Fear of rejection is a real, palpable thing. It keeps people from doing all kinds of things. Hell, it kept me from asking a girl out on a date until I was 18. Everybody fears having their hopes dashed.
In the writing biz, this fear is especially pronounced. You pour so much of yourself into your work, you dream of its potential success, but when it comes time to push it out the door, you hesitate. What if nobody wants it? What if they hate it? The pain at having to face the fact that your stories aren’t as wonderful as you hoped is so terrifying, some people never take their stuff out of their drawer/hard drive.
To be a published writer at all, you have to push past this. After a while, you grow accustomed to rejection. It always stings, it’s always a disappointment, but you understand that a rejection is not necessarily a reflection of your self-worth or talent or potential. There are lots and lots of reasons editors reject stories and manuscripts, and not all of them have to do with the quality of said manuscript. Sometimes they just bought something very similar to what you just wrote. Sometimes they can’t accommodate a story of that length. Sometimes they just don’t personally get it, even though some other editor might. And sometimes the story in question, wonderful though it is, is “just not right for this market.”
This is where we fall into the rabbit hole of self-rejection.
Self-rejection is what happens when you assume a market won’t buy a story and so you never send it at all. You look at the kind of stuff they publish, you don’t see how you’d fit (it’s too good, it’s not like your stuff, it’s not the kind of thing you do, etc.), and so you don’t even bother. The thing is, though, that this is routinely a mistake. So long as your story adheres to the submission guidelines (i.e. don’t send a graphic horror piece to a YA scifi market) and it is the best you can do, just send it. I’ve talked to a lot of editors over the years, and all of them tell me one thing: Just send it. Let us do the rejecting. Let us decide if it’s right for us or not.
Now, I know what you’re saying: “You’re kidding me. They want more submissions? Don’t they get, like, hundred and hundreds?”
Well yeah, they do, but they also want good stories. Right now I am assuming that you’re pretty good at this writing thing. You’ve done your homework, you’ve taken your craft seriously, you’ve revised and revised again. You are of professional caliber – you know it in your bones. Put your Impostor Syndrome aside for a second and remind yourself that you’re good enough for this. Assuming this is all true, then you are already stepping ahead of literally thousands of people who have not done their homework and don’t take their craft seriously and who haven’t bothered to revise and revise again. You’re already near the top.
So send it! Go ahead! The worst that you get is a “no.” And a “no” there doesn’t mean a “no” everywhere. Keep submitting. Keep going.
I’m going to tell you a little story here to conclude: About 4 or 5 years ago, when I had only a few semipro sales and not much to show for it, I wrote a short story called “A Crystal Dipped in Dreams.” It’s a post-apocalyptic piece, but an optimistic one. I submitted it to The Writers of the Future Award and it was one of the finalists, but it didn’t win and was never published. Disappointed, but certain that it would sell soon, I started subbing it out.
It was rejected again and again and again and, honestly, I eventually gave up. The only place I hadn’t sent it was Analog Science Fiction and Fact and they seem partial to hard scifi and more classic stuff than this was. I figured they wouldn’t want it.
Fast-foward to this past February, I was going through old stories that hadn’t sold but that I thought were good, just to see if there were any submissions I didn’t make. I came across this one and figured “what the hell” and subbed it to Analog. I guessed it would be a reject – the story just seemed wrong for them – but guess what? It sold! I just signed the contract today, marking my second sale to Analog and my sixth pro-story sale overall. Just goes to show what I know!
And what I didn’t know, you don’t either. Submit!
Adding to my joyous publication news, I’d like to draw your attention to the July/August issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) wherein you will discover my story, “The Masochist’s Assistant.”
I’m pretty proud of this one, folks, and I’d love for you to read it. Set in the same world as Tyvian Reldamar, it tells the story of a young Akrallian famulus and his struggles to cope with the master mage who employs him to assist with his various plans to commit suicide and then resurrect himself. Sounds fun, eh?
But it’s not just me in there! There’s a whole host of other tales by extremely talented authors whom I am privileged to share a table of contents with. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far:
- William Ledbetter takes us on a search for a lost sister in the far-flung reaches of space in “In a Wide Sky, Hidden.”
- Robin Furth gives us a spine-tingling tale of necromancy and fey bargains in “The Bride in Sea-Green Velvet,” which I found both beautifully written and seriously creepy.
- David Erik Nelson’s novella “There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House” is a grade-A horror tale about a creepy house in Detroit with a dark secret. This one had me flipping pages as fast as any Stephen King novel – you’ll love it!
- “A Dog’s Story” by Gardner Dozois is a short but touching tale of the secret lives animals lead when humans are out of the picture. Very well realized and a lot of fun.
- G. V. Anderson’s “I Am Not I” so far wins the prize for “creepiest story I’ve read in years.” So imaginative and so, so well done – I’ll be thinking about this one for a long while.
- “Afiya’s Song” by Justin C. Key is a powerful alternate history of slavery in America in the early 19th century. Stomach churning and beautifully done – you’ve got to read this one!
There are two more stories I’ve yet to get to yet, but both of them look pretty cool and I couldn’t wait to blow the trumpets on this one. Go get it! There’s book reviews, too, and a ton of other stuff.
You can subscribe to the magazine through their website and it can also be found on Weightless Books or on Kindle via Amazon. If you’re just looking to buy the paper copy in person, though, it is carried in most Barnes and Noble locations nationwide.
Go and check it out – you won’t regret it!
So, time for a writing update!
Thing have been going very well, lately. Lots to update everybody with, so I’ll start with the short fiction news and move into the novels.
Short Fiction News
Galaxy’s Edge Sale!
My short story “Lord of the Cul-de-sac” was just purchased by Mike Resnick over at Galaxy’s Edge. This is a great market with a typically stunning table of contents and edited by the man who has won the most Hugo awards in history, so that’s pretty damned sweet. No word yet on when my story will appear, but I’ll keep you all posted.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Sale!
I mentioned this a few weeks back, but I’m still pumped that I sold a story to CC Finlay over at F&SF.
My story “The Mithridatist” (set in Tyvian’s world, Saga of the Redeemed fans!) went on a heck of a journey through the pro-markets, garnering personal and, dare I say, glowing rejection letters from places like Tor.com before finally earning itself a home. Again, no word on release yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
I also recently sold a story to Escape Pod podcast about a month ago. It’s free and in audio or text. “Adaptation and Predation” is a space opera-esque story set in my Union of Stars world and has received a very positive response. I’ve even gotten some fan mail! Yay!
Then there’s this as-yet-untitled Time-Travel anthology over on Chappy Fiction, which bought/will buy my story “The Day It All Went Sideways” dealing with two-bit gangsters and fifth-dimensional time. I’m being called an “anchor” for the antho, which is a great compliment and I’m excited to see what Zach Chapman puts together!
Beyond that, I’ve got another five stories or so on submission to various places on and in various stages of review and another two I need to spiff up and send out again. Pretty good haul for a guy who spends *most* of his time writing novels!
The first book in the Saga of the Redeemed, The Oldest Trick, and its two halves (The Iron Ring and Iron and Blood) are currently selling very well – particularly the two halves – thanks to a price promotion and a BookBub at the end of last year. The Iron Ring peaked at #115 overall for Amazon (#2 for Fantasy) on the day of the BookBub “Book of the Day” promotion, which is mind-bogglingly awesome. It and Iron and Blood have been selling in the low 5-figures in rank ever since, which, in Amazon terms, is really goddamned good. So thank you, all of you, who have read!
That said, I could still use more reviews! I have ranked up a few over the past month or two (all very positive – thanks!), but you can never have too many reviews and, given how Amazon’s algorithm works and how important word-of-mouth is for book sales, more reviews is essential! If you’ve read any of my books, I would be ever so thankful if you left a review (even if you didn’t like it very much!).
Now for the kinda-sorta bad news. My editor at Harper Voyager has left for another publisher and, as a result, I have a new editor (hi, Rebecca!). Since she has just been saddled with a lot of my former editor’s old workload, she’s had to delay the publication of No Good Deed again. Bummer. It’s new release date is June 21st, 2016. This is disappointing, but at least now it seems like that date will be firm. I’ve also seen the cover art, which is really pretty awesome. Not time to reveal it just yet, but very pretty, trust me.
So, yet, Tyvian will be yet a few more months before he arrives in his second adventure. Of course, that’s typical Tyvian – never arrive on time when you can arrive late and make a splash. This also gives people world-wide more time to read the first book and be ready when the second comes out, so silver linings abound.
Overall, then, a great batch of news. I leave you, Tyvian fans, with the teaser text from No Good Deed, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet. I hope it sounds as intriguing as I hope it is:
Cursed with a magic ring that forbids skullduggery, Tyvian Reldamar’s life of crime is sadly behind him. Now reduced to fencing moldy relics and wheedling favors from petty nobility, he’s pretty sure his life can’t get any worse.
That is until he hears that his old nemesis, Myreon Alafarr, has been framed for a crime she didn’t commit and turned to stone in a penitentiary garden. Somebody is trying to get his attention, and that somebody plays a very high-stakes game that will draw Tyvian and his friends back to the city of his birth and right under the noses of the Defenders he’s been dodging for so long. And that isn’t even the worst part.
The worst part is that somebody is his mother.
Greetings, miserable slaves! Vrokthar the Skull-feaster, Scourge of the Northron Wastes, brings your weakling ears glad tidings! You muck-dwelling wretches are literate, or so Vrokthar’s thanes inform him. So it is that you have been chosen to workshop Vrokthar’s latest work of literary genius: “Vrokthar the Skull-Keeper.”
Yes, I see you tremble in delight at this mighty opportunity to strengthen your anemic minds upon the mighty words of Vrokthar’s dream-vision. However, the tale of this fictional barbarian slaughtering his fictional foes in numerous, spleen-wrenching scenarios is not yet perfected. Vrokthar was told that he needs “a new perspective” and “narrative objectivity” to judge his work. Naturally, Vrokthar immediately slew the incontinent fool who dared suggest such a thing, but upon drinking the imbecile’s blood, Vrokthar now believes he may have been hasty. So, I have searched my slaves for those worthy to read my opus.
Be warned, however! Vrokthar has tried several groups before yours, and each has been a more bitter disappointment than the last. These mewling Wetlanders have made unreasonable demands of Vrokthar, and even sought to embitter him towards his own word-hoard. So, they have died. This is where you come in.
Between now and when I am satisfied with your literary offerings to me, you will no longer eat nor drink nor sleep. Vrokthar’s art requires your fullest attention. Those who seek to leave my yurt shall be devoured by my hunting dogs, who even now wait in the dark in anticipation of your cowardice. Oh yes, your devotion to this task will be complete!
I shall remain here while you read, watching your blood-rimmed eyes devour every word with what I will assume to be rapt admiration. I furthermore demand that you inform me of the motivation for every facial expression you make. If you giggle, I must know why and, if the part you read was not intended to be funny, your life will be immediately forfeit. If you smile, I shall also demand explanation, and that explanation ought to be your grim appreciation of the new forms of slaughter the fictional Vrokthar hath delivered upon the deserving foe. Failure to do so will mean I shall flay you alive and then salt your flesh, so better preserve your corpse for the feeding of your fellow slaves.
Upon the mighty conclusion of my 22,000 word short story, once your long-lasting applause has lapsed into exhausted silence, we will begin our work. Each of you shall offer your opinion of my work. I demand honesty, for Vrokthar cannot perfect his manuscript without your courageous truths. Some of you, at this juncture, may be tempted to propagate vile falsehoods about Vrokthar’s story. For instance, that there “seems to be no plot, setting, or character development” or “the protagonist is never in danger.” Such fools shall be fed their own entrails as the others watch. To avoid this, as that manner of death is time-consuming and Vrokthar cannot spend all day screwing around in his yurt, here are explanations for your concerns in advance of your reading, so that your feeble minds may realize your errors before you make them:
- Vrokthar’s character need not be developed, as he is already perfect. Yes, at everything.
- Where Vrokthar slays his foes is unimportant, only that they are slain.
- The plot is obvious – Vrokthar kills his enemies. How is this not obvious to you?
- How can Vrokthar be in danger if he is perfect? This tale is meant to be realistic, you slavering baboon.
- No, I will not change the POV. Go to hell.
- Vrokthar uses commas when and if they suit him. The commas serve Vrokthar, not otherwise. No decapitated semicolon will give me orders, of that you may be assured.
Again, honesty is key to your survival.
Should you give Vrokthar the feedback he deserves, you shall be freed of your chains and set loose into the world once more. However, should you ever write a story about a barbarian named Vrokthar who slays his enemies, I will come for you again. You will pay me royalties or I will take your head. So it is written, so shall it be.
So, I’ve been writing a lot of short fiction recently. Well, I am usually writing a lot of short fiction, but I’ve been thinking about it more than usual. Planning my strategy, as it were.
Like a lot of writers, finding inspiration for a story is a key part of the process. I’ve a wide variety of ways I do this, many of them too arcane and fuzzy for me to accurately describe. I do, however, have a pretty tried and true method for producing work, much of it quite good. What I do, in a nutshell, is set a story within a world I’ve already developed/am in the process of developing.
This serves two purposes. First is world building, which is essential in any good fantasy or sci-fi novel. To paraphrase David Eddings, you need that 1000 pages of stuff before your world is likely to seem real, so you need to get cracking, right? Second is that is gives the story a sort of built-in background. It anchors it and allows it to seem more alive, better situated.
So far, my most successful stories to date have been the ones I’ve written this way. Now, I can’t say for certain that this method is the cause of that or, indeed, if this method of mine is holding me back or propelling me forward – I haven’t had enough success yet to tell – but I do think it makes it easier for me to produce material. Besides, I happen to love Alandar… and the Frontier universe, and the Quiet Earth, and the Multiverse of the Rubric. I’m at home in these places, I know them, and you’re supposed to write what you know, right?
Well, anyway, I’ve got some more stories cooking, some set in Alandar, some set in the future, some set in parallel dimensions, but all filling out a kind of grand map of my worlds. Perhaps, if I’m very lucky, some fan of mine will sit down and map them all out on some kind of branching timeline. That would be cool. Especially when I go and compare their timeline to mine.