Submissions: No Accounting for Taste

The old saying goes one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. That’s applicable to a wide variety of creative endeavors, and writing is no exception. What I mean is that when you send out submissions, whether or not you get published is due to a number of factors. The two biggest are write a good story and make sure that story is appropriate for the market. Another important one, I think, is editorial preference. Even if you nail the first two elements (good story and good for the market), the person reading your story has to, you know, like it, and that is a pretty subjective thing. Let me see if I can illustrate the point with some of my own submissions.

The chart below includes eight stories and five markets – two pro markets, two semi-pro markets, and one token market. I send a lot of stories to these five publishers and they all generally publish the same type of material, namely speculative fiction that includes, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. I also end up sending the same story to these markets after one or more of them rejects it. Take a look.

Pro 1 Pro 2 Semi-Pro  1 Semi-Pro 2 Token 1
Story 1 Accepted Rejected
Story 2 Rejected Rejected Accepted Rejected
Story 3 Accepted Rejected Rejected
Story 4 Rejected Accepted
Story 5 Accepted Rejected Rejected
Story 6 Accepted Rejected
Story 7 Accepted Rejected
Story 8 Rejected Accepted

I’m not using the names of the stories or the names of the markets because I don’t want to give the impression that any of these publishers are wrong for rejecting my stories or right for accepting them. This is just a sampling of my submissions to illustrate my point that editorial preference (which is neither right nor wrong) plays a role in getting published.

If editorial preference plays a significant role, how do you improve your chances of acceptance? Well, that’s where submission targeting comes in. For starters, you should read sample stories from the magazine, which’ll give you a good idea of the content the editors like. That said, I find once I start getting responses from editors in the form of rejections or acceptances, I can really drill down on their preferences (especially if they’re kind enough to give me some feedback).

Sometimes you hit the mark right off the bat. For example, pro market 1 and semi-pro market 2 accepted the first stories I sent them, and that helped me narrow down what to send them next. The result? I’ve been accepted by both markets a number of times. On the other side of that coin are pro market 2 and semi-pro market 1. I had seven and ten stories rejected by those markets respectively before I broke through. The stories they accepted had a very specific style and that told me A LOT about what I should be sending these publishers.

The take away here, for me at least, is there’s no exact formula, no foolproof plan to getting a story accepted. You have to commit to perfecting your style and craft, be diligent with your research, and, yes, accept a fair amount of trial and error. In addition, don’t give up on a market just because they’ve rejected you a bunch. It might be that you simply haven’t sent them the right story yet.


Thoughts on editorial preference? Tell me about them in the comments.

One-Hour Flash – The God in the Lake

Time to share another bit of flash fiction that didn’t quite make the grade. I haven’t done one of these in a while, so just as a reminder, this is a story that I wrote in one hour as part of a flash fiction writing exercise. I’ve done a lot of those over the years, and many of the stories have gone on to publication. Many others have, uh, not. This is one of those. This is basically the story I wrote in an hour back in April of 2014, and though I’ve tinkered a bit here and there, it’s still pretty first draft-y.

Anyway, here’s “The God in the Lake.”


The God in the Lake

“There lies the death of gods.” Alexios drew his sword and pointed the short length of honed bronze at the lake. His blue eyes gleamed cold.

“Don’t do this, Alexios,” Hesiod said. “It won’t bring her back.” He had counselled his friend for days since they discovered the lake and that what lay within it was more than the fevered obsession of a broken man.

Alexios lowered his sword but did not return it to its scabbard. Hesiod saw the old hurt crash into him, the grief that had torn his world apart. But grief had not killed Alexios. It had done worse; it had eaten his soul and breathed hatred into the space left behind.

“I know,” Alexios said. “I’ve accepted that.”

“Then why are we here?” Hesiod gestured at the crystalline surface of the water, looming, white-capped Olympus behind it. The lake had taken ten years to find, and Hesiod had thought it no more than a myth, a place that could not exist. He’d kept the dream of the lake alive in Alexios because it was better than watching him drink himself to death or spend his life and blood on another senseless war. Now they stood before it, the doom it held a terrifying reality.

Alexios’ eyes burned with something equal parts joy and rage. “I want them to feel what I feel. I want the mighty gods of Olympus to suffer as I have suffered, and that!”—he turned and stabbed his blade at the lake — “is the only thing that can hurt them.”

He took the horn from his belt. Finding it had been as difficult as finding the lake. It was carved from something black that was not antler, wood, or stone. The symbols etched onto its surface were a tangle of angles and spikes. They were not writing–something far older than that.

“You followed me for so long, my friend,” Alexios said, his mouth trembling. There were tears in his eyes. “Will you not stand beside me while I blow this horn? Will you not join me in bringing justice to Althea?”

Althea had been Alexios’ wife, but Hesiod had loved her as well. Watching her die, wasting away, the physicians helpless to ease her pain, had been as torturous for him as it had to Alexios. He, too, had prayed to Hera, to Zeus, to any god that would listen, begging them to heal Althea or let her die swiftly. They had done neither. “There is no justice in this,” he said.

“Vengeance then,” Alexios replied.

“You may gain vengeance, but all the world will suffer for it.”

She was the world to me.” His eyes flashed, and his face twisted into something nearly as monstrous as the creature he sought to wake. “I will take the world from them.”

Alexios’ wasn’t paying close attention to him now. Hesiod could take two steps, draw his own sword, and drive the blade into his friend’s back. He could save the world from this madness. But for what? Althea would still be gone. For ten years he had been a surrogate to Alexios’ pain, nurturing it while his friend focused on reaching the lake. That pain had grown to maturity now, and it replaced everything Hesiod had been or could be. If he killed Alexios, he would be alone. He would be nothing.

Hesiod sank to the sand before his friend. “Then do it. Wake Cottus. Maybe the death of the world will suck the venom from your soul.” And the emptiness from mine.

Alexios raised the horn to his lips, drew in a deep breath, and blew. A sound like the dying screams of a thousand men rushed out in a low, blatting roar. It shook Hesiod’s teeth and raised the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck. He heard the knell of doom.

The lake’s surface boiled and writhed, and a great black shadow appeared beneath the churning foam. Alexios stumbled backward, his sword falling to the sand, and sat next to Hesiod.

“We will watch their doom,” Alexios said, his lips drawn in a mad smile. “We will die knowing she is avenged.”

The hecatoncheir broke the surface of the lake, a roiling mass of hands and heads. It blotted out the sun, the sky, and the towering mountain behind it, a monster not even the titans of old could overthrow. It would destroy the gods, but the destruction would not end there.

Hesiod heard Alexios speaking beside him. He thought his friend was praying, but Alexios simply spoke to the gods. He told them he had unleashed their doom.

The shadow of Cottus engulfed them, and Hesiod closed his eyes and covered his ears. He saw Althea’s face, her long black hair, and her soft brown eyes. He had loved her, even though she had chosen Alexios. He held on to that love and hoped it would follow him into Hades.


I rarely have a clear concept in mind when I write these one-hour flash stories. Generally, I see the prompt, and I go with the first thing that pops into my head. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. With this one, I had a very clear idea. I wanted to write a story that mixed Greek mythology with Lovecraftian cosmic horror. The hecatoncheires are certainly fitting for that kind of treatment (even if I did take some liberties with their myth), but the story just never came together. The backstory of Hesiod and Alexios needs more fleshing out as does their quest to find Cottus, and that’s a tale that needs more than a 1,000 words to tell. Still, I dig the concept, and like most of these failed experiments, there might be something worth returning to at some point.

Check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series.

A Week of Writing: 10/29/18 to 11/4/18

Another Tuesday update. Here’s the writing week that was.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from heralded science fiction author Larry Niven.

You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money’s in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed.

– Larry Niven

I wrote a lot of short stories before I attempted a novel, and I agree with Larry Niven’s quote. Short stories do keep your writing lean. For me, a lot of that comes from the word count limits you’re have to deal with when submitting short fiction. Generally, that means anything longer than 5,000 words is a tough sell. I also write a lot of flash fiction, limiting myself to just 1,000 words. I think the most important skill I’ve learned in writing short stories is to get to the point as quickly as possible. That’s a handy skill when it comes to writing novels, and, I find, helps me keep my story moving. Of course, with flash especially, you also learn to remove everything that is not essential from a story, which is a skill that translates very well to novels.

The Novel

I’m still working through the third revision, and I’ve fixed a couple of big problems. The best thing about this current revisions is that it’s revealed to me how to fix two or three of the major issues with the book, and that’ll be my focus for the next go-around. The tough part of this whole process, for me, is that clawing urgency to get the book finished, get it out there, get it done. But that won’t serve me in the long run, and sending out a half-finished manuscript is certainly not a path to anything resembling success.

Short Stories

I got back on track with submissions last week, and I’m making good progress this week too.

  • Submissions Sent: 3
  • Rejections: 4
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

The three submissions last week put me at a grand total of 108 for the year (I’m up to 111 as of today). All the rejections last week came from the same market at the same time, which I was more or less expecting.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

10/22/18: A Week of Writing: 10/22/18 to 10/28/18

The usual weekly writing report.

10/26/18: Submission Statement: October 2018

My monthly report card for all things submissions.

Goals

The usual. Keep plugging away at the current revision and send more short stories out.

Submission Spotlight

This week I’d like to draw your attention to a horror market that has just reopened their doors for submissions. After a long hiatus, Shock Totem is back in action. I have very fond memories of this market because I cut my flash fiction teeth on their bi-weekly one-hour flash fiction challenge, participating over fifty times. Many of the stories I threw together in an hour have gone on to publication, and I’m thrilled to see Shock Totem reborn and accepting submissions again. Shock Totem is a pro market that accepts works up to 5,000 words (they also take reprints). Full submission guidelines in the link below.

Shock Totem Submission Guidelines


That was my week. How was yours?

Submission Statement: October 2018

October has come and gone, and here are my submission endeavors for the month.

October 2018 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 10
  • Rejections: 11
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 3

Ten submissions is solid, and it puts me at 106 for the year. Lots of rejections this month, and for the first time in a while, no acceptances.

Rejections

Eleven rejections for October.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 8
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 2
  • Personal Rejections: 1

As usual, lots of standard form rejections with a smattering of upper-tier and personal.

Spotlight Rejection

The spotlight rejection for October comes from a big market I really hope to crack some day.

Dear Aeryn, 

Thank you for sending us [story title] for consideration. 

We appreciate the opportunity to read your work, but unfortunately this one isn’t for us. 

Please note we received more than 1,750 submissions for approximately 20 slots, which means a lot of very, very good stories are not making the cut. (There are even some great stories that just aren’t right for our market.) 

Please keep on writing, revising, and submitting to the very best markets you can find. It can be an arduous journey, but a fulfilling and rewarding one as well. And with each new story you write, you’re honing your craft. No effort at your writing desk is ever wasted.

We wish you the very best of luck with your work. 

Some of you won’t have much difficulty figuring out which market this rejection comes from, but I shared it because of the submission numbers the editor included. This is a good example of the kind of odds you’re sometimes up against with pro markets. Here we’re looking at 20 slots for a whopping 1,750 submissions. That’s around a one-percent acceptance rate. As the editor points out, this means very good and even great stories are going to be rejected. It’s good to keep that in mind when you’re submitting to big markets so those form rejections don’t bum you out too much.

Publications

Three publications in October, the first of which is free to read online.

“When the Lights Go On”

Published by The Arcanist (free to read)

“Burning Man”

Published by Havok Magazine

“Time Waits for One Man”

Published by Factor Four Magazine

 


And that was my October. Tell me about yours.

A Week of Writing: 10/22/18 to 10/28/18

Getting a late start, but here’s how my writing week that was went.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Michael Crichton

“Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it …”

—Michael Crichton

This quote pretty much nails how I’m feeling at the moment as I stare down the barrel of another revision. It’s a tough to accept your novel isn’t quite where it needs to be. You want to get it out there, you want people to read it (and publish it), but if you ignore that inescapable feeling that the book isn’t ready and send it out anyway, I think you’re setting yourself up for failure. So, as I finish this revision knowing I’ll need to do at least one more, I’m trying to keep my eye on the goal. That goal is not to write and revise a book as quickly as possible, it’s to write and revise a book that represents my best work.

The Novel

I’m nearing the end of revision three on my novel Late Risers. I’ve fixed many problems, and the book has indeed gotten better, but there’s no escaping the fact I’ll need at least one more revision before it’s ready to shop. It’s a bitter pill because I’m so eager to get the book out in the world, but I wouldn’t be doing myself any favors pushing it out the door before it’s ready. So, it’s head down, keep working, keep refining, keep revising.

Short Stories

Well, last week was a rarity. I was so busy with novel revisions, I didn’t write or submit any short stories. In addition, I didn’t receive any rejections or acceptances, and I didn’t have anything new published. That should change this week, but for the moment, here’s a whole bunch of zeroes.

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

I’m still at 105 submissions for the year, and I have sent 9 submission in October. So I don’t feel last week’s goose egg is a major setback.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

10/22/18: A Week of Writing: 10/15/18 to 10/21/18

The usual weekly writing report.

10/26/18: How Many Rejections Add up to an Acceptance?

In this post, I looked at all my acceptances for the year and how many rejections each received before the big yes.

Goals

Finish this revision and get ready for the next, and hopefully last, one. I’d also like to get at least one more submission out in October for an even ten.

Story Spotlight

This week’s story spotlight is “Burning Man,” recently published in the very last issue of Havok magazine (in it’s current incarnation). This is a story I’ve been kicking around for awhile, and I’m glad it’s finally found a home. This one isn’t free to read, but the magazine is definitely worth the couple of bucks they’re asking over at Amazon. I would also urge you to head on out to the relaunched Havok Publishing and check out their submission guidelines.


That was my week. How was yours?

How Many Rejections Add up to an Acceptance?

I was perusing my Twitter feed recently, and I happened upon a tweet asking about the maximum number of rejections authors have received before they sold a story. My personal record is sixteen, and while I think that’s a bit of a fluke, I rarely have one-and-done submissions either. I find this subject fascinating because, for me, it’s one of the core principles in my submission philosophy. What I mean is, yes, you have to write a good story, but you also have to send that story to the right market at the right time.

To illustrate my point–and because I love charts and data and stuff–let’s take a look at my acceptances this year and see how many rejection each story racked up before it was accepted.

Story Rejections
Luck Be a Bullet 2
New Arrivals 2
The Food Bank 3
Scare Tactics 6
Simulacra 1
Two Legs 5
Burning Man 7
The Inside People 2
Do Me a Favor 0
Scar 6
What Kind of Hero 8
Far Shores and Ancient Graves 2
Bear Necessity 0
Old as the Trees 2
Time Waits for One Man 0
When the Lights Go On 9

That’s an average of about three and a half rejections per story. Not too bad. One of the stories “Scare Tactics” is interesting because it’s a reprint, and I’ve now sold it twice after it’s initial six rejections. Another interesting one is “Far Shores and Ancient Graves” because it’s my first acceptance from a market that has rejected me ten times prior. (I could write a whole blog post about not giving up on a market just because they’ve rejected you before, but I’ll save that for another time.) But let’s look at two stories at the extreme ends of my chart, “When the Lights Go On” and “Time Waits for One Man.” They were both ultimately accepted, but “Time Waits for One Man” sold on its first submission while it took ten submissions to find a home for “When the Lights Go On.” Why is that?

Could it be simple quality that determined the fates of these two stories? Though I’m hardly unbiased, I think these two stories represent some of the best flash pieces I’ve written, and “When the Lights Go On” was short listed three times by pro markets and received very positive feedback. Was it submission targeting that made the difference? That’s always a bit of a gamble, but I sent “When the Lights Go On” to markets with which I’m very familiar. Which leads me to genre. Could that be a factor? Maybe. “When the Lights Go On” is sci-fi with a strong horror element and “Time Waits for One Man” is firmly urban fantasy. Admittedly, horror can be a tough sell for some markets, even if the story is within the primary genres they publish, so that could have played a role.

Taking all the above into account, why was “Time Waits for One Man” accepted on its first submission while nine publishers passed on “When the Lights Go On?” Well, with the possible exception of the horror element, I’d chalk it up to two things. Editorial taste and dumb luck. Though a number of publishers liked “When the Lights Go On” and said as much, it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. Whereas “Time Waits for One Man” happened to be more or less exactly what one market (and editor) wanted. I just lucked out and sent the story to them first. I think that easily might have happened with “When the Lights Go On.”

To sum up, remember, good stories get rejected all the time, and nearly every story on my list was rejected by a market that ultimately accepted another story on my list. So don’t get discouraged because your story receives a couple of rejections (or nine). It might mean you just haven’t sent to the right market yet.


What’s your record for number of rejections before you sold a story? Tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 10/15/18 to 10/21/18

Happy Monday, all. Here’s anther week of writing that was.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from fantasy author Scott Lynch.

“I think it’s fairly common for writers to be afflicted with two simultaneous yet contradictory delusions; the burning certainty that we’re unique geniuses and the constant fear that we are witless frauds speeding towards epic failure.”

—Scott Lynch

It’s rare a quote sums up my state of mind the way this one does, especially lately. As I power through revisions on the novel, I go back and forth between thinking “I’ve really got something here” and “I’ve really written a terrible, unpublishable mess.” Like Scott Lynch says, both of these statements are delusional, which leads me to believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. That truth might look something like this” “I might have something here if I can rescue this novel from its current state as an unpublishable mess.” I think that’s pretty close to where I’m at and what I’m working toward. We’ll see in a couple of weeks. 🙂

The Novel

I’m exactly one-third of the way through the current revisions of Late Risers. Here are the big issues I addressed last week.

  1. Added new chapters to the beginning of the book that clarify the stakes in the first act and add some depth to certain character relationships.
  2. I had a few characters that were pretty samey and doing basically the same jobs, so on the advice of my critique partners I’ve ditched one and combined two others into a single character. This helps the pacing in the first act, as I lose some unneeded scenes around the excised characters.
  3. Fixed a slew of small continuity issues caught by my critique partners. These were easy to fix, but they’re the kind of thing that can pull a reader right out of the story.

This week I’ll continue through the manuscript working off the notes provided by my critique partners. The big goal is to cut or streamline more scenes from the first act that are slowing the pacing. These scenes are largely redundant and exist because I didn’t trust the reader to “get it.” I’ll also continue to fix the small continuity and voice issues throughout the manuscript. I still think I can make my deadline of the end of the month, but if I don’t, that’s okay too. I want to do this right, not just do it quickly.

Short Stories

I finished one new short story, a flash piece I’ll likely start sending out this week. I also have a couple of longer stories I started last week that I might work on when I need a break from novel revisions. As for submissions, here’s how I did.

  • Submissions Sent: 3
  • Rejections: 3
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 1
  • Shortlist: 0

The three submission last week put me at 105 for the year. Two of the rejections were fairly run-of-the-mill, but the third was from Cemetery Dance, and they had held it long enough I allowed myself to hope, just a little. Oh, well, that’s how it goes, and I’ll definitely send them something else when they open for submissions again. As for the publication, more about that in a bit.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

10/15/18: A Week of Writing: 10/8/18 to 10/14/18

The usual weekly writing report.

10/19/18: Replying to a Rejection: Dos and (mostly) Don’ts

Returning to a popular subject among writers, I break down the reasons you might (but mostly shouldn’t) reply to a rejection letter.

Goals

Oh, you know, the usual broken record. Keep revising the novel, keep submitting and  working on short stories.

Story Spotlight

This week’s story spotlight is my story “When the Lights Go On” which recently took second place in The Arcanist’s ghost story contest. I don’t say this often, but I’m a little proud of this one. It’s one of the rare times when the idea and the story came together easily and completely. Anyway, you can check it out by clicking the title or the photo below.

“When the Lights Go On”


That was my week. How was yours?