herron, the artist responsible for the excellent cover and interior art for the anthology. We asked Valerie about her work, her influences, and how she got to be such a badass artist. You can check out her interview by clicking the full jacket art for Night Walk below.
Still working toward finishing the revision of Late Risers (I’m nearly there). Gonna try and finish the short story I worked on last week and maybe get a couple of submissions out.
And those were my weeks. How were yours?
Another month come and gone. Here’s how I did.
February was, well, not spectacular. I would have liked more submissions, fewer rejections, and, you know, maybe an acceptance. None of that was to be, unfortunately. The five submissions for the month give me sixteen for the year, and I sent one out this morning for seventeen. So I’m still on pace for one-hundred subs. No acceptances yet, which is a little disconcerting, though 2020 started off slow too, and it definitely picked up. I just need to be patient. The acceptances will come. (Oh, god, PLEASE the acceptances come.)
Six rejections this month.
Six more rejection in February, all of the form variety. Not much to report there, honestly; they were all pretty run of the mill. One of the upper-tier rejections was from a pro market I’d never submitted to previously, so that’s mildly encouraging. I’ll definitely sub there again.
The only publication I had in February (which I didn’t tally above) is my monthly Rejectomancy article at Dark Matter Magazine. Also, my story “The Past, History” was published in their second issue, which came out today. I’ll count that one officially in the March tally. In the meantime, you can check out my article on submission wait times by clicking the link below.
And that was my month. Hopefully, yours was better. 🙂
Another week of writing, submitting, revising, the works.
This week we return to the bottomless well of writerly wisdom that is Elmore Leonard.
“All the information you need can be given in dialogue.”
If you’re not particularly adept at describing people, places, and things and you don’t want to commit the sin of dropping massive chunks of exposition on your readers, well, then dialogue might be your best friend. My work is often dialogue heavy–it’s the first thing I hear when a story starts to take shape in my head–and I often use it to shore up some of my writerly weaknesses. Like Mr. Leonard says, you can give a lot of information in dialogue, and if you do it right, it doesn’t feel like you’re hitting folks over the head with the ol’ exposition hammer. My characters often move the story along by talking to each other, and the pacing of my longer works is dictated by dialogue. Of course, I can get a little self indulgent at times and write chapters that feel like two people nattering away without much purpose. That’s usually a sign that the chapter needs to be written in a manner I’m not comfortable with (those writerly weaknesses I mentioned) or that I just need to cut the whole thing. In my current novel revisions, I’ve done a bit of both.
Had a good week with revisions, and I made it through some 120 pages of Late Risers, tightening the prose and cutting a fair bit of material to improve pacing. There’s still more to do, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. My goal is to be finished with this revision by March 2nd, then start shopping the book soon thereafter. Then I’ll move on to an interim project–a novella I’ve been wanting to write. After that, it’s back to revision land with my other novel Hell to Play.
Not exactly killing it with submissions in February
Only a single submission for the second week in a row. No rejections is nice, but I should hear back on some of my pending submissions soon, and there’s bound to some no’s and not for us’s in there. I’m sitting at fifteen for the year, which is still on pace for 100 submissions, though I should get three more out by the end of the month if I want to start March on the right foot. The lack of submissions is largely due a lack of new stories, compounded by the fact that I’m spending a lot of my writing time on other projects. That’s not a bad thing, but it does have consequences. Once Late Risers is finished, I expect my submission pace to pick up.
In case you missed it or don’t follow me on social media, The Molotov Cocktail is publishing my first collection of flash fiction this spring, titled Night Walk. Recently, Josh Goller, the publisher at The Molotov Cocktail, interviewed me about the collection, my take on flash fiction, my writing process, and a bunch of other writerly musings. You can read the interview by clicking this link or the cover for Night Walk below.
The big goal is to finish the revision of Late Risers this week. If I get a couple of submissions out too, great, but the book will be my focus.
And that was my week. How was yours?
A little late, but here’s one more week of authorly activities.
This week it’s one of my favorite Hemingway quotes.
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
~ Ernest Hemingway
I don’t think there’s ever been a point in my writing career where I wasn’t keenly aware that I needed to get better and also striving to do just that. I believe in order to really get good at this whole writing thing, you have to embrace the fact that there’s no end point, no place where you can stop and say, okay, good enough. Yes, you may get to a point where you’re selling books and making a living and all those other dream scenarios, but I think that constant drive to improve, to make the next story or book just a little bit better is what makes for a “good” writer. I am still very much a work in progress, an apprentice in every sense of the word, and as Hemingway says, I will likely never become a master. That’s fine. Right now I’m setting my sights on accomplished journeyman. 🙂
Made very good progress on the final revision of Late Risers last week, and I’m just about halfway through. A lot of what I’m doing is just tightening things up, but my critique partners suggested a few revisions that are more involved. Almost all of them are focused on improving the pacing in the middle of the novel, where the book gets bogged down with conversation and planning. A fair bit of that can be condensed, and I’ve already removed one entire chapter to speed thing sup. When I started revision, the book was at about 105,000 words. I think it’s gonna end up around 95,000, maybe a tad less when it’s all said and done. Anyway, getting there, and I think I’ll have a novel that’s ready to shop around by early March.
Pretty slow week submission-wise.
Just one submission last week along with one rejection. In other words, not much going on. I’m sitting on fourteen submissions for the year, which still puts me on track for my goal of one-hundred subs. I need to get a few more out this month, but that shouldn’t be difficult. I’m still hunting for that first acceptance of 2021, and I hope it’ll come this month. If not, I just have to keep writing, keep submitting, and cross my fingers.
If you haven’t heard, The Molotov Cocktail is publishing my first collection of flash fiction this spring. The collection, titled Night Walk and Other Dark Paths, contains forty pieces of my best flash fiction. We were lucky enough to get artist Valerie Herron to create an original piece for the cover, which you can check out below. More details on how the collection came together, plus interviews, and other sneak peeks are on the way.
Keep plowing ahead on the revision of Late Risers and keep writing and submitting short stories. You know, the usual?
And that was my week. How was yours?
Writing a novel is a process of many individual steps, but all those steps generally fall under two very broad stages: drafting and revising. Just about every author I know prefers one or the other, and I thought I’d share a little about my preference and the challenges I face with the other side.
Well, I prefer drafting by a fucking mile. Like, it’s not even close. I’d rather write the first draft of ten novels than revise one. But why is that? Let me see if I can explain. It’s important to note that everything I’m about to say is how drafting and revising are for ME. It’s different for other writers, but some of you might relate to my challenges and maybe get some ideas from my solutions. Okay, let’s dive in.
How can I turn the revision process into a more positive experience? How can I take it from something that is a painful (though necessary) chore to something I might actually derive satisfaction from? I have some ideas.
I have actually started to institute the first solution, and on my next novel, I’m going to try the second. I don’t think I’m ever going to love revision, but these two fixes might make the process more tolerable and therefore faster.
To close this out, I’ll ask a question I’ve been thinking about for awhile. As I mentioned, I’m a plotter. I outline everything, and it helps keep me on track. Revision feels like pantsing, which is a wholly unnatural state for me, and it creates quite a bit of anxiety. So, in general, do plotters have more trouble with revisions while pantsers struggle with first drafts? I honestly don’t know, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments.
Missed a week, but I’m back with a double dose of writerly doings.
This week’s quote comes from author Joyce Carol Oates.
“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”
—Joyce Carol Oates
I think I may have used this quote before, but it’s still a good one, and recently I’ve found it to be an absolute truism in my work. Now, sure, when I start writing a novel or story there IS a first sentence, but I’ve found nothing is more likely to change in subsequent drafts than the beginning. Be it a novel or a microfiction I dashed off in five minutes, the beginning almost always needs work. I think a lot of that is because the act of writing is an act of discovery. No matter how thorough my outline, no matter how much I think I know about the story, by the time I get to the end, I’ve learned all kinds of new things about the plot, the characters, the theme, you name it. So, when I go back and look at that first chapter or first paragraph or whatever, invariably where I started is not where I ended up.
Well, as I hinted at a few weeks ago, a certain situation that was hurting my productivity on my novels is now resolved, and I’m moving full steam ahead on revisions. I’m going over the notes from my critique partners, and I’ve started revising Late Risers with a goal of a final draft by the end of the month. The next revision of Hell to Play will begin after that. I’m feeling pretty positive about both books, and I’m already thinking about my next big project
I’ve been fairly active with submission over the last couple of weeks.
Four more submission gives me a total of thirteen for the year, though I did send a fourteenth this morning. My submission pace is right on target for one hundred submissions for the year. I am still hunting for that first acceptance of 2021, however, and, well, the rejections are rolling in. This kind of thing happens, and I’ve had much longer rejections streaks than the oh-for-thirteen I’m currently on. It’s certainly not time to panic, but if I don’t have at least one acceptance by the end of the month, THEN I’ll panic. 🙂
If you follow me on social media, you likely saw the announcement that The Molotov Cocktail is publishing a collection of my flash fiction titled Night Walk and other Dark Paths. Needless to say, I’m pretty damn excited about it. The collection will release in the spring of this year, but until then, there’ll be all kinds of previews here on social media, including interviews, a sample story, and some sneak peeks at the gorgeous cover and interior art by artist Valerie Herron. In the meantime, here’s the official announcement (with some of that aforementioned gorgeous art) and a peek at the table of contents.
As usual, my focus is on getting more submissions out, continuing to revise the novel(s), and, now, promoting my upcoming flash fiction anthology. 🙂
And that was my week. How was yours?
I often encounter a general sense among authors that magazine editors are waiting to pounce on them if they make a mistake or need to ask for an appropriate allowance in the submission process. The belief is that an error or request will result in a scathing rebuke and maybe even inclusion on the dreaded “do not publish” list. In my experience, this simply isn’t true. The editors I’ve had the pleasure of communicating and working with have been polite, professional, and understanding. Most of them are or have been writers too, and are quite familiar with the rigors of the submission process from the author’s side of the fence.
Let me see if I can illustrate how accommodating an editor can be with a little tale and timeline of a story submission I made back in 2015. This timeline will also give you a good idea of when and how I send submission status queries and withdrawal letters.
Just a quick note, I have removed parts of the publisher responses below because they contain unimportant details or they might help identify the publisher. The latter isn’t too much of a concern since, sadly, the publisher folded some time ago, but that’s how I do things on the blog.
Over five years ago, I had a little horror flash piece I was quite proud of, so I took a chance and fired it off to a pro markets dealing specifically with horror flash fiction. Here’s my cover letter.
Dear Fiction Editors,
Please consider my short story [Story Title] for publication at [publication]. The story is approximately 1,000 words in length.
Bio: I currently work as the acquisitions editor for Skull Island eXpeditions, a fiction imprint of Privateer Press, Inc. My short fiction has recently been published by Allegory, Devilfish Review, and The Molotov Cocktail.
Thank you for your time.
What you see here is an ancient version of my cover letter. The one I use now is pretty much the same, and the only real change is the bio ( I’d actually left Privateer Press on June 1st of this year, but I’d forgotten to update my bio). Since this was a Submittable submission I received the following acknowledgement the same day.
Thank you for sending your submission to [publisher].
You can review your submission online by going here: [Submittable link]
I settled in to wait, knowing it might be a while. I believe the market had a 120-day average response time.
After six months had passed without any response, I sent a submission status query.
Dear Fiction Editors,
I am writing to inquire about the status of my short story [story title] submitted to [publisher] on 6/20/15.
Six months is plenty long to wait for a response, and there’s nothing wrong with firing off a status query if you’ve exceeded both the stated and the expected wait times (and the publisher guidelines do not prohibit it). So that’s what I did.
I waited for a response to my query for over three weeks, and then I sent a withdrawal letter.
I have not received a response to my query sent 12/21/15 regarding the status of my submission [story title]. At this time, I would like to withdraw the story from consideration at [publisher].
At this point I’d ben waiting for seven months, well beyond the response time for the market, so I just chalked this up to a) the submission was lost through a glitch in Submittable or b) the publisher had essentially issued a no-response rejection. I figured it was the former because I’d received a rejection from this publisher before. Little did I know there was a third option.
I should note I do not use this withdrawal letter any longer. The template I use now is better worded, I think. Looking back, this one feels too confrontational, which is not my intention.
Exactly one week after my withdrawal letter, the publisher sent me this notification.
Just a quick update to let you know that your story has made it to the final round of reviews for publication in [publisher] magazine and anthology series.
Thanks for your patience!
Whoops! As you can see, I was in kind of a pickle. To be clear, I don’t think I did anything wrong by sending a status query and withdrawal letter, but I really wanted my story to remain under consideration. What to do, huh?
On the same day the editor sent me the shortlist letter, I responded with the following email. I agonized over what to say, but, in the end, I figured I had nothing to lose by just being completely honest about the situation.
I recently withdrew this story after sending a status query letter. I have not submitted the story elsewhere, and in light of the recent note you sent regarding the story making it to the final round of reviews, I would, of course, like to keep it under consideration at [publisher]. However, since the story’s status is now withdrawn, I understand if that’s not possible.
Thank you for your consideration.
I would have completely understood if the publisher decided to let my story go. I did withdraw it after all, and I was essentially asking him to do more work on my behalf.
Thankfully, the editor did not leave me hanging after sending my un-withdrawal letter and responded with the following short email.
Ok, I’ve added it back into the final round of reviews. Thanks!
Whew! It was quite magnanimous (and much appreciated) for the editor to put my story back on the shortlist. Maybe he did it because he liked the story that much, or maybe, like most editors, he’s just an understanding human being. Either way, I was more than a little relieved.
A few months after the editor put my story back on the shortlist, I received this letter.
Thanks for sending [story title] to [publisher]. I have finished my review and have decided to accept it and offer you a contract. Please look for a contract to be issued through Docusign shortly.
If you have any questions, please let me know.
Needless to say, this was not the response I expected after withdrawing my withdrawal. I was quite pleased for the acceptance and that my persistence paid off.
The takeaway to my little tale is that polite, professional, and appropriate communication with an editor should never hurt your chances at future publication. So if you make a mistake or need to ask an editor to make an allowance for you, like I did, be honest and transparent and things will more than likely work out.
The first month of the new year is in the books. Here are all my submissions, rejections, and other writerly doings for January 2021
January was a good month for submissions, and eleven gets me off to a great start toward my goal of one-hundred for the year. The bad news is I got skunked, acceptance-wise, for the first time in twelve months. Yep, my acceptance streak is over. I think a combination of some slower responses and a dearth of new material contributed to me taking the L last month. Of course, the usual reasons also apply. Things like editorial taste and bad timing are ever-present. Hopefully, February will be better, though I still need to write more new material if I really want to get back on track.
Seven rejections this month.
I actually thought I received fewer rejections in January, but, uh, nope. Seven isn’t a ton, but it’s more than I’d like without an acceptance to dull the pain. 🙂 Anyway, most of these rejections were standard form NOs, though I did get a couple of personal rejections. One of them was quite informative, as the editor let me know the rejection was largely a matter of taste (the story was a little too pessimistic for them). That’s incredibly useful information, as it lets me dial in future submissions to the same market. In fact, I’ve already sent them another story that’s more positive and uplifting in tone. We’ll see if it fares better.
I did have one publication in January. My story “The Night, Forever, and Us” was published at Love Letters to Poe. They’re a publisher of gothic horror, and though it’s not a subgenre I write in much, I did manage one a few years ago that fit the bill. You can read that story by clicking the link below.
And that was my January. How was your month?