A Withering Rejection

Before I tell you about my latest misadventure, I’ll just catch up on a couple of nice things that I’ve missed.

At When Words Collide, someone did something very thoughtful for me, and I forgot all about it until I got home and unpacked. At last year’s WWC I did a slide-show presentation on Alternative Aviation, and gave examples of speculative fiction that put machines like autogyros, hang-gliders and Zeppelins to good use in storytelling. One of my examples was Emergence, by David R. Palmer, in which a teenager comes out of an underground shelter after an apocalypse and uses an ultralight to search for other survivors. I mentioned that the book is out of print, and getting expensive on e-bay. A woman from the audience told me that she makes a hobby of hunting for copies at used book sales. This year, she tracked me down at WWC and presented me with a worn paperback. Thank you. I look forward to re-reading it; it has an unusual style.

I had a fun event at the Kenora Public Library last week. The library was very supportive, putting posters on the lawn and front door, providing Tim-bits and bottled water, and helping me set up. An article in the local paper helped get the word out, and there was an interview with one of the local radio stations, too. Sadly, the sun shone brightly the day of the event, and there were no teenagers to be seen in my audience. I did three shortish readings from Avians and talked about its development a bit. Elizabeth Campbell Books sold a few copies at the event, and donated ten percent of the take to the library fund. I donated copies for both the Kenora and Keewatin branches, and the librarian for the Children’s Section actually bought a third copy on the spot, saying that she knew some girls who would “eat it up.”

So being a writer is all fun, fame and friends. Except every now and then, I have to submit something for publication. I’m a wimp about this. I dread making submissions, and while I should probably have multiple stories making the rounds, I often struggle to ensure that one story is out there somewhere. For one thing, I’m not what anyone would call a prolific author. By the way, does anyone know a nicer antonym for prolific than fruitless or impotent? I really don’t fancy describing myself as an impotent author.

Typically with submissions, the first few places are going to say no. I have one piece that’s had some nice rejections. I know that’s an oxymoron, but the default rejection is a terse form letter, and a personal note from an editor is a step up. This particular piece is a flash fiction story of just 300 words. I’ve had two form rejections, and one personal note that declined, but praised the way I did so much with so few words.

When I came across a market that said they were looking for tight writing, I thought of that story right away. It fit their guidelines, the rate of pay was acceptable, and the submission process was anonymous, which means I didn’t have to list my publication history in an attempt to sound like a worthwhile contributor.

They looked at it and they declined. They were kind enough to give me an idea of why they said no, which is a great help when it comes to reshaping the story for next time. But the included comment was a downer: “Interesting, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. There isn’t enough sense of place and character to hold up the lack to true narrative.
There are also a couple of typos.” Ouch. I thought it had character, setting and a twist. And typos! I try hard to send clean submissions, even reading them out loud before I hit send, but apparently, I dropped the ball. Right now, I can’t bear to look through it, but if I’m going to send it out again, I’ll probably have to read it out loud and backwards to spot the mistakes I missed. At least it’s short.

To have a real shot at finding it a home, I ought think hard about what they said, and see if I can make some improvements. I’m working on something else today, so I’ll probably shelve it for a while, which means I’ll have no submissions pending. If I want to call myself a writer, I’ll have to try again. And quite likely fail again. This is the not-fun part.

Luckily, I was up early and wrote a page for my next novel before that depressing email arrived. After struggling with a variety of opening scenes, I think I’ve finally found an angle that has character, setting, conflict, and something I might be able to sharpen into a hook. I have a few days before my vacation ends, and I  have some driving to do, which is creative thinking time for me. I feel I’ll be able to make some good progress.

 

One thought on “A Withering Rejection

  1. One thing you have to watch is that American editors sometimes mistake Canadian spelling for typos.
    I wouldn’t call that rejection “withering” though. As an editor, that sounded pretty mild to me. S/he is just saying they didn’t get the point, which is interesting counter point to the rejection that said the opposite, that you did a lot with 300 words. So that’s just personal taste. The fact that they took a minute to give you feedback suggests that even though it didn’t make the cut, they respected your submission, because no editor is paid to write rejection comments. If they are taking their own time to say something, chances are they meant it to be constructive, however it came across (a problem of jotting things quickly)
    I HAVE seen some rejections I would call withering… you should google one of the websites that’s collected those shoot to kill rejections to see what you are not getting…. would help to put it into perspective.
    And Douglas Smith said it in his useful book on selling short stories: it’s a numbers game. You’re not going to sell every time, but you don’t necessarily change stuff just because one editor didn’t like it. Find a different editor. The story of mine that’s shortlisted for Aurora this year was rejected by the first editor it went to (who later told me didn’t get that the story was supposed to be funny until heard it read and saw the audience on the floor laughing); I have one story that’s been rejected like 20 times so far, but I still like it…sooner or later I’ll find an editor that likes it too. Just keep that story out there until it sells. It’s not necessarily the story it’s wrong, you just sent it to the wrong market.

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