Murky Depths #6 is now on sale through the online store, featuring my short story Horizon. Go buy it!
Rejection phobia has to be the number one barrier to development as a writer that most people face. Taking the raw material of your soul, crafting into over long hours of sweat and toil into a unique expression of your inner being and then displaying it to the world only to get a rejection letter telling you it isn’t good enough isn’t most peoples idea of fun.
Rejection is as inevitable for writers as death. If you send work out to be published, people will say no. Mostly this no will be polite. Sometimes it will not. Occaisionaly it will be delivered with the intent of crushing your creative spark forever. Whichever, dealing with rejection is a very important part of developing as a writer.
I’m odd, because I actually enjoy getting rejection letters! Not as much as I enjoy getting acceptance letters, but its not far off. I’ve had three rejections this week, and I swear, cross my heart and hope to die, that I found something good in all of them. After some consideration I’ve arrived at the following reasons why, so here are…
Damo’s Top Tips for Making A Friend of Your Rejection Letter
1) Get something published. OK, now this might sound like I’m being sarcastic. Simply put, the early slog of sending your work out cold and getting it sent back over and over again is horrible. There is no way around this. The only answer is to get something, anything in print. Don’t worry about getting paid, or whether it is a webzine of fanzine. As long as it isn’t run by a friend or close relative, just keep sending stuff out. As soon as you get one or more publications under your belt everything will feel MUCH better.
2) Rejection is step one to acceptance. No it isn’t just a horrible platitude. Its very rare to get an acceptance the first time you submit to a market, and the bigger and more established the market the more true this is. Think of your first rejection from an editor as a step in building a relationship with them. Take note of the type of rejection. Whilst a standard form rejection isn’t the end of the world, if you have got a letter with specific feedback about your story this is a very good sign, it means the editor was at least interested and will be more likely to spend an extra few mintes looking at your work the next time you submit.
3) Never retort. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, write a snotty retort to feedback from an editor. As already discussed if an editor takes the time to give you any feedback its a good sign, but these are busy people who may not have time to sugar coat what they say. If you get a detailed response you might want to write back to and thank them but make sure you are polite and what you write can’t be misinterpreted as snottiness. Don’t break this rule even if you get an Angry Editor (see below).
4.) Don’t take it personally. Its tempting to picture an editors office having a large chart pinned to the back wall of People We Hate and Will Never Publish. Rejections can often feel like having your picture nailed to this chart, and then faxed round all the other editors for them to avoid as well. It feels like something specific about you has been rejected, like you are just the wrong kind of person. The truth is that the editor knows no more about you than what you wrote, and almost certainly forgot that instantly the moment your story was rejected.
5) Volunteer as a slushee. Even small publications get such a weight of submissions that editors need lots of volunteer readers to help whittle down the numbers. The moment you look at a pile of two hundred stories and contemplate reading them all, your understanding of what happens in a slush pile will increase ten fold. You will see how important it is to follow submission guidelines and pick up on the elements that really make a story leap out at a reader. You’ll also see that most of the people doing the rejecting are just like you, which can be a comfort.
6) Angry Editors. It does happen that editors have a bad day and make bad decisions. You might get some particularly difficult feedback from an editor if you catch them at the wrong time. Editors also have certain bugbears that if you happen to cross can produce harsh criticism. Often these are listed in the submission guidelines for a publication. Angry Editors are worse than this however. Often they are writers who have suffered rejection themselves and have set up, usually a very small fanzine, to demonstrate the validity of their perspective on writing. I once had a response to one early story from an editor than ran to three times the length of the story itself, and included a detailed dissection not only of my story but of me as an individual. Fortunately the story got published a week later with a glowing review which helped cushion that particular blow. If you feel that any feedback you receive from any editor has gone beyond constructive criticism into destructive negativity then you have to just put it aside and ignore it. Its also a good idea to know enough about an editor before you submit to make sure that you are happy for them to see your work. Its not difficult to research these things in the age of Google.
Most important of all, as soon as a rejection comes in, take the rejected story, pick a new market and send it to them.
UPDATE: This extract from My Love Sick Zombie Boy Band was posted when the story was still being drafted under its working title of Rings. But this secene remained through to the final draft (largely) intact.
Rings grew out of lots of thinking I’ve been doing about magic in urban settings, and the specific image of a girl who collects rings. What she does with those rings got darker and darker as the story progressed, but strangely the character of Amalfrida became more and more sympathetic, at least for me. I think this might be one of a whole set of stories about Amlfrida’s strange, strange family. This is an extract, I’m afraid if you want tor ead the whole thing you will have to petition someone to publish it. Its currently on the slush pile at Realms of Fantasy.
I am not a goth. Being goth is like being pregnant; best aborted at the first opportunity. I thought I was a goth for precisely one week after my thirteenth birthday, then I actually met a goth and that, as they say, was that. A goth is just a model B drone, as much a product of the cultural cookie cutter as any peroxide blonde bimbo. Goths are a shadow of a shadow. I am the shape from which the shadow is cast. Or so says my father.
‘Hey, nice goth outfit.’
I look down at my plain black tee, black skirt, black leggings and black boots. Yes, they are Doc Martins. Then I look up at the boy and manufacture an edged smile.
‘I am not a goth.’
‘Oh.’ Dumb pause. ‘Right.’ Idiotic hesitation. ‘Sorry.’ How do boys get away with being so stupid?
I have accidentally strayed in to the guitar shop. A dozen adolescent males are staring at me as though I am the final representative of an otherwise extinct species. There are important philosophical reasons why girls do not come in here. Why have I violated them?
‘Hub’ The boy sticks a hand out for me to shake.
Hub is the bearer of the tuffty blue hair that has drawn me unwilling into this hellhole of masculine posturing. I saw it from outside and just couldn’t resist scouting out the owner.
He has the typical loser chic of a young man with a fine future in stock replenishment. And what kind of name is that?
‘What kind of name is that?’
‘Oh right, yeah. Hubert. My parents didn’t like me.’
‘Mine don’t like me either.’
‘What did they call you then?’
‘Amalfrida.’ This is unprecedented. I never tell people my name.
‘Oh right, yeah. What does that mean?’
‘How should I know!’ I snap. He looks suddenly crestfallen and despite myself I feel guilty.
‘Look, mostly people call me Fred.’
‘Oh right, yeah. Fred.’
‘You say that a lot.’
‘Oh right, yeah.’ I parrot in my best dork impression.
‘Oh right, yeah.’ There is a pause and then we both burst out laughing. This carries on long enough that people start to stare.
‘My name.’ I say once things have gone quiet and we are just looking at each other. ‘It’s traditional. Gothic.’
‘I thought you said you weren’t a goth?’
‘Not goth. Gothic. My family. They’re like ostrogoths? Going way back to the old country.’
‘You really do ask a lot of questions.’
‘Oh…wow. Um. So do you play guitar?’
I play clarinet and flute at grade eight, write musical notation as fluently as I read it and composed my first cantata at the age of nine but am forced to admit that no, I do not play six string guitar.
‘I know four chords.’ The moron tells me proudly.
His blue tufts have been waxed into unruly spikes, stiff like the blood crusted mane of a tribal warrior. I can’t help finding it cute.
‘So what brings you in here?’
I am utterly appalled to find my heart beat quickening as I consider my reply. I do not get nervous about boys!
‘Giving you the chance to ask me out.’
No sooner have the words left my mouth than the colour leaves his face and for a moment he looks like he might have just peed himself. What fun! To his credit he recovers his composure with a smile.
‘Where should I ask you out to?’
‘Dunno. What you doing now?’
‘Then ask me if I want a latte.’
‘Right. Do you want a latte?’
‘I’d love one.’
It turns out Hub is allergic to coffee. And milk. So he has lemon tea, then we end up just floating around the shops like ghosts, talking relentlessly about nothing at all. How we end up starring into the glass display cases I do not know.
I recognise the ring instantly, although I have never glimpsed it before. It is a circle of hand forged silver, twisted at its crown into the curved cross of the ankh. The tip of one finger presses against the glass, like the flickering snake of a tongue tasting the essence of desire.
‘Do you want it?’
‘No’ I lie.
He looks at me confused. Am I really that obvious? I suppose he thinks am not able to afford it or some such.
‘Hey its OK, I’ll get it for you. How much is it?’
The trader is a Pole. I know him. He can’t recognise me, if he did he would cut his own throat before even considering selling this thing to a daughter of my fathers family.
‘I don’t want it. I don’t want you to give it to me.’
‘But it goes with all your others. I have to get it for you. No big thing, right?’
‘Everything is a big thing.’
I turn and walk away, weaving through the sudden crowds that surround us.
‘Hey!’ He grabs for my arm.
‘Don’t touch me!.’
I turn sharply and slap him across the face, hard. I don’t know who is more shocked, him or me. And then I bolt, running as fast as I can. I will not see him again.
My short story Momentum has been reviewed as part of Electric Velocipede #13 on The Fix. Its a good review that pinpoints the same flaws in the story I would have, and pays it a big compliment.
What with being reviewed, reviewing, writing new stuff, starting new freelance work, being mentored and sleeping I haven’t had time to write much here about my recent adventures. I’ll try and make a full update soon.
Just read a pretty cool story name of Bears over at Strange Horizons, the site some are calling the future of speculative fiction. Judging by this story they may just be write. Sometime soon somebody is going to figure out that Heidegger and Stan Lee aren’t mutual exclusive poles of a cultural spectrum. More and more of the smart people in the world can and do read both. When that happens speculative fiction of the kind Strange horizons publishes is probably going to leap forward as the most relevant literature produced in the early 21st Century. Don’t believe me? Well theres no point arguing, lets just wait and see. I’ll be there to shout ‘I told you so’ when it happens.
There is a nice quote in this story by Leah Bobbet that I like a lot:
“It’s a big university, is the problem. And as Heidegger says, we can walk through life as heroes of our own story only by being assholes: objectifying everybody else into non-player characters. Maybe everyone’ll just assume they ducked out of the story. Maybe it’s that easy to disappear.”
So is it true? Can you only be good by continually casting yourself as a supporting character to others protagonists? I don’t know, what I can say is that the best insight into the argument I’ve found so far uses Role Playing Games as a meatphor. Try doing that in an Oxbridge thesis and see how far it gets you.
I once cited the alignment system from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as the most accurate model of morality ever conceived. It was a cultural studies module. They didn’t throw me out. Quite.
I’m struggling with the first paragraph of Rings. All the rest is done, but I’m stuck there. If anyone has a random first paragraph relating to the title Rings please comment below. I’ll take it under consideration.
Issue 13 of Electric Velocipede magazine launches tomorrow at World Fantasy Con in Saratoga, US. Among the contents is my short story ‘Momentum’. Its one of the shortest stories I’ve ever written, and just over one thousand words. EV editor John Klima has been nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Fingers crossed that he gets it.
I haven’t made any meaningful posts for a while. I’ve been working quite hard on ‘Rings’ so there hasn’t been much free time for work. Even though the finished story will only be 3 – 4k it’s in a very dense first person style which I’m enjoying, but it means a high work to word ratio. I’ve been making myself write third person wherever possible so stepping back to a style I’m more comfortable with is quite nice.
I have exactly one week to go until I hit the world of part time employment. Having taken this time off to write my first novel I’m a little worried that the novel itself is in a slight limbo state. Either the pressure of arriving at my first day of effective self employment will galvanise me to action, or I’ll crumble and end up buying an X-Box and Halo 3. Stay tuned to discover which! (If it’s the latter I renew my request that you, gentle reader, come round to my house and put me out of my misery.)
I’m yet to receive my copy of Transmission, but postal strike permitting it should be next week. As I’ve clearly already read the story this is probably less frustrating for me than those of you who have let me know that you ordered a copy. Electric Velocipede is still on tracj for November with my story ‘Momentum’ and I found out earlier this week that ‘Circes’ is being considered for a January publication in a publication I like a lot. More details on this when they are available.