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The story submissions game

I'm new to the Serious Writing thing...

I currently have two stories that I think are submission-worthy, one of which just brought in its third rejection. I'm looking forward to having more stories out in the mail, so as to spread out my attention span and not have so much invested in each one. It's interesting to learn about the process from the inside, though, even with only two making the rounds now.

Story #1 is a weird little short thing (1,300 words) that went out for the first time in November, and I'm still waiting for a reply on its second submission. That's due sometime within the next week. The first rejection sounded like a slight positive, and that's a hard subtlety to explain, but I will take it.

Story #2 is a more normal length, at 4,600 words, and I didn't start sending it out until January, but it's gotten a variety of remarks within its first three trips out, including one that sounded like "meh," one that sounded positive and indicated interest in more of my work, and one that was completely neutral and businesslike.

My goal is to be realistically persistent in submitting my writing to markets that seem right for each story. I'm not sure exactly how many rejections will tell me that a story is not ready for publication anywhere, and needs to be either revised again or trunked, but I suppose that keeping at it will make a clue begin to emerge along the way. I don't want to waste time--mine or anyone else's--but I don't want to give up on a story too easily, either. My new plan to get more written will, I hope, begin to teach me more about the short story form and how to engage the reader more thoroughly. I feel like practice is making some changes in the way my mind works, at least. I think I'm catching on to some new things.

What are you trying to learn to do?


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 2nd, 2008 09:16 pm (UTC)
FWIW, I've had stories sell after about 20 or so submissions, and I know folks who have needed even longer. (We're talking sales to pro markets ... just not the first 19 :-)

Having multiple stories out does help take the sting out of individual rejections, I've found.
Mar. 2nd, 2008 09:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks for saying so! I'm always glad to hear about other people's experiences with The Whole Writing Thing.
Mar. 2nd, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC)
I would suggest keeping things on submission as long as you still like the story. When you lose faith in it, then it's time to trunk.
Mar. 2nd, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC)
That's an excellent suggestion--thank you! :)
Mar. 2nd, 2008 11:31 pm (UTC)
all I've sold so far is poetry, but I'm amused that of my three favourite pieces I've written, two keep getting rejected ... and the pieces I sell are the ones I would have stopped trying to sell if they'd bounced more than two or three times, because they're the ones I have less faith in. oh the whims of editors.
Mar. 2nd, 2008 09:30 pm (UTC)
Persistence is a crucial part of being a writer, I think. I've sold pieces that had been to a couple of dozen places before.
There are people who only send to a limited number of markets and trunk the story if it fails there. For me, that doesn't work so well and seems very limiting.
Mar. 3rd, 2008 12:26 am (UTC)
That's what I've heard--persistence is one of the most important things, at least for those of us who care about having anything published. I'm still figuring out what seems right for which market, but I don't feel at all discouraged at this point! It helps to have the patience and longer view that I've developed in my 30s, compared to what I was like in my 20s.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 3rd, 2008 12:29 am (UTC)
Thanks for commenting! And especially, thanks for mentioning Duotrope--I'd seen mentions of it here and there but never looked at it until today, and it looks like a very useful thing.
Mar. 3rd, 2008 09:09 am (UTC)
My advice? Just keep sending the stories out. I've been amused by reviews of Sparks and Shadows that have gushed on stories that, back in the day, got rejected a LOT before they finally found homes. 12 rejections is a pshaw-nothing in this biz.

Editors can get it wildly wrong. But sometimes they get it wildly right. If you start seeing rejections that comment on the same thing, that's when to definitely pay attention to them. Or if you happen to get a rejection that makes you think "Holy cats he's right! This story does need an elephant!"

It took me a long time to develop a good headspace around rejections. You have to simultaneously take them seriously, but simultaneously ignore them and keep doing your thing, if that makes sense. Be receptive, but not dissuaded.

I'm trying to learn not to wait 'til the last ding-dang minute to finish my freelance assignments.
Mar. 3rd, 2008 11:17 am (UTC)
Thank you--that's helpful. :) I'm glad that I went into writing and submitting with a realistic idea of the likelihood of rejections, many of them. You're exactly right about the idea of considering what the editors have to say, but also maintaining your own sensibilities and carrying on.

Mar. 3rd, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
I say keep them out there, with an important caveat. Be sure to reread your submission if it has gone out, and come back. One of the important qualities of revision is a break from the material. You get so used to seeing what you want to see, sometimes this clouds your perception of what is actually on the page. Sending a submission out and not having a look at it for a month or seven (I've had submissions out for as long as a year and a half before they were rejected) offers you the brilliant chance to gain some perspective.

Never take the story out of rotation. I've had stories that float around for 20+ rejections find a home eventually. Patience and a thick skin are two very important qualities in the writing business.

In a response to the question of editorial comments: Sometimes these are less valuable for the immediate manuscript than they are for future story subs to that particular market.

A fer instance: I wrote a very bleak story about a father tracking down his missing infant, the resolution to which was quite bleak. Needless to say, it was a dark story. After getting bounced from a few markets, I discovered a magazine that was specifically calling for especially bleak stories of people caught up in crime-like events. Perfect, I thought! Well, the comments I got back were all thematically based -- the writing was effective, but the editor expressed issues with the story "values"; essentially they wanted the story to end in a different fashion, sort of a Death Wish kind of revenge tale. Well, I felt that was not right for this story, so there's no way I'm going to revise it to reflect this. However, if/when I do write that sort of story, you can bet your bottom dollar that this market will be on the list of sites to submit it to.

However, it also depends on the quality of the market and the quality of the rejection. I tend to give the remarks from someone like Nick Mamatas over at Clarksworld (top notch rejections, there) more consideration (in terms of the overall usefulness for a present manuscript) than from someone who includes plenty of typographical/grammatical errors in their rejection/critique letters.
Mar. 3rd, 2008 04:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks! You're right--it's very helpful to look at a story again after a break from it. Not only do you see the story more clearly then, but with a long wait between submission and rejection, there's enough time to learn some new tricks in the meantime.

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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