Keeping Heart

I had a good time at Reroll Tavern last Sunday for a novelists night. M.S. Chambers and I were the guest authors, and there were readings of works in progress by some of the attendees. I must say, these folks were impressive. I sincerely hope they continue writing and share their talent with the rest of us when they finish their works. I want to read the final products.

After my talk, one gentleman asked how do you keep from getting discouraged. My response was that I had a husband, two cats, a horse, and a garden. Also, I sew a lot. But he really deserved a better answer than that. Here is something that I hope will address his question.

If you submit, you will very likely get rejected–a lot. There are probably millions of submissions to various places every day. The chances of everything you write getting accepted the first time is minuscule.  Plan for that. The story goes that Stephen King had a spike where he impaled every rejection he got. It was really, really deep in rejections early in his writing life. His wife, Tabitha, famously retrieved Carrie from the trash can. You will reject things, editors will  reject things. There are reasons for this. It helps to know what those are.

You may reject something because you think it isn’t good enough or you’re sick of it or you think it’s too much trouble to fix. That’s giving up. Don’t do it. Set it aside, sure, but come back to it and make it right. Then submit it.

Editors reject things for a lot of reasons. Some you have control over. Some you don’t. If the story or book is wrong for that magazine, anthology, publisher, you’ll get rejected. Prevent that by knowing what the magazine or publisher wants before you waste their time and yours. They will clearly tell you on their website or their call for submissions what they are looking for, even sometimes what they will reject outright and what will be a hard sell. The happy accident happens when you have written a story that you like a lot and for no particular reason, then you see a call for submissions that is an exact fit. This happened with my short story, “Heart and Minds”.

Sometimes the work just isn’t good enough. You can rethink, rewrite, rework it until it is. Sometimes the market has changed. If you’re not keeping track, you may get left behind. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has changed so much in its 74 years that my husband, who subscribed for decades, no longer reads it. He’s gone elsewhere. You can too.

Some things you have no control over. Because we are all so connected by social media, television, books, movies, and in a thousand other ways, there is a zeitgeist that may inspire similar ideas in writers at the same time. When an editor gets three submissions of very similar stories, and they’ve already accepted the first one, you’ll be left in the dust, not because your story wasn’t great and a finger on the pulse of the universe, but because someone got there first.  Try somewhere else. Sometimes submissions will close because there are so many that the editors have stopped accepting new ones. When a call for submissions on a theme for an anthology rejects your specially written work, let it rest a bit, reexamine it, see if it needs some tweaking to make it less specific, and send it someplace else. This happened with “Between”, a short story I wrote for an anthology but wasn’t a good fit for that group of stories.  It has now been accepted by another anthology. Mind you, I rewrote it and submitted it several places until I found just the right fit.

You’ll notice a theme here: keep submitting. J. K. Rowling sent her first Harry Potter book to about a million publishers before it was accepted. Persevere. Somebody somewhere will want that story, if it’s well written and interesting.

When I worked in a research lab, sometimes our experiments would take years to get us to the point we could write up the results. Talk about delayed gratification. My way of dealing with that was to have hobbies that gave me instant gratification. I still have those hobbies.

You will get discouraged. Commiserate with family and friends and other authors, get back to work, if required, and keep submitting. You probably won’t get rich or famous, but you’ll have done something you (hopefully) love, and eventually, someday, you’ll see your name in print.

Image: Novelists Night at Reroll Tavern. By the manager, Russell.