21 May 2009

why to write short stories #4

How many of us have submitted a novel we've worked a year on? Two years? My, that's a lot of hands. Ten years? Wow, kudos for perseverance.

Those rejections suck, don't they? They suck the wind out of your sails and the steam out of your engine. How many of you climbed right back on the horse the day after getting a rejection on a partial or full request? My money's on no one.

You'll spend, say, one-three weeks drafting a short story. Then roll it through your critique group, take another week to fix it up, and start submitting. (If in three weeks you can't come up with a climax and resolution, throw the damn thing out and start over.)

Got a rejection? Well, of course you did, it's friggin' Science Fiction and Fantasy, for crying in a bucket. They've got back-stock to last two years. (I'm kidding here. I know they keep stock on hand, but I don't know how much. Electric Spec has yet to keep back-stock--we tend to not operate that way.) And then, cuz you're not very good yet, you rack up ten more rejections on the piece. Maybe twenty. Maybe fifty. (BTW, fifty rejections on one story means you're going to SUCCEED as a writer and don't let anybody tell you different.)

You keep writing, say, a story a week. Which, incidentally, is a very good goal. And somewhere on the way to the bank, things happen.

First, you get a personal rejection or two. I liked this but such and such didn't work for me. PAY ATTENTION TO THOSE. Editors see dozens, maybe hundreds of short stories a year. For instance, in the past week I read40 stories. I have a tiny slush compared to some magazines and I haven't been putting much time in, either. Some nights I burn through twenty stories in one reading session. I rarely do personal rejections. But if you're lucky enough to get one, here are some common catchphrases and what they might mean.

Didn't hold my interest. The simplest solution to this is to cut words. But you might back up and see if something else isn't compelling, especially early on—character, plot, premise?

Such-and-such tripped me up. The editor could not suspend belief for the duration of your story and they're telling you the exact point where they couldn't. This is valuable.

Couldn't buy the premise. I'm currently trying to sell a story with a premise that a lot of people don't believe. I know it's going to be a tough sell. I've racked up a few personal rejections on it. They love the story; they don't believe the premise. I researched it, though; I know what I'm talking about. That's my point—to present an alternative view of a mistaken social premise. But unless that is your point, and you know you're right beyond a shadow of a doubt, then take a close look at your premise.

Didn't hook me. Your story lags at the start. Is your story problem, the propelling incident, on the first page? Cuz that's a real good place for it. Incidentally, it's also a really good thing to climax your story somewhere close to the last page, too. As I said last week, there's little room for epilogues in short stories.

So, take a look at these rejections as they come in, but don't let them stop your road show. Fix it up and send it back out! I mean, this is your writing career at stake! You do want to be a selling writer, don't you? Thought so! Which is why we're broaching career building tomorrow.


Margaret Yang said...

I'm really enjoying this series. I prefer form rejections, but I know I'm in the minority on that point.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I often find personal rejections confounding. I get quite a few "editor-to-editor" personals, though, which are nice.

Martin Willoughby said...

I got a 'personal' which said that it wasn't strictly their genre, but it should be published so send it to a general magazine.

I'm waiting to hear from that second submission.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

Well that's worthwhile advice and nice of the editor to take the time.