You Can’t Tell Which of Your Stories Will Be Popular

I’ve written perhaps thirty short stories, at least as many dribbles (100-word stories), three full-length novels (in excess of 100,000 words each) and somewhere in excess of half a million words set within my own fictional worlds. Add on top of that my years as either a journalist, a copy-writer, or a fundraiser, and I’ve written a lot.

I want to tell you about three of my short stories and how their existences have been different from what I would have predicted. The stories in question are “Last Breath Day”, “Graceful Degradation”, and “The Maiden Voyage of Novyy Mir.”

When I wrote “The Maiden Voyage of Novyy Mir” five years ago, I thought it was the best story I’d ever written, and up to that point it may have been. I’ve submitted it to perhaps fifteen publications since then. (Each submission ties a story up for months).

This was the first story I wrote that got personalised rejections. What this means is that the magazine editors read it and seriously considered it. Then, when they decided not to use it, they still gave free editorial feedback on it. This is rare. But with Novyy Mir, it happens a lot. People like it, just not quite enough to publish it.

Three years ago, I wrote “Graceful Degradation.”

This story is such departure for me. It’s not easily categorised as science fiction. It’s a short story about a man reluctantly breaking the law in an attempt to honour his dead wife while living in a repressive society. I love this story. It’s still my favourite.

Just like Novyy Mir, it gets held for consideration and ends up coming back to me with kind notes from editors. The last time it came back to me, the whole editorial board (5 people) had offered individual feedback because they felt moved enough by that story.

Still, neither of those stories has sold.

In between these two, about four years ago, I wrote “Last Breath Day.” This is a very short story, about 1,300 words long. It’s good, but not my favourite by any stretch. Three years ago, in the autumn of 2017, I submitted it to an open call from a UK publisher.

They bought the story. It became my first professional sale and appeared in the Alien Invasion Short Stories anthology, published in March 2018 by Flame Tree Press.

Tall Tale TV

Shortly after that, it was picked up and record for a podcast, Tall Tale TV. (It’s episode 64).

Just today, it’s been accepted into another anthology, this one supporting literacy during lockdown.

That one short story, the middle child of my greatest hits (to date), has done so much for me:

  • It’s my first qualifying story for membership in the SFWA (Science fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Association).
  • It got me listed in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.
  • It got me listed on GoodReads
  • It got me listed (with a typo, grrr) on Amazon.
  • It qualifies me for membership in a couple of closed writers’ groups.

I still have stories that I love more, but it’s hard not to respect Last Breath Day, a story that’s done a lot of heavy lifting for me.