As you may know, I am trying to launch myself as a professional writer. This has had its ups and downs, mostly a series of small, soul-eroding downs interspersed by a few interruptions almost-unbelieved ups.
One of the series of small, soul-eroding downs is the short story rejections I receive. I am at [checks Duotrope] 23 short story rejections since I started keeping track, and no acceptances. One maaaybe.
Obviously, I’m not writing the kind of short stories that people pick up, fall in love with, and can’t help but buy. You can tell me comforting things if you like, that my stories are good enough and it’s them, not me. That may very well be the case; however, it remains a fact that I’m not making so many sales as to offset (in my mind) the number of rejections I’m getting. Maybe it’s because I’m an attention hog. I know, many people do not see me as an attention hog; I’ve learned that attention is an investment. Also, I like to listen to other people talk, so I can rip off their stories and personalities as fiction later. Sorry about that.
Let me point out that I could have just said what I was going to say without writing paragraphs on paragraphs of blather. I want just that little bit more of attention, you see, to feel witty and wise for just a moment more.
At any rate, I was at the point where I needed to find out why I wasn’t getting short stories published. Ah, I said. If only I could get my hands on what the slush editors read. A few days later, Clarkesworld sent out a call for slush editors. I like them well enough and they get a lot of awards, but I thought it would be too much work.
Then I saw a call for Apex slush editors, and I took the morning off to reread what they had online.
I picked up an issue shortly after they first started, in 2006-2007 or so, and sent in for a subscription. Dark and creepy tales, ghost stories for grownups. I like ghost stories. The other magazine I was reading at the time was Weird Tales, which should tell you about my tastes, but they were doing more cthulu knockoffs than I could take (jaded much?). At the time, I decided that I could write better than everyone I read in Apex, so there. Only I couldn’t. Stupidly, I quit reading short stories for a long time (out of spite) and gave away all my back issues.
Fast forward to the present day. I’d started reading Apex again; it was a) online, b) free, and c) full of stories that I wished I was good enough to write.
I begged, I pleaded, and I got the job a week ago. Somewhere between three and five stories go through my inbox a day.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned so far:
- A form rejection can mean any one of a number of things, like “You didn’t follow the formatting guidelines” or “You went over the specified word count” or “This isn’t what we publish.”
- So far, I’ve been reading everything I receive, all the way through. I haven’t seen ONE submission that wasn’t formatted correctly (standard MS format) that I’ve been even remotely tempted to send forward. I’m sure I will eventually, but the odds aren’t good.
- Likewise, manuscripts with typos are also the ones with sloppy plotting. It isn’t that a typo will kill you; it’s that a lack of professionalism seems to repeat itself on all levels.
- I see a lot of stories that are limited somehow, so that you can read the first paragraph (in some cases, just the title) and know how it’s going to come out. Some are bad puns. Some are simple reversals of a common idea. Some are just a common idea, like “bad things happen to xxx kind of people.” I’m not truly solid on why this is, but it seems like there’s some idea that the story is about, and that’s it. Nothing happens organically, but only in service to said idea, which is black and white. Well, this is a magazine about wonder and mystery (dark miracles?), which are not produced in said pure colors, for the most part.
- Those stories aside, I see a lot of passable stories. I’m not supposed to pass them on to the editor unless they’re outstanding, exceptional.
- I hang on to the ones I like for a few days. If, when I’m reading the rest of the stories, I look at that e-mail and find myself reluctant to send out a rejection on it, because I’ve been thinking or dreaming about it, I’ll send it on, because it moved me the way the stories in the magazine move me.
- Whether or not that means I’m sending up the right stories for the magazine has yet to be determined.
- Here’s who gets the non-form letters: new writers (if I can think of anything useful to say); the one rewrite request I asked for, because I couldn’t get the story out of my head but yelled out loud with disappointment when I read the ending; when I feel like I have something useful to say (not often, oddly).
- The passable stories and the stories that belong at other magazines don’t usually get any comments. The badly formatted stories get a link to the guidelines Apex uses (although I think I’ve forgotten to delete this on a few properly formatted stories…oops).
- A well-written voice will hook me faster than anything else, even faster than action action action! The stories where I settle in comfortably, reading every line instead of skipping past the description–it’s because of the voice.
I’ve sent three stories up (they know who they are) and have two more in the bucket to see if I continue to like them as much as I do. I think that’s my favorite part so far, going back over the stories that I like, running my tongue over them (not LITERALLY, ow). Yes, that’s it, a good one. Like a vampire, selecting prey 🙂