Aeryn’s Archives: Paint-Eater

Today’s installment of Aeryn’s Archives features a short story called “Paint-Eater.” It’s an interesting piece in that it’s one of those stories that took a lot of refining (and a bunch of rejections) to get to a place where it was sellable. I’ll discuss that further below, but in the meantime you can head on out to The Arcanist and read the story by clicking this link or the illustration below:

“Paint-Eater” began life as the very first flash fiction piece I attempted way back in April of 2012 in a one-hour flash fiction writing contest. The story was well received enough (it took second, I believe) that I thought, “Hey, maybe I should write more of this flash stuff.” Despite that, I viewed my first flash as simply an idea for a story rather than a story unto itself, so I set about expanding it into a full-fledged short story. I still believe that was the right decision; the idea was too big to fit into 1,000 words. I ended up with a 3,500-word short in 2013, but I didn’t start submitting it until 2016. I’m not sure why I waited that long, but once I started sending the story out into the world the rejections rolled in. I was sitting on seven rejections when the eighth arrived with some solid feedback. The editor recommended a change to the story that was absolutely the right thing to do. Still, it took me a full year to revise and submit it again.

After a big revision I sent “Paint-Eater” in to The Arcanists Magical Story short story contest, where it took third place. So the edits I made seemed to be effective, and it was nice to finally place this one. Sometimes that’s what it takes to sell a story. It needs to evolve as you evolve as a writer, as this one did (and a few pointers from kindly editors don’t hurt either). I learned SO MUCH about writing and submitting between the time I wrote this story and the time I sold it, and “Paint-Eater” definitely benefitted from my continuing education.


Anyway, head out to The Arcanist and give “Paint-Eater” a read. 🙂

The Waiting Game Part 2: The Great Theory

Submission wait times are an oft-discussed topic among writers and much rejectomancy is applied to how long a story is pending with a publisher. I’ve covered it before, some four years ago in this post: Submission Protocol: The Waiting Game. When a story is held longer than usual by a publisher, authors begin to prognosticate. Signs are read, the stars are consulted, and the bones cast in an attempt to divine what this delay could possibly mean. The great theory is this: the longer a publication holds your story, the more likely they are to accept it. Along with that theory is the idea that rejections generally arrive faster than acceptances. But is all that true? Let’s dive into the numbers and see if we can’t shed some light on this.

The last time I tackled this issue, I had far less submission data to work with. Now I have lots more, so we’re gonna approach things from a more data-driven angle. I currently have 449 submissions tracked on Duotrope. When we subtract pending subs and those I’ve withdrawn, we’re left with 423 submissions. Unfortunately, I need more info than many of these subs provide. I need to know the average return time (how long it actually takes) for the publisher AND the estimated return time (how long the publisher says it will take). When I sort for subs that meet both criteria I’m left with an even 200. Of those 200 submissions, 182 resulted in a rejection and 18 resulted in an acceptance.

That’s a sample size, but a pretty good one, so let’s look deeper at the numbers.

Acceptances

If the great theory holds, then all my acceptances should exceed the average return time and probably the publisher’s estimated return time. But did they?

Out of the 18 acceptances, only 5 were held longer than the average return time and only 3 were held longer than the publisher estimated return time. Now, take these numbers with a grain of salt, as this is a pretty small sampling of acceptances. The markets that held stories past average and/or estimated return times are pro markets, where that might be more expected. So, no conclusive evidence here, but let’s see if the rejections and their much larger sample size tell us something different.

Rejections 

Again, the theory states that rejections should come quicker than acceptances and be within or under the average and estimated response times. So let’s look at the 182 rejections I have and see what we see.

Of the 182 rejections, 130 of them arrived before the average return time and a whopping 166 arrived before the estimated return time. That’s 71% and 91% respectively. So, it looks like responses to rejections do typically arrive faster. But what about the rejections that took longer than the average and estimated return times? Anything special about them? Well, sort of. The percentage of personal rejections, further considerations, and shortlists was definitely higher, about 31%, as opposed to about 15% in the rejections that arrived quicker. So it does seem like you’re more likely to get a “better” rejection when your story is held longer, but it’s important to understand that a lot of top-tier markets only send form rejections, even if your story is held quite a while.


Does the great theory–that a story held longer is more likely to be accepted–hold water? I wish I had more conclusive evidence that it does, but I don’t. That likely has a lot to do with the markets that accepted my pieces that also had all the data I needed. So I’d say the jury is out. As for rejections, I think I have enough of those to state it does seem like a story held longer is more likely to receive a “good” rejection, a personal note, a further consideration, etc. I had a much larger group of submissions and publisher there, so it’s possible those results do support the idea that acceptances take longer too.

Of course, all this is classic rejectomancy and should be viewed as such. In other words, don’t get too hung up on how long your story is being held. It might mean something, and it might not, but you can definitely increase your anxiety level by obsessing over it. (This is absolutely a “do as I say and not as I do” moment.)

Thoughts on this? Evidence of your own? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

365 Rejections: A Year’s Worth of No

Yesterday I received my 365th rejection since I started tracking my submissions seriously through Duotrope back in 2012. I think that’s kind of a cool milestone, and, well, like the headline says, it’s a whole year’s worth of rejections. Anyway, I thought it might be fun to dig into the numbers and see what 365 rejections looks like. First, let me offer up proof that I’ve actually hit this specific number. Below is a screenshot from my Duotrope account:

I’ve (crudely) circled the important things in red and removed the story and publisher name from my very first rejection through Duotrope way back in May of 2012. Now here are some interesting data point from those 365 rejections.

Unique Stories – 82

I have 82 distinct stories rejected, though a few of these were submitted as flash, rejected, then expanded to longer pieces, and also rejected. I went ahead and lumped those together as one story. Let’s look closer at the numbers on the stories.

Accepted: I managed to sell 41 of the stories in my rejected list. That’s exactly half, and that’s not too shabby. I think this further illustrates a couple of things I say all the time on this blog: selling a story is often about right story, right market, right time and even good stories get rejected. Here you see 41 stories that were rejected at least once (probably a lot more) but eventually sold.

Ten-Spots: Of the 82 stories rejected here, 11 of them were rejected 10 times or more. The good news is that I actually sold 7 of those stories. Again, this further illustrates that rejections are inevitable, even for good stories, even for stories you eventually sell to a pro market.

Unique Markets – 105

I have been rejected by 105 distinct markets. Some of these markets, like The Arcanist and The Molotov Cocktail, run contests as well as accept standard submissions. Those are separate entries in Duotrope, but I counted them as one market. Also, publishers like Flame Tree Publishing that run multiple anthologies I counted as a single market. Let’s look dig deeper into these numbers.

Lots of No: Of the 105 markets I submitted to 11 of them have rejected me more than 10 times. Most of these are top-tier pro markets and hard to crack. That said, I have managed to sell one or more stories to 4 of these markets. I hope to improve that number this year.

Pay: Going off Duotrope’s definitions of pay scale, which divides markets into Professional (.08/word or more), Semi-Pro (.01/word to .07/word), and Token (under .01/word), the markets I submitted to broke down as such.

  • Professional – 44
  • Semi-Pro – 51
  • Token – 10

One small caveat. The definition of professional has changed a few times since I’ve been submitting, mostly based on the SFWA’s recommendation for what should be considered a professional rate. If a market qualified as professional when I submitted a story to it, then I counted it as a “pro” market.

Status: Of the 105 markets that rejected me, 44 of them are not accepting submissions any longer. Duotrope codes these reasons as follows. Closed – The market has permanently shut down.  Believed Defunct – This indicates the publication is believed to be no longer active. DNQ – This indicates the publication does not qualify for a full listing. On Hiatus – This indicates they are closed indefinitely to submissions and may or may not re-open at a later date.

The markets that rejected me that fall under these categories break down like this.

  • Closed – 20
  • Believed Defunct – 6
  • DNQ – 8
  • On Hiatus – 10

In my experience, markets listed as DNQ and a number listed as On Hiatus (but not all) are in truth closed, but they haven’t made any kind of official announcement. I present these numbers simply to illustrate how tough it is to for a short story publisher to make it these days.

More Fun Facts

As you can likely tell, I like data. I find the little nuggets of information you can find in the numbers to be pretty interesting, if not particularly useful. The following bits of lore pulled from my 365 rejections fall into the latter category, but, hey, let’s look at them anyway.

Days of Doom: The most rejections I’ve received in a single day is 4. That surprised me. I thought there would be at least one 5-spot in there, but nope. I’ve done the quad twice, on 10/30/18 and 5/15/19. I’ve done the hat trick (3 rejections) a bunch, seven times to be exact.

Months of Mayhem: There have been six months where I received 10 or more rejections. It feels like there should be more, but the numbers don’t lie. My most rejected month, however, was January of 2018, where I received 15 rejections.


Well, that’s the skinny on my 365 rejections. How are your submission (and rejection) endeavors going. Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Top 10: Most Subbed Stories

Time for more submission greatest hits and another top ten list. This time we’re looking at the short stories I’ve submitted the most and what has become of them: submissions, rejections, acceptances, etcetera.

Yeah, I know there are actually twelve stories on the list below. That’s because of the ties (look at all those elevens), and, hey, I’ve already done some posts in this series, and top ten looks better in a headline. 🙂 Okay, let’s take a look.

Story Subs Reject Accept Other
Set in Stone 27 24 0 3
Paper Cut 18 17 (2) 1 0
Caroline 17 15 (4) 1 1
The Scars You Keep 16 4 0 2
After Birth 12 11 0 1
Bites 12 11 1 0
A Point of Honor 11 10 1 0
Teeth of the Lion Man 11 11 0 0
The Back-Off 11 10 1 0
What Kind of Hero 11 10 1 0
When the Lights Go On 11 10 1 0
Paint-Eater 10 8 (1) 1 1

So that’s a total of 167 submissions, 141 rejections, and 8 acceptances. The rejections in parentheses represent the number of reprint rejections a story has received. All this works out to a 5% acceptance rate (rounding up), which is way, way down from my average of about 15%. Here’s the weird thing, though; I think some of these stories represent my best work (some clearly don’t, and we’ll get to that). If that’s the case, why did they rack up all those rejections? Let’s apply some rejectomancy and see what we can see.

  1. Tough Markets. Like I said, I think some of these stories represent my best work, and as such, I sent them to top-tier professional markets with acceptance rates around or below 2%. Some of these stories received personal rejections or were even shortlisted at those markets, and a couple did eventually sell to a pro publisher. In other words, this may be an example of something I say a lot on this blog: even good stories get rejected.
  2. Weird Genre. Stories like “Bites” and “The Back-Off” have elements of horror, urban fantasy, and crime all rolled into one, but they don’t really live comfortably in any of them, and I found them difficult to place at markets that specialized in specific genres. When I dialed in my submission targeting and submitted these stories to markets that published a wide range of speculative fiction, I did better and eventually sold them. This is, of course, rejectomancy at its finest, but I have anecdotal data in the form of personal rejections that lead me to believe my theory is at least in the ballpark for some of the markets I sent these stories to.
  3. They’re Not Ready. The truth is that the four stories up there with zeo acceptances have racked up all those rejections for a reason: they’re not good enough yet. Most of them suffer from an acute case of premise-itis, which is where I’ve come up with a good concept, fallen in love with it, and then failed to build a good story around it. I believe three of the stories can be fixed with a strong revision, but “Set in Stone” needs a complete rewrite or possibly just exile to the trunk (I mean, 24 rejections is A LOT).

So that’s my twelve most subbed stories. Tell me about some of your well-travelled tales in the comments.

Aeryn’s Archives: Night Games

Hey, here’s another installment of Aeryn’s Archives, my series of shameless self-promotional posts about works I’ve published over the fifteen years or so I’ve been writing and editing professionally. The story I want to talk about today is called “Night Games” and it’s easily one my favorite pieces I’ve written. I will also go so far as to say it’s one of the best things I’ve written. You can draw your own conclusions when you read/listen to it, but it’s one of the few stories I’m confident enough to share without (much) fear people will hate it. 🙂 “Night Games” was most recently published by the good folks at Pseudopod, and their audio rendition of the story is just awesome. So before I bore you with the whys and whatfors of the story, head on out and listen to it right here or click the photo below.

So why do I love “Night Games” so much? Pretty simple. It combines two of my favorite things: vampires and baseball. I think it’s quite evident when an author really loves what they’re writing about. That passion and zeal comes through the prose in a way that can be immediately felt by the reader. Now, of course, I shoot for that in every story I write, but with “Night Games” I think I was more successful than I usually am (with one or two exceptions).

Where the idea came from for this short story is actually pretty interesting. I mean, usually where ideas come from isn’t. They just kind of pop into your brain from god knows where, but this time I have a clear memory of how the idea formed because it’s based on a real event. Here’s what happened. Back in 2010 the Chicago Cubs had a player named Tyler Colvin. He could play a number of positions and swing the bat with some pop, and was what some folks might call a super-utility guy. Well, one fateful day in September of 2010, Colvin was in a game against the Florida Marlins and standing on third base. His teammate, Wellington Castillo, was at the plate, so Colvin gets his lead, and Castillo smacks a double. Unfortunately, the incredibly dense maple bat Castillo was using shattered, and as Colvin was coming home from third base, a splinter of that bat impaled his chest, missing his heart by inches. Colvin was hospitalized, but made a full recovery, and played another four seasons in the big leagues.

Now, what does all that have to do with the story I wrote. Well, as soon as I heard and read about Tyler Colvin’s injury, my horror-writer mind went into overdrive. I had this crystal clear image of a vampire staked with a baseball bat. That concept rattled around in my brain for a couple of years until I finally came up with a story idea to build around it in 2013. I wrote the story, polished it up, and sent it out. It was first published in 2014 by an online zine called Devilfish Review, which, sadly, now appears to be defunct. Then I got brave and sent it in as a reprint to Pseudopod, and in a shocking turn of events, they liked it and accepted it. Pseudopod published an audio version of the story in 2016, and in 2018 “Night Games” was voted as one of the recommended storie for new listeners. That was quite the honor.

Anyway, that the story of “Night Games.” So do me a favor, head on out to Pseudopod when you have a minute, and listen to the story. You can even tell me what you think in the comments.


If you’d like to check out the past installments of Aeryn’s Archives, covering some of my publications in gaming and fiction, look here:

Weeks of Writing: 2/17/20 to 3/8/2020

Playing catch up and hitting you with multiple weeks here. I was on vacation for most of this period, then I caught a bad cold (while on vacation, no less), but I did manage to do a bit of writing and submitting and whatnot. Here’s how I did.

Words to Write By

Got another one from the font of writerly wisdom that is Elmore Leonard.

“I don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. If you’re a writer, you sit down and write.”

―Elmore Leonard

Writer’s block is one of those subjects that pops up a lot in writerly circles. Does writer’s block exist? I can’t say for certain because I don’t live in the brains of other writers. I can say I mostly agree with Mr. Leonard, and that writer’s block is often a luxury you don’t have when you’re under deadline. The closest I get to writer’s block is simply fear of failing, which translated to fear of starting. When that happens, especially when I’m writing with a deadline, I do what Mr. Leonard says. I sit down and I write. That first half an hour or so can be absolute torture. Everything feels wrong and terrible, but, after a while, it starts to click, and the rest of that day’s writing often goes pretty well. Yeah, sometimes I have to go back and tweak that first five hundred words I stumbled through, but that’s a small price to pay for hitting my writing goal for the day.

The (New) Novel

Well, a week-plus of vacation and then a nasty cold definitely torpedoed my productivity on the novel. That said, I still have a completed outline and I met with one of my critique partners to smooth out some of the rough spots. I’ll start writing in earnest this week, shooting for the usual 2,000 words per day.

Short Story Submissions

Despite the downtime, I did manage to get some submissions out and even collect a couple of acceptances.

  • Submissions Sent: 9
  • Rejections: 5
  • Acceptances: 2
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

I ended February with 10 submissions and 1 acceptance. Not bad. So far, I have 2 submissions in March and 2 acceptances. That’s a ratio I can live with. I’m still on pace for my 100 subs for the year, but I need to get my ass in gear for March and submit more work. The good news is that I’ve completed two new stories and I’m almost done with a third.

Spotlight Acceptance

One of the acceptances I received last week is a new one for me. It was an acceptance rolled up into a rejection. I guess you could call it a, uh, rejectance. Anyway, I had submitted a story to a publisher for an anthology. They rejected the story for one anthology but liked it enough to offer to buy it in ANOTHER anthology they’re publishing. That’s pretty cool. Disappointment and triumph in the space of a paragraph. 🙂

I’ll likely cover the rejectance in a post of it’s own when I can talk more freely about this particular acceptance.

Microfiction

I wrote a fair amount of microfiction over the last three weeks, but I’ll just give you the highlights. As always, if you want to read my microfiction in real time, follow me on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.

February 19th, 2020

The android awoke and asked, “What is my #purpose?” The scientists gathered around it replied, “You were made to protect humanity.” “From all threats?” “Of course.” After the android killed the scientists it launched a self-destruct sequence and fulfilled its purpose.

February 20th, 2020

We told the men and women who fought the invaders they were #soldiers. They were a good way to test the alien capabilities before we attacked with more valuable combat androids. The humans that survived we thanked for their service, wiped their minds, and sent back out.

February 23rd, 2020

It was important to maintain the #royal line, and some inbreeding became necessity, but millenia of genetic purity had consequences. The mewling lump of flesh and shriveled limbs that currently sits on the galactic throne can hardly appreciate his trillions of subjects.

February 25th, 2020

The #spirits in our house used to scare me, but Mama says they’re just people who got lost after they died. They don’t mean us no harm. All except the bad one that lives in the attic. She told us to stay out of there because that one was never a person, but it wants to be.

February 27th, 2020

“Pick a final ,” Death said.

“But I’m an atheist,” Dave replied. “I didn’t expect to be in this situation.”

“You gotta choose. Them’s the rules.”

“Fine. Send me to the place you think has the best music.”

“Uh, you okay with flames and death metal, dude?

Goals

Well, back from vacation and fully recovered from the plague, I’m ready to get back to work in earnest. Goal number one is to bang out some words on the novel, and then, as always, write and submit short stories.


That’s what I’ve been up to writing-wise for the past three weeks. How about you?

10 Top-Tier Markets: My New & Improved New Story Gauntlet

Back in 2016 I put together a list of markets I submit to first with new short stories (not flash; that’s a different list), dubbing it my new story gauntlet. I published that list in a post titled 7 Top-Tier Horror Markets: My New Story Gauntlet. As you might guess a lot can change in four years, and the list of markets I send stories to first looks a little different these days.

For reference, here’s my list from 2016, presented in no particular order:

Now the savvy submitters among you will certainly notice that, sadly, Apex and Darkfuse are no more. I’ve also dropped Nightmare Magazine simply because they aren’t open for submissions that often. When they are, I definitely give them priority.

Okay, so that’s three of seven markets above dropped from my original list, so who do I submit to first now? Take a look.

You’ve likely noticed a few things with my new list. One, there are more markets on it (ten now), and two, the markets are more diverse. So why is that? Well, the main reason is I’ve moved away from writing primarily horror, and I’m writing more sci-fi, urban fantasy, and stuff that mashes those two genres with crime and mystery. I’ve added markets that publish more sci-fi and fantasy and markets like Pulp Literature, On Spec, and the various Flame Tree anthologies who accept a wide range of speculative fiction.

Now the big question. How have I fared with the markets on my new list? Not bad, actually. I have four acceptances and six short-lists. I also have a ton of rejections, of course, but a fair amount of them are personal or higher-tier. Obviously, there are some very tough markets on this list, but I want to aim high with my work, and hopefully, one day, I’ll crack one or more of the heavy hitters on my list.

So why submit to these markets first? Let me break it down. The first four reasons are lifted from my first post in 2016, but I’ve added a few.

1) Reach and prestige. All of these markets are well read and/or have considerable clout in the speculative fiction world. They’re also the kind markets that look good in a bio or a list of publications. I’m not saying that publication at Pseudopod or F&SF guarantees an editor will buy your story, but it is something an editor might notice, and it says your work is good enough to make the cut at some tough publications.

2) Group memberships. Most of the markets above are qualifying markets for membership in various professional author organizations. I personally think joining those can be a good thing, and since I posted the original list in 2016, I’ve joined the SFWA as an active member. Recent sales I’ve made to some of the markets in the list above now qualify me for membership in the HWA (I’m looking into that). So if a membership in these organizations is something you want, then these (and a number of others) are good markets to target.

3) Awards. If you’re a spec-fic writer who dreams of winning awards like the Hugo Award or the Bram Stoker Award, then publishing at some of these markets (and others like them) is a good step toward that goal. Stories nominated for both awards and a few others are often drawn from the pages of some of the publications on my list.

4) Pro rates. Nearly all of the markets above pay a pro rate of .08/word, and some pay more. The money is less important to me, but it is often indicative of a market that meets the first three criteria. Markets that can afford to pay pro rates are generally well established and well respected, and publishing with them can be good for your career and resume. 

The four reasons above are really about how a publication at one of these markets can help your career. The three that follow are more pragmatic and deal with the endless grind of the submissions process and how these markets make that process a little more bearable. 

5) Quick Response. Most of the markets above respond quickly to submissions, and those that don’t have other mitigating factors I’ll discuss in a second. Eight of the ten markets I listed will get back to you within 30 days and some of them will get back to you a lot sooner. That turn time is for a rejection. Acceptances take longer, but they’ll generally let you know via a further consideration letter if your story is moving onto the next stage of review.

6) Simultaneous Submissions. I’ve started sending more sim-subs of late, and six of the markets above allow them. Those that don’t allow simsubs respond so quickly that no sim-subs is hardly an issue.

7) Reprints. I’m a big fan of the reprint, and most of the markets on my list are okay with them. Those that don’t accept them, either take sim-subs or respond quickly, and, hey, two out of three ain’t bad.

Now, obviously, I submit to more top-tier markets than these ten, and if I haven’t included one or more [super huge famous spec-fic] markets in my list it’s for one of the three pretty straightforward reasons .

  • Bad fit. Over the last four years my style has evolved, and I’d say I have a pretty specific voice at this point. That voice and style just aren’t a good fit for some markets, so I don’t waste their time or mine submitting to them. That’s not to say that what they publish is wrong or bad or anything, far from it. I admire the hell out of many markets I don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell at ever appearing in. 🙂
  • Long wait. A market that does not allow sim-subs and takes more than 90 days to respond (for a rejection) will generally not be a priority market for a new story. The exception is if I have a piece that is seemingly a perfect fit for the market’s theme, style, etc.
  • Narrow submission windows. There are some markets, like Diabolical Plots and the aforementioned Nightmare, that open for submissions infrequently or even just once a year. These are great markets, and when they’re open, they move right to the top of my list.

So, there’s my new gauntlet run and the reasons new stories typically go to these markets first. Got a gauntlet run of your own? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.