Submissions, Rejections, and Moving On

I feel like this is a post I’ve probably written before, in one manner or another. But the truth is, that if you’re a writer, actively seeking to publish your work and/or build up your resume (let’s call it a ‘platform’), you’re going to have to deal, at some point in your process, with rejection. Hell, humans in general have to deal with it in all facets of our lives, and as we mature and gain experience we learn (or don’t learn) how to cope with it and move on.

*I should add a disclaimer: I’ve seen it happen, on the rare occasion that someone’s first draft of their first novel gets picked up by a publisher, right away. I’m happy for those few among us, but they are very rare outliers. The exceptions. The kid that blew the curve in class. And since they’re probably not in ‘need’ of writing advice–they can go on with their charmed lives. This post is for the rest of us*

A rejection letter for our artistic work (the meat of our souls if you will) is often harder to take than getting passed over for a promotion or shot down by that guy at the club (or wherever a person tries to pick up someone–I’ve been out of that game for many moons). Writing is, in many cases, a work of heart. And it takes guts and faith, and an ounce of reckless stupidity to throw it out into the world for other people to read (judge, pick apart, mock, etc.) So when we put our (he)art on the line and it’s returned with a swift and almost cutting “thanks but no thanks” it can often feel like we’re getting a red pen mark right through our soul. They didn’t like it. They don’t like me.

So here’s where I tell you the few things I’ve learned. Not just about in dealing with rejection but also how to submit in ways that will expand your confidence and the chances that your work will be seen and appreciated.

I could pound out a bunch of statistics on how many times major publishers rejected some of our favorite and prolific authors. I could tell you that some of those authors when into their thirties and forties (even fifties) without ever finding success in the industry, and I could give you a sunshine-up-your bottom pep talk about not giving in.

But I’m here to help. And I don’t believe in false praise, false hope, or anything false when it comes to finding the system that works for you. What I will tell you is this:

1.) Rejection is important to our growth and the quality of our work.

And there’s a blade thin line artists walk. Where the sting and wound of rejection can, in fact, topple us over and we may never rise again. It happens. All the time. So, when you think about being a writer—I want you to think hard about this one truth—

Your work will be rejected. Your words and ideas, your stories and the depths of your heart on page, will be thrown back at your feet and declared unwanted. But here’s the secret. It does not matter if they believe in your work. It doesn’t matter if they find it worthy. All that matters, is that you believe.

Your work is not you. So your novel was rejected and, if you were lucky (yes—lucky I said) they gave you some scathing or tepid advice about why. I’m willing to bet the editors did not say “You’re shoes are dumb and your breath smells like coffee farts. Oh, and your momma was a Clydesdale.” And if they did—that editor was having a really shitty day and you should send them some flowers—back on point. You are not your work. Rejection of your work is not a measure of your worth as a person or as a writer. Everything in life that we want to get better at, takes practice, and the best practice includes mistakes and their inherent lessons. Your work is not perfect, but it is changeable. You are not perfect, and you don’t have to be. Rejection of your work means you are out there, in the business building a better story and standing behind it. Don’t take it personally.

If they do offer you any advice, cutting or kind, PLEASE respond with a heartfelt thank you for their time in helping you become better. Assure them that you’ll consider their input and try again as guidelines allow.

And your mother doesn’t look like a Clydesdale.

But she’s a pretty momma.

2.) Submitting your work gets easier.

I remember the first few poems, short stories, and novels that I submitted, and it felt like sending my babies out into a wild cavern full of hungry wolves. It was heart wrenching to wait and equally devastating to hear that they’d been torn apart and spit out. But, with the aforementioned advice on rejection I’ve learned that a rejection notice isn’t a ticket to give up and stop trying. It’s one opinion, it’s one grade, it’s one lesson. And there are too many more to try to waste the time fretting over the one.

So, keep trying–submit like a goddamn machine. Schedule it, prioritize it, research possible avenues for your work. Put aside time each week to find the right places for your voice. Record where you’ve submitted, when, the cost, the call-back date, and the work (this is especially important if no simultaneous submissions are part of the rules *see #3 below*). The more you submit, the wider the net you cast, the more likely you are to catch something. Don’t keep submitting to the same publisher/agent/journal/paper, with the same story/novel/poem/essay and expect different results.

3.) Read the Damn Guidelines and Follow Them As Though Your Life Depended On It.

Seriously, my pen pals, I cannot stress it enough. It irks the hell out of me to have a beautifully written story in a waste pile because you didn’t take the time to read the requirements, word count, genre, or editor’s rules. Sometimes one of the biggest filters any job/class/test/editor uses is the simple test of if the candidate can follow directions. So don’t be the douche that thinks you’re above jumping all the hoops. Show them respect by following the details. Then wow them with your work.

4.) Take the small wins

I don’t care if your local church newsletter published your tuna casserole recipe (how Minnesotan of you, Sarah!) or you had a haiku featured on a blog, or had a guest editorial in a nationally ran newspaper. Take it! Enjoy it, and pat yourself on the back. These are the small steps that help you understand that your perseverance leads to good things and eventually, bigger things. Don’t go resting on your church cookbook laurels though. Celebrate and get back to work.

5.) Think about your endgame and plan accordingly

There are a lot of readers in the world (Hell, I’m one! I know you’re one!) which means there are eyes and minds out there for every story. Whatever your endgame is for your writing, decide early. Are you doing this to build a platform for future projects? Are you submitting because you love that particular journal? Is it for the love of your story? Or is it for profit or prestige. TO BE CLEAR: NEITHER OF THOSE ARE WRONG. But the path to each will be greatly different. So steer your submitting towards what you want to be when you grow up, whether that’s a world-wide best selling author, a respected indie poet, or someone who’s work affects even just one other person.

Well–That’s all I’ve got this month for advice on submitting. Do it prolifically. Don’t take rejection personally. Stay true to your voice and purpose as a writer and author.

Until next week. Happy Writing.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #30: The Dirty Thirty

Okay. That title doesn’t have anything to do with short stories and how we write them (unless you’re on the right route to submit for Letters to Penthouse…does that still exist anymore?)

What do you mean you haven’t seen this movie!?I’m kind of surprised my mom let me watch it. I’m still mildly obsessed with angels…

I just wanted to mark the occasion of your thirtieth lesson in writing. And drum up interest for our last foray into the short story.

First–How did last week go? Were you able to come up with some ideas for future short stories? Did you write any? Did you revisit some of your favorites from the past? No? Come on…I can’t do it all for you!

If you have managed to draft up a couple of ideas and maybe even pursue them, and you’d like to have a second set of eyes, I’d love to take a look. As you may have seen, I updated my submissions guidelines on Tuesday for anyone looking to start building their platform as well as finding a place for their work (without the work of having to start and maintain a blog…gosh, I’m doing EVERY THING for you!)

So, last bit of short story advice is this. Once you have your strong (loved or hated character) and you’ve thrown them into a bus crash on their way up to hike Machu Pichu, what do you do with it?

Well, as in Poetry and Flash Fiction, if you you believe in this work and you want to see if it’s worth the reading for the general public; you submit it for consideration.

After a very thorough round of editing (or six), conformance (sure that’s a word?) to industry standard word counts, and all of your I’s dotted, you embark on the great internet search to find the perfect journals/mags/online forums to submit to. You find out the editor’s name, and use it to craft a beautiful query letter, follow each publication’s guidelines to the letter, and submit your work (while recording who and where and when you sent it to because you’re not a disorganized slob like me). Then you sit back and wait for the magic to happen.

Except you should never just sit back and wait as a writer.

Once that beautiful piece of literature, sure to torture high-school student’s someday with its dissection, is out in the hands of hard-eyed editors, you go back to that booklet of ideas and begin again.

The secret to a good writer, is that they don’t throw all of their hope into one basket and hurl it into the universe. They churn out the baskets, in a timely manner and with enough care that they aren’t just filled with shit. And they keep plugging away at it. And the first stories might actually be baskets of shit. But it gets better, they get better, you get better, until soon, you know what works and what doesn’t by the frequency of rejection notices.

I think I just summed up my writing existence in one paragraph. You’re welcome.

Normally, I would leave you with a list of publications that are accepting short stories. But…I think it might be time for me to kick you out of the proverbial nest on this one.

Go online–resist the urge to search cute kitten videos or Henry Cavill shirtless…holding kittens–and search for places now accepting submissions for short stories. If you can be specific in your search to the content of your story. Narrowing your search engine will save you time and weed out the journals that aren’t interesting in what you’ve written.

My general rule of thumb is collecting a list of 15 to 20 potential publications (yes, there are that many) and submitting my story(s) to 3 or 4 of them a week.

*Disclaimer–some publications will NOT ACCEPT simultaneous submissions so either submit different pieces or wait to submit until your current work is rejected (I’m not saying it will be…I’m just–*sigh*–saying that the odds are such).

Boom.

Mic Drop

That’s it. Go write something. Go submit something. Go watch “Barbarella” then write something. Come see me next week and yell at me for breaking your brain with Jane Fonda breaking ‘The Machine’. Next week’s topic is a surprise. (I say that because I don’t even know what I’m writing about next week)

Happy Writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #28:

Happy Tuesday Beautiful Writers. I hope that your weekend was productive or relaxing (depending on what you needed most). It’s been a surreal existence as the mountains west are experiencing a massive wildfire. Kids and dogs and parents all stuck inside while a throat-burning haze has settled over the neighborhoods and streets. Makes for a feeling of being pressed down even further into the desperation of our times.

I hope, where ever you are reading this from, that you are safe and healthy, and that you are taking the precautions you need to in order to stay well.

I feel like there are some soap boxes I want to stand on right now…I’ve already deleted a few paragraphs on matters related to the continued destruction of our world, to the importance of the people we put in charge of our governments when it comes to the health of the environment, to the responsibility we hold over the continuation of all life on earth. But I’m going to take a deep breath, back away from that for now, and offer you up what I promised. Flash Fiction examples and where to send your work.

The first comes from Bill Wickstrom (a helluva fine man, expert bicycle mechanic, fisherman, and 4-H Shooting Sports Instructor, from the beautiful wilds of Wyoming) Enjoy!

Untitled

The cat curled up in the sun, his stomach full and warm. I told him I would, he thought.

Next Ms Janis Perez from New Mexico (a nearly-retired fifth-grade teacher *standing ovation* who’s getting a jump start on her ‘new’ career as a writer *standing ovation #2 because teachers deserve EVERY ounce of support we can give them) we have:

Three Tires

            Lisa sat in passenger’s seat and wondered; what happened to the car who’s tire exploded with such force that all remained were the shreds of it being bandied about by the never-ending flow of traffic on I-25?

At some point, in some person’s day, their car’s stability broke away and they were faced with the instantaneous situation of being hobbled at breakneck speeds. Would the lights come? Would the sirens bawl and angry drivers crane their necks to see what had thrown off their commute?

What happened to the person in the three-legged car? Did they crash? Did they lose their jobs for being late? Did they die?

What did it sound like when your cushion of safety suddenly turned to the sound of aching metal on asphalt?

            What did it feel like to know were going to die? Even for a split second?

            “Nearly there! Boy this traffic!” Her father startled her. “Are you excited?”

            Lisa mumbled, “Sure.”

            “Come on, L Bean! This is the first week of college! Out on your own!”

He was painting on the false sense of excitement thick. She didn’t understand why he felt the need to pretend; why he was lying that he was excited she was moving out. Not when it had just been them for so long.

            Ever since the tire had blown out on their life. Ever since mom left shards of herself along the bathroom wall and tub. Pieces of her safety cushion spattered across the sink. Lucky number 13-birthday present. The quiet instability of a tire that couldn’t survive the pressure of lane-shifting at breakneck speeds.

            She wondered what would become of her father when they she was gone. When the emptiness of the house would be complete. How sturdy were his tires? Would he end up a scatter of broken pieces in the HOV lane?

What would happen to her?

Lisa looked out the window at the Albuquerque skyline, cluttered with the fog of traffic. The particulate matter of a city so congested that the wind couldn’t keep up with its exhaling. A large Lexus swerved in front of them and her dad hit the brakes reactively.

            Her heart stopped, the burn of rubber squealing beneath her, the painful nerve sense that flooded her body with adrenaline.

            “I wanna go home!” she shrieked.

            “What?” Her dad’s breath caught and he slowed down, avoiding the collision.

            “I want to go home. I don’t want to change lanes. I don’t want to go. I’ve only got three tires.”

            “What?” Her father swung his head to look at her between checking his mirrors. “Honey—“

            “I don’t want to be a tire in the road.”

            “Lisa, what are you talking about?”

            “Take me home,” she said.

            “You have to go.” The first honest words in months. “You can’t get to anywhere good, if you don’t take the road. You have to start making your won.”

            “Dad.”

            “I’ll get you there, safe and sound.” He promised.

And here are a couple of my own:

Hoarder

Grandma’s ghost hid the silver, again.

We-evil

            The desolation was complete. Nothing stood in the field but lone stalks of brown, looking like they’d once been corn, leaning at odd angles from random pockets where the potential of seeds once bedded. Dried holes in the ground. Dried memories of a life, no longer sustainable.

            Chance Patterson tipped his cap up against the sun and squinted, crows-feet to the sky.

            He couldn’t remember when he’d last seen the color green.

            He couldn’t remember when he’d last seen another person driving down the dirt road, or the farther off highway. The distant train tracks, long since abandoned. Not one soul.

Not since the cloud swept through. Not since the sky turned that awful shade of black and turned out the sun. Not since the sickness hit his herd and the cloud silenced his corn before fruit could bear. He sighed to the rays of a sun much hotter than all his memories of summer combined.

A smarter man might have moved on. Stocked up on gas, food, supplies, and what clean water he could find and left the land. Looked for what remained. Looked for someone else who’d survived. Chance tucked his cap back down at the sight of distant crosses on the hill.

Momma and Dad buried in the hard-parched earth. Sister Rose and his favorite dog Beau.

Who knew what kinds were left? The helpless kind? Or the killing kind. The hungry and wild kind, like the sickness that had took his brother’s brain and left bullet holes in the lot of them while Chance had been out walking the lines, looking for hope.

Coming home to the hopeless.

Why didn’t he just leave?

Call it the comfort of familiarity; call it the only place he’d ever known, his whole world the sixty acres of useless burnt ground, littered with the corpses of his family and the death of three generations of dreams. Chance kicked the dust, stirring the debris of corn and wheat up into the air and he recalled a song that one fella used to sing. Kind of the hippie type; kind of a rocker.

Time to move on, he’d said. Time to get going.

“What lies ahead,” Chance said and stared at the road, empty and sullen. Not even the casual silhouette of a raven on a fence post or finch on a wire. Was it worth the trip out? What if there was a woman out there? A woman, like him, just trying to survive. Nothing left to her name but the shitty straw of having survived.

What if…his eyes fell to the barren fields. The sun hit something, flashing a star into his eyes. He wandered over, bent down, and picked up the broken mirror of his old Tonka truck.  A boy playing in the dirt. Whole future ahead of him.

Maybe tomorrow he’d chance it.

Thank you to everyone who sent me something for consideration as well as to those who shared them without wanting to share it with the world. I’m honored you chose to share it with me. All stunning stuff, so thanks again!

Now, here’s your promised list. All of these journals and mags are phenomenal but I URGE you to READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES before submitting. Some of them are very niche. Some of them have strict word count guidelines. Some are darker, some are lighter. Some require you to study a picture and write 100 words on what could be happening. All good things. Good luck and let me know if you get any response back from your submissions!

3 AM Magazine

Flash Fiction Online 

Word Riot 

Everyday Fiction 

Brevity 

Pank 

100 Word Story 

Smokelong Quarterly 

Hobart 

Drunken Boat 

Flash Fiction Magazine 

The Collagist 

Lunch Ticket 

NANO Fiction 

Fiction Southeast 

Southeast Review

Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Prize.

Literary Orphans –

The Rookery

Monkeybicycle 

Wigleaf –

Vestal Review –

 DecomP 

 Juked 

 Cheap Pop 

 Nanoism 

 New Flash Fiction Review 

 Lamplight,

FRiGG Magazine,

Superstition Review 

 Hoot

Willow Springs 

Because A Dog Can’t Eat Your Virtual Homework…

All right, friends and neighbors, the homework I assigned last week is only due for me. You can send me your 0-1000 word story/poem from the prompt: “Write about something you left behind by accident and/or Write about something you left behind on purpose” anytime between now and September 1st.

Remember, you not only get featured on the blog, you get a free set of my steamy romance novels signed by me and braggin’ rights. So get me those entries, send them to the contact info on this site.

In the spirit of being a good example, I’m including not only a flash fiction piece but also a poem. Because prompts are expandable, remember I said that. Be creative. Hell, you know what? If you have a photo that you feel might fit with this prompt, send that in too! I’d love to see it…In fact, today’s photo was a result of said inspiration.

Get out there, get writing. Here’s my homework (you’re welcome to print it out and grab a red pen but you can’t send it back…)

 

Hyde-Park-London

Hyde Park

 

I left your scarf on a park bench

The sun came out

It was too warm

 

I pulled at it, slipped it down one side of my neck,

Set it beside my tea

And went back to the newspaper

 

The orb blazed brighter

Dropping my mind

into a haze of preoccupation

 

I tossed my cup in the bin

Tucked the paper under my arm

Fled the barrage of summer

 

And came home

Without your memory

hanging around my throat

 

That’s how you finally forget,

I suppose

Letting go happens when you’re least expecting

 

In the heat of a Tuesday afternoon,

On a bench in Hyde park

With a mind full of other things

 

Besides the tender hands that first placed it

In a sodden field,

blanketed with rain

 

The sun came out

It was too warm

I left you on a park bench.

 

Part The Second: The flashing fiction bit…

 

Diamond Trees Don’t Root Like Potatoes

So finely honed was the veiled disappointment in her face that I didn’t even need to look to know it was there.

“I’m sorry,” I shrugged over the potato peeler and the growing pile of gritty brown scraps beneath it.

“I just can’t believe you lost it!” her pitch rose and startled me.

My mom’s passive aggressiveness was legendary. She didn’t wield a battle-axe; she used a scalpel. She didn’t say outright what she meant; she kept the grudge seething for decades. That’s how the poison worked in our family. The curse of material prestige, the “what we owned” owning us. The things handed down like shackles being snapped into place.

“I said I was sorry,” I muttered. “It was an accident.”

In the way digging a hole and burying something akin to nuclear waste beneath an old billboard welcoming folks to Beautiful Bonnie Bay, Minnesota was an accident. Oops, I tripped and fell into a purposeful purge. Maybe a black little tree of greed would grow up from the seed. The idea was both ridiculous and frightening.

“She told me not to leave it to you until you were older! I should have held on to it,” she wiped the sweat from her forehead, and resumed her agitated pacing from pot to oven.

“No, you shouldn’t have,” I whispered.

“What?” Pacing stopped. “What did you say?”

Her new direct approach was something I attributed to the magic of the hated object lying beneath three feet of dirt and unable to inflict its venom. It could’ve been that she was just really…really pissed. That was okay, because at least she was being honest.

“I said,” I turned wielding the starchy peeler like an accusing finger. “That you shouldn’t hold on to it. To any of it, Mom.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“She spent years holding all these ‘treasures’ over your head, just like her mother did to her and probably hers before…making sure you stayed in line if you wanted to inherit–”

“That’s not true!” she shouted.

“She poisoned you!” I blurted out into the room still ringing with the echo of her voice. “She poisoned you into believing all those things were your worth! That they were her love. And you had to earn them, and that she could take them away just like that!” The snap of my fingers startled her like a coma patient waking.

“I don’t… know what–” she sputtered and took hold of the counter with fingers clenching.

“You deserved loved from her. You deserved better! You are worth so much more than a broach, or a set of dishes, or a closetful of linens. And you’ll always have my love, no matter what you give me, even if it’s just the time you spend yelling at me over a piece of cut rock. I’ll love you! ‘N you never have to buy it, or earn it. It’s just there.”

It would have been customary for one or both of us to turn away or huff off to a different room where we’d place the grudge dutifully on our shoulders. But she came to stand beside me, facing out into the kitchen and catching her breath, slowing into calm.

I picked up the half-naked potato and finished his delicate undressing so he could join his skinny-dipping friends in the pot.

Mom sighed while her eyes closed out the room and her mind reread every cursive note attached to every object filling the boxes in the attic.

I leaned the warmth of my hip against hers and listened to the jangle of sharp metal over thick skin. Finding the white tenderness, separate from all the dirt, gave me appreciation for the rugged beauty of rooted things, and the glimmer of hope for a barren ground above the broach’s final resting place.