06 April 2022

Finding Your Story A Forever Home

 I have a new story out this month and I thought would try something different: taking you along the path that led to its eventually finding a publication.  The path turned out to be quite different than I thought it was when I began writing this piece.

Back in 2017 I got an idea for a story.  Here is the log line:

The Witness Protection Program sends a minor criminal to Indiana and orders him to keep quiet, make no waves, because mobsters want him dead.  But someone is stalking his beautiful neighbor....

Truly, our protagonist has a dilemma on his hands.

When I finish a new mystery story my first target is usually the Dell Magazines: Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock.  I generally try EQMM first even though I have much better luck with AHMM (3 sales versus almost 40) because Hitchcock takes about four times as long to make a decision as Queen.  (Of course, if a character has appeared in AHMM before I send it there first.)

But as it happens, I did not go the Dell route this time.  By 2019 I had the story ready to send (I rewrite a lot). But then a new contest was announced: the Bill Crider Prize for Short Fiction.  Entries were supposed to be set in Bill's home state of Texas so I shifted my action from Indiana to the Lone Star State and  sent it in. 

I didn't win.

Fair enough.  Bouchercon was also producing an anthology so I submitted my story to that.

Strike two.

Logically I should have now sent the story to EQMM, but I had a memory lapse and thought I had already gone the Dell route  before switching it to Texas.  So, I shifted my poor protagonist back to Indiana (he must have been tired of packing and unpacking) and shipped it to a different magazine.

Which rejected it.

Again, if I had checked my records, which I do keep scrupulously, I would have noticed that I  hadn't sent the stories to the Dell twins, but I didn't.  The story went into the file of the Great Unpublished, where it sat until last year.

That's when I saw that Jack Calverley was looking for stories for an anthology.  I have worked with Jack before: in the early days of podcasting he ran an outfit called Crime City Central.  They did an audio version of one of my stories, which you can hear here.  (Hear hear!)

Jack was working on an anthology to be titled Death of a Bad Neighbour: Revenge is Criminal.

Hmm.  There in my files was a story about neighbors (or neighbours... Jack is British.)  I didn't think it was a perfect fit (I assume Jack was mostly getting stories about X being mad at Y who lived next door and so X planned to do wicked deeds against Y) but I have found over the years that sometimes a tale with a tangential connection to an anthology theme will sell at least partially because it is different than the other stories received.

But notice the subtitle.  Revenge is implied in my story but I don't think the word actually appeared in it.  That was an easy fix; I made the revenge theme explicit, and I sent it in.

And lo and behold, "Lambs and Wolves" finally found a happy home.  It is the lead-off story in the book, out this week. 

Unanswerable question: If I had remembered to send the story to EQMM or AHMM might it have been purchased there?  We will never know.  But I am delighted that it landed in a book with stories by some of my favorite writers.  And oh, a really great cover too.  

Whether my fictional story has a happy ending you will need to read to find out, but this nonfiction one worked out great. 


  1. Congratulations. And you are right- great cover!

  2. Great reality check, Rob.

    I have sold exactly four stories to the first place I sent them. The others have received an average of six rejections each, and my record is twenty-two (a two-way tie).

    I write about half my stories before I know where I might sell them. The others are for a specific submission call...and many of those don't get selected anyway.

    Yes, the Dell publications pay well, but my success rate there is about four percent. A few other publications seem to be more attuned to whatever is is that I do. A few of us were discussing Dell on the SMFS site a few days ago, and picking markets is certainly more an art than a science.

    Right now, I have ten stories under submission somewhere, and all of them have at least one rejection somewhere else. One has six, and I'm running out of places to send it.

    1. As you know persistence is the main thing. My stories have received some sort of honor ten times. Eight of those were for stories that had been rejected by at least one market.

  3. Rob, I remember reading "Lambs and Wolves." It's a great story. Good for you.

    1. As always, thanks for your critical reading of it.

  4. Every story has its story. I enjoy reading these backgrounders.

  5. Congrats Rob, the story behind the story about the neighbor (neighbour) was interesting -- look forward to the anthology!

  6. Annnnd congratulations, Rob! I look (listen) forward to it.

  7. Wonderful! Congratulations!!!


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