Posts Tagged ‘rejections’

I wrote a story in which birds were sailing a warship. It made perfect sense in my head and the writing was up to my usual standards. So I submitted it to a magazine.

The rejection I got was a good one. Positive about my writing and the story while pointing out the things the editor didn’t think worked. Among the she they raised was a question – why would birds bother with a boat?

Captain Beaky tries to work out how to work a rudder without hands

Captain Beaky ponders how to work a rudder without hands

It’s not a stupid question, and it’s not like I didn’t have answers. But I have to admit, there was a certain extent to which that was just the basis of my fantasy and everything flowed from there.

When writing fantasy you always have some point of departure, some way in which your world differs from reality. It’s good for it to make sense, but how far do you need to go in justifying the change? Do you work out how dragons evolved? The astrophysics of your hexagonal planet? The genetics that allows humans and orcs to make little baby half-orcs?

To an extent it’s probably a matter of taste. But how far do you like an author to go, or do you like to go in your own writing? Are you willing to accept a couple of big unexplained differences, or do you need it all justified? Help a poor struggling author to work out where he stands.

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There’s a saying that the definition of science fiction is the thing that we point at when we say science fiction. It’s an approach that has also been applied to fantasy, and could probably be applied to any genre. Up until now it has just seemed like an interesting and abstract debate to me, but today I actually came a cropper on the boundaries of genre.

This morning I received feedback on a story that was being rejected by a magazine. I’d got through to the final round of consideration and it was a lot of very useful feedback, with positives as well as things to work on. But one thing that quickly became clear was that several of the editors reading the story had thought that it was meant to be science fiction and that it would have worked better as fantasy. Which was weird because I had intended the story as fantasy.

Clearly something in the story, or the way I presented it, had led them down an unexpected path in the way that they read it. It wasn’t what kept it from publication, but it clearly coloured their reading in a negative way. It was also interesting that a piece I’d intended to be reminiscent of colonial India came across more as American deep south, though I suspect that came from a combination of British author and American readers communicating across a mere thousand words.

I have no problem with the blurry lines around sci-fi and fantasy or with people reading my stories in ways I hadn’t intended, even in genres I hadn’t intended. But what’s interesting is that that kind of interpretation could actually cause me problems.

Anyway, I’ve edited the story based on their other feedback and now it’s back in the world again, waiting for its next rejection or that golden, shining day when it might get accepted. And in the meantime I should get back to work, setting words on the page no matter their genre.

I’ve just spent a week on holiday with friends, leaving my computer behind for the first time in years. It was a wonderfully relaxing experience, even if the drive home to Stockport wasn’t. So now I’m back, refreshed and trying to get my brain back into a working gear.

My first task, clearing my inbox, has acted as a reminder that I’m achieving some momentum on writing work. In the time I’ve been away I’ve had five stories rejected – not the ideal outcome, but at least it’s a reflection of how many stories I’m sending out. I’ve received notification that an anthology I’m in should be coming out this week – more details as soon as it’s available. And I’ve finally won the bidding for a few days of freelance work, something I’ve been striving towards for months now.

Getting started writing for a living is hard. I’m not as far along as I’d like to be, and sometimes I have to force myself to see the good in things – five rejections in a week hurts! But it’s good to be able to see a week as a whole like this, to see that I’m starting to get some responses from the world, and that they’re not all bad.

To the writing cave – there is work to be done!

I had the surreal experience this week of being surprised by my own writing.

I’d received a relatively detailed rejection email on a short story, for which I must mention Waylines Magazine, as it was one of the most useful and encouraging rejections I’ve had. Based on their feedback, I started reading through the story, looking for bits to improve. It’s a story that I’ve been trying to sell for years, and that’s been through a lot of re-writes. But I was still amazed to find that I’d completely forgotten about my last revision, which transforms the ending. It was a bizarre, dissociative experience to read something I knew I’d written, and yet have it seem completely unfamiliar. It was a good surprise – it’s a much stronger ending than the original one – and made me laugh rather than weep for my failing memory. Still, it was a little unsettling, like when your arm goes to sleep and it seems like that part of your body isn’t your own.

Has anybody out there had the same thing? Or do you always come back to your writing, as I usually do, with a sense of ‘here it comes again’?

I was hoping to write something substantial here this evening, but I’ve run out of time. Instead, I spent a couple of hours sending stories out. I’d had five short story rejections, including several very positive ones, over the past fortnight, and wanted to get those stories back out into the world. They’ll probably be back soon without acceptances, but if they haven’t been submitted somewhere then there’s no chance.

The problem is, sending out a short story takes longer than you might think. I have to identify suitable markets, read their submission guidance, pick the most appropriate one, get my story into their preferred format (hooray for markets using standard manuscript format, that’s five to ten minutes saved), write the cover note and send it out. All that’s assuming that they take electronic submissions. If not there’s printing and posting as well.

Hence sending out five stories took two hours and all the mental energy I could spare on a Sunday night. I feel satisfied at a job well done, but here’s hoping I also feel more inspired later in the week.

As promised, to balance my heady post on success, here’s the flip side – the heady joy of rejection…

It can be hard to stay motivated as a writer when you’re getting a lot of rejections. My Duotrope account tells me that I’ve got an 8.8% acceptance rate for the last twelve months. That might not sound too bad – heck, I’m happy with it – but it still means that for every acceptance I’ve had ten rejections. That’s a lot of people saying no. And yet, one of the things that most motivates me as a writer is a good rejection.

Good rejections are hard to come by. Most of the rejections I’ve received are form emails. I don’t mean this as a criticism – the editors at most short story markets don’t have the time to make it personal. They’re receiving hundreds of submissions, and mine is just one more in a mountain of things they don’t want.

But just occasionally I get a really good rejection. One that tells me what I did right, and more importantly what I did wrong. Just a couple of brief sentences, but ones that really lift me up. Seeing that someone took the time to have a well developed opinion on my story is great in itself. What’s writing for if not to provoke a response? But the content is important too. Knowing that someone else sees a fragment of value in my story, even as they’re rejecting my work. And, less moral-boosting but far more useful, identifying something that I can improve, both in that story and in my wider writing.

Receiving just a few rejections like that helps me face the rest with a smile, and to keep going. So, to the writers of those rejection notes – in particular the people at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, who have never published a single one of my stories but have given me many pieces of constructive feedback – thank you very much.

Persistence

Posted: June 11, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

I had a post prepped for today about rejection and then, oh the irony, I had a story accepted. So I thought I’d write about that instead.

(And before you start screaming ‘that’s not irony’, the term irony has different uses in different areas of cultural and intellectual endeavour. The definition of literary irony, for example, isn’t even the definition of irony that some people fail to use correctly. So point one, this may or may not be ironic depending on what irony we’re talking about, and point two, you know what I mean so quit fussing. Now, moving on…)

I won’t get into what the accepted story’s about – I’ll post about that when it’s published. What I want to explain is the journey this story went through to get published. Because this one is about persistence.

I started writing this story in January 2008. The second of January 2008, in fact – when I’m feeling diligent I write these things down. And it was accepted on ninth June 2012, four years five months and seven days later. It was rejected by thirteen different markets, and went through at least three substantial re-writes, all of which made it better. When it got rejected I sent it out again. When I got feedback with the rejection I did a re-write first, incorporating that feedback, and then sent it out again. I kept plugging away until, at last, my little tale found a home.

Not all stories are worthy of publication. I’ve written some real dross in my time. But if you believe in your stories then be persistent, don’t give up after the first rejection, or the first dozen. Write, submit, re-write, and do it all again. It might take time, but you’ll get there in the end.

And I’ll discuss rejection another time.