Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Progress?

I am singularly ill-suited to proctoring tests. If I'm not totally engaged with a cerebral task, I hate sitting still - I'm probably more than a little ADHD - and proctoring isn't engaging or cerebral, and it barely counts as a task. It's the worst and most "bastard-love-child-of-babysitting-and-being-a-prison-guard" part of teaching. It doesn't help that I was out sick yesterday, my sub was apparently awful, and one of the power sockets died in the night, causing the turtle tank to be without filtration for about eight hours. Anyone who has ever kept red-eared sliders can tell you how much of a problem that is.

Seriously, if there are creatures that produce more poop than red-eared sliders, I don't want to know about it.

Anyway, the combination of state tests, whining children, and pooping turtles puts me in a mind to talk about rejection letters, so that's what I'm going to do.

Right before I began my teaching career, I began a project to see if I could acquire fifty (or more!) rejection letters over the course of a year. The logic is that I can't make them buy my story, but I can make them give me a rejection letter, and as long as I'm getting rejections, I'm sending out stories, and as long as I'm sending out stories, I'm working on my craft, putting myself out there, and making a sale more likely. Abruptly developing a career put a serious crimp in this plan, and I've only managed to net one acceptance and ten rejections, but that's eleven brand new steps into writing, so I'm not complaining.

For a while there, I was also posting the rejection letters with the serial numbers filed off. I stopped doing that when I read some horror stories about publishers taking offense. It was harmless, fun post fodder - I wasn't offended by the rejection letters; in fact, I only ever commented about how polite and helpful my rejectors were - but it wasn't worth risking my writing career over.

I recently got an incredibly classy rejection letter - my tenth! - from Abyss & Apex. The jist of it was this: "your story is well written and made it all the way through the slush process to reach my desk, but it isn't to my liking; good luck placing it elsewhere and do try again with something new."

Over the course of my...

[Time to walk around the room and gaze balefully - but also encouragingly? - at students]

Over the course of my writing career so far, I've noticed an overall pattern to my rejection letters. There are fits and starts, leaps forward and leaps back, but the story goes something like this:


  1. Form rejection, signed by the editor but with no indication that it is from an actual editor, or even an actual human being.
  2. Rejection with encouragement and commentary, signed by an editor.
  3. The "good story, but not to my taste" rejection, from an editor.

I wonder, is this progress? I have the feeling that it is.

In step one, I was clearly getting rejected by slush readers.  In step two, I was reaching editors, who rejected my stories because of quality issues. Now, in step three, I'm reaching editors who can't find anything "wrong" with my writing - they just didn't like the story.

This means that instead of writing mediocre stories, I'm writing good stories and sending them to the wrong magazines, or the right magazines on the wrong days, or the right magazines at the same day as someone whose stories was even better.

Clearly, even if this means something it doesn't mean a heck of a lot.

I also shouldn't take this to mean that I'm entitled to any particular kind of...

[Stop whispering to each other! This is a state test - do you want to get your butt suspended?]

I also shouldn't take this to mean that I'm entitled to any particular kind of rejection letter. Just because I feel like I'm mostly in step three doesn't mean that I'm not going to get a form rejection once in a while. If I get all discouraged (or worse, grumpy) when I do, then it's going to crimp my style.

What it does mean is that I'm making progress, and that's never a bad thing.

That's a pretty positive conclusion for a post that started with turtle poop, don't you think?

6 comments:

Porky said...

Yes, I do. And thanks for putting it out despite all the distractions. It's encouraging to many I'd guess.

Greg Christopher said...

You are a fool for not self publishing. You would have money by now.

Sorry for the tough love, but you seem to be needlessly hurting yourself

Dave Thompson said...

This means that instead of writing mediocre stories, I'm writing good stories and sending them to the wrong magazines, or the right magazines on the wrong days, or the right magazines at the same day as someone whose stories was even better.


Yes, this is exactly what it means.

At PodCastle, we pass up well-written and even good stories all the time. They're just not right for us. Additionally, most of the stories I see in my pile have been published somewhere else - Strange Horizons, Fantasy, BCS, insert whatever other well-respected market you can think of. And a lot of times, we reject them, because they're not quite right for us. But they were obviously what other editors wanted.

Keep writing, keep subbing, keep collecting rejections. Eventually, your stories will find editors who like them.

Mark said...

@ Porky: You're welcome!

@ Greg: Don't worry about it - tough love is always welcome on the Burning Zeppelin Experience. That said, I'm afraid that I have to respectfully disagree. Said disagreement got so long that I'm going to make a post out of it. Watch this space for more details!

@ Dave: Thanks for supporting my optimistic interpretation of events! I'll definitely keep my nose to the grindstone.

Scattercat said...

I'm still maintaining over a hundred submissions per twelve months, at least according to Duotrope. Huzzah for rejection letters!

Wendy S. Delmater said...

For what it's worth, all Abyss & Apex rejection letters are from actual human beings.

And yes, your evaluation of the progressively more positive rejection letters is spot-on. You are NOT a fool for avoiding self-publishing until you've honed your craft and built a name and a following.