Posts Tagged ‘rejection’

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I think one thing you don’t realise until you start writing, is just how many stories a single person can produce. Of course this always assumes you don’t give up after your first few rejections. I’ve talked about rejection before however, so for the purposes of this article I’m going to assume that you’re the stubborn as a mule who’s particularly stubborn kind of writer who won’t let a few (hundred) NO THANK YOUs slow them down. I’m also going to assume you’re the kind of writer, like me, who writes in both long and short form (and everything in between.)

I probably could tell you roughly how many stories I’ve written if I could be bothered to do a check on my story folder, but frankly I’m too lazy, and besides that kind of thing (like totalling up how many rejections you’ve received) can be counterproductive. Suffice to say that I’ve written a lot. Five full novels, three novellas and several dozen short stories at least.

Many of these stories have yet to find a home outside of the digital one squirreled away on my hard drive (and backed up several times over, don’t EVER make that mistake!) and, like the crazy old relative in the attic, quite a few of them I’ve chosen to forget ever existed. If you’re not aware of the term ‘Trunk Stories’ then I’d recommend Googling it. Suffice to say that every writer is probably going to have stories he or she could never find a home for, because not matter who you are and how successful you are you’re going to get rejections. Just the other day on Twitter a writer I follow, who’s had multiple novels formally published, was bemoaning the fact that an American sci-fi mag had rejected a story submission, so don’t imagine that even if you become a bestselling novelist everything you write will turn to gold. Everyone, at every level, will have stories they haven’t found a home for.

And it’s possible that they imagine they never will. Now I’m not quite so defeatist. I firmly believe that every story has a home, even the terrible ones, because every story has merit, even if the only virtue was as part of your development as a writer. In today’s world anyone has the ability to publish their words, whether as a print on demand kind of way, or as an eBook, or simply by posting them on their blog—and I’ve done all three of those things. As I’ve always said, it’s better that 3 people read your story than nobody does. Hidden away in the attic or hard drive nobody is going to read it. And, you know, even though you think it’s terrible, someone else might not, and sometimes writers are their own worst critics (and, in fairness, their own most blinkered champion).

None of which is my way of admitting that if I’ve self-published or posted a story on my blog that I think it’s terrible. Far from it. That’s just the right home as far as I could see, especially for the novels because it is so very hard to get interest from an agent or publisher these days, the opportunities are infinitely fewer for a 130,000 word novel than a 5,000 word short story, and given how much time and effort it takes to write a novel the thought of no one ever reading it is so much more depressing. Especially when I think my novels are, for the most part, good. To date, as I’ve said, I’ve written 5 novels. The first, third and fourth ones are now available to buy as print on demand, pdf, or via Amazon. The fifth book may end up in the same place, but at the moment I haven’t exhausted all the options for attracting a publisher or agent to it. So it will be published, either because someone wants to publish it, or because I want to publish it. That leaves my second novel, a twisty turny time travel story worthy of Steven Moffat. That one may never see the light of day. In part because I’m not sure how good it is, in part because my characterising of certain characters is quite heavy handed, but also because the nature of the story necessitates a very specific time period within which it can be set so it would have to be published, if at all, as a kind of weird period piece.

Maybe one day…

Going back to short stories, I think there’s a lot more scope for finding a home for these, but persistence is the order of the day, persistence, a touch of luck and, just perhaps, the lowering of your sights.

The first thing to state is that just because you’ve been rejected by a mid-range publisher, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can only ever pitch that story at the independent end of the market, far from it. I once had a story rejected by the sadly now defunct Pill Hill Press, very much an indie concern in the States, that story ended up being published by the British Fantasy Society. Remember, a rejection of a story is just that A rejection. Every editor has their own tastes, every editor has their own idea what they’re looking for, and maybe that story about spider cowboys you wrote happened to be the third spider cowboy story they’ve seen that week—they can’t take them all. Abaddon Books’ commissioning editor David Moore makes the point very eloquently here about the process of cutting through a submission pile. But just because your story didn’t fit one editor for one publication, it doesn’t follow that it won’t grab hold of the next person you send it too (remember there are editors out there who turned Harry Potter down).

If you believe in a story you have to keep sending it out, I’ve eventually sold many stories that had been rejected many times because they finally found the home they were made for. So maybe that is luck, but really I think it’s more down to persistence. I also talked about lowering your sights, though as I say sometimes it can be as simple as heightening your sights as well, don’t be afraid to target the indie market. That isn’t to say they’ll automatically take your tale, they have standards just like anyone else, but the truism is, well, true! The wider you cast your net the more chance you have of landing a fish.

Don’t be afraid if it takes some time, often a story will fit a particular niche (Horror western, superheroes, erotic sci-fi etc.) and anthologies that are looking for that kind of story might be few and far between (and then three might come along at once like Number 6 buses!) but there’s no greater feeling than scrolling through somewhere like The Horror Tree and suddenly spotting an anthology you have the perfect story for.

Time to dust it off, maybe give it a polish and another proof, and send it off.

Every decent story can find a home; if you’re patient, persistent, and pig headed enough. Good luck!

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As I contemplate another short story rejection (oh woe is me!) I was prompted to put pen to pap…er, fingers to keys, in order to jot down what I think are the qualities a writer needs. Straight away I’d say that I don’t believe a writer needs all of the below, in fact given some of the poor novels I’ve read over the years you might not need very many of them at all, but some mixture is essential.

In no particular order:

• Dedication.
Writing is like work, it requires effort and it requires time, and it requires consistency. Any writing handbook will tell you to write every day, and it isn’t easy, especially not if writing is just a hobby and you have a job/children to juggle, but if you want to be a writer then you have to make time to write, and ideally you need to do this regularly. I try and write every day, sometimes it isn’t possible but, on the whole, unless I’m on holiday, it’s rare for more than two days to pass without me writing.

This dedication doesn’t just extend to sitting down every day and writing a new chapter of your novel for six months either, it’s the dedication to go back over what you’ve written, again and again, proof reading, correcting errors, rewriting huge chunks (something I freely admit I’ve never been very good at.)

For a long time this was the quality I lacked, the sheer gumption to actually make myself sit down and write. I’m glad I have that dedication now; I just wish it’d shown up sooner!

• Stubbornness.
You might get lucky. You might be one of those people like James Herbert who’s first novel, The Rats, was picked up by a publisher at the first time of asking, but the chances are you’re going to get rejections, a LOT of rejections and you’re going to have to cowboy up and take those on the chin. More than that you’re going to have to take those blows to the chin, and then stick your chin out for another go, and you’re going to have to keep doing this like the very epitome of a cantankerous old mule.

This very much links in with dedication, because it isn’t just about rejections, it’s about the other roadblocks you’ll find in your way, things in your work or personal life that make writing a struggle.

• Self-belief.
It’s easier to be stubborn if you believe you have a right to be, and to some extent you’ve got to believe in your own ability, because if you don’t think you’re a good writer, why should anyone else?

Without belief in your own ability those rejections will eventually knock you down, whittle away at your confidence until, one day, you put down your pen and never pick it up again except when you’re signing a birthday card.

• Self-awareness.
It’s somewhat counterintuitive when I’ve just told you to believe in yourself, but you’ve also got to be self-aware enough to criticise yourself as well. A lot of rejection will be generic, but some will come with criticism, hopefully constructive criticism, but nonetheless it will be negative, or at least will appear to be so. What you have to do is take it on board.

That doesn’t mean you have to accept every critique you get, try to please everyone and you’ll end up pleasing no one after all, but at least consider what you’ve been told. If its comments about your grammar, or the number of typos in your work, then you need to consider that maybe, just maybe, you need to proofread your manuscript a few more times before you send it off. If it’s that your dialogue seems rusty or your descriptions are overly flowery then see if you can’t improve those areas.

Don’t believe everything people say about your work (experienced publishers turned down Stephen King, JK Rowling and a host of others after all) but don’t discount the feedback you get either.

• Talent
It would be easy to say you either have this or you don’t, but I don’t think that’s quite the case. Work hard enough and practice enough and I firmly believe that most people could be at least workmanlike writers, and plenty of workmanlike writers sell stories.

Talent alone won’t get you published, but if your prose flows like a mountain stream and you can describe a filthy slum and still make it seem magical, then no doubt editors and agents are going to be predisposed to like you.

• Luck
This isn’t me being cynical, or blaming my lack of blockbuster success on nothing more than bad luck, but it has to be said that sometimes selling a story or getting published comes down to being in the right place at the right time…probably with the right idea.

The sad truth is, no matter how good a writer you are, chances are there are plenty of other people just as good or better, and sometimes the thing that makes one submission stand out amongst a slush pile full of them is probably something you couldn’t have envisaged in a million years.

How many conspiracy thrillers with religious overtones came out in the wake of The Da Vinci Code for instance? How many Dark Romance books in the wake of Twilight? I’ve seen plenty of books advertised as; ‘The next Hunger Games’, or ‘In the spirit of Harry Potter’, and I wonder just how many erotic books publishers had looked down their noses at suddenly became bankable once Fifty Shades of Grey took off?

Luck, don’t bank on it but don’t discount it. Sadly it isn’t something you can affect, well not unless you’re smart enough to realise that the next big thing is going to be books about talking cats from another planet two years in advance. I’ve copyrighted Moggies from Mars so don’t even think about it!

• Empathy
Can you imagine what it would be like to be a member of the opposite sex? To be someone of a different culture or ethnicity? To be a dog or a cat or, a cop, or a serial killer, or an alien warlord from the Gryxiantiply nebula?

Being able to write from the perspective of different people will help your writing stand out. Try and put yourself in their place. Sometimes this won’t be easy, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be a killer or a bigot, but if you can do it your characters will benefit and your story will benefit. Your heroes will be more than chisel jawed cardboard cut-outs and your villains will be more than Dick Dastardly clones. And the same is true whether you’re writing about a group of gay artists in Madrid or a group of mercenaries in the jungles of Burma.

• Imagination
Another quality that almost goes without saying, it’s hard to create a story without some degree of an active imagination, because you’ve got to imagine a scenario, create characters out of thin air, and then decide what will happen to them.

That said, imagination comes in varying forms. I’m what I once saw referred to as a space cadet, someone whose mind churns out ideas on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. Writer’s block is something I’ve rarely had to deal with for long. The downside of course is that many of those ideas are plain shite (be self-aware, see!), but luckily some are good (Believe in yourself too!).

Your mind doesn’t need to work like this for you to be a success, in fact for a lot of years one of the things that stymied me when it came to writing was that every time I started on a story I thought of another one and all my enthusiasm for the original tale melted like snow in spring. There are plenty of hugely successful writers out there who go months or years between ideas that they deem worthy of writing, and plenty of successful books have been written that were derivative. As the saying goes, there are only so many basic stories in the world (The romance, the quest etc.). Look at Star Wars, the only really original element is that it’s in space. Take the X-Wing’s away and what you’re left with is a farm boy, a good wizard, an evil warlock, a princess and a pirate, and that’s a very old story.

So don’t worry if you don’t wake up every morning thinking “Werewolves on the Moon, of course!” but by the same token if you never, ever come up with ideas you might want to reconsider a career/hobby change—although there’s plenty of stream of consciousness work out there, poetry, surrealist writing etc. Plus of course there’s non-fiction. Maybe you’re not meant to write romantic epics, maybe you’re meant to write car repair manuals. Writing is writing…

• To be a reader.
One final thing. I think in order to be a writer you probably have to be a voracious reader. The fictional horror writer Garth Marenghi might claim to have written more books than he’s read, but I think on the whole those who write, must first read, especially in your chosen genre(s) but try and stretch yourself from time to time. You never know you might find something new to enjoy.

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I hope this post has been of some help. Now I’m going to stop writing about being a writer, and get back to my novel…you see I haven’t written any of that yet today!

 

To be a writer you need a thick skin. This is not only because you probably are going to get rejected, A LOT, but also because, even when you are published, your work won’t appeal to everyone, so you’ll need to get used to negative reviews as well.

I’ve developed a pretty thick skin over the years. It’s not perfect, like a force field in Star Trek there are places where it’s a lot thinner, and if you fire a photon torpedo of rejection at just the right angle you will probably piss me off, but on the whole I’ve learned to be fairly relaxed about the process. I know I’m a good writer, it’s just that sometimes other writers are better, or my story isn’t quite right for a particular publication, and over the years I’ve found homes for plenty of stories that were initially rejected. Sadly the truth is that yours might be the 13th best story out of 150 that were submitted, but if the anthology only has space for 12 there’s nothing you can do about that.

Sometimes though, however powerful my shields are, something happens that really rubs me up the right way, and such a thing happened today. I won’t name the publisher, but I submitted a story back in October 2013 for an anthology that was supposed to be published this month. Finally today the table of contents has been published. My story was clearly rejected yet I received no rejection email, there wasn’t even a quick message on the website along the lines of “If you haven’t heard from us we’re afraid your story has been rejected. We wish you the best of luck in placing it elsewhere.” No, instead I (and ones presumes the other rejected) have been left hanging for weeks, possibly months.

Rejection is annoying, and a form rejection that gives no indication of whether your story had any merit, or how it could be improved, is more annoying, but they’re both an acceptable part of the biz. Not even having the decency to send a form rejection email on the other hand, well I think that’s a bit crappy. At the end of the day I have what I think is a decent story, and whilst it may not be right for this particular editor/publication, that doesn’t mean it won’t find a home elsewhere, but unless I know it’s been rejected I can’t send it elsewhere (because publishers frown on simultaneous submissions don’t ya know!) .

For all I know the perfect home for my story has been and gone. A publisher who would have paid pro-rates and a publication that would have been seen by a big shot Hollywood producer who’d buy the rights to my story for a million bucks and…well ,you get the point.

So in this instance a bit of phaser fire has penetrated my shields and caused some minor hull damage. Nothing too serious thankfully. The majority of publishers and editors are great, but in this instance someone else will have their name added to a very small list of persons I won’t submit to again.

That’ll show em!