A Week of Writing: 8/12/19 to 8/18/19

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

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Stephen King

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

— Stephen King

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

The Novel

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

Short Stories

Slow progress, but, you know, progress.

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

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

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

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

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

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

Checking in on my acceptance rate for the year.

Goals

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


That was my week. How was yours?

2019 Acceptance Rate Check-In

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

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

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

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

*year to date

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

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

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


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

A Week of Writing: 7/29/19 to 8/4/19

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

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Salvador Dali.

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

― Salvador Dali

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

The Novel

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

Short Stories

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

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

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

The Blog

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

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

The usual weekly writing update.

Goals

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

Publications

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

“The Thing That Came With the Storm”


That was my week. How was yours?

A Week of Writing: 7/22/19 to 7/28/19

Yeesh, have I fallen behind on these things. Okay, here we go.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Truman Capote.

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”

― Truman Capote

You ever seen someone smother their french fries in ketchup to the point where you can’t even see the fries? Or maybe someone dumps so much cream in their coffee you say something stupid like, “Hey, you want some coffee with that cream?” Anyway, that’s how I’ve been feeling about my writing lately. I swear I’m not posting this to elicit sympathy. Nope, it all about the importance and hard truth in Truman Capote’s quote. Essentially, if you are going to pursue writing, you are going to fail or at least feel like your failing a lot, and I think Mr. Capote’s right. Every time I’ve had some success at this gig it’s been more meaningful because I know how hard I’ve worked for it, and how much harder I’ll work still.

So, even when you’re feeling like you’re failing miserably, and the rejections are piling up, and the revision just keeps going and going and going, remember how fucking great those fries taste with a little ketchup.

The Novel

Still working on the novel, still revising, but getting closer. Progress on the novel for the last couple of week was slowed by a vacation and then a story I needed to write for another project. I’m back on on it this week and what I hope is the final two weeks before a completed revision and the novel is back in my agents hands. (My lips to gods ears and all that.)

Short Stories

Uh, not great.

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

I have fallen of the wagon with submission in a serious way. The one bright spot here is an acceptance and a publication. There’s a submission window closing today for a market I do not want to miss, so I can guarantee at least one submission this week. Of course, I’m also off my pace for 100 submissions for the year, but I still have time to make that up.

The Blog

Fell down a little here too. Sensing a theme yet? 🙂

7/17/19: The Post-Acceptance Process

In this post I discuss what I do after an acceptance (a much less-used set of procedures).

Goals

The main goal is to get a story or two out to a market a very much like whose submission window close TODAY. Beyond that, it’s working on the novel (like a broken record).

Curious Fictions

I’ve published a couple more flash pieces over at Curious Fictions. They’re free to read, so head on out, give ’em a look, and throw me a like or two if you’re so inclined.

The first story is called “A Man of Many Hats,” and it’s one of the weirder things I’ve written. It was originally published by The Molotov Cocktail. The second story is an old, unpublished work called “A Friend for Abby.” .

“A Man of Many Hats”

Photo by James Bak on Unsplash

“A Friend for Abby”

Photo by SvedOliver on Shutterstock


That was my week. How was yours?

Submission Statement: May/June 2019

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

May/June 2019 Report Card

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

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

Rejections

Twelve rejections for April.

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

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

Spotlight Rejection

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

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

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

Acceptances

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


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

Form Rejections: What Do They Actually Mean?

As a longtime student of rejectomancy, I’ll be the first to tell you the arcane art of divining meaning from rejections only gets you so far. Sometimes a rejection just means what it says and nothing more. Attempting to read complex hidden motives into a simple “no thanks” can lead you down a dark, miserable path of self-doubt. In this post, we’ll discuss how to avoid that path with some examples of form rejections from my own collection and a little rejectomantic analysis.

Form Rejection #1

Thank you so much for thinking of [publisher]. Unfortunately [story title] is not quite what we’re looking for at the moment. We wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.

This is a standard form letter, using very standard language. Things like “not quite what we’re looking for” and “best of luck placing it elsewhere” are the stock in trade of form rejections. There’s no point in reading further into a letter like this, and let me give you two reasons why. One, this story sold on it’s next submission. Two, this market published the last story I sent them before this one. So, I KNOW this publisher likes my writing enough to publish it, and I KNOW this story was good enough to sell elsewhere. That data tells me this form letter meant one thing: the story wasn’t a good fit for THIS publisher. That’s all.

Form Rejection #2

Thank you for submitting [story title] to [publisher]. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, we don’t feel it is a good fit for us and we’re going to have to pass on it at this time.

Thanks again. Best of luck with this.

Another standard form letter. “We don’t feel it’s a good fit for us,” is just another entry on a long list of boilerplate phrases that make a form letter a form letter. Again, there’s no need to read further into this. There’s no feedback here, just a polite no thanks. Move on and send the story somewhere else. That’s what I did, and this story sold a few submissions later. One more thing, this story was rejected nine times before it sold, five of those rejections being ones just like this. The point is a bunch of boilerplate nos doesn’t mean a yes isn’t right around the corner.

Form Rejection #3

Thank you for submitting your story, [story title], to [publisher]. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we’d just taken tales with a similar theme or any of a half dozen other reasons.

Best success selling this story elsewhere.

This is a form rejection, but I like that it breaks down some of the reasons why you might be receiving it. Wrong fit, similar theme, etc. are all perfectly valid reasons for a story to be rejected, even a good one, even one the publisher likes. In other words, they’re kind of saying what I’ve been saying all throughout this post: don’t read into form letters. Like the other stories rejected here, this story eventually sold to another publisher.


So, what did we learn from these form rejections? One, they generally don’t mean much other than no, and, two, each of the stories rejected here went on to sell somewhere else. If I had read dire meaning into any of these rejections and stopped submitting those stories, well, I’d have three fewer acceptances to my name.

Look, form letters are just a polite and efficient way for an editor to reject a story when they don’t have the time or need to offer more feedback. But, hey, I get it. If you’re new to the process, something like “don’t feel it’s a good fit” might send you down that aforementioned dark path in search of the TRUE meaning being the word “fit.” Let me turn the light on and save you some time. It doesn’t mean what you think it means. It’s just a no, nothing more, and one of dozens and probably hundreds you’re going to get if you keep sending out submissions. Move on, don’t read into it or dwell on it, and send that story out again.

Thoughts on form rejections? Tell me about it in the comments.

The Rejectomancer Mk II

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you’ve likely seen the “Be a Rejectomancer” page. It’s been a fixture in my menu bar since I began Rejectomancy. Essentially, it translates rejection into a game of sorts, an RPG-class-inspired bit of fun designed to take some of the sting out of rejections. I’ve been threatening to update it and add new features to the “rejectomancer class” for a while, and, well, after four years of this blog and a whole bunch of rejections, it’s time. So here’s the new and improved rejectomancer. New features highlighted in red. Enjoy!


You’ve decided you’re a writer, and you’re going to send your work out to publishers, hoping for the glories of publication and likely ill-prepared for the realities of rejection. You have taken your first step on the path of rejectomancy.

Like anything else, rejectomancy is a skill that must be practiced, and the only way to practice it is to be told “this is not for us” and “we’re going to pass” over and over and over again. You see, rejectomancy is not a measure of your talent or even your success—though, those things often come with the higher levels of rejectomancy—it is a measure of your perseverance against the relentless grind of the submission process. The rejectomancer has developed a toughened skin that can turn aside the sharp sting of rejection letters and the mental fortitude to endure the sometimes years-long wait for a response to a submission. The rejectomancer learns from rejection and grows stronger from it.

How do you become a rejectomancer? You submit work and get rejected (mostly). Each rejection earns you vital experience that propels you down the path of rejectomancy, allowing you to stand up to more and more disappointment, until, finally, rejections are no more than minor irritations along the path of writerly achievement.

Since I’m a giant nerd who has worked in the tabletop gaming industry for the better part of my professional career, I’ll be quantifying rejectomancy using the framework of an RPG character class. Yes, I know, that’s a little weird, but I have a feeling it’ll make sense to many of the folks who read my blog. If you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, think Dungeons & Dragons, and try to follow along.

And a quick disclaimer:

Of course, I do not mean to imply your rejectomancy level is, in any way, a real measure of your writing ability. This whole thing is just a way to have a bit of fun with the often painful reality of literary rejection. So, please, don’t take this seriously or anything.

Rejectomancer Advancement

Level XP Resistance
1 Baby Bunny
2 5 Paper
3 10 Glass
4 25 Ceramic
5 65 Denim
6 140 Leather
7 225 Bark
8 325 Wood
9 500 Lead
10 650 Stone
11 850 Tin
12 1000 Copper
13 1250 Brass
14 1500 Bronze
15 1750 Iron
16 2000 Steel
17 2250 Titanium
18 2650 Tungsten
19 3050 Diamond
20 3550 Adamantium

If you’re familiar with tabletop roleplaying games, the table above is going to look pretty familiar to you; if you’re not, let me break it down:

Level: This number indicates your general rejectomancy skill, a quick way to gauge how much rejection you’ve endured over your career.

XP: You gain rejectomancer experience points by submitting work and surviving rejection. Rejection letters, long waits, and story withdrawals add to your point total. Awesome things like acceptance letters and contest wins also add to your total (because nothing makes you stronger like success).

Resistance: This indicates the relative thickness of the rejectomancer defenses against rejection. Below is a more detailed summary of the rejectomancer at various milestone levels.

  • 1st Level: A 1st-level rejectomancer is a pitiful creature with skin so thin you can see their delicate organs squirming beneath it. The barest hint of rejection can utterly destroy the neophyte rejectomancer, but if they survive those first few nos, they’ll get tougher.
  • 5th Level: By fifth level, the rejectomancer has a few calluses, and their skin is tough enough to turn aside the odd form rejection. They can still be devastated by multiple rejection letters in the same week, which is sure to shred their meager protective covering like a chainsaw through kittens.
  • 10th Level: The 10th-level rejectomancer is a true veteran, and they have developed a high level or resistance to literary disappointment. Form rejection letters bounce off their scaly hide without a scratch, and they can weather multiple rejections in the same week with relative ease. The 10th-level rejectomancer can still be wounded by multiple rejections in the same day or long periods between publications.
  • 15th Level: The rejectomancer at fifteenth level is one tough motherfucker. They barely notice form rejections, understand feedback is a chance to improve, and have likely weathered rejections numbering in the triple digits. They are not invulnerable, but a modicum of success has made their weaknesses more specific. The 15th-level rejectomancer has hidden doubts that allow certain criticisms to bypass their armored skin and strike their vitals. Maybe it’s sensitivity about dialog skills or writing combat scenes. Maybe their trying a different genre for the first time and uncertain if they can pull it off. Whatever the vulnerability, a well-placed bit of feedback can wound the high-level rejectomancer, though, if they’ve made it this far, they’re likely to refocus and carry on.
  • 20th Level: At twentieth level, the rejectomancer has mastered the art. They are an unassailable juggernaut whose impenetrable confidence defies rejection of all types. They’ve probably attained some real success at this point: sold multiple novels, gathered a large following of readers, makes an actual living at writing, or had so many acceptances rejections no longer even register. The master rejectomancer has proven they’re tough enough to survive everything the industry can throw at them.

So, how do you get that precious rejectomancer XP? By doing things that writers do: submitting your work, getting rejection letters, getting acceptance letters, and so on. Here’s a list of ways to gain XP with links to the posts covering most of these topics. I’ll update this table as I add more posts.

Event XP
Common Form Rejection 1
Improved Form Rejection 2
Further Consideration Letter1 3
Personal Rejection 3
Shortlist Letter1 3
Revision Request Letter  5
Acceptance Letter 10
Withdrawal2 1

1 If a rejection comes after a shortlist or further consideration letter, add the shortlist/further consideration total to the rejection total. For example, if you receive a shortlist letter (3 pts) followed by a personal rejection letter (3 pts), add 6 total points to your score. If you receive an acceptance after a short list letter, count only the 10 points for the acceptance.

2 If you send a withdrawal letter after sending a query letter with no response, then award yourself 1 XP for time spent and for handling the situation professionally. If you send a withdrawal letter because you sent a sim-sub and the story was accepted elsewhere, you don’t get the extra XP. (Hey, you still got an acceptance, right?)

***

In addition to the standard responses you might receive from a publisher worth rejectomancer XP, there are other events that can modify the XP earned.

Event XP Modifier
Multi-Rejection Day1 Total x1.5
Rejection – 62 months x1.5
Rejection – 12 months x2
Contest Cash3 +1
Contest Win +3
Every 100 rejections +25
500 rejections +100
1,000 rejections +500

1 On a multiple rejection day, take the total points from all rejections for the day and multiply by 1.5. For example, if I received a common form rejection (1 pt) and personal rejection (3 pts), my total points for the day would be 6 (4 x 1.5).

2 Getting a rejection after a very long wait can be, well, extra disappointing, so after a rejection taking six months or more multiply the rejection XP by 1.5. For a rejection taking over a year, multiply the rejection XP by a factor of 2.

3 Contests often add an additional factor of difficulty to getting an acceptance. There are generally fewer spots for more submissions than a typical zine or online market. So, if your story places in a contest and earns a cash prize, add 1 XP to the acceptance. If you actually win a contest, then add 3 XP to the acceptance. Placing in a contest that does not offer a cash prize still counts as an acceptance, of course. (10 XP).


You might have noticed I removed the things that cost you rejectomancer XP. Why did I do that? There’s already enough negativity involved with rejections that I don’t think I need to pile on for what might be simple mistakes. Of course, if you keep making mistakes like complaining to editors about rejections and whatnot, you’ll see very real consequences well beyond my silly little game. 🙂

Some of you might be recalculating your rejectomancy score based on these new features. If you do, put your new rejectomancer level in the comments. What’s mine? Well, I hadn’t calculated it in some time, so I sat down and added up all the XP on the roughly 400 submissions I’ve sent since I started tracking them via Duotrope. If my math is right, I have 1,160 rejectomancer XP, which puts me at level 12 (copper).

Got any suggestions for how I can expand or improve the rejectomancer class? I’d love to hear about that in the comments too.