Hello, hello, blogosphere! It’s been a couple months since my last update, and that’s because I’ve been busy with some exciting things!
The first big announcement: You probably guessed it from the photo above, but I made my first pro fiction sale a couple of weeks ago to Penumbra! My story, “Photon Girl Ascending,” is forthcoming in their May Superheroes-themed issue. I’m very excited about this, since it’s a big benchmark in my writing career, and I have been learning a lot in the process. I have also been invited to write a guest post for the Penumbra blog. I’ll be sure to link it for you when it goes live.
And if that wasn’t enough, a week later, I made my second pro sale to Daily Science Fiction! I haven’t yet gotten the scheduled release date for this story yet, but I’ll talk more about that when I have details. If you’d like, click over their site now and subscribe (it’s free!) to receive a story in your inbox every day.
I have much to say about both these stories, but I’ll say a few more words about them once they have been published, along with links so you can enjoy them firsthand.
I plan to do some more blogging in the near future, too, but probably won’t get back into a good schedule for another 3-4 weeks (because things are really busy right now). But when I return, it will be with a full blog tune-up, just in time for the one-year anniversary of this blog. I will be updating everything across the site and adding some new features (such as a bibliography!). I also have some interesting new stories to tell you, both fictional and factual.
What have you been up to in the past few weeks? What’s been happening on your blog?
“It’s this short story. It’s… it’s… the most — most beautiful — it’s –”
“Shh, calm down. Let me see it.”
“Here you go.”
“Sweet Jesus. You’re right.”
“What are we going to do? Our magazine is nowhere near the caliber worthy of such a piece, and we’re Asimov’s!”
“I guess there’s only one thing we can do.”
“I’ll do it. Wanna make sure it really captures my feelings, y’know?”
“Okay. Keep it professional, though.”
“How about this: Thank you for the opportunity to read your story. Unfortunately, we’re not able to accept it at this time…”
Let’s talk about rejection!
This summer, I set out with two goals: to write more, and to submit some of my work for publication. So far, I’ve had great success on both goals. This blog is the direct result of the first, and I’ve had some of my flash fiction published on The Drabblecast this summer.
Still, I’ve yet to cross the barrier that would really make me feel like an author: I’ve yet to get paid for a piece of fiction. So I keep submitting, in spite of my horrible case of slush-phobia. Part of it is sheer stubbornness, and part of it’s that people who are published continually advise us amateurs to stick with it if we’re serious about writing. You have to be okay with accumulating huge piles of rejection slips if you want to hear “yes” someday.
I have another reason: I think the submissions/rejection game is kinda fun.
Now let me clarify: no one enjoys getting a rejection slip, and I’m no exception. On a couple occasions, I’ve gotten pretty bummed out after getting yet another rejection after getting my hopes up. But also know that there are human beings on the other side of the email. That means two things: 1. Rejection slips are proof that someone read my writing, and 2. Despite their professional tone, there’s some human warmth and goodwill behind every rejection I receive.
It works the same in my part-time job as an essay-grader for the Georgia graduation test. The process is entirely anonymous. I don’t know anything about the kids I’m grading for, and they don’t receive anything from me except my score. But I often hold a one-sided conversation with the kids in my head over what they write about. Sometimes I wish I could attach a note in return saying that while they didn’t meet the standards to pass, I very much enjoyed their piece anyway.
So when I get a rejection slip, I like to supply that missing bit of conversation. Today’s story is the result. Funny how those slush readers always say such nice things behind my back, eh?
What experiences have you had in the world of submissions and rejection? How do you view rejection, and how do you cope with it so you don’t get discouraged?
I love reading the Acknowledgements page in the back of a novel. It gives me a sense of the amount of work that went into making the rest of the book feel so effortless. While I’m sure there exist some rare geniuses that can churn out brilliant writing unaided, for the vast majority of writers, it takes a community to bring out the potential in a story.
Beta readers are at the heart of it.
I love beta readers. I love them even more than I love slush readers. Beta readers, the brave souls, volunteer to read your writing when it’s still too embarrassing to show in public. They donate their time and effort to weeding out character inconsistencies and plot holes, grammar errors and formatting problems, usually asking for nothing more than a thank-you and perhaps a beta read in return.
They can be relatives, friends, acquaintances, or even just random people you’ve met on the internet. My loose confederation of beta readers includes all of the above, and each one of them brings unique gifts and perspectives to bear on my writing.
I admire beta readers because giving good criticism is hard, maybe even harder than receiving it. I used to be a bit sensitive to criticism when I first started writing, many years ago. It was compounded by the fact that my first novel was, like most first novels, objectively awful. There was a lot to criticize. And yet, the handful of brave souls who read the whole thing were exceptionally kind to me. Kinder than the novel deserved. And yet I was still afraid of criticism because I was afraid it would compound my worst fears: that I was a hack, and that I shouldn’t be a writer.
It all changed when I started beta reading for other people. I realized that for every comment I made, there were ten that I kept in reserve. It is no kindness to nitpick a novel to death, especially when it’s in an early draft and likely to change. Beta reading requires both courage and humility: courage to point out problems that the author may have overlooked and needs to be aware of, and humility in understanding that it’s not your novel, and you don’t get to decide how it should be written.
Writing is hard work, but you need criticism to improve.
So I started taking constructive criticism in a spirit of joy. When done well, criticism is a rare gift, an opportunity to learn what could make your writing more powerful and beautiful.
But you have to embrace it. You have to let your guard down and tell yourself, “No matter what they tell me, it’s probably something I need to hear.”
So here’s to my beta readers! Without you, I’d still be using way too many italics, writing Mary Sues, merrily using all the adverbs, and forgetting to include small details like “setting” and “description”. Everything I write would be 20% longer while covering the same amount of plot. Most importantly, without you, I wouldn’t grow as a writer.
To Jason and my Dad, Jan and Wendy, Cyndyl and Caitlin, Joy, Lauren, Becky, Zig, and the many others who have helped over the years: thank you. Thank you for the gift of your time, honesty, encouragement, and wisdom. When I succeed, my small victories are yours as well. When you succeed, I celebrate your achievements. And if the day comes when I write my own Acknowledgements page, I’ll be proud to list your names in my own novel, right where they belong.
Writers, do you have beta readers in your life? What sorts of things have they brought to your attention that you’d never have noticed on your own?
I’m putting on my bragging pants for a moment. I’ve mentioned the Drabblecast’s weekly flash fiction contests before. They pick a 100-word story and a 100-character story most weeks to feature on the podcast. Well, I’m super-proud to have written the 100-character stories featured on both this week’s AND last week’s episodes. I’m not planning to share those stories here because they’re much more awesome if you listen to them on the Drabblecast, lovingly performed and produced with music and everything.
So what are you waiting for? Go listen to the episodes! You can download them here and here respectively, or just subscribe to the Drabblecast on iTunes and get alllllll the podcast goodness.
Here’s another 100-character story I wrote, apropros of today’s topic:
I read the whole Twilight series yesterday. I know I could write it better. My apologies in advance to the slush readers.
Poor slush readers. They have it rough. They have to read every single story someone sends the magazine for consideration. Even the Twilight fanfic. And while I haven’t slush-read for a fiction magazine since high school, I’m sympathetic for personal reasons.
You see, my day job involves a slush pile. Several times a year, I grade the essays written for the Georgia High School Graduation Test. At least once, every kid in Georgia gets locked into a classroom for two hours to write an essay on a surprise topic. The score received on this essay determines whether they graduate. Who gives that score? I do. All those essays arrive anonymous and in randomized order for me and my coworkers to read through and score. During testing season, I’ll spend somewhere between 6-10 hours a day reading handwritten essays by surly teens, all on the same topic.
Given that, it’s a grueling slush pile. These essayists just want to graduate. They’re not interested in creative writing, especially not under pressure. But every once in a while, you’ll run across something amazing. Something that makes all the slogging through bad grammar and bad handwriting worthwhile. You’ll read a remarkable essay. It might be hilarious or moving or both. It’s the kid that you just know will grow up to be a Famous Writer. You’d pay money for her book now, if you knew her name.
Now that I’ve started polishing and sending my own short stories to fiction magazines, I’ve run into a mental roadblock. I know how bad slush piles get, and I have a deep phobia of contributing to the problem. I don’t want to waste some unknown stranger’s time with something that’s obviously mediocre 30 seconds into a read-through. Rejection’s dandy, but the idea of boring someone? Horrifying.
So slush readers, I promise you this: I’ll only send in my best, most entertaining pieces for rejection. And I promise not to inflict any badly rewritten Twilight fanfic. Even if it would be better than the original.
For you writers out there, do you also get intimidated by aspects of the publication process? What are your tricks for overcoming your mental roadblocks so you can press on with your writing?