Showing posts with label rejection slips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rejection slips. Show all posts

27 February 2018

Rejected!

Michael Bracken
by Michael Bracken

I have every rejection I’ve ever received.

All 2,552 of them.

When I began writing in the mid-1970s, conventional wisdom—whether true or not—was that a collection of rejection slips would prove beneficial were the IRS ever to audit my taxes. The very existence of the rejection slips proved I was writing with the intent to earn money and not as a hobby, even though I was operating at a loss. These days my taxable net profit on freelancing proves the point far better than my collection of rejection slips, but I can’t stop myself from collecting them.

Though today’s rejections are nowhere near as physically varied as the ones I once received through the mail, I continue to print out emailed rejections and file them with all the other rejection slips, which now fill most of a filing cabinet drawer.

JUST SAY NO

I received my first rejection slip from Fantasy & Science Fiction in September 1974, just as I began my senior year of high school, and I received my first personalized rejection—a quarter-page typewritten note with a handwritten addendum—from the editor of Multitude in May 1976, less than a year after high school graduation. I had progressed from form rejection to personalized rejection in only seven submissions.

Of course, a personalized rejection still means “no.”

The typing is mine,
the handwriting is Sam's
My goal was to collect acceptances, not rejections, so I persevered: A single rejection the first year, four the second, 34 the third, and a whopping 74 the fourth. They came in all sizes and shapes, from scraps of paper containing a simple scrawled note (Sam Merwin, Jr., rejecting a story sent to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine) to four-color full-page form rejection letters that cost more to print than I earned from many of my earliest sales.

Most rejections provided little information beyond the preprinted message. Others contained checklists where editors, by one or more strokes of the pen, identified the way or ways my story failed to engage them. Still others provided handwritten words of encouragement: “Not bad,” “Fine writing,” and “Try us again.”

O'Neil De Noux fails to recognize
the genius of my early work
The best—though they were still rejections—were the long notes and letters providing detailed reasons for rejection and providing suggestions for improvement. Sometimes, they even provided lessons on writing: Gentleman’s Companion editor Ted Newsom’s page-and-a-half letter on the value of writing transitions rather than using jump-cuts springs to mind, as do several letters from horror anthologist Charles L. Grant and several incredibly detailed, multi-page letters from Amazing Stories editor Kim Mohan. (Note: I placed two stories with Ted Newsom and one with Charles L. Grant, but I never did place one with Kim Mohan.)

And one rejection, from Mystery Street, may have been my first encounter with fellow SleuthSayer O’Neil De Noux!

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON REJECTIONS

During the 40-plus years I’ve been writing, my stories have been rejected by 71 mystery periodicals—the five that existed in the 1980s and 66 more since then—and an uncounted number of mystery anthologies, including both print and electronic publications. (Note: In “Poster Child,” my recent guest post at Something is Going to Happen, I actually name the many mystery periodicals that have come and mostly gone since I began writing short mystery fiction.)

I’m unsure if a multitude of rejections indicates when I’m having a good year or a bad year, but I received 204 rejections in 1991 (I received 84 acceptances that year). On the flip side, I received only three in 1989 (I received four acceptances that year). More recently, acceptances and rejections are near equilibrium: 39 rejections vs. 37 acceptances in 2017; 35 rejections vs. 45 acceptances in 2016; and 31 rejections vs. 42 acceptances in 2015.

Though the majority of rejections are in response to short story submissions, mixed among the many early rejections are those for articles, essays, fillers, poems, and short humor. I was shotgunning the market back then, trying anything and everything, and hoping something stuck. (And not every rejection generates a rejection slip—Woman’s World, for example, does not send rejections—so I’ve received more rejections than rejection slips.)

Rejections mess with your head. Being told no 2,552 times is quite disheartening. Some writers give up after the first few dozen. Other writers receive rejections and only become more determined. Many writers play rejectomancy, attempting to read between the lines of every rejection. (Aeryn Rudel, in his blog Rejectomancy, which I follow, attempts to decode and rank rejections into various tiers, from “Common Form Rejections” to “Higher-Tier Form Rejections.” Though most of Aeryn’s data comes from the horror, science fiction, and fantasy markets, the information he provides is both entertaining and informative.)

REJECTION-FREE IS THE WAY TO BE

Were it not for the lessons I learned from those long, detailed rejection letters, I may have become one of the many would-be writers whose shattered egos and unpublishable manuscripts litter the literary highway. Lack of ability quashed my music career and my artwork never gained traction, so I focused my creative energy on writing and, over time, began to accumulate acceptances: 1,584 of them (more than 1,200 are for short stories).

That’s one acceptance for every 1.61 rejections and, yes, I’ve kept every acceptance letter, postcard, note, and email. Those I file with hardcopies of my manuscripts and, when I get them, with copies of the actual publications.

I had a hot streak a few years back, when almost everything I wrote sold on first submission. My ego expanded exponentially, but then I realized something I should have realized long before that: If everything is selling, I’m not challenging myself; I’m taking the easy path to publication.

So, I began writing stories that stretched my abilities, either by working in unfamiliar genres or by submitting to higher-paying and more prestigious markets. The acceptance-to-rejection ratio shifted, and not in my favor. I placed a few stories, and just in time because two of my sure-sale markets ceased publication and several anthology editors with whom I worked stopped editing anthologies.

So, as I continue stretching my abilities and my stories continue facing the submission gauntlet, my rejection collection grows, taking ever more space in my filing cabinet. Luckily, so does my acceptance collection.

A trio of recently published stories survived the submission gauntlet: “Plumber’s Helper” in The Saturday Evening Post, My Stripper Past in Pulp Adventures #28, and “The Mourning Man” in the March/April Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. (Note: Joining me with stories in this issue are two other SleuthSayers: R.T. Lawton and Robert Lopresti.)

07 June 2013

Bottom of the Glass

by R.T. Lawton

Several of the Sleuth Sayer bloggers have written about the agony of receiving rejection slips from editors, agents and/or publishers, so now I guess it's my turn to stand up and say, "Hi, my name is R.T. Lawton and I am a writer." And then, after the polite applause that's usually received at these types of meetings in church basements or wherever, I guess I'll have to tell my story. That's the way these things work.

"Well, lately I've received four straight rejections, with personal hand-written notes from the column editor at Woman's World magazine. In the past, this has been one of my bread and butter markets. One of the rejections even credited me for having an original idea which hadn't been submitted to her before....but the story still wasn't quite right for her. Damn.

At this point, I saw two possibilities. One, I was slipping. Nah, that couldn't be. And two, the solution I preferred to accept, was that my friend and fellow blogger, John Floyd, had cornered the market with his engaging series characters. Darn you John, your excellent writing is making for some hard competition for the rest of us. Keep on going though, as I may learn something yet.

So here I am looking at the bottom of the glass. But since those of us who have spent time on the edge, one way or another, usually have a strange sense of humor from operating on the darker side of life, I like to put a little something back in the glass by remembering my most favorite rejection. You see, I am probably one of the few writers who has been rejected by a jail. It went something like this.

When I was vice-prez of the Black Hills Writers Group, a stranger showed up at one of our monthly meetings. This in itself wasn't odd, because we often had some newcomer sitting in for a meeting or more. However, this newcomer said he was the editor of a newspaper for one of the more infamous biker campgrounds at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and he was looking for biker stories to purchase for his rag. He didn't know me, but I knew him professionally and it wasn't from the writing side of my profession.

Since I'd had stories published in Easyriders and Outlaw Biker under some of my undercover aliases, I figured I had a good shot at this, a mere campground newspaper. I wrote up a story, submitted it under an alias with a return address to an undercover post office box and awaited the results. Several days later, I received an envelope  from the Pennington County Jail with a rejection  and the request that in the future I not send anything consisting of more than four pages.

While I knew that the editor was on probation for violating the state drug laws, I had no idea that he subsequently violated his probation and got put back inside. At which point, this same editor had all his mail forwarded to the country jail, to include my manuscript. Thus, sad to say, I was promptly rejected by the jail officials who read all incoming mail for prisoners. My manuscript never saw print in the public venue.

Therefore on occasions such as today, I still raise my partially filled glass and toast the fallen editor who never knew my true identity. God bless the idiot. In later years I would ride my Harley out to the infamous biker campground during the rally and watch this same editor as he MC'ed the Miss Bear Butte (Bare Butt) Contest in his white suit, white bowler hat, white spats, white shoes and white cane. You had to be there to appreciate it.

Sometimes, just the memory of this rejection keeps me laughing. To me, it's an inspiration, but then I've led a rather odd life and tend to see the world in a different perspective than most folk.

So, it's on my mind that you should lighten up when you get rejected. Just keep on writing and submitting. Sometimes you have absolutely no control over what happens to your stories. You're a writer though, just go get 'em.