Rejection: Living the Writer’s Life

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This is the first year that I’ve made an effort to make money from writing fiction. The decision to start trying to create and sell short stories grew from the fact that I’m getting closer to finishing what I hope will be my first published novel. So, the time had come to start acquiring publishing credits (and contacts) through shorter works.

Everyone tells you that it will be hard, and it is. As we near the end of this year, I thought I’d share my experiences, if you're interested.

Beginning in May and up to December, I’ve submitted nine stories to eight different publications at different times (combined for a total of fifteen submissions). You can’t send a story to more than one publication at a time, so you have to pick where to send, and wait. If they reject your story, then you’re free to submit to someone else.

Many publishers take three or more months to reply.

Many of these publishers can take up to three months to reply. If they reject your story (more likely than not when you’re starting out) then you get to start the waiting process all over again with another publisher. It makes for a frustratingly slow means of finding a home for stories. One publisher held one of my stories for almost six months before rejecting it.

Not that I haven’t had some success. One publisher bought four of the six stories that I submitted. As of this writing, three have been published (here, here, and here) and the fourth, a seasonal alien invasion story, goes live on Christmas Eve.

And that’s the limit of my success so far. Everything else has been rejection.

Not all rejection is bad. If a publisher holds your story for a long time, it can mean that someone in the organization is championing it, trying to get it published. I think this is what happened with the publisher who had one of my stories for almost six months. The rejection letter quoted my cover letter, and stated that the editor liked the story and thought that it was worthy of publication, although not in their site. This anonymous person also encouraged me to submit future works to that publication, again a sign that not only was this not a form rejection, but that someone who makes a living in publishing likes my writing.

Not all rejection is bad.

I’ve also had rejections that critiqued my writing; one in particular commented that my story was “too much tell, not enough show.” On reflection, I agreed. It’s easy to fall into the “telling” trap when you’re writing in the first person. I usually write in the third person. I’ve re-written the story, and have started submitting it to other publishers (many publishers flat out say “don’t re-submit something we’ve already seen” which closes that venue for that story).

But most rejections are just “form rejection” along the lines of “Thank you for submitting ‘story name.’ Unfortunately your story doesn’t meet our needs at this time” or words to that effect. Still even a form rejection is an opportunity to send your story to another publisher… and wait.

Such is the writer’s life, at least so far.