Autumn Is Coming

Just got word from Mike Davis that my story "Cul Du-Sac Virus" is going to be included in his Autumn Cthulhu anthology. As an avowed lover of Autumn (there really is no better season) I'm both honored and excited to have one of my stories among the leaves.





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Are You One Of Me?

    Writers write, and writers write about writing. I'm not conceited enough to believe that I could tell you anything about the craft that someone else hasn't already said better. In every sense, I'm still at the beginning of my "career," hoping I'll succeed against mountains of evidence to the contrary.

    I could wallpaper my apartment with form rejections.

    If you're one of me, writing is a manic-depressive endeavor. There are periods of nervous joy--like when you receive word that one of your stories is being held, or when you're neck deep in a draft and everything just seems to click. But the majority of time is a literary slog, forcing yourself to the keyboard again and again while narratives unravel before your eyes and rejections hammer your ego to pulp. This is all done with the understanding that it may be years or even decades (if ever) before your story sees print. For me, the question is often not what to write, but how to keep writing.

    I have a lot to learn about the craft, but I like to think I have a handle on rejection. In the years I've spent collecting little slips of paper and terse form-emails, I've developed some techniques to inoculate myself against inevitable disappointment. These strategies have helped me to keep my fingers on the keys and my eyes on the monitor. If you're one of me, I hope they help you as well.

 1) Celebrate Failure: If you're one of me, you write not only for the joy of it, but also the rush of excitement (or relief) when an editor decides he or she likes a story enough to include it in their publication. Success is its own reward.

    But what about all the other times?

    I've found it's better to view rejections not as failures, but as evidence that I'm doing exactly what I should be. Every ten rejections, I give myself a little reward--a doughnut with breakfast, skipping a workout to watch TV or play video games, a beer with friends--whatever, you know what you like. Every hundredth rejection equates to larger reward--dinner at a nice restaurant, purchasing a book I've had my eye on, a lazy Sunday of Xbox--again, it's up to you. The trick is to incentivize yourself for continuing to write and submit--because that's the only thing you can control.

2) Turnaround is Key: If you're one of me, it's hard not to get angry and depressed when you get a story back, especially one that you think is perfect for the market you sent it to. You tried not to get your hopes up, but all the cool calculation in the world isn't going to trump that fluttery, expectant feeling you get whenever an editor holds your story a microsecond longer than the rest. You let yourself dream, you're a writer, you can't help it, and that makes the rejection all the worse. So what now?

    Don't sit on it. Getting your work back on the market takes a lot of the sting out of rejection. You didn't send the story out because you felt it wasn't ready for publication, right? In the absence of any editor critique, there's no need to second-guess yourself. By all means, read the thing over once or twice and tighten up the prose, but don't think for a moment just because your story didn't make the cut there's something wrong with it. Get it back out there! I promise you'll feel better.

 3) There's No Such Thing as Slumming: If you're one of me, you get rejected by pro markets constantly. Never underestimate the power of seeing your work in print. There's a pernicious assumption in the genre community that anything below semi-pro rates doesn't really count as publication. I prefer to take a broader view: if your work goes before an editor and he or she accepts it for print, it's a publication. It doesn't matter if you receive a "token" payment or even no payment, as long as you didn't pay for the privilege you should be proud of yourself. While your goal should always be the "pro" markets, a little encouragement goes a long way, and nothing is more encouraging seeing you own work in print.

 4) Be the Author: If you're one of me, you're shy about self-promotion and scared of coming off as pathetic or condescending with other authors. Go to conventions, attend panels and workshops, make friends, and get a taste of what it's like. I started visiting conventions long before I published my first story. I was worried that everyone would know I wasn't a real author, but no one ever asked me where I was published. Rather, the most common question was: "What do you write?"

   It's a rare author who doesn't like to talk about writing, especially with someone who's interested in their work. You'll also meet other up-and-comers (like yourself), and most likely make some good contacts in the process. If you're earnest and friendly, you can't go far wrong. I never feel so good about my prospects as a writer or more full of ideas then when I come back from a convention. If you're nervous, start small and work your way up to the bigger ones.

 5) Don't Compare: If you're one of me, you get a little green-eyed reading facebook updates from your friends and colleagues touting their newest publications. Just don't do it. There are always going to be more successful writers than you, and there are always going to be less successful ones.

    If you're one of me, you got into writing not only because you read something beautiful and thought: "Damn, I want to do this," but also because you read something horrible and thought: "Damn, I can do better than this." Art is subjective. The only person you should be comparing your work to is the only one that matters: your past self. Seriously, that guy/girl couldn't spin a metaphor to save his/her life. You're a way better writer than he/she was…and you always will be.   

6) Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: If you're one of me, you may be tempted to focus on your own work to the exclusion of everything else. Don't just read fiction, buy it. Publishing is a zero-sum game, there are only a certain number of markets with a certain number of publications, but this number can grow, making more room for your work. If you're published, don't just promote yourself, toss everything into the mix. If you read a good story or novel, get the word out, loan it to your friends and family. At the very least you feel good about sharing something you love, and maybe, just maybe you'll make a fan for life.


    As John Scalzi puts it: "The hardest part of writing is getting your butt in the chair." It isn't always going to be easy, in fact, it's going to most likely be very hard…forever. These are the things that work for me, but I'm always looking for more insights. I'd very much like to hear what you do when plots slip through your fingers and rejections choke your hopes like a gutter full of wet leaves. Remember, you're not in this alone.

If you're one of me, I'm also one of you.        


Reader Comments (4)

You s.o.b. You never mentioned you had a website. Bookmarked mother f'er.

March 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJosh K

Thanks Josh!

April 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan Dicken

Nice post! I like your rewarding rejections idea. I may try that.
Lately, I've been struggling with (of all things) getting shortlisted. I feel like I'm getting shortlisted a lot more often these days, but that has really opened me up to a whole new level of disappointment. I'm thrilled to be getting closer on some of these publications (Apex, DSF, ASIM, etc), but my shortlisters keep getting rejected in the end -a new level of heartbreak.

July 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJarod

I understand your pain. Hope is a terrible burden. You start imagining you'll be accepted, maybe even seeing your own humble work on the pages of Apex, or Lightspeed, or F&SF, or...well, take your pick. Which is what makes coming down all the more hard. I just had a couple pieces held for what seemed like an almost criminal amount of time before ultimately being rejected. I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't crushed. Still, being held is one step closer to being published, at least that's what I keep telling myself.

July 8, 2013 | Registered CommenterEvan Dicken

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