I really just had to stop writing for a while. It can be so frustrating, so unrewarding. In business, I did something and I saw the results, usually right away. And people told me what they thought about what I did – good or bad.
But it’s not like that for a writer. You get a LOT of rejections and usually there’s no explanation. Even when something gets published, the feedback is minimal. And there’s this growing feeling I’ve been having that science fiction stories just don’t matter as much as securing the computer networks of large corporations – which is what I did in the business world. And it’s true! SciFi stories are just entertainment. But an unsecure computer network can cost a company billions, cause people to lose their jobs, upset who-knows-how-many customers, etc.
I got to the point where I couldn’t write anything. It was probably triggered by the repeated rejection of a story that’s one of my personal favorites – a story I’m convinced is better than dozens of published stories I’ve read. I originally called it Intelligent Designers, then changed the name to Just a Minor Firmware Upgrade. Although it’s gotten its share of form rejections, there have been two odd personal rejections, one mentioned earlier in this blog in THIS post, and one a few days ago – two words long – “Not Bad!” That’s it. A form rejection with Not Bad! tacked onto the end of it. Thanks a lot for nothing!
I know that rejection is the universal experience of the writer (unless you’re already a celebrity or someone in the public eye), and that a thick skin is a prerequisite for this trade. So maybe I’m just not someone who ought to be doing this.
But then, this morning, I wake up, the sun shining, Tucson basking in unseasonable warmth. I’m feeling good and I think – “who cares? I’ll write what I want to write, I’ll make it the best it can be. If they reject it – well it just wasn’t for them, but it won’t be because it was poorly written.”
And so it goes – one day discouraged, the next day motivated. Am I unusual? I doubt that!
Last week I got an email from Don Webb, Chief Editor of Bewildering Stories telling me and some other authors that our stories had been chosen for that publication’s quarterly review, meaning that the editors felt that these 14 stories, some flashes, and some poems were the best of the quarter. That was nice. But then I checked further and discovered that they’d picked my story “Critical Mass” as the best overall piece they’d published for the quarter. This from well over fifty pieces they’d accepted for publication.
That was REALLY a pleasant surprise.
I always felt “Critical Mass” was a good story, and it was disheartening to see it rejected several times by other publications. So this award, hardly a Hugo or Nebula but still real recognition, is a small vindication for me. Yes, I know, there are so many good stories submitted. Yes I know, publications want to be known for a certain kind of work and thus will reject even masterpieces that don’t fit their criteria. Yes I know, they have to sort through those submissions so quickly because there are so many of them so they sometimes fail to notice great stories that don’t jump out and bite them. Still, it’s nice that someone really took the time to understand this subtle story and appreciated all the little things I’d put in there.
Now I’m thinking about doing a series of stories with these characters and premise. Meanwhile, thanks, Don and BwS for the recognition!
Anybody trying to become a published author, and whose name isn’t one immediately recognizable by the general public, has to go through the tiresome, degrading process of submitting his or her work and getting lots and lots of rejections, almost all of which provide absolutely no useful information.
How tired I am of “it doesn’t work for me” or “we can’t use it at this time” (the most common one). Tell me why, for cryin’ out loud!! But I can imagine the firestorm of invective that a tiny minority of fragile-ego writers would unloose if they were told what was wrong with their story. And I can imagine that editors have seen this phenomenon, and so the bland, information-free rejections continue.
What’s even worse is when it takes six or more months to get said rejection. If you’re going to sit on my piece, all the while proclaiming that you don’t want simultaneous submissions then please be at least a little bit prompt. This recently happened to me with a certain publication that’s been around for a long time and usually takes a lot less time than 235 days (as calculated by Duotrope). OK, I’ll say who it was – Analog. Why 235 days? At least give me something to work with if you’re going to tie up my story that long. A single sentence will do.
OK, enough ranting for one post.
We all know why this happens – because it can. The A-list publications get mountains of submissions every month. Most are awful (I’ve been told) but the good ones still add up to many times more than they can publish. They don’t want to discourage good writers, so they send a bland rejection. But why not do something like what Buzzy did for me. The rejection said it was a good story, but they just couldn’t fit it in. That tells me something, at least.
I’ll address the issue of what the A-list mags are actually publishing these days in a future post.