What it's Like to Seek Publication
Hello Friends! It's been a while, so I felt I ought to touch base. I've taken a bit of a writing break after submitting my novel and have been doing a bit of submitting and querying to stay active. Along that line, I just (like this morning just) got a response from Apex Magazine on one of my short stories.
So, what's it like to pour your heart and soul into a short story and pursue publication? I thought I'd start out with something hopeful:
I know: Hope? Rejection is terrible!
Stay with me; I'll get there.
If, like me, you're a glutton for punishment, (ahem) confident in your writing, and hell-bent on aiming high right out of the gate, you'll foolishly or optimistically target top-notch publications like:
That means rejection after rejection with no guarantee of publication. I've outlined the many reasons why otherwise decent stories get rejected in some of my other blog posts, so I won't rehash them here. What I really want is publication. PAID publication. You know, like an honest-to-goodness professional writer.
Happily, Apex outlines its submission process:
Daunting, yes? Not only do you need a good story, you need the right publication to be accepting submissions at the right time, and for your story to not be on submission to another publication during that (often brief) submission window, and you need to run the gauntlet of first readers and editors.
I'll wait for you to process that... 😛
So why bother? I love writing, especially Ladomas AKA the Green Wizard. Nearly everyone who has read his two stories (or interacted with him in another setting) love the ridiculous wizard. I know I'll eventually find a paying home for him. It might not be for the current pro-rate of $0.08 per word, but someone will buy him and then you all can finally read one of my stories.
How do I know? Why, my latest rejection, of course, and others like it! They give me more hope than despair (let's not fool ourselves: Every rejection starts with despair).
Let's dissect this latest rejection... No, I should state one thing first: Take a rejection at face value. They aren't tricks or codes--readers and editors are too underfunded and overworked to dick around. Now let's dissect the letter...
Yes, it's a form letter. Let's get that out of the way. It's short, general and lacks any specific reference to my story. Sure, the personalized rejection is every writer's second dream, but they are infrequent. Underfunded and overworked, remember. That doesn't make the form letter, particularly a tiered form letter like this one, less useful.
"We appreciate the chance to read it." Yeah, if people stop submitting stories, publications cease to exist. We can take that one as read, but they really do appreciate the chance to read your story.
"Unfortunately, the story does not meet our needs at this time." Very explicit language. It implies that, under different circumstances, they might have accepted the story, or at least moved it on for further consideration. If that's not as heartening as it is frustrating, I don't know what is!
"We're going to pass." Okay, a little blunt but to the point. This is when you need to consider that unprofessional writer with a decent story. The person who sees the flicker of a potential sale and is more than prepared to stalk the editors until they acknowledge the writer's genius. Writers are desperate, damaged people at the best of times and I can imagine the toxic filth flung into editorial inboxes every day.
"I wish you the best of luck finding a home for "Ladomas the Bold" and I hope to read something new from you soon." Keep it up, Chuck. That's what this is saying. The story has merit, they like my style, and they do (for realzies) want me to find this story a home and send them another story. Maybe it will fit. Hell, maybe they just want to read more of my stuff. They are readers, after all.
"Sincerely, Lesley Conner, Managing Editor, Apex Magazine".
Now there's the clincher. Remember that chart they helpfully provide? It's clear that, form letter aside, the first reader liked my story, as did the managing editor. I came "this close" to my story getting before the Editor-in-Chief of one of the top publications in the game. That's why this rejection gives me hope.
I have support and reassurance from other quarters too, which is essential. Very few, perhaps no, writer gets a story published without support. Just look at all the dedications in books and stories. Those mentions aren't just lip service: behind those printed names are hours of advice, beta reading and keeping the writer from hucking their story off a cliff. Still, it's feedback like this, albeit scant, professional rejection that keeps me submitting.
It's these folks who are eventually going to pay for my writing.
So, what's it like to seek publication? I guess the best analogy is a really long game of cornhole, except the board is dangling on a clothesline, jerking left and right as the sadist otherwise known as Fortune spasmodically hauls on the cord while opening and shutting the hole.
But, man, when I land one of those shots, it'll be sweet.