Tuesday, September 07, 2010


This is a story about rejection. It has, if not a happy ending, at least an optimistic one.

As many of you know, I write fiction. Each spring I take the half-day writers workshop at Potlatch. Four or five writers submit stories in advance and then gather to critique each others' work and have it critiqued by the workshop instructor.

Last year, after the workshop, I was talking with another writer of unpublished short fiction and we challenged each other to a submitting contest. The problem, you see, if you love writing, is not writing.

It's submitting what you write — and getting those rejection letters.

One of my Potlatch-community mentors, David Levine, endeared himself to me by publishing a spreadsheet showing how many times his stories are submitted and rejected before being published. He blogs often about getting a story rejected and sending it on to the next publication. It's inspiring. Shortly after I met him, one of David's short stories, "Tk'tk'tk," not only got published in a major genre magazine, but it won a Hugo award (presented at WorldCon by Harlan Ellison, who growled "David Levine, are you here? Get your ass up here!").

Anyway, back on earth...

My friend Julie and I got chatting after Potlatch and challenged each other to a submitting contest. First person to submit wins.

Nothing happened for a few months, but then came the Clarion West Write-a-thon, a fundraising event to benefit the Clarion West Writers Workshop. As a member of the Clarion West board, I needed to gather people to support my writing goals for the summer. I asked for, and got, $250 in support for my goals. My goals were to submit two stories.

Which I did.

(A huge thank you to the friends — and one complete stranger — who underwrote my work.)

Here's the story of what happened:

The first story, a dystopian tale about a bitter elderly woman in the near future, was rejected by a Major Science Fiction Magazine about three weeks after I sent it. This was the kind of rejection you hear about. The proverbial self-addressed stamped envelope arrived, containing the cover page of my manuscript with a slip of paper (God forbid they should waste a whole page) stapled to it that basically said "Does not meet our needs."

 At the time I got the first rejection, I was dragging my feet with the second submission.  It's  a story far better suited to one of the Big Three science fiction and fantasy publications. A pro who had reviewed it for me had said if I made a few modifications to it she'd be willing to "introduce it" to a magazine editor. I made the modifications, but wasn't able to connect with her. Time was running out on the Clarion West Write-a-thon, so I went ahead and sent Story #2 off to Another Major Science Fiction Magazine.

To appreciate what happened next, you should know that Story #2 has a peculiarity that had alarmed everyone in my last writing workshop: It's about a writer, and you aren't supposed to use a writer as a protagonist. However, people had agreed that because it was a humorous story, and didn't take the writer seriously, I might be able to get away with it. Also, the writer is not a science fiction writer — he's a writer of Los Angeles crime fiction novels. So, off it went.

And this is where the story gets optimistic.

After four weeks of waiting, the story got rejected. But it got rejected in that wonderful, constructive way that you want. I got a personal letter from The Big-Name Editor. He'd thought my story was funny — he even played along with the joke in the rejection letter. Which was a helpful analysis of what in the story had worked for him — and what hadn't. My God, he'd read the whole thing!

So tonight I opened up my spreadsheet (yes, I have a spreadsheet, just like David does) and I recorded the rejection. I haven't quite decided where to send the story next, as the market for humorous urban fantasy is limited.

But that's OK. Because I have a Halloween story out for consideration at a small online publication. And I'm hustling to meet a deadline to submit a fable for a short story collection. And the writing is the fun part.

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