A Look Back at My Year in Writing—2015—A Sort of Capitulation

2015 was a tough one. No doubt. I’ll try to recap here the main developments and the things I achieved and didn’t achieve. Next week, we’ll look forward to 2016 and what I’m planning next.  Highsmith


1. I didn’t get a new work published.
This one stings, no doubt. I think two of the stories I wrote this year (“Pacha-Mama” and “Barabanchik”) are both top notch. Unfortunately, the big bad world seems to think otherwise, at least for the time being. That was tough, can’t pretend it wasn’t.

But I view it as a pretty minor setback. I’ve kept writing and feel the writing’s getting better. I’ve also gotten close to getting those works accepted…

2. I got two “good” rejections.
I know this is a weird, but work with me here. When a writer doesn’t get his work accepted he looks for a little, desultory cheer in his rejection letters. And now that I’ve collected over 50 of these, I can speak from experience. Most are stone-cold, not-interested-in-your-stuff standard rejection letters. But then there are those letters like these two (names have been removed to protect the innocent):

Dear Darius Jones,

Thank you so much for submitting to XXXX. We have read your work with interest, and although we are not accepting it, it did come close. We would love to see more work from you, so please feel free to resubmit during our next reading period.

Again, thanks for sending us your work. We hope to read more from you soon.

Signed,

The Editor

That was the first rejection that ever made my day. Getting an invite from an editor to keep submitting is a nice touch. A nice way to say: “Man, you came close. Don’t be discouraged. Keep sending us stuff.” And it was sure nice to get an encouragement after all those rejections. Here’s the next rejection letter:

Dear Darius,

Thank you for sending us “Barabanchik”…

We have decided not to include this piece in an upcoming volume of our anthology. However, since multiple readers review each submission, you may find the following excerpts from their notes useful or interesting…

– This is rather heavy with adult language…I like the narrative style, atmosphere, cultural references, and attention to details. I believe the POV shift…is rather abrupt and deserves a smoother transition. I’m very interested in all three characters, though I was expecting a greater connection to be established between them…I felt it was cut short, and I’m hoping a longer version is in the works!

That bit about getting engaged in the characters and hoping for a longer work I found pleasing. I think the most important thing is to have your reader care about your characters. I also think it’s gratifying to see the reader’s interest in a longer version, since I feel I write better in long form. I ain’t no Chekhov, that’s for sure.

I think I will revisit the works above slightly and keep submitting them this coming year.

3. I finished 3 short stories and made substantial progress on a longer piece.
The three stories I finished were: “The Man with Storms in His Eyes,” “Barabanchik” and “Pacha-Mama.” I have since decided to trunk that first story because I feel it’s not quite up to snuff. The other two pieces have received some good feedback from Beta readers. I’m going to keep submitting those two to editors next year.

I have also made significant progress on my latest piece “SSC.” Which you know,  if you’ve been following my Twitter feed. First: it’s not a novel. So don’t ask me: “How’s the novel going?” I will reveal what it is when the first draft is done, probably in early 2016.

I’m proud of the fact that I kept writing despite rejections. That’s important.

4. I went to one Con.
Although I had planned to go to three. I think that was a bit too ambitious. I made it to RavenCon this year and I’ll be planning my Con schedule for next year in the coming weeks. I think aiming to go to two Cons this time makes more sense. There’s only so much time in a year.

5. I wrote more and blogged less.
I wrote about this last year. I pretty consistently wrote the blog only once every two weeks as planned and this allowed me to write more fiction. I think it’s important that the blog continues and that I keep writing. I’ll have more to say about this one in the coming year.

6. I set a new readership (visitor) record for my blog.
Despite writing less, I broke the readership record for my blog. I guess, like they say, that consistency counts for something on blogs. I think people knowing that you’ll  be there, even if they have to wait two weeks, keeps them coming back for more. I also seem to be enjoying growing interest from UK readers. It’s cool to see readers outside the States getting interested in the blog.

7. I started writing my stuff.
This one is unquantifiable. But the unquantifiable stuff is usually the most important. I would say this year I finally capitulated. I came to realize my stuff isn’t really what “they” call speculative fiction. It doesn’t easily fit into fantasy or science fiction. Some of it comes close to “urban fantasy,” but not really…

Also…I’m not really writing “literary” fiction either. It’s not meticulously crafted prose larded with literary-style effects and plots about couples’ mid-life crises in suburban America/New York City. So, it doesn’t really appeal to that crowd either.

To put it simply, it’s a marketer’s nightmare. Its doesn’t fit the “literary” tag and it doesn’t fit the “speculative” tag. It’s still stuff I want to write. the main difference is that this year, I came to peace with that. And really don’t care much. The manuscript—and only the manuscript—has to come first…And second…And third. Otherwise, all  the marketing, blogging, promotion and events don’t mean a thing.

I think you know where I’m going with this. But I’ll get into it a bit further down the road. Suffice to say 2015 was the year when I decided to write my stuff. Damn the consequences.


So, sounds like a pretty “meh” year. Huh? Well, so be it. I think I matured as a writer over the past year and I think the stories are getting better and sharper. I have some ideas where I want to head next year too. But that’s a post for January. I’ll see you then with a new post and new ideas about where I have been and—more importantly—where I’m headed.

See you then.

Have a Happy New Year, Everybody!

Darius

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50 Rejections…and Counting

So, a strange thing happened on the way to racking up 50 rejection letters. That’s right. For those of you wondering, I have submitted my various stories and New Yorker Rejectionnovellas to magazines 50 times and 50 times, those stories have ended up being rejected (according to my Duotrope submission tracker). But here’s the funny thing that happened. I only noticed it after I got the 51st rejection. That 50th rejection passed without notice. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t check my email every 12 hours and sullenly delete the rejection email. The 50th rejection was just one of many, one that I didn’t even notice. So, what I have I learned from this trail of rejection? Here are a few key takeaways:

The First Cut Is the Deepest
My first rejection? Yep, that hurt. Ain’t gonna lie. It was a rejection from Lightspeed for my story “The Hatchlings.” It was a very professional rejection letter and very prompt (only took them 1 day to turn it around). And from a top magazine that accepts very few stories. In other words, I had no reason to think I would have one of my stories accepted right off the bat. But, man it stung. My writing…Out there, being judged by someone else…And they rejected me. Me! The gall! I calmed down a bit, and that same day I sent out the story to the next magazine. Eventually, I got the second rejection and that hurt too, but not as much. The third hurt even less. And one day, it found the right editor and got published in Fiction Vortex. The thrill of getting a pieced accepted washed away all the bad feeling of those previous rejections.

Somewhere Around about Rejection 25—You don’t really notice it any more.
So, I kept writing, kept editing and kept sending in stories. The rejections piled up. You get your 5th, 10th and 25th rejection. And by about that time…You get to this point where you open your email, see the rejection slip and think “Hmm, that sucks.” It’s more like a mosquito sting than an amputation. I might let the story sit for a day or two, but more likely I’ll  find another market that same day and send it on its way.

I can’t even recall my 25th rejection, whatever it was, it didn’t have much of an impact on me.

It Helps Realizing How Much Other Writers Get Rejected
Somehow, there’s this myth that the great writers never have to deal with much rejection. While there are exceptions to this rule, there is the story about Stephen King that is great. It goes that he received so many rejection slips that a nail could no longer hold them all on the wall and it had to be replaced with a spike. I have also covered previously, Lou Antonelli’s assertion that you should have about 25 rejections per story before you decide to give up on the piece.

Yes, other professional writers who have published way more than you face rejection again and again. That’s the reality of the profession. You’re going to have to deal with it.

You Do Want to Follow Those Submission Guidelines—Exactly
It’s true that magazines will reject you outright if you do not follow their submission guidelines. I know. It’s happened to me. They usually say something: “check submission guidelines.”

Don’t do this to yourself, it’s not a good feeling. It’s not even giving the story you slaved over a chance. It’s being rejected simply because it’s the wrong computer file, wrong font or is the clearly wrong subject matter.

Don’t waste your time and the magazine’s by sending in something out of guidelines. Don’t do it. Take it from someone who has—it’s not a good feeling.

You Just Have to Keep Going—Whatever Your Response May Be
Epictetus said that it is often not events we experience that overwhelm us, but our response to them (or something to that effect). If one dwells repeatedly on a past traumatic event replaying it constantly over and over, it’s likely to drag you down. But if you’re able to somehow take that event for what it was, compartmentalize it to a degree, you’re better positioned to view it realistically for what it was worth and move on. (A gross oversimplification, I know, but bare with me a minute).

I’m not one to give you some trite pablum like: “Write like you’ve never been rejected.” People respond differently to rejection. For some, it makes them angry. And anger has produced some great writing. That whole feeling of “I’m going to show them this time,” a la Kingsley Amis. Others might just shrug it off—mostly—though it lingers in the mind. The key is, whatever your reaction: keep going.

It can be compared to jumping in a cold pool. You don’t want to do it at first, you know it’s going to be uncomfortable. But you have to jump in. And when you do, yeah, it IS uncomfortable at first (those first rejections sting), but with each passing minute it’s less and less uncomfortable and after awhile you don’t even notice the cold…That is until you get hypothermia and go into shock…At which point this metaphor hopelessly breaks down.

Anyway, here’s to rejection 52, 53 and 100. As long as I keep getting rejected, I figure it proves I’m still writing, I’m still trying. And even if I fail, I hope to “fail better” each time. In the end, that’s all any writer or artist can hope for. I hope that makes Epictetus smile—wherever he is.


And 1,000 Twitter followers later…
In other news, I’ve got 1,000 followers on Twitter now, which is kind of a cool milestone. It’s actually a pretty useful tool for finding and connecting with other writers and artists. If you want to follow my daily writing activities, the books I’m reading, the thoughts I’m having, etc.—it’s a great way to track them. You can find my handle here. If you’re a human (who doesn’t spam others constantly), there’s a good chance I’ll even follow back.

See you next time,

Darius

Writing, Submitting, Thinking

Guys, back at the blog again and I have little to say here for the time being. I wanted to do a longer piece today, but I’m just not feeling it. So instead of forcing the issue, here’s a little update on my writing.


Writing
I wrote a blown-out outline of a novella last weekend. It was part of my attempt to write more detailed outlines before I dive into a piece. I was happy with some of the scenes and the emotions they conjured…but…I feel that there is a significant logic problem with the plot, one I knew about all along. That logic problem is stopping me from moving forward with it until I figure out the problem. So…Bottom line: I’m going to put this one on the backburner for now. Going to let the subconscious work on that logic problem and see if it can figure it out. It’s usually pretty good at that.

That means that now I have to move onto a new work’s first draft. I’ll be selecting one soon and starting work on it. More on that below…

Submitting
Got to keep submitting. I’m still sending in my latest stories. I think they’re tight and well written. And I’ve noticed that the time to review them is taking longer. I think of this as a good sign: it usually (but not always) means that your piece is going through more gatekeepers before it gets rejected. Of course, a rejection is a still a rejection—whether it takes one day or 120 days. Your piece still doesn’t get published. But in the past I’ve noticed that the best pieces always take longer to get rejected from the get go than the merely “OK” pieces. They’re probably getting through the initial slush readers and moved up to editors before they are turned aside. So, if that’s any indication, these stories just haven’t found the right editors yet.

I’m hoping in time they will and I’ll be able to share them with you.

Thinking
As always, I’m thinking, thinking, thinking. Thinking up new ideas and writing them down. Fleshing out older ideas and writing up their plot points. I’ve even created a new “Story Ideas-Ranking” to help me rank my story ideas according to their ripeness. It’s a short list with two categories: Stories that are pretty much ready for a first draft and those that need more work. I don’t rank those in the second part, but I do rank the ones in the first. What makes a story ripe is the passion I have for the story idea, how well-defined the story is, and whether I’ve done a full formal prewrite (describing the plot, setting, characters and research needed). I take all those factors, push around the ideas on the page and one emerges on top. That’s the theory anyway.

So, this weekend, I’ll take a look at the ranking, think about which one deserves to be done next. And dive in.

Hey, “Get Black on White,” right? That’s the only way to get it done. Always has been, always will be.

Alright. See you next time,

Darius

Writing Update and…Short Stories Reconsidered?

[Part of a continuing series on where my fiction writing is at.]

Another update today on my writing and a little introspection further down the page.

I’m a little over half way done with a second draft of my new short story, “P.” I’m going to hold back on the title reveal until the second draft is in the can. That’s partly  because I don’t know if I’m satisfied with the story’s working title. Also, I would like to get the second draft (for me, always the hardest draft) done and off to Beta readers before I start promoting it. I just want to make sure the piece hangs together and works, before I start promoting or talking about it.

Which brings us to…

The Other Stories
I have three other stories I’m submitting now to magazines. I’m going to keep submitting those until they reach about 20 rejections. (This is based on some earlier feedback on my “rejection tolerance”). Then, it’ll be time to think about retiring (“trunking”) the ones which pass that threshold. So far, none of them have reached it. There is one, however, that’s getting close.

So much for the writing update…On to more interesting matters…

Short stories—reconsidered?
I may be getting a little “burnt out” on short stories. I have always felt I’m a writer who likes to write long. I have a lot of difficulty keeping my tales to the 7,500 words (or less) standard limit for short stories. I simply want to expand on scenes, characters, etc. to what I consider a “natural” length. Even my short pieces tend to be long: “The Ghul of Yazd” was over the 7,500 word limit for a short story.

In addition, many of my ideas tend to be for longer pieces. If you’re looking for someone to blame for this, blame my characters or Russian novelists. I can’t seem to stuff the best characters into a 7,500-word story. They just won’t have it. They’re always there in my head saying:

“What about this, Darius?”

“Oh! Don’t forget me in that scene! I would be fabulous!”

“Oh, and what would I do if you only placed me in that situation? Just imagine it!”

leo_tolstoy

I also blame Russian writers for this. I do. In high school, I got hooked on Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and the like (those wordy bastards!). And as you probably know, they write very long, dense books. Their influence on me was huge. These books (The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, etc.), in fact, are one of the reasons I became a writer. (But that’s a post for another time).

So, I blame them collectively: my characters and the Russians. I can’t say I’ve decided to act on this impulse to write long, but it’s there. Right now, I have a couple more short stories I want to get done, including “P.” But that doesn’t stop me from pre-writing or researching or thinking about how to plot out a novel…

Now does it?

See you next time,

Darius

What I Learned at RavenCon

And I’m back. Sorry for the delay. There has been, let’s see, a writing conference, vacation and now, work. So, I haven’t been able to feed ye olde blog as much as I had hoped. Let’s change that, right now. common_raven_2

Today, I want to talk about my time at RavenCon, my local fan/writer Con here in the Mid-Atlantic U.S. It was a great time, I met some old friends, hopefully made some new ones and had a great time. But for the blog I want to just focus on what I learned. Since this was my second time at RavenCon, I was able to breathe a bit more, slow down and enjoy the sessions a bit more. I looked through my notes from the Con the other day and here are my top four takeaways in no particular order.

1. Choose your panels based on who leads them

Back in college we had a saying for how to pick the right classes: “Don’t choose courses, choose professors.” That meant don’t choose courses based on subject matter, but who led the courses. Go for the professor that is a recognized leader in a field or who has a reputation as a great teacher. Instead of choosing subject matter that’s interesting or fills a specific need.

Now, this strategy doesn’t always make sense. But I was sitting there and looking at the packed RavenCon schedule and I decided to “choose a good professor” over subject matter and ended up at a panel hosted by Jack McDevitt on “How to Make Sure Your Story Gets Rejected.” That title didn’t really impress me. But Jack, a very seasoned writer, shared some great insights on what to submit and how and where. He didn’t hold back, sharing some past success and failures. What’s more, he was very friendly and accessible after his talk. Picking the professor really paid dividends in that case.

I followed the same  strategy for the rest of the Con and there were a couple of “busts” here and there, but it worked well over all.

2. My “rejection tolerance” is too low.

One of the great things about RavenCon is that it’s small enough that you can actually get picked to ask a question during the Q&A session after each panel. At one session, I asked Lou Antonelli how many rejections for a manuscript is too many? That is, how many rejections does it take for him to consider putting a manuscript aside and not resubmit it? He said that he writes down what happens to each manuscript on a piece of paper with about 10 columns each and that at about halfway through page 3—or about 25 rejections—he decides to “trunk” the piece and not resubmit it. Mind you, this guy is a top short story writer, too. My tolerance for rejections is at about 10 per piece before retiring something. If anything, my tolerance should be at least 25 rejections per piece, or higher, since I’m just staring out.

3. Submitting to mags that accept simultaneous submissions could get you published faster and give you more feedback.

I also learned that for someone at my level—someone just starting to submit stories and see them published—it might make more sense to send my stories to magazines that accept simultaneous submissions. To explain briefly: there is a pecking order in speculative fiction magazines just like in everything else. The more established magazines tend not to accept simultaneous submissions: if you send them a story you can’t send it to anyone else while they have it. They also get a lot of submissions, so they simply can not offer feedback or advice. Lower down the totem poll, some magazines will accept simultaneous submissions: meaning you can send  it to them and to other magazines at the same time. Another writer on a panel (I forgot who, sorry!) said that for starting writers those magazines might be best because you get answers back from publishers faster AND they get far less submissions so may be willing to share feedback more readily.

I haven’t had anything accepted yet by a mag that accepts simultaneous submissions, but I have sent my manuscripts to quite a few. I will definitely consider sending  them more in the future.

4. Agents and publishers are at Cons to work—and find new talent.

During another Q&A session, an agent from the science fiction publisher Tor was answering a question. This led to an interesting exchange where a simple fact came to light: agents and publishers at Cons are (generally) working when they on the floor of the Con. Meaning…they’re looking for looking for new ideas and new trends in publishing. They also want to reconnect with established talent and, in some cases, find new talent.

All the publishers and agents I heard talk said they were open to being approached (politely) by new authors with manuscripts they are ready to share. Just remember: ask them if they’d be open to receiving  a new manuscript and have your 30-second “elevator speech” about it ready to go. The upshot: don’t be shy about approaching these people if you have something to share with them. They may not look like it, but they’re at work.


That’s it for my report from RavenCon. I hope you aspiring writers out there found it especially useful. A final note: I’ll be going again next year to RavenCon and I highly recommend it. If you’re an aspiring speculative fiction author in the Mid-Atlantic, it’s really worth the trip. Before that, I’ll be heading to DragonCon in Atlanta this September. Hope to see you there! Until next time…

Keep reading, keep writing,

Darius


PS…I’ll be back with my next post on May 22. See you then.

A Bummer Week

I was going to write another post about the Craft of writing fiction, but this is not the week for it. I’ve had some bad news.

My uncle passed away yesterday. I remember growing up across the street from him and he’s the guy who taught me how to play baseball. He also taught me a thing or two about how to bowl. I have a lots of other good memories of him growing up and in times since then. He lived a full life—just recently celebrating his 80th birthday—but it still seems sad and sudden.

In other bummer news, my good friend, B—, was rock climbing in Colorado this past week and fell 50 feet. He’s lucky to be alive. Thanks to a bush that caught him, the quick reaction of a climbing buddy and Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, he survived. He should be able to walk again and there appears to be no brain injury. Still, he has a long way to go to a full recovery. But I know he’ll get there. He’s a very focused and tough-minded person.

Please consider donating to Rocky Mountain Rescue Group here. According to the people at the scene, they did some great rescue work.


25 Rejections
Not to bring more good news into this post or diminish what’s above…But in a sure sign of my growing literary mental resilience (or is it stubbornness?) I have reached a unique milestone: I’ve received 25 rejections letters on works I submitted. This is for all my works combined, not for any single work. It also includes works I’ve started to submit recently.

So what does this mean for you, the aspiring writer, or, perhaps, regular human being? Well, here it is: Get ready to get your pieces rejected…a lot. Many others have written  about how many times great works have been rejected. If you have a yen to take up the pen, you’ll face the same struggles. Don’t look at it as a rejection, but look it as a sign that you’re putting yourself out there and giving it your best shot. The worst thing you can do is let those letters get into your head and prevent you from writing your best—and getting back on the horse and writing and submitting again. 


I will be going to my uncle’s funeral and you may not see me here for a couple of weeks. Got to focus on life right now, but I’ll be back in the coming weeks.

See you guys a little further down the road,

DJ

Introducing the UnRejectionable Ghoul

Thought I’d mix things up this week. Crack open the door just a little wiGhoul 3der.

So, in the interest of getting you closer to what it’s like to be an aspiring fiction writer, I wanted to give you a feel of what it’s like to submit a story, to keep flogging it until it gets accepted somewhere. That’s why I’m introducing “The UnRejectionable Ghoul.” (I know ‘unrejectionable’ is not a word, but it works, dammit.).

To update, I’ve just submitted and got the first rejection for my new story, “The Ghul of Yazd.” I’m calling it an Orientalist horror story (a horror story with an medieval Islamic setting). As any good writer does, I made a note of it in my submission tracker of choice, Duotrope. And then, I resubmitted it. Because I believe in the story, and think it’s  solid as it is. I was thinking about this cycle of submittal, rejection, submittal and it struck me that it is a life-and-death cycle. In fact, it’s kind of like a monster from a horror movie (say, Jason of Friday the 13th) that keeps coming back. It’s also similar to a ghoul, not unlike my ghoul.

So, each time the ghoul story gets rejected (killed) I’m going to resubmit it (perform some dark magic, resurrect the ghoul and send him off to stalk the staff of a new unsuspecting  speculative fiction magazine). The story and the ghoul will just keep coming back.

There are a few rules here to protect the innocent and the writer:

  • I’m NOT going to share which magazines I’ve sent the story to or the rejection letters from the editors. That’s just bad form.  
  • I will share with you when it gets rejected, resubmitted and, hopefully, accepted. Look for updates on this blog and on my Twitter feed with the tag #unrejectionableghoul.
  • I’m going to keep sending out the manuscript until it’s accepted somewhere.
  • If absolutely no one wants the story, I’ll self-publish it on Kindle. The ghoul is “unrejectionable,” after all.

So, why am I doing this? The whole objective of this is to:

1. Keep myself sane.

2. Share the pain of rejection, thus minimizing it.

3.  Show aspiring writers out there how much rejection they can expect, if they plan on publishing. 

Hopefully, that last point will make you want to submit more, not less. It will help you realize it’s normal to get rejected. In fact, as I’ve noted before, it’s normal to get rejected a lot. My first traditionally-published story was rejected 8 times before finding a home.

Ben Franklin once said that every person can expect two thing in this life: death and taxes. Well, if you’re a writer you should add one more: rejection. “Death, taxes and rejection” is not a happy formula, but it is reality. Even the greatest writers have faced it. I hope this series of posts on my story will take away a little of the sting and fear of rejection, by showing it’s something we all face. When, it does, you just have to pull the dagger out of your heart, rip the lid off your coffin and dig out of your grave. Just like the ghoul.  

Until next time. Keep reading, keep writing.

Darius.


Why is that music always seems to accompany my writing pieces and blog ideas? As soon as I had the idea of “The Unrejectionable Ghoul” the image of the ghoul and I driving down a deserted highway at night came flooding into my mind. I’m driving and I keep looking over and he’s there, the Passenger, my ghoul. Dark and silent, knowing and patient. I turn up the radio and this gem from Iggy comes on. 

“And I ride and I ride.”

The Craft: Rules for Writing, #4: Dedicated Time

[This is part of a continuing series on the craft of writing fiction.]

We’ve covered a lot of ground on my rules of writing, but there are still two to go. Today, is another simple and easily explained rule, (just like the first one). Again, the trick is in actually doing it.

by Matthew Kirkland

It’s simply this: Dedicate Time to writing. If you want to make progress with your writing you have to dedicate time to the process, time when you’re not doing ANYTHING ELSE. That means no texting, no talking on the phone, no reading, no surfing the Net, no blogging, no TV, no hanging out with friends, no lounging at a café or bar. It sucks, but you have to do it.

It’s not easy, take it from me. When I started writing, I just did it whenever, however, whatever. I left the phone on (and would pick it up if it rang), left the Internet on, read a book, answered the door, whatever. And that was fine for awhile until one day when I was writing a really good section: the characters would be speaking great lines of dialogue, the action would be terse, the descriptions taut, the writing just humming along and then—Bam!—a knock at the door, a ring of the phone, an email alert and I would break away. I came back to the writing 5 minutes or 15 minutes later and the moment was gone. The writing was wooden, the dialogue  forced and fake and the action just froze and I was looking at a flickering cursor on the screen.

Well, after that happened a few times I had about enough of it. I was writing in the LBC at the time and I started tuning the world out and the writing on—at least from 10 to 4  everyday. First, I stopped answering the doors—”Let ‘em knock.” Next, I turned off  the phone—the  cell and the land line—literally unplugging the later from the wall. I turned off the Internet too. That doesn’t mean I always wrote successfully, or at all.  Some days, my discipline slacked, I left the phone on accidentally, I surfed the Net, I read a book instead, I lounged. But pretty soon I got to the point where everything  was OFF, and I would either write or do nothing. And there were a couple of days when I did just that: I stared at the screen, I walked around the apartment, but I didn’t write. I didn’t do much of anything, but that was a part of the process, for me, of becoming a more disciplined writer. I haven’t had a do-nothing day like that in years.

It’s also important that my significant others and friends get this and support it. All my close friends know that I won’t be reachable on Sundays during the day because I’ll be at a café writing. My cell will be with me, in airplane mode, and not receiving signals. I don’t have any friends at the café, so no one will strike up a conversation with me and if they do I can get out of it quickly with a few curt answers about being busy. I usually have the Internet on, I admit it. But I leave it on because it hasn’t been a distraction and I have found it useful to warm up my brain by reading some news and I will sometimes do a little research in a pinch. But I won’t go on my blog or Twitter when I’m writing. [Although I do send a little update out on Twitter when I start writing and when the day is finished, just to keep everybody updated.]

So, that’s rule #4. It’s simple, hard and true. If you haven’t carved out a dedicated time to write, try it for your next writing session. Turn everything off and just go.

I realize not everyone can follow this advice easily (those with toddlers, primary caregivers, etc.), but in those situations you have to ask yourself  how you can carve out a little time (babysitter? late night or early morning writing sessions?), turn everything off and get to writing. Steal time whenever you can.

Good luck. It’s not always easy.

“There Is No Space and Time.” I’m not so sure, but Richard Ashcroft sure seems convinced.

In an ongoing sub-feature of the blog, I’m highlighting each time a reader from a new country comes to the blog. This week, we have three new countries:

  • Paraguay
  • Antigua and Barbuda (I thought Barbuda and Barbados were the same thing. How wrong I was!)
  • United Arab Emirates

Welcome, Everybody!

How I Got My First Story Published

As reported last week, I finally “broke through the iron ring” and sold my first piece of fiction, The Hatchlings. It’s still up on the Fiction Vortex site, so read it while you can.

Tarantula Attack

That being said, I wanted to write this post to give aspiring writers an “after action report” on how this happened so that you can do the same because all I need is more competition. Just kidding. In all honesty, here is what went down and some advice.

First of all, dear writers, don’t get put off by rejection. I shared this story with three of my friends before sending it to a single magazine. They all liked it, I think a bit more than previous works, but it wasn’t something that really blew them away. After the feedback, I thought about changing some things, but stuck with that version more or less.

The next point here is that this story was less than 5,000 words and its genre was speculative fiction. This is a good piece for a first time writer as there are lots of markets for this length and genre. If you wrote a historical fiction novella (10,000 – 50,000) you would have a much harder time marketing the piece because there are simply less markets. Writing short in a popular genre is a great way to go for a beginning writer.

I turned to Duotrope and did a customized search for science fiction and horror magazines (the work is a horror short story set in the future). With the data on markets (in this case, magazines and websites) from that Duotrope search, I was able to rank the markets according to acceptance rates. My basic strategy was to start with the harder markets and  work my to markets with higher acceptance rates. But before submitting, it’s good to remember two things:

  • Magazines generally won’t accept stories that have been published elsewhere (including blogs). So, if you have a story you think is good, you might want to refrain from self-publishing it on Kindle or posting it to your blog.
  • Most magazines don’t accept simultaneous submissions. I.e., if you submit a story to one magazine, you usually can not submit it elsewhere. You must wait to receive your rejection from the original magazine before submitting it elsewhere. (BUT NOTE: some magazines DO accept simultaneous submissions, so always check this first.)

I hadn’t self-published my story, so the first point was irrelevant. But I had not anticipated the second point. So, my story spent plenty of time at each magazine. One great magazine had it for 147 days, that’s almost 5 months!! They did apologize for holding it so long and I did have the option to withdraw the piece, so the fault is partially mine as well. Another magazine had it for 51 days. And remember, these are days you can’t do anything with the story. It’s just out there, across the seas, waiting to become something.

So, what is the story doing for those two months? I have no idea, since I’ve never worked at a magazine, but here’s my best reconstruction:

  1. It goes into a big electronic system. Here, I presume, it gets tagged and may even have a word count limit auto-reject.
  2. It gets parceled out to “slush” editors. These people are tasked with reading and filtering out good stories from bad. I’d imagine this starts with the basic filters: Does the story meet the word limit? Is it in the right genre? Does the writer know how to spell? Does the writer know the rules of grammar? Is the manuscript formatted properly? And does it follow the magazine’s submission guidelines? If not, it automatically gets rejected in a matter of days or even hours.
  3. Past this basic, test, the story fights for its life in the slush gladiator pit. Some magazines require the story make it through two slush piles or slush editors before moving on.
  4. It moves up the editorial chain to higher editors who will read the stories that survived the slush piles. Sometimes, it’s put to a vote to resolve a difference of opinion. 
  5. A senior editor (usually the editor-in-chief) decides to accept or reject the piece.
  6. Another editor or staffer sends you an acceptance or rejection letter. Most likely, they reject it.

So, what does rejection feel like? I have to admit, like many writers, I never submitted my stuff because I didn’t want to be rejected. I didn’t want to face having something I poured myself into cast aside. But, then I woke up and decided I had to be writer and I had to submit my stories just like Heinlein said.

So, how did it feel? After all, The Hatchlings got rejected 8 times before it was accepted, so I got used to it. The answer: not as  bad as I thought. Here’s the first rejection letter I ever received (names have been removed to preserve anonymity. XX stands for magazine titles, X stands for personal names.):

Thanks for submitting “The Hatchlings,” but I’m going to pass on it. It didn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way.
—————————
X
Editor

Yeah, that stung a bit at first. But the more I thought about it, it wasn’t that bad. This was one of the best speculative fiction magazines out there and the letter had actually been kind, humane even. It just didn’t quite work for them. I could take that. Couldn’t I?

The next day, I told my writer friend D— that I had got rejected by a top science fiction magazine. Here is a reconstruction of the conversation:

D—: “You submitted your work?”

DARIUS: “Yeah, to XX magazine. I got rejected.”

D—: “Dude, that’s awesome.”

DARIUS: “Well…”

D—: “No way. That…Is…Awesome. Hey, J— [his wife’s name], Darius just got rejected by a magazine…Huh? Yeah? [Muffled  shouts] Dude, that’s so cool.”

DARIUS: “Mm…Yeah? You think so?”

I have to admit, I struggled with seeing how “cool” it was at first. Anyway, I kept  submitting my story and I noticed something. Each subsequent rejection hurt less and less. And at the end of the process, I was just kind of curling my lip, moving the email to my Rejections folder and searching for the next magazine to apply to. Here’s another rejection letter:

Mr. Jones,

Thank you for submitting “The Hatchlings” to XX Magazine for consideration. Unfortunately, it does not meet our needs at this time.

Sincerely,

X

Submissions Editor

That’s not so bad is it? Professional, well put and lets you down easy. It even has a nice personal touch with a real  human signature line. You’d  be lucky to get such a nice letter when getting rejected from a job these days, if you get any response at all.

Despite the rejections, I kept submitting and I eventually got one of the most exciting letters I’ve ever received in my life, the acceptance letter from Fiction Vortex. I won’t reproduce that here, but it was nice.

Now that I’ve passed that milestone the goal is to get the next stories done, proofed and off to more magazines and start the process all over again. I can’t wait.

And I hope with today’s post, many more of you will be joining me.

See you out there,

Darius

My First Short Story Gets Published

My short story “The Hatchlings” was published today on Fiction Vortex. It’s the first time anything I’ve written has been accepted for publication. I heard the news a couple of weeks ago, but wanted to wait before it went live to share the news.

The story is set in the distant future. A man visits the planet Kaldar where a forbidden and brutal ritual, the Zakir, is conducted. He plans to gain the confidence of the Kaldarians, see the ritual and betray them by sharing his story with the rest of the galaxy. Needless to say, all does not go according to plan.

It’s very exciting, and more importantly, validating to have something you’ve written get selected for publication. Especially at a great up-and-coming speculative fiction website like Fiction Vortex.  I was so over the moon when I got the acceptance letter, I could hardly sleep. It was a rough day at work the next day, let me tell you. 

Originally, I wanted to do a long blog post, but today I just want to let you know the story’s live and encourage you to check it out. And if you can, please spread the word.

Today, I’ll leave it at that. I will only add that the story got rejected 8 times before finding a home on Fiction Vortex. So to my fellow writers out there, I have this message:

Be persistent.

,Darius