A few years ago, I posted the rejections I’d received from a pro market I’d been trying to crack from some time. The point of that post was to illustrate that rejections often indicate if you’re making progress with an editor/publisher and getting closer to an acceptance. This formula, in my experience, works best with the bigger pro markets, who tend to have tiers of rejection letters. Anyway, I recently received a rejection from another pro market that I believe shows I’m getting closer. To demonstrate what I mean, let’s look at two older rejections from this market and then the latest one to see what can be learned.
Thanks for submitting [story], but I’m going to pass on it. It didn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way.
Analysis: This is a basic form letter. I’ve received a handful of these over the years, and the phrase “it didn’t quite work for me” is a pretty good indicator that this is the standard form rejection. No complaints here. This is perfectly polite and to-the-point rejection, which is what I prefer. I’m able to guess this is a basic form letter because it serves as the template for the other letters, which change slightly as I get closer to what the editor is looking for.
Thank you for submitting [story] to [publisher], but I am going to pass on it. The body horror is nice, but overall it didn’t quite work for me. Best of luck placing this elsewhere, and thanks so much for sending it my way.
Analysis: You’ll notice a couple changes in this letter over the basic form rejection. One, the phrase “I am going to pass on it” is used instead of “it didn’t quite work for me.” I’ll admit to a little rejectomancy there, as different editors might use different basic phrases like this or the same editor decides to change things up. The big difference here is the short personal note. The editor points out what they liked about the story, which is crucially important information and informed my next submission.
Thanks for submitting [story], but I’m going to pass on it. We had a good time reading it, but it’s not quite the right fit for me right now. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way. I look forward to seeing your next submission!
Analysis: Again, the same basic template, but now we have a personal note, the phrase “not quite the right fir for me right now”, and a comment about my next submission (a first). This rejection also took quite a bit longer to show up than the others. At this point, I’m a full-on rejectomantic haruspex , but the changes in rejection letters, albeit small, I think tell me I’m getting closer. Also, I remembered the comment from the second rejection, and this story I submitted here was also a body horror piece. I learned two things with this rejection. One, the story I submitted probably has legs, and I’m going to send it out again right away. Two, I’m getting closer. How close? I simply don’t know, but it feels like progress.
In summation, take note of the rejections you receive when you’re trying to crack a big market. Often times, small changes in the letter can tell you if you’re getting closer, sending the right kind of story, or a bit of both.
Thoughts on this rejection progression? Tell me about it in the comments.
I’ve touched on this before, but recent good news has me thinking about it again. There’s a sense in the genre-writing community that it’s exceedingly difficult to sell stories that feature classic monsters. I’m talking mostly about the big three: vampires, zombies, and werewolves. I’d have to say that in my experience this is largely true, and it’s not uncommon to find markets that expressly forbid submissions that feature these well-worn horrors or actively discourage it in their guidelines. Now, I’m not here to say those markets are wrong, but having recently sold works that feature the big three, I’m here to tell you it’s possible, but you gotta think outside the box.
First, let’s discuss the primary reason why markets forbid or discourage submission that feature the big three. Simply put, stories revolving around these monsters tend to be, well, pretty similar. Every publisher has seen a scads of vampire romances, zombie apocalypses, and rampaging werewolves that, while maybe well written, don’t stand out from the crowd. They don’t want to see MORE Dracula or The Walking Dead or An American Werewolf In London. Now, I’ll admit, I always find it odd that werewolves are forbidden. This is simply because lycanthropes don’t saturate popular media like zombies and vampires. I mean, you can count the number of truly good werewolf movies on one hand. Still, if a publisher forbids or discourages it, it’s likely they’ve seen too much of it.
If you’re like me, and you LOVE these classic monsters, how do you go about getting stories featuring them published? My method is a fairly simply thought exercise. I pick some fairly normal thing and then ask myself what if a vampire/werewolf/zombie was involved? So instead of writing the typical story featuring these monsters, I’ll do something like what if DoorDash delivered to vampires? Or maybe what if a werewolf was a contractor that handled other monster’s construction issues. Or what if Vikings tried to raid a village infected with a zombie plague? In other words, you put the monster in an admittedly bizarre situation, and that keeps you from traveling down that well-worn path.
How well has this method worked for me? I’ve published seven vampire stories, seven zombie stories, and two werewolf stories. All but one of these was at a semi-pro or pro rate. The most gratifying thing about publishing these classic monster stories is when you manage to crack a market with one and you get responses in the acceptance letters or reader comments that look like this.
Keep in mind there’s a hard truth in these comments, even though they represent a sale or a positive reader experience. Readers and editors are often predisposed to being wary of vampire, zombie, and werewolf stories, mostly for the reasons I stated above. That means you are often placing an additional hurdle in your way to getting published. Still, if you can surprise an editor with your story by making it unique or different enough than the bog standard classic monster stories, you stand a good chance. Also, it should go without saying that you should NOT send stories about vampire, zombies, and werewolves to markets that forbid it in their guidelines. That’s a recipe for an auto-reject and an irritated editor.
If you’d like to see some of the stories I’ve published with the big three, here are some links to stories you can read or listen to for free. My werewolf stories have been published in venues that are not free to read, but I’ve got a couple in the works that hopefully will be soon.
One other thing I think is interesting to discuss is that the big three are generally the only classic monsters you see in do-not-send lists. You won’t often find ghosts, demons, or mummies forbidden or discouraged. The first two are likely because of the vast variety of myths, legends, and traditions that surround them, so there are lots of ways to be creative. That said, a run-of-the-mill haunted house or demon possession story is unlikely to see publication. Why no one writes about mummies is, frankly, surprising. Talk about a monster rich in lore form many different cultures, from the commonly known Egyptian variety to the bog mummies found throughout Europe. Like all the other classic monsters, mummies can benefit from the what if method. I’ve been working on one that is essentially what if a modern mummy’s car was actually his portable sarcophagus. We’ll see where that goes. 🙂
You might be thinking, hey, what about the gill-man, aka, The Creature from the Black Lagoon? I say go for it. I’ve published one, and I’ll bet you can too.
Thoughts on publishing stories about the big three and other classic monsters? Tell me about it in the comments.
A common topic in writerly circles is whether or not authors should read bad reviews of their work on Amazon, Goodreads, and elsewhere. Just for clarification, when I say bad review, I mean a one- or -two-star review, though I know some might consider three stars to be “bad” as well. I’ve seen compelling arguments for both sides of the debate, and I have my own opinions (a subject for another time). In this post, however, I want to focus not just on bad reviews but REALLY bad reviews. The one-star reviews. It may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but in my experience, the bottom of the review barrel is a category all its own.
My experience reveals one-star reviews come in six broad types. Let’s have a look at each and then discuss what, if anything, an author can learn from them.
1) Nothing to do with the book. These are the classic the book was damaged “reviews” that have absolutely nothing to do with the author or the content of the work. They are universally loathed and for good reason.
What can we learn? Bubkis. It’s unfair to ding an author (and that IS what’s happening) because Amazon lost a package or the book has a damaged cover or whatever. There are ways of letting Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or whoever know without sticking the author with a one-star review. That review sure as shit won’t motivate the bookseller to do anything.
2) Axe to Grind. In these reviews, the reader is not reviewing the book. They’re reviewing the author in what is usually a thinly disguised personal attack. Often times, these reviews come from someone who hasn’t even read the book, a fact sometimes brazenly mentioned in the review.
What can we learn? Nothing, and since these reviews are generally abusive, I don’t think there’s any reason to subject yourself to them. That said, there may be some value in identifying such abusers, warning other authors, and reporting them to retailers.
3) Weirdly specific. The reviewer hyper-focuses on a detail most people might not even notice. Often, they’ll even have good things to say about the book overall, but this one thing causes them to leave a one-star review. I’ve seen issues ranging from objections to a character’s name to the problems with title of the book itself. Oddly, as I said, many of these reviews praise other parts of the book. For example, I received a one-star review years ago where the reviewer praised my writing, said the descriptions were fantastic, and then proceeded to give the book one star because they didn’t like the core premise (the villain wins).
What can we learn? Well, we can learn that a particular reader doesn’t like a particular thing. Is that useful? Not really. If you wrote a book about robots, and one ninety-nine people reviewed it, saying, “We love robots! More robots!” and one person was like, “Robots suck”, I wouldn’t pay attention to the one out of a hundred.
4) Why did you buy this? These reviews always surprise me. It’s the folks who buy erotica and complain about the sex or buy horror and complain it was scary. Often times, these reviews start with “I don’t like [genre]”, which of course leads you to wonder why they bought the book in the first place. I also see these reviews left for authors known in one genre who experiment in another. I mean, how DARE an author expand their writerly horizons.
What can we learn? Probably nothing, but read on. These are similar to the weirdly specific review. They’re often from people who are not your audience, so if you’re a horror writer, changing your style to please people who don’t like horror is absurd. That said, if you’re getting these a lot (and especially not just in one-star reviews), you might look at the sell text, cover image, and even the genre your book falls under with Amazon and other retailers. Is it misleading in any way? If so, an adjustment is in order.
5) Truly Hated it. Sometimes a book is just an absolute mismatch in style, voice, pacing, whatever for a particular reader. They really don’t like the book for legitimate reasons (for them). They’ll give the book a one-star review because they loathed the writing and story that much. Sometimes it’ll be an issue with the POV. For example, some folks absolutely hate first person (and I think that goes beyond weirdly specific). I find these types of one-star reviews to be pretty rare, but they’re out there.
What can we learn? These tend to be outliers. So, for example, if your book is consistently getting four and five stars, that single one-star review, even if given in good faith (though one-star reviews are always kinda suspect on that account) probably isn’t worth your time. The fact of the matter is this person is not your audience, why change what you’re doing if most folks are enjoying it to please one person? Answer: you shouldn’t.
6) Not ready for primetime. Self-publishing is a completely viable and legitimate form of publishing, and there are some supremely talented and experienced self-published authors putting out well-crafted fiction. These authors are also, for the most part, having their books professionally edited and taking care with cover design, trade dress, and so on. They are, in a word, professionals. On the other hand, there are folks publishing novels and whatnot who are simply not ready to do so. These books sometimes receive one-star reviews that reflect the author’s inexperience. They sort of fall under category five but focus on things that are more objectively wrong. I’m talking about basic grammar, punctuation, story structure, and the like.
What can we learn? Well, to be blunt, if you’re getting a lot of one-star reviews that are not particularly malicious yet criticize basic writing elements, it might be time to take a hard look at your work and improve your craft before you publish again. Get a group of good critique partners together who can give you an honest opinion and then strive to incorporate these things into your work. At the very least, find someone qualified to proofread your manuscript, so grammar and punctuation are correct. If you do these things, you’ll become a better writer, and your books will look more professional.
In summation, you might be able to learn something from a bad review, but I have my doubts you can learn much from a one-star review (with a few rare exceptions). They really are a breed unto themselves, and are very rarely constructive because, at best, they’re outliers, and at worst they represent something specific about the reviewer and not the book. If you’re book is getting fours and fives on the regular, I wouldn’t even bother reading the occasional one-star review (unless you have a thick skin and you’re just doing it for the laughs). It’s just gonna bring you down.
Thoughts on one-star reviews? Did I miss any? Tell me about it in the comments.
June has come and gone, and it was one of the better months of the year for short stories.
Like May, June was not a productive month in terms of submissions sent but very productive with acceptance and other good things. One of those acceptances was from Grinning Skull Press for my baseball horror novella Effectively Wild, and that’s a big one. One of the reasons I sent fewer submissions in June is simply that I was writing more, both freelance work and another novella. I also received a further consideration notice from Apex for a new story. This is my third further consideration from them, and here’s hoping I can break through. Even if I don’t, it’s a fair indication that the story is sellable, as I sold the other two stories they held. I only received one rejection in June, which is weird, but I’ll take it. 🙂
Just one rejections in June.
Not much to report here. One standard form rejection of the most common variety.
So, one of the acceptances is for my baseball horror novella Effectively Wild, which is slated for release in the fall. Grinning Skull Press has released the cover, and I’ll share that with you below.
As always, I need your questions form my Q&A columns out at Dark Matter Magazine, so check out the guidelines, and send them to me. 🙂
Here’s how to send writing and rejection questions to me.
Got it? Then send me those questions!
And that was June. How was your month?
Way back in August of last year, I was joking with my wife about writing a baseball monster story featuring a certain type of monster. I offered the title Effectively Wild as a haha-isn’t-that-funny and got the appropriate eyeroll. Well, friends, that slightly silly idea began to take shape in the ol’ brain meats, and it wasn’t long before I had outlined a novella. Now, I love baseball, and I love monsters, so once I got started on this thing, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It wasn’t even the first time I’d done the monster baseball thing. Back in 2016, I published a story with Pseudopod called “Night Games”, which you can check out here.
Anyway, I finished a first draft of Effectively Wild, ran it through two excellent critique partners who pronounced it good, and then started submitting it. I knew it was gonna be a tough sell. For one, it’s more supernatural thriller than straight up horror, so that was strike one. Two, it features baseball, and, well, some folks are really not into sports, so strike two. Finally, there aren’t many short fiction markets that publish novella-length work. Strike three. I did try one short fiction market and received the simple form rejection I knew was coming. That led me to believe that independent book publishers interested in novellas would be a much better bet. So I went that route, and after two more rejections, I sent the novella to Grinning Skull Press. To my very pleasant surprise, I received an acceptance about six months later.
This will be the longest piece of fiction I’ve published outside of media tie-in (where I’ve published multiple novels), so this is an exciting development for me. Working with the staff at Grinning Skull has been a real delight, and a few days ago, the previewed the cover of Effectively Wild, which you can see below along with a short synopsis of the story (that’s spoiler free). I couldn’t be happier with the old-school 80s vibe of this thing. Check it out.
Martin Wagner, an aging catcher in the San Francisco Giants farm system, is offered a new assignment—take a promising young pitcher under his wing and show him the ropes. Martin’s manager is cagey about the new player, giving only his name, Andrei Dinescu, and his country of origin, Moldova. Despite the mysterious circumstances, Martin accepts the assignment, hoping to earn a return to the big leagues.
After his first bullpen session with the strange new pitcher, Martin is shocked by Andrei’s lack of physical ability and his unfamiliarity with the game of baseball. However, with each passing week, Andrei’s strength and skill grow exponentially, and his miraculous leaps in both ability and velocity begin to frighten Martin. This fear is compounded by the organization’s obvious attempts to keep Andrei separated from the rest of the team.
At the height of his prowess, Andrei is put into the rotation for his first start with Martin behind the plate. Before the game, the manager offers a devil’s bargain, and the source of Andrei Dinescu’s bizarre abilities becomes horrifically clear. Martin is faced with a desperate choice: walk away from baseball and everything he has known or deal with the monster on the mound and earn his way back to the majors.
This is just the cover reveal. The exact release date has yet to be determined, but it will be sometime in the Fall. Preorders are the next step, and I’ll post links to those as soon as I’m able.
Hopefully, there will be more monster/baseball mashups. I’ve got ideas for a bunch of them all loosely connected to Effectively Wild. I’ve even been tinkering with one tentatively titled Deep Count. 🙂
I recently received a further consideration/hold letter from an excellent pro market. This is my third story to make it through a first reader and be recommended to one of the editors for further review. Now, it can be hard to quantify exactly what it means when you get over that first hurdle. There a lot of questions you might ask. How many total submissions does the publication receive? How many stories make through the first round? And, finally, of those stories, how many end up accepted? Usually, all you can do is guess at those answers, but the editors at Apex Magazine recently gave us some hard numbers and shed some light on the situation.
I’ll link the Twitter thread here, but here’s the basic math.
According to the Apex editors, they received roughly 5,000 submissions through mid-May of this year, about 1,000 subs per month. Of those 5,000, around 100 were recommended to the editors (made it past the first reader). That’s around 2% of the total submissions received. Of those stories that made it through the first round, six stories were accepted for publication. That’s 6% of stories recommended to the editor and 0.12% of total submissions. I encourage you to read the Twitter thread, as it contains a more granular breakdown, but these are broad strokes.
I think you could expect similar numbers from other big genre markets like The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and others. These numbers do NOT mean you shouldn’t submit to these markets, but it’s good to understand the odds you’re up against, and, more importantly, what those odds mean. Let’s dive into that.
This kind of information is exceedingly helpful. So from this writer and I’m sure dozens of others, I would like to offer a sincere thank you to the editors of Apex Magazine for giving us a peek behind the curtain. It is very much appreciated.
Thoughts on these numbers and other pro markets? Tell me about it in the comments.
Submitting short stories to genre and lit magazines is a process that can be, uh, well, let’s just say discouraging. Why? Because rejections are inevitable, multiple rejections for the same story are expected, and even two or three rejections in the same day are not out of the ordinary. Most writers have a thick enough skin to withstand the fusillade of NOs, but what about when the rejections pile up and there’s not an acceptance in sight? Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that the dreaded rejection streak is also not that uncommon. I have endured three that crossed the twenty-rejection threshold. In fact, one just ended a few days ago. As I have done before with rejection streaks, I’m going to break down the latest one and see how it compares to the others. Then we’ll talk about why these streaks happen and what you can do about it.
First, data! Stat for my three rejection streaks in the table below.
|Duration||12/9/17 to 2/18/18||12/27/20 to 4/1/21||4/12/22 to 6/4/22|
The key difference in the three rejections streaks is duration. The other numbers are eerily similar. I mean, look at the unique stories line. That isn’t a mistake. Those with triskaidekaphobia would be understandably horrified. The rest of the data–number of markets, types of markets, and lengths of stories–are all pretty much the same. So what’s happening here? I’m a modestly successful short story writer with lots of publications. Why am I running afoul of these long streaks not-for-us’s? Now that I have a lot of data, some of my answers to that questions have changed, while some are evergreen and immutable. Let’s discuss.
So what’s the takeaway here? Essentially, the more you submit work, the more rejections you get, and occasionally, through bad luck and a few other factors, those rejections pile up. You honestly can’t avoid it, in my opinion. The thing to remember though, is that streaks, by their very nature, must end. You just have to be patient, try to take an objective look at your work, and see if there’s anything you can adjust. Often times, there isn’t, and it’s really about getting the right story in front of the right editor at the right time. So, hang in there, keep writing, keep submitting, and keep going.
May is in the books, and here’s how I did.
Well, as you can see, I was not particularly productive in May on the shot story front. I spent more time working on my current novel and doing freelance work. That might be because the seven rejections in May give me twenty-two in a row. I’ve hit these streaks in the past, and this one, though long, is still not my longest. I need twenty-seven to turn that trick. So, what do you do when you have two discouraging months in a row? One, you keep writing and you keep submitting. Two, you look for patterns in your stories and submissions that might illustrate the need for change in one or both. You have to be careful with that second one, though. When you hit a rough patch, the urge to change something can be strong, but it’s important to remember that what you’re doing has resulted in success in the past. Anyway, I have some new stories to submit in June, and I feel pretty good about them, so that’s where I’ll put my short story focus. All streaks, good and bad, have to end some time, right?
One anomaly this month is the single no response. It’s an interesting one because the market in question says in their guidelines that if you don’t hear back from them in 90 days, then assume they are not going to publish your story. I hit the 90-day mark and marked the story as no response, but, in truth, this is a no-response rejection. I’ll likely change it at some point, you know, after my next acceptance. 🙂
Seven rejections in May.
It sounds funny to say it, but the quality of rejections in May was much better than it was in April. Three personal rejections tell me the submitted stories are likely to find homes at some point. As I said above, the no response is probably just a rejection, so it’s eight for May rather than seven.
I did have one publication in May. The third volume of THE REJECTONOMICON, my Q&A column over at Dark Matter Magazine, went up last month. You can check it out below. As always, I need your questions, so check out the guidelines, and send them to me. 🙂
Here’s how to send writing and rejection questions to me.
Got it? Then send me those questions!
That was my May. How was yours?
Well, I am more than a little behind here, so let’s catch up. Three weeks of writerly doings all at once.
Today’s quote is from author James Lee Burke
“Every rejection is an incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.”
— James Lee Burke
Well, since I’m on a rejection streak (19 and counting), I figure a quote about rejections is appropriate. I think you have to look at rejections as accomplishments to some degree. Yeah, they’re not exactly a good time, but they show you’re working, that you’ve got the guts to send your work out there to be judged, and that, hopefully, you are willing to learn and improve. That last bit is what I think James Lee Burke is getting at. Every rejection is an opportunity to grow as a writer, even if it’s a tiny, incremental amount. I learn something with every no and not for us. Sometimes, it’s what’s wrong with a story or my work in general, and sometimes it’s don’t send this market that kind of story or even don’t send this market anything. Each rejection teaches me something, even when I’m not really in the mood to learn. 🙂
Although April was a strong submission month, I have not been very active in May.
Only three submissions in the last three weeks and three rejections to boot. That’s not great, nor is my current streak of nineteen straight rejections. I have a number of stories that need to go out, so I expect to send three or four this week. Hopefully some of those will come back with a much-needed acceptance. The rejections have been particularly disappointing of late because I thought the stories where good matches for the markets, but I missed the mark. It can be hard to keep going after so many rejections in a row, but you have to keep writing, keep submitting, and know that acceptances will come. I did have two stories published recently and the reaction to those was very good.
I may have been a little lax with my short story submissions, but I keep on trucking with this novel. I added over 12,000 words to the manuscript and broke the 50,000-word mark, which I think is about halfway. I’m writing this novel slower than usual, at about 1,000 words a day, because there’s a lot of research that needs to go into it. I’m stopping a lot to look things up, check my notes, and check my outlines. I’ve come to terms with that, and, hey, I’m still looking at a complete first draft sometime in early August. That’s totally fine. I think this novel is the best idea, concept, and characters I’ve yet created, so if I need to take it slower so I don’t fuck it up (much), then that’s what I’m gonna do.
Two publications in the last three weeks, both of which you can read for free on line. The first is a piece of crime flash called “Left is Right” published at Shotgun Honey. The other is a dark sci-fi take called “Fertilizer” in Radon Journal’s inaugural issue. Click the images below to read the stories.
Keep working on Hell’s Aquarium and send more submissions.
Those were my weeks. How were yours?