Good Stories Get Rejected Too

Rejections are tough, and getting bummed out is a perfectly reasonable reaction to being told your story isn’t going to be published, but it’s important to have a little perspective on rejections. This is the very core of rejectomancy, understanding that a rejection probably doesn’t mean what you think it means. It probably doesn’t mean you wrote a bad story or that your writing is terrible or any of the other catastrophic scenarios we writers like to read into a simple “not for us” form rejection.

But, hey, I’ve said this a dozen times on the blog, and since writers are supposed to show and not tell, let me show you something.

Last month two very cool pro markets opened their doors to submissions for a short time: Cemetery Dance magazine and Diabolical Plots. In addition to opening their submission doors to thousands of hopeful writers, these two markets did something awesome. They gave us a look at the actual submission stats. So let’s take a look at those numbers and see what we can see.

Cemetery Dance

  • Stories submitted: 1,750
  • Number of slots: 20 or 25

Diabolical Plots

  • Stories submitted: 1,288
  • Number of slots: 24

Now it might be easy to take a look at these numbers and despair. I mean, we’re looking at a sub two percent chance of acceptance for each market, but I would urge you to come at this from a different angle. With so many submissions and so few publication slots, the editors are going to turn away a lot of quality work. They have to because they can only publish two dozen or so stories out of the hundreds submitted. A rejection from one of these markets probably means you wrote a story that isn’t quite to the editor’s taste or is similar to one they’ve already accepted or half a dozen other reasons that have nothing to do with your writing ability. Want further proof and from the horse’s mouth? Check out this recent blog post from Brian James Freeman, one of the editors of Cemetery Dance magazine

All I’m trying to say here is don’t let the numbers or a rejection get you down. I firmly believe good stories eventually get published, especially when they’re written by diligent authors who follow the guidelines and continually work on their craft. Personally, I think a lot of it comes down to putting the right story in front of the right editor at the right time.

So keep writing, keep submitting, and keep going.

Oh, and a big thank you to the editors of Cemetery Dance magazine and Diabolical Plots for making their submissions stats public. I think that information is immensely helpful to writers, and this writer really appreciates the peek behind the curtain.

A Week of Writing: 7/30/18 to 8/5/18

Hey, all, it’s Monday, or, uh, Tuesday. Anyway, here’s the week that was.

Words to Write By

Another quote from Mr. King. This one comes from his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

—Stephen King

There are lots of opinions on adverbs in writerly circles, but let’s see what else Stephen King says on this subject in his book.

“With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.”

This is what I focus on when I look for adverbs in my own work. It’s less the adverb itself and more the adverb leading to weak, unsure sentences. Whenever I find one, I ask myself two questions. 1) Am I using the adverb only because I’m afraid the reader won’t understand what I’m trying to say without it? 2) Is there a more precise verb I could use instead of verb + adverb? The answers to those questions may (and often does) lead to adverb removal and/or a revised sentence.

The prime adverb offenders in my work fall into three main categories:

  1. Useless -ly adverbs like certainly, truly, obviously, simply, and likely (plus a few others). These words rarely add value or nuance to the sentence.
  2. Positional words like back, behind, down, and over. Like the aforementioned -ly adverbs, I often don’t need these either.
  3. Hedging, imprecise words like almost, nearly, around, and often. I do keep some of these because they’re often useful (especially in dialog), but I overuse them.

The Novel

Well, the first read through and revisions are done, and I sent the manuscript off to one of my critique partners. It’s as good as I can get it right now because I’ve gone story blind. I’ve reached that point where I can’t decide what’s good and what’s not, and that’s when it’s time to get eyeballs other than your own on the work. I’m gonna take a break from Late Risers for a bit and focus on short stories and the next novel

Short Stories

I finished one short story last week, which I’ll sub to the The Molotov Cocktail’s FlashBeast contest.

A big fat goose egg for submissions last week.

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

With the push to get the novel finished and ready for my critique partners, I didn’t send any submissions. I did, however, get two shortlist letters from markets I’ve been trying to crack for a long time. I hope to hear good news on one of those soon.

Despite a slow month for submissions, I’m still at 77 for the year. Which means I need another 23 submissions over the next five months to hit my goal of 100. That should be a cinch.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

7/30/18: A Week of Writing: 7/23/18 to 7/29/18

The usual weekly writing update.

8/3/18: “Do Me A Favor” & Other Free Flash Fiction

Last week, I published another story with The Arcanist. This blog post features all the stories I’ve published with that market to date.

Goals

With the novel out to my critique partners, I want to turn my attention to short stories and get more submissions out. I’ve got stories that need quick revisions and then can go out again, so I’ll likely focus on those first. I’d also like to evaluate where I’m at with the next novel I want to write. I started it last year, got about 30,000 words into it, and then set it aside for Late Risers. Time to go back and assess what I’ve got with fresh eyes.

Story Spotlight

As I mentioned above, I published another story with The Arcanist last week. It’s called “Do Me a Favor” and you can check it out by clicking the link or the picture below.

“Do Me a Favor”


That was my week. How was yours?

A Week of Writing: 7/23/18 to 7/29/18

Monday has arrived, and it’s time to share my weekly writerly report card.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Elmore Leonard, whose “10 Rules of Writing” is one of my favorite pieces of writing advice.

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

—Elmore Leonard

This quote is the abbreviated version of rule ten in the aforementioned “10 Rules of Writing.” I’m currently trying to figure out which parts of my novel might fall into this category and then remove/rewrite them.  A difficult task, and one I’ll ultimately need my critique partners to help me with, but I think I made some headway this week.

The Novel

Last week was very productive. I didn’t finish my initial revisions, but I’m three-quarters of the way done. I removed a problematic plot point, and I’m in the process of reworking the rest of the novel to match. It’s going pretty well, though I definitely have some plot and character motivation holes to shore up.

Short Stories

Finished revising one story and had just enough time to submit it to an anthology that closed to submissions on July 29th. I’m still working on one more revision I need to get out by the 31st.

Another fairly slow week for submissions.

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

Two submissions this week and only four for the month. Disappointing, but the shorts have to take a backseat to the novel right now. I plan to send out a lot more short stories in August while my critique partners are caving up my manuscript.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

7/9/18: A Week of Writing: 7/16/18 to 7/22/18

The usual weekly writing update.

7/12/18: Iron Kingdoms Fiction – Confirmed Kill

A free Iron Kingdoms story published last year in No Quarter magazine. Privateer Press gave me permission to post this one in its entirety (plus a few others).

Goals

One big goal – finish the initial revision of the novel and get it off to my critique partners. Everything else is secondary.

Story Spotlight

The spotlight story is the piece I mentioned above. As some of you know, I’ve been writing for Privateer Press for a long time, and I’ve published two novels and a whole bunch of shorter works in their Iron Kingdoms setting. Anyway, they’ve given me permission to post some of my old stories on the blog, the first of which you can read by clicking the illustration or link below.

“Confirmed Kill”

 


That was my week. How was yours?

A Week of Writing: 7/16/18 to 7/22/18

Another week gone by, another week of writing, revising, and submitting in the books.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote is something I definitely struggle with at times.

“If I waited for perfection… I would never write a word.”

—Margaret Atwood

Though I think Margaret Atwood approaches a level of perfection I can only dream about, I can certainly relate to the sentiment in her quote. Many, many times when I was writing the first draft of Late Risers, I had to tell myself “Get it done, get it down, fix it in post.” In other words, keep writing, even though it feels awful, even though every fiber of your being screams “This is garbage!” Strangely, now that I’m reading and revising, it’s those passages where I had to force myself to soldier on that are some of my favorites.

The Novel

I had a good week with revisions on Late Risers, and I’m about halfway done. I’d like to finish this week, but I have to change one major plot point at the end of the second act that will require changing a lot more downstream. That may slow me a bit, but the book will be better for it. Last week, I also had a few moments of “Hey, this might be pretty good.” Delusion? Maybe. I’m a terrible judge of my own work. It’s a lot better than how I usually feel, though, which sounds like “Hey, this is all a hot dumpster fire.” 🙂

Short Stories

Still revising stories for a pair of submission windows closing at the end of the month. Revisions on the novel have slowed me way down in this department, but maybe I can rally this week.

A slow, slow week for submissions.

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

Yikes. Only one submissions this week. That puts me at 75 for the year, and despite a very slow month, I’m still ahead of pace for my goal of 100 submissions.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

7/9/18: A Week of Writing: 7/9/18 to 7/15/18

The usual weekly writing update.

7/12/18: Watch Out. That First Line is a Doozy

I return to one of my favorite subjects in this post: crafting a good first line for a short story.

Goals

I’d like to be at least three-quarters done with my initial revisions by the end of this week. I also need to get at least one story revised for a submission window closing at the end of the month. That one is kind of nonnegotiable if I want to submit to this particular market.

Submission Spotlight

As I mentioned above, I’m revising a story to send to a market that is only open to submissions this month. That market is Diabolical Plots. Why submit there? Well, for starters, they are a SFWA-qualifying market that pays .08/word. They also allow up to two submissions per author during the submission window (I’ve already got one in). The bad news? They close to submissions at the end of the month, so if you have a story that fits their guidelines, get it in now. Details in the link below.

Diabolical Plots Submission Guidelines 


That was my week. How was yours?

Watch Out. That First Line is a Doozy

I’ve written a couple posts about the importance of the first line in a short story. The idea being that a great first line sets the tone, instantly engages the reader, gets them asking questions about the story, and, hopefully, keeps them reading. These posts were inspired by a Stephen King essay called “Great Hookers I Have Known” from his collection Secret Windows. According to King’s essay, a “hooker” is a term once used by pulp fiction editors to describe a great first line that immediately captures the reader’s attention.

In the previous two posts I examined first lines in some of my published stories to see if I was, well, any good at writing a first line. Since I’ve had kind of a bumper crop of acceptances this year, I thought I’d revisit the concept and see if I’ve improved. Here are the first lines from five flash fiction stories I published this year. Let’s see how I did.

1) “New Arrivals” published by Havok Magazine

Senior Agent Howard Townsend parked his Ford Explorer at the head of an old dirt road.

This is not the greatest first line I’ve ever written. “Senior Agent” is kind of interesting, but Ford Explorers and dirt roads not so much. I think what saves this is the first paragraph, which is a lot better. This one received two rejections before Havok accepted it, and that’s not bad. Still, if we’re just rating first lines, I’d give this one a C-.

2) “The Food Bank” published by The Arcanist

A beetle the size of a battleship came out of the afternoon sky, its gargantuan wings buzzing like the drone of a thousand helicopters.

Okay, this is pretty good if I do say so myself. At the very least it should illicit a WTF from the reader. Giant beetle, droning wings, a thousand helicopters, that’s not bad. This story also received two rejections before it was accepted, but I’d give this first line an A-.

3) “Simulacra” Published by Ellipsis Zine

Ice and a snow weren’t the best material for the task, but Jason didn’t have much else to work with.

This one is okay, and it’s another where the first paragraph is better. The first line gives you a little info and starts with the main character doing something (important for flash, in my opinion), but it’s not exactly a knock-your-socks-off first line. Just one rejection for this story before it was accepted. I’d score this first line a C.

4) “Two Legs” published by The Molotov Cocktail

There had been no meat for too long.

Sometimes a good first line is short and simple, and I think this one is pretty good. Not my best, but solid. The word “meat” conjures all kinds of sightly disturbing images. This story received five rejections before The Molotov accepted it. I rate the first line a solid B.

5) “The Inside People” published by Ellipsis Zine

Victor wiped the spittle from his mouth after another coughing fit and stared up at the tower.

Not bad. Kind of gross, but not bad. It creates an image, I think, and maybe invites the question, “What’s wrong with Victor?” The tower by itself isn’t particularly interesting, but combined with the coughing fit, I think it works. This one received two rejections before acceptance, and I’d rate the first line a B-.


Does a killer first line help your chances at publication? Maybe, a little. You still have to write a good story, but a solid opener that pulls the reader in and gets them asking questions can’t hurt. That said, of the fives stories here, only one of them had what I would consider a great first line. The rest were solid to mediocre, and I think it was the first paragraph that did the heavy lifting. So, a killer first line is a good tool to have at your disposal, but it’s just one piece of the getting-published puzzle.

Got any great first lines of your own? Share them in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 7/9/18 to 7/15/18

Welcome to another week of writerly works.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote deals with those tricky endings and even trickier beginnings.

“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”

—Joyce Carol Oates

This quote reflects something I’ve been thinking about as I go through the first draft of my novel. It’s very clear that even if I stick the landing, I’ll almost certainly need to rework the beginning to match. For me, I think this has a lot to do with how I approach longer works. Though I work from an outline, the first couple of chapters are this “feeling things out” stage both with the plot and the characters. I hit something resembling a stride after about 10,000 words, but I leave a lot of clunky characterization in my wake before that. Anyway, I’m looking forward to getting that final sentence written (revised), so I can take another shot at the first sentence.

The Novel

Made more solid progress, and I’m about a quarter of the way through the initial revisions. I made some big changes last week again, matching chapters and character motivations to the new setup. I also completely changed an important secondary character. He just never quite worked for me, and a lot of it had to do with how blandly I described him. I happened to see someone on TV, I can’t even remember which show, and something clicked, and I was like, “That’s him. That’s the character.” It was more of an appearance thing than personality, though the change in appearance has opened a lot of new avenues for interesting character hooks.

Short Stories

Worked on revisions of a couple of short stories last week, though I didn’t write any new ones. This week will likely be focused on revisions as well, as I need to polish up a couple of stories for two pro markets briefly open to submissions.

A slow(ish) week for submissions.

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

I only sent two submission last week, though one of them was accepted. (I’ll take a fifty percent acceptance rate any week.) I’m up to 74 submissions for the year, and I’d like to hit at least 80 before the month is out.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

7/9/18: A Week of Writing: 7/2/18 to 7/8/18

The usual weekly writing update.

7/12/18: Go for the Goal: 100 Submissions

In this post I talk about my goal of 100 submissions for the year and why I’m pursuing it.

Goals

Cue the broken record. Keep working on the novel and keep sending those submissions.

Submission Spotlight

Flame Tree Publishing has an open call for two more anthologies, Haunted House and Cozy Crime. Flame Tree is an SFWA qualifying market (with pay rates to match). They’re okay with reprints, simultaneous submissions, and multiple submissions. Deadline for these two anthologies is 7/29/18. More details in the link below.

Flame Tree Publishing Anthologies 


That was my week. How was yours?

Go for the Goal: 100 Submissions

This year I set a goal to send 100 short story submissions. It’s similar to the 100 rejections goal, but the focus is a bit different. Let me explain why I’m doing it and subjecting myself to all those rejections. 🙂

Why 100 submissions? Here are my top three reasons.

  1. Number goals motivate me. This is more about me personally than any sage advice on submissions. I’m kind of a stats nerd, and these kinds of goals, as arbitrary as they are, keep me focused and push me to keep writing, submitting, and so on. Your goal needn’t be 100 submissions if you’re not a numbers person. It could be broader. Some like submit to more pro markets, for example.
  2. It keeps me writing new stuff. In order to send out 100 submissions, you need a fair amount of material to send. So I’ve been writing a lot more short stories this year. Sure, a lot of it is flash, but I’ve been pretty consistent with a new story every week or so.
  3. It’s pushed me to diversify. I’m primarily a horror writer, but the simple fact is I run out of horror markets pretty quick. There are a lot more fantasy and sci-fi markets, generally, so I’ve been writing more in those genres, with some success. Hell, I even wrote and sold a mystery story this year. Of course, a lot of my sci-fi ends up being horror/sci-fi and my fantasy is generally dark fantasy, but, hey, it still counts.

So, how am I doing with this goal? Let’s look at some numbers.

  • Submissions: 73
  • Pending Submissions: 8
  • Unique Stories: 26
  • Acceptances: 9
  • Rejections: 55
  • Withdrawals: 2

I’m satisfied with those numbers, and I’m well on my way to hitting my goal (and then some). I’m also happy with my acceptance rate so far (about 14% based on completed submissions), though I’d always like it to be higher. As usual, there have been a fair number of short-listed stories that ended up getting rejected, and I feel confident those stories will find a home and increase my acceptance rate down the line. Out of my 100-plus submissions, I’d really like to hit 15 acceptances, and I feel like that’s doable (he says, jinxing himself).


Got any submission goals of your own? Tell me about them in the comments.