The Molotov Cocktail has just released a print anthology with stories collected from their quarterly flash contests. I’ve got a couple of pieces in the mix, and you can read my stories “Shadow Can” and “Night Walk” in real, honest-to-god dead tree format by clicking on the big fat image below. There’s a whole bunch of stories by super talented authors in this thing, so if you like horror and flash fiction, go forth noble consumer and get yourself a copy.
This time around on Ranks of the Rejected, I spoke with writer, game designer, and game developer Robert J. Schwalb. I was pretty stoked when Rob agreed to a Ranks of the Rejected interview, not only because he’s a great writer and a fellow death metal fan, but he also brings a slightly different perspective to the ol’ rejection runaround as a pro game designer. Apparently, they get rejected too.
Although I’ve never personally worked with Rob, I’m very familiar with his work. Years ago, when I started getting serious about writing in the gaming industry, I would look at the names on the covers of my Dungeons & Dragons books and think, “Man, it would be super fuckin’ rad to be one of those people.” Many times, the name on the cover was Robert J. Schwalb, and years later, after establishing my own career in the gaming industry, I still have a growing collection of Rob’s books on my shelf.
Now, normally, it would be right about here I would assign a rejectomancer level to the interviewee. I’m not gonna do that for Rob. Mostly because I’m fucking terrified he’d check my work. It’s also because, in my opinion, he’s one of the best game designer’s in the biz, nigh on legendary, in fact. It’d be like trying to stat up Cthulhu or something. Sure, you can do it, but there’s always the chance you’ll displease the great old one and his minions, and then you’re really screwed. I’ll just play it safe and say Rob’s rejectomancer level is super epic and beyond the ken of mortal man.
Here’s a bit more about Rob:
1) As a game designer and developer, how is rejection part of your professional life? Do you (or did you) get rejection letters?
Sure, it’s a big part of my professional life and one that has had the potential to undermine my creative energy whenever I encounter it. In the early days of my career, rejection was a giant looming shadow lurking just out of sight, watching, waiting to jump on my back and caress my neck with its tender kisses. Hitting convention after convention, roaming the aisles armed with business cards and desperation, I shook every hand I could, eager to take on any job to kick open the door to my career. I came to know the false smile, the blow-off, and the distracted affect as the heralds of rejection, and those early days haunted me for years, even after became a developer for Green Ronin Publishing. I can still slip back into that well of negativity when I’m not paying attention. I managed to nurse those bad encounters until they took root as a seed of hatred in my cold, black heart, and from which I draw the drive I need to succeed.
2) In your opinion, what can writers learn from rejection? What have you learned?
Of all the learning experiences one can have in striving to become a writer, designer, or something else in the creative field, rejection, for me, was the most important. It gives you a chance to rethink ideas, it helps you identify the good folks in the business and the not-so-good, and it has the chance to make you see things from different perspectives. When you create something or have an idea for something you want to create, it lives inside your little attic, a crudely formed thing that slowly takes shape as you refine it. When you are ready to bring it out of your head and reveal it to the cold light of day, rejection can force you to develop that thing in a different direction, reveal the weakness of the thing, or prepare you for the criticism you will get when you proceed with the project anyway.
3) Got a favorite rejection? Memorable, funny, mean, just straight-up weird?
I remember pitching a book to one company that focused on NPC classes and using them to tell a different kind of D&D story, one in which the characters weren’t superheroes, but were ordinary folk going up against the horrors stalking D&D land. I probably didn’t pitch it that way, and that was probably why the company sent over the rejection letter, saying something to the effect that no one wants to play experts and commoners, so why make a book no one wants?
4) What’s the toughest part of rejection for you? Pro tips for dealing with it?
Interpreting rejection as failure was a cancer to my soul. Here’s the thing: It’s not failure. You fail when you get accepted and don’t deliver, deliver late, or deliver crap. You fail when the product doesn’t sell, when the critics take up their knives to dissect your genius and find it lacking. You fail when no one talks about your creation, dismissing it to rot on the mountain of bad ideas. Rejection is a warning, a signal that maybe you should just let the thing in the attic grow and take a different shape before letting it loose in the world. Rejection can be surprising, humbling, and maybe humiliating, but it’s also the best way to avoid releasing crap to which your name becomes attached forever.
5) Okay, Rob, this one is really, really important. Think about your answer carefully. Here it is: Which metal band most exemplifies the bitter pain of rejection? (Bonus points if you give us a specific song. More bonus points if it’s a band I like.)
I’m going to go with “Chopped in Half” by Obituary from the 1990 Cause of Death album. The runner up is “Excoriate” by diSEMBOWELMENT off their 1993 album Transcendence into the Peripheral. [Rob gets all the bonus points for these two excellent choices.]
6) Plug away. Tells us about your latest project and why we should run out and buy it.
Shadow of the Demon Lord has swallowed my life. It’s the THING I DO, the monster set free to prey on the hordes of gamers itching for dark, horrific fantasy gaming set in a world drowning in the destruction loosed by the Devourer of Worlds, The Darkness between the Stars, the Ender of All Things, the Demon Lord. The 272-page PDF spilled out of my brain womb and into the tubes of the Internet where it has been making converts, one gamer at a time. The print book arrives at the warehouse late November and should be in gaming stores worldwide soon after. Why should you buy this book and the kickass adventures and supplements by some of the finest designers in the business, including Shane Hensley, Steve Kenson, T.S. Luikart, Chris Pramas, Steve Winter, and more? My cats need to eat. Oh, and I think you’ll have a ton of fun with it too.
Here’s this week’s list of potentially useful links for writers and rejectomancers.
1) I’m always looking for ways to bring more realism to combat scenes in the fantasy fiction I write, and one of my favorite resources is an article from Classical Fencing entitled “The Dubious Quick Kill” by Maestro Frank Lurz. Much of the article is drawn from historical accounts of duels from the 17th and 18th centuries and explores misconceptions about the lethality of sword wounds. A good read even if it’s not the kind of stuff you usually write.
2) Here’s another submission tracking website for genre authors called The (Submission) Grinder. It’s similar to Duotrope in that it includes a searchable database of publishers, but unlike Duotrope, it’s free (though they do accept donations). Personally, I prefer Duotrope, but if you’re looking for a free resource, then The (Submission) Grinder is a good option.
3) Another great reference for the fantasy fiction writer looking to bone up on historical melee weapons is the scholagladitoria YouTube channel. The channel is described as: “Videos by Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria, covering Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA)/Historical fencing, military history, antique arms and armour and general combat-related things.” Lots of good information here about weapons and fighting styles from various historical eras and cultures.
4) Lewis Editorial has posted the first in a series of prep articles for the upcoming NaNoWriMo. Good advice here and worth checking out if you’re going to take the plunge next month.
5) I found this interesting site a while back, and though I’m still not sure what to make of it, I thought I’d share. It’s called JukePop, and here’s the basic concept from their “about” page.
JukePop is a community for authors to release their story one chapter at a time, receive feedback from the community, fine tune as the story continues and publish when the story is completed. Readers receive portions of a novel in installments, building excitement and anticipation between chapters . . .
So, from what I can tell, authors post chapters of a novel, one at a time, and readers can “up vote” the story. Get enough up votes, and you qualify for cash rewards. Looks like there are other interesting aspects to the platform as well, including crowd funding and pay-to-read formats. It’s an interesting concept that might bear further research if the serialization format appeals to you.
6) Hey, it’s the look-at-more-shit-on-my-blog portion of this post. This time I’d like to draw your attention to Real-Time Rejection and the thrilling saga of “Story X.” The basic idea here is I’ve got a new story I’m trying to get published, and I’m charting the story’s progress in real time, posting the rejections letters as they come in. I’m up to four so far, and if I get to ten, I’ll post the story on the blog so you can all indulge in a little schadenfreude at my expense.
Got a useful link for writers? Share it in the comments.
Some of you are probably wondering, “Where are all the rejections on this rejection blog?” It’s a fair question, and the truth is I haven’t received many lately. That’s not for lack of submissions, though. I have a bunch under consideration, but the majority of the publications doing the considering have response times in excess of 60 days. So, in other words, the rejections are coming, likely including a few for Story X (if you’re not following the gripping saga of Story X, click here).
However, I did receive a few rejections in September, and I have listed them below in all their shameful glory for your pleasure/edification/mockery.
Here’s the first one.
Thank you for the opportunity to read “XXX.” Unfortunately, your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. In the past, we’ve provided detailed feedback on our rejections, but I’m afraid that due to time considerations, we’re no longer able to offer that service. I appreciate your interest in XXX and hope that you’ll keep us in mind in the future.
I’ve seen this rejection letter verbatim from this particular publisher a bunch of times, and I’ll bet a few of you will recognize it as well. They’re one of the more prestigious pro-paying genre markets, and they have one of the fastest turn-around times of any publisher I’ve encountered—usually under a week.
I’m tempted to call this one an improved form rejection letter because of the subtle invite to submit more work, but if I’m being honest with myself (which I fucking hate doing), this is a common form rejection. I could be wrong, but I think the “keep us in mind in the future” bit is just part of their basic letter, a nicer way to say no.
Okay, here’s the next one.
Thank you for submitting “XXX” for consideration. I was glad to have the opportunity to read it. Unfortunately, the story isn’t quite what we’re looking for at this time.
Thanks again for submitting “XXX”. I wish you the best of luck in finding a home for it.
What we have here is a sterling example of the common form rejection. This is about as garden-variety as it gets, so not much to see here.
Thank you for submitting “XXX” to us. We have given it careful review, but I am sorry to inform you that we will not be selecting it for our next issue.
I sincerely appreciate you letting me read your work, and I wish you the best of luck in finding another market for this story. I hope that you will consider submitting to us again.
This one is from a new publisher, and as such, this was the first story I’d set them. I liked a number of things about this fledgling publisher. One, they’re a paying market right out of the gate. Not pro-rates yet, but solid semi-pro. Two, they were easy to submit to, asking for a simple Word doc submitted in Shunn format via email attachment. Three, they responded quickly–under two weeks. Finally, this is a really nice rejection letter. It pulls the Band-Aid off quick, and it’s very polite and professional. But what kind of rejection letter do we have here? Common or improved form rejection? Since this is the first time I’ve submitted to this publisher, I’m gonna go ahead and say improved and submit again. Now, if I get the same letter verbatim after my next submission, I’ll downgrade this to a common form rejection.
So, that was my September of rejections. Sadly, no acceptances last month, but October looks like it’s gonna be chocked full of activity. I’ve got about a dozen submissions marinating with various publishers, and a lot of them are getting close to or have exceeded the estimated response time. In other words, I’ll probably have more rejections to talk about very soon. Stay tuned!
How was your September? Acceptances? Rejections? Tell me about it in the comments.
Let me start this one with an anecdote. About a month ago, I met some friends I used to work with at restaurant to discuss a Dungeons & Dragons game I’m going to run (yes, I’m really that nerdy).Once everyone had arrived, we started chatting, catching up on each other’s lives, work, and so on. What struck me was how completely fucking interested I was in this conversation. That’s not to say my friends aren’t interesting people, but, you know, they’re not that interesting. Then I realized what was happening. I hadn’t really spoken to other human beings besides the baristas at my local Starbucks in weeks. I’d been cloistered away working on my novel and pretty much ignoring the outside world. I was starved for human contact.
It’s one of (few) downsides of the full-time writing gig. Writers work alone, and though we might need to be alone to get the words on the page, prolonged periods without significant human contact can make you feel a little isolated. This is my second go around with writing from home. I did a two-year stint from 2008 to 2010, and three months ago, I left Privateer Press for a (small) chance at fame and glory as a novelist. As much as I like the freedom of working from home, I can get so focused it gives me a kind of tunnel vision that makes the world feel very small. I start to feel cooped up, lonely, and kind of anxious because my perception of the world has become so one-dimensional. I’ve found that when I break this cycle, it recharges my creative batteries and makes me more productive in the long run.
So, here are three things I do to force me out of the ol’ hermit cave.
Let me just end this by saying this is definitely a case of “do as I say and not as I absolutely fucking do.” I try to do the three things listed above on a regular basis, but I don’t always succeed, and the siren song of my warm and comfortable hermit cave can be hard to ignore.
So, what do you do to avoid feeling isolated? Or do you thrive on it? Tell me about it in the comments.
You’ve sent your story to a publisher, you’ve read and followed all the guidelines, and now you’re just waiting for the rejection hammer to fall. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.) You watch the calendar, and at some point, you realize, “Hey, I haven’t heard from publisher X about story Y, and it’s been months.” A quick check reveals the publisher has had your story past the estimated response time. Now what? It might be time to send the publisher a query about the status of your story. However, there are some things to keep in mind before you do.
Check the guidelines. Always, always, always check the guidelines before you send a query letter. First, you need to check the publisher’s estimated response time and make sure your story has been held beyond it. I think it’s a really bad idea to send a submission status query before the estimated response time has elapsed. I mean, you knew how long they were likely to keep the story because you read all the guidelines before you submitted, right? You did read the guidelines, didn’t you?
Next, check if the publisher mentions when they would prefer you query about story status. A lot of publishers list specific time frames for query letters. You should also check the guidelines to see if the publisher wants specific information in the query letter. For example, they might ask you to write the subject of your email in a specific way or even include a submission tracking number (usually provided in an acknowledgement email). As with all submission guidelines, you should follow them to the letter.
Check Duotrope. Duotrope and other online submission trackers can give you a lot of data on a publisher’s actual response times. A publisher may state 60 days in their guidelines, but a quick look at Duotrope might tell you they’re averaging more like 75. I’ve found that publishers are closer to their estimated response times with rejections than they are with acceptances, and Duotrope’s numbers back this up. I also find that this “true” response time often coincides with a publisher’s guidelines for when they prefer you to send a query.
You could wait until that “true” response time has passed, and I sometimes do that, but if the publisher states they’ll respond within 30 days and they have no other stipulation for query letters, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sending a polite query on day 31.
You don’t use Duotrope? Madness. Read my post about why you need it (or something like it).
The query letter. Like most communications with publishers, I think short and to the point is best. Here’s a query letter I sent a publisher a while back:
I would like to inquire about the status of my story “XXX” submitted on 9/9/99.
Yup, just the facts: my name, the story’s title, and when I sent it. I don’t think a query letter should contain more than that unless the publisher specifically asks you to include more. This particular publisher has an estimated response time of 30 days, and I sent my query letter on day 35. I received a response two days later—a form rejection. Just to be clear, I do not in any way believe my query letter affected the publisher’s decision. At most, it merely prompted the publisher (who had probably already decided on a rejection) to respond to me. In other words, it’s not rude or even unexpected to send a query letter.
So, why send a query letter instead of simply waiting for a response? Because shit happens, and you deserve to know what’s up with your story. I’m sure stories get misplaced, accidentally deleted, or they don’t reach the publisher at all. It’s also possible that a publisher has read your story and replied, but the notification email never reached you. Technical difficulties are always a possibility, and hey, editors are people too, and they sometimes make mistakes or get behind. For this very reason, many publishers encourage authors to send submission status queries if they haven’t heard anything after the estimated response time has elapsed.
What are your thoughts on submission status queries? Tell me about it in the comments.
Here are more potentially useful links for the rejectomancer gathered haphazardly from across the blogosphere and beyond.
1) I recently discovered a great resource for spec-fic writers. It’s called Ralan’s SpecFic & Humor Webstravaganza, and it’s a little like Duotrope in that its a listing of markets for writers. It’s specifically focused on spec-fic writers, though, which makes finding a market a little easier. I found a couple of new markets here (well, new to me) in both the pro and semi-pro payment tiers.
2) Lewis Editorial, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite editorial blogs, posted a very useful glossary of common publishing terms and definitions. Handy if you’re starting out in self-publishing or traditional publishing.
3) Here’s a great how-to article on cover letters from the submission guidelines of the excellent speculative fiction magazine Strange Horizons. I mentioned this article in my own post on the subject, but it’s so damn succinct and useful, it deserves another shout out.
4) This post by Vicky Lorencen on her blog Frog on a Dime is one of the funniest takes on handling a rejection letter I’ve come across in a while. The post is not really aimed at the rejected writer, it’s for folks dealing with the rejected writer, and it even comes with a form you can fill out and give to friends and family.
5) Now for a shameless plug. If you’ve been following the blog, you’ve likely seen the interviews I do with various working authors under the title Ranks of the Rejected. These interviews feature some great insights on rejection from authors who know a thing or two about it. If you haven’t read them yet, here’s your chance, and I’m gonna go ahead and leave you bunch of links right here:
Got a useful link for writers? Put it in the comments.
I think Stephen King is a veritable fountain of writerly wisdom, and much of that wisdom has been compiled in his excellent book On Writing. (Yes, I’m gonna plug the book every time.) He also dispenses useful advice (and criticism) in the form of quotes, many of which I find very inspirational. King’s quotes are honest, even blunt, and that’s why I dig them. Case in point, the following quote says a lot, I think, about how King views a career in writing.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
– Stephen King
I think people sometimes romanticize the job of writing, and there ain’t nothin’ romantic about this quote, just King’s patented brand of truth. He’s talking about the cold, hard reality of being a working writer. If you want to be a working writer, the kind who has deadlines and obligations, the kind that gets paid for meeting those deadlines and obligations, then you have to write, and you have to do it whether you feel like it or not. You have to–you guessed it–treat it like a job.
I’ve been lucky enough to turn writing into a career, and I love what I do, but the truth is some days I don’t want to sit in front of my computer and pound out the words. I want to play video games or watch baseball or do literally anything else besides write. It’s why this particular quote resonates with me so much. On those days when inspiration is nowhere to be found, I remind myself that what I want, what I’ve always wanted, is to be part of the “rest of us” King is talking about, and to do that, I have to get off my ass and go to work.
Got a favorite quote from a favorite author? Share it in the comments.
In general, my writing days fall into three broad categories, which are defined by how quickly and easily I can get to my 2,000-word daily goal. Each day, of course, brings its own rewards and challenges, sometimes heavy on the challenge part. I’m sure the three writing days I most commonly experience will look familiar to many of you.
1) The “Holy shit, the GODS are speaking through me!” day. (10%)
Time to completion of daily goal: 2-4 hours
These are the days when I wake up, sit down in front of the computer, and pound out my 2,000 words like some benevolent deity of literary inspiration is dictating directly into my brain. Those days are fucking awesome, and I usually blow past my goal without even noticing I’ve hit it. These are the days when writing isn’t work; it’s fun.
By the way, if you need this kind of day to get anything done, you’ll, uh, never get anything done. They are the product of some arcane mixture of caffeine, adequate rest, astral alignment, and magic fairy dust. They are beyond the ken of mortal man, so, in other words, you can’t rely on them.
2) The “Hey, this is just like a job and stuff” day. (80%)
Time to completion of daily goal: 4-8 hours
My typical writing day looks like this: I wake up, drink my coffee, and wait for the caffeine buzz to move my ass from couch to desk. Then I read what I wrote the day before and think, “Hey, this isn’t total shit,” which motivates me to pick up where I left off with something like hopeful trepidation. The first five hundred words come slowly (this totally has nothing to do with the fact that I might still be fucking around on the internet), and then I get into my groove, and the rest comes along without too much fuss.
I’d bet my typical day isn’t much different than most writers. We’ve all got a system, and these days are examples of that system working, more or less. These are the days to expect. They’re reliable and productive and get you to your deadlines on time without too much emotional trauma along the way.
3) The “Somebody please kill me so I don’t have to write these stupid words” day. (10%)
Time to completion of daily goal: Eons hence, when the sun dies, and this universe collapses into the timeless void.
These are the days where I have to pull each word kicking and screaming from my brain, wrestle them onto the page, and then hold them at gun point to make sure they don’t escape. I might sit at my computer for nine, ten, even twelve hours before I finally type that 2,000th word.
For me, these tough days are a draining mixture of self-doubt, lack of rest, and sometimes good ol’ fashioned fear at having to writer a scene that’s outside my experience or comfort zone. They suck, but, luckily, they’re just as (un)common as the first type of day, so it all balances out.
So what do these three days have in common? Just one thing, really; they almost always result in at least 2,000 words of raw material. I try not to leave my computer until I hit that mark, no matter how miserable I am. I won’t lie; I don’t succeed every time. That third type of day can be a real bastard, and it sometimes gets the better of me, but the other two put me far enough ahead of schedule I can weather the less productive days and still hit my deadlines.
What do your writing days look like? I’d love to hear about your best and worst in the comments.
Here’s a short list of cool writerly things from the ‘ol blogosphere. Lot’s of useful stuff here for the rejectomancer.
1) Here’s a writing contest you should definitely check out if you’re into flash fiction and monsters. (And why wouldn’t you be?) The Molotov Cocktail, a fine purveyor of frightening flash, is currently accepting submissions for their Flash Monster II contest. The rules are so very simple: write a story under 1,000 words that includes a monster by October 15th. Real cash money prizes await the top three. Shameless plug: I took third place in the first Flash Monster contest. I’ll definitely be throwing a submission in to the hat for round two. You should too.
2) Apparently, I’m not the only blogger who talks about rejection. Weird, huh? Field of Words posted a great article called the Art of Dealing with Rejection. Solid all-weather advice here, and I love the list of famous works by famous authors and how many times each was rejected.
4) Finally, if you’re a word nerd like me, then you’ll likely get a kick out of Hannah McCall’s series of posts on misused, confused, or just generally weird words and phrases. They’re even educational and stuff. Here’s the most recent post on the proper use of i.e. and e.g.