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What Now? When A Story Gets All No's

Posted on 09.24.2013 at 09:33
Before this year, I didn’t take submitting for publication very seriously. I sent out two stories to be exact. Part of that was because I didn’t have firsthand knowledge of what kind of work other magazines published. I didn’t at the time think I had much in my inventory worth sending out. And I had fun just writing; I figured I had plenty of time to get my work out into the world.

Things are different now. I’ve read at least some offerings from many—not all, not yet—of the major magazines. I’ve got a sense of what they’re looking for. I’ve written a handful of stories that I feel are worth sharing. (They still need revisions, but they have at least a core worth keeping.) And, while I do have fun just writing and still may have time enough for my work to see the light of day, I’ve grown frustrated with the lack of a success. The only way to remedy that is to circulate my stories.

So that’s what I’ve been doing, if only in a casual way. Grad school and teaching, as you might expect, take up massive swaths of time, and they don’t leave much mental space for creative thoughts. Thus I’ve been sending out the one story I finished last year, which came in a fit of inspiration and, so far as I could tell, didn’t need much revision to make it match my intentions.

My intentions, however, don’t seem to be enough. That story has earned five rejections over the course of this year.* It’s awaiting a verdict with one magazine, and if it gets rejected there, I still have two more on the list. (It isn’t that I’ve exhausted the list of spec fic magazines period—only that this story doesn’t fit the aesthetics of certain publications.) And if I run through the entire list and it’s no’s all the way, what then?

Truth be told, I hadn’t expected that, to try every viable option only to fail. I’ve heard stories about writers who collected reams of rejection slips before they broke through, but I haven’t heard about when those writers decided to give up on selling a particular project. Maybe they never did.

This, then, is my dilemma: Do I send the story to a less prestigious magazine (with the rationale that a credit is better than none)? Do I trunk it and accept that this one just wasn’t meant to be? Or have I overlooked a third possibility? A friend of mine told me that she gave a story some time off if it made the rounds and came back with rejections. When she returned to it later, she revised it if she felt she’d gained some new skills in the interim. I wonder if that’s worked.

Three more venues for this story. I hope one of them says yes, not only because I want to have a sale but because I think this story’s good enough to deserve a home. I wouldn’t be sending it out if I thought otherwise. (I’ve trunked plenty of stories without submitting them because I didn’t think they were good enough.) We’ll see if an editor agrees, else the story will continue to exist as just words in a file, as scribbles in my notebook.

* One letter said, “Not for us but send more” and another editor enjoyed the story but felt it lacked pay-off. Little encouragements like that go a long way. Progress.


Cleopatra Goblin
scattereddark at 2013-09-24 15:21 (UTC) ()
Do you know Chris? You may want to talk to him about short story publishing. His website is http://christopherkeelty.com/ and he's @keeltyc on twitter. Tell him you know me.
iamrazorwing at 2013-09-25 13:37 (UTC) ()
I don't know him, but I'm always open to people I can talk short fiction with. Thanks!
Samantha Henderson
samhenderson at 2013-09-24 16:12 (UTC) ()
I must tell you that five rejections are not that many. Something I have mentioned a lot is that the story that was my final qualification for SFWA was rejected from many, many markets, including those that paid a token amount, until it sold (ironically enough) to the first pro market it had been rejected from. If you've taken a good long mindful look at the story and you still like it, send it to the next tier of markets, then the next. I WOULD make sure that the market is one you would feel good about seeing your story in - but I certainly wouldn't trunk a story you have confidence in.
iamrazorwing at 2013-09-25 13:41 (UTC) ()
Thanks for the comment!

I agree completely; five rejections aren't many. It's just that I feel like I've quickly run through the list of markets for which this particular story feels right. (It's kind of hypertextual.) I should probably check out Ralan or Duotrope and see if I missed any other options.
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