Showing posts with label rejections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rejections. Show all posts

15 June 2020

Heartbreaks & Half-Truths


That's the anthology coming out June 18 with one of my stories in it. John Floyd has one in it, too, along with several other people I know. Kate Flora, who founded Level Best Books, accepted my first short story for publication fifteen years ago. K.M. Rockwood suggested the name of a band that appears in one of my novels. Crime writing is a small world.

The back cover copy gives you a good sense of what's in store:

Lovers and losers. Whether it's 1950s Hollywood, a scientific experiment, or a yard sale in suburbia, the twenty-two authors represented in this collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of "heartbreaks and half-truths" in their own inimitable style, where only one thing is certain: Behind every broken heart lies a half-truth. And behind every half-truth lies a secret.

According to my spreadsheet, "Ugly Fat" received fourteen rejections between the end of 2008 and early this year when Judy Penz Sheluk selected it for the anthology. One market told me to re-submit it--and rejected it again. That did wonders for my self-esteem. I assume another market rejected it because I sent it in April 2018 and haven't heard from them yet. That's not unusual, though. I still have seventeen unanswered queries from agents to whom I sent The Whammer Jammers in 2011. That's a major reason I started self-publishing my novels.

I've always loved short stories but never felt comfortable with the form until I attended the Wesleyan Writer's Conference in summer of 2004. Alex Chee, Roxanna Robinson and Chris Offutt were all excellent teachers. Chris also gave me helpful feedback on an early version of what eventually became Blood on the Tracks (Interestingly enough, so did Kate Flora at Crime Bake a year or two later, on a very different draft). I wrote eight or ten short stories in the months after that one-week workshop, and four stories that have seen print came from writing prompts or other suggestions I picked up there.

"Ugly Fat" is different from many of my stories, but similar to a lot of them, too.

Like many of my stories, it has a female protagonist. I worked theater with strong, organized, creative stage managers for thirty years, and most of them were women. My wife is smarter than I am, too (Yes, I grant you, that's no big deal). My novels feature strong women like Valerie Karr, Megan Traine, "Shoobie" Dube, and Svetlana Melanova. Weak or dumb women don't do it for me, and that bias shows up in my writing.

Connie, the protagonist in "Ugly Fat," has been dumped by her cop boyfriend and is now visiting the gym to get back in fighting trim. She stops at a tag sale and finds that her problems are nothing compared to the woman running the sale. Molly's husband dumped her for his secretary and they eloped to Mexico. Now Molly is selling all the guy's clothes, books, and sports gear. She divorced his sorry ass and refers to it as a great diet, in which she lost 170 pounds of ugly fat in one day. Connie sympathizes, but figures out there's more to the story than meets the eye.

The story has dark humor, which I like, and a few music references, also a staple. Telling more would spoil it.

Now, you ask, how is it different from my other stories?

If you don't ask that, you missed your cue.

Well, it's only 2400 words long, one of my shortest published stories. My comfort zone seems to be about 3500--or, if you include my two novellas--about 4300. Excluding the novellas, my two longest stories are roughly 6000 words.

I've always been a process kind of guy, maybe because I taught for so long. More often than not, I know when, where, why, and how I got the idea for a story. I've discussed that before. I try to help people in my workshops realize that ideas come from anywhere and everywhere, sometimes several places and ideas at once.

I remember nothing about when or where this story came to me. The draft I sent for the anthology is "Version S," which would be the 19th version. That's far more than usual, and I don't know why there were so many. I usually do five or six drafts over a span of three or four months. Since I sent the story out the first time around Thanksgiving 2008, I probably wrote the first draft in July, most likely after seeing a tag sale or ten within walking distance of my condo any given weekend.

Who knows? Who cares?

Connie's found a home. And she's in good company.

13 April 2020

Spare Time and Spare Parts


We all need to fill much too much spare time right now, but social distancing is easier for a writer because it's part of our life anyway. Unfortunately, I may have domesticated Zach Barnes and Woody Guthrie too much and fear that I'll turn them into family sitcoms, so, for the first time since 2003, I have no novels in progress. I have a few ideas for short stories and a novella, but a few weeks ago I turned to the Nostalgia Plan, AKA Recycling 101.

I store pretty much everything I cut on flash drives or external hard drives: a line of dialogue or description, scenes I cut from novels or short stories, an interesting character, projects I abandoned, and even stories rejected so often I ran out of places to send them. I cannibalize enough to make it worthwhile.

I published Blood on the Tracks, the first Woody Guthrie novel, in 2013, but I wrote the first version of that story late in 2003. In various forms, revisions, and under at least four titles, the book(s) received over 110 rejections.

Sifting through the wreckage, I found a complete MS called The Cheater, an earlier version of what eventually saw print. Between 2006 and 2008, I pitched it to 58 agents. Interestingly, three of them asked for a full MS, another asked for 100 pages, and two others asked for 50 pages or the first three chapters. They all turned it down, usually without comment, but one with the kind of rejection that makes writers crazy: "You're a good writer and there's a lot to like here, but I can't sell this."

No further explanation.

Eleven years later, I still don't know why that MS was rejected, but I suspect that it was because I changed genre in mid-story. The premise was that the PI who would later become Woody Guthrie met Megan Traine at their high school reunion and they teamed up to solve a murder that involved one of the their classmates. Alcoholism and domestic abuse were important themes, and I suspect agents freaked when the cozy went south.

A few weeks ago, I went through the book again. I even found two pages of revision notes from 2010, when I considered revising that 78K-word story for my then-publisher, who had a 70K-word limit.

The cozy high school reunion idea is autobiographical. I met the inspiration for Megan Traine at my own reunion. Although we graduated together (Our class graduated 691 students), we never met in school, and she became a session musician in Detroit. The reunion idea was the crux of several versions of the book, but I finally decided that was the problem and abandoned it for Blood on the Tracks. 

The Cheater, which I also sent out twice as Alma Murder, presented another problem. The PI was from Connecticut and his name was Erik Morley, but Megan Traine was constant through all  versions of the book. Her character deepened, but changed very little between 2003 and her real debut ten years later. I figured if I put her in Detroit with a different lover, she'd look a little slutty, so I decided to change her name and background. The plot would still work, and I liked the POV of the classmate, a woman accused of killing her abusive husband. She was a lawyer and a functioning alcoholic. So much for the cozy, right?

I studied my revision notes, revised them some more, added new ideas, and rewrote about 40 pages of the book. I changed Megan Traine's name and background and cut all the music scenes from earlier versions (Erik Morley still played guitar, another constant with Woody and one of the few things he had in in common with me).

It was like sticking my hand into a garbage disposal.

The more I read, the more I realized that Meg and music generated some of the best scenes in that book. Changing her would force me to re-write or cut parts that gave all the characters more depth.

Fourteen years ago, I loved the book and the characters and we were a team. The rewriting. . . not so much. It became a chore instead of a passion. I stuck it out for about three weeks, then remembered the advice all doctors have at the top of the list.

First, do no harm.

I was mutilating something I loved and the changes would make it different, but not better. I decided to leave the book alone.

Maybe I'll publish it someday as an eBook, and UR-version of Blood on the Tracks. If I do, Alma Murder still works as a title. Or, maybe, I'll just leave it sleeping on the hard drive where it's happy.

I was surprised that a 14-year-old MS still felt like I actually knew what I was doing. Now, the biggest change would be a global edit to replace the double-space after end punctuation. And maybe to eliminate a few semi-colons.  I have several short stories on that same disc that don't merit reworking. I guess this particular story was more important to me.

Samuel Johnson said that only a blockhead writes for any reason other than money. But sometimes money's not enough, either. Sometimes we do it for love.


What do you have in your closet?


06 February 2019

Smile! Your Story Has Been Rejected!


by Robert Lopresti

Here they are, folks.  The top ten reasons you should be grateful your latest short story was rejected.

10.  Unless you asked the editor out on a date, nobody rejected you. They rejected some pages with words on them. For example, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine rejected the first seventy-six stories I sent them, but that didn't stop them from buying the seventy-seventh, when I finally got the words on the pages that they wanted.

9. You have a new opportunity to look at the story, checking for flaws, typos, or new aspects.

8.  You have had a valuable reminder of the fact that rejection does not kill you.

7.  You have a new opportunity to examine available markets.    Of my seventy-plus published stories, fifteen eventually appeared in paying markets that did not exist when I first started submitting that story.

6. You just learned something about that market/editor.

5. Your skin just grew a millimeter thicker.

4.  Your story is closer to finding its proper home.   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.  Be proud that you are submitting.  As they say in basketball, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

2.  Be proud that you are finishing what you write.  That puts you light-years ahead of millions of wannabes.

1. Be proud that you are writing.  That's what you're doing it for, right?  Because if the goal is wealth, try buying lottery tickets instead.

And a Bonus Reason, for those who sell most of what they write: If your success rate is very high, maybe you need to experiment more, or try more ambitious markets.  Then you can have the satisfaction of failing sometimes, like the rest of us.

Other reasons?  Put 'em in the comments.



03 February 2016

Five Red Herrings, Numero 7.


1.  Thuglit.  You like mysteries?  You like short stories?  So, have you read Thuglit yet?  It is a good magazine, a paying market yet, and available in paper or electrons.  Eight stories per issue, very reasonable price.  I bring this up because editor Todd Robinson has announced that, barring an increase in sales, this will be its last year.  And that would be a shame.

How good is Thuglit?  It provided six of the Best Stories of the Week I reviewed at Little Big Crimes last year.  That's more than 10%.  Two of them made my Best of the Year; 15%. 

And we're going to lose it because you refuse to chip in two bucks an issue, 25 cents a story?  Buy it here.


2. The Big Squelch.  Imagine that you submit a story to a magazine and get any of these replies from the editor:

"Lots of suspense."

"A fascinating romp through primitive territory."


"Some beautiful moments here."

"Easy to read, had a good hook, kept me interested and I loved the characters -- all of them."


You would feel pretty good, wouldn't you?  But each of these was in a rejection note received by Eric Wilder.  And in his list he tells you which editor said what about which story.  Fascinating...

3.  Going Up.  And down.  A month ago I told you about my new desk which moves to a standing position at the touch of a button.  A few people asked me to report on how it has worked out - i.e. has it been sitting in the down position since the second day?

Well, I love it.  My goal is to use it standing up for half an hour and then switch, but often I am so comfortable standing up that I don't notice how much time has passed until one of my cats demands that I make a lap. So I highly recommend it for any middle aged backs out there.


4. Wuzza wooza buzzy fuzzy!  Chuck Wendig is a writer.  Apparently he often gives writing advice.  Last November he got a bit fed up with that routine.  The result is profane and hilarious.

That’s me yelling at the clouds and shaking my fist at trees, screaming: I EARNED THE RIGHT TO YELL AT YOU ABOUT WRITING. And then I hiss at birds. Stupid birds...

You should write in the morning unless you can’t or shouldn’t or won’t or whatever.

Be more literary! Be more genre! Be less this more that wait no the other thing.

This won’t sell until it does and then it sells a lot until it stops selling and nnngh.

You should do XYZ except unless ABC or 123 or wuzza wooza buzzy fuzzy.


Read it all.

5. The haunted bookshop?  I started this piece by inviting you to spend a few bucks on Thuglit.  Here is another suggestion for those suffering from too much moolah - especially if you live in my part of the country.

The Seattle Mystery Bookshop has been supporting readers and writers in our field for decades. (Attached is a photo of me at a signing  last fall with a couple of wonderful readers.)  Like a lot of small bookstores they need some help and happily they have the sense to say so.  There is a GoFundMe to raise some dough for them, and there are cool rewards for patrons.



27 October 2014

An Honest Rejection Letter


Carla Damron
A Caleb Knowles Mystery
SleuthSayer readers and writers, please allow me to introduce a superb South Carolina mystery writer– Carla Damron. I've known Carla since we met at the SC Book Festival years ago, and our paths have crossed numerous times since then. Damron blogs on Writers Who Kill and in September she posted about rejection– not the usual "oh, woe is me, I got another one," but a piece she called "An Honest Rejection Letter." I thought those of you who have ever received a rejection (and I'm told that even the most successful writers have been on the receiving end of those little letters that tear our hearts out) would enjoy reading her blog. I'm going to share it with you, but, first, here's a little more about Carla.

Described as a "writer of social issues mysteries," Carla is a licensed clinical social worker and, like me, she's a true southerner born and raised in South Carolina. Her counselor experiences resonate in her three mystery novels: Keeping Silent (2001, mass market 2002), Spider Blue, (2005 trade paper 2006) and Death in Zooville (2010).

Caleb Knowles, a social worker who was described in a Charlotte Observer review as "a social worker with a delightfully dry sense of humor" is the protagonist in these first three novels. In Death in Zooville, Caleb and his deaf brother Sam become entangled in the world of poverty, addiction, and homelessness.

Some SSers may have met Carla Damron as she has been a featured speaker and panel member at many writers' conferences and will be at Murder in the Magic City, Birmingham, Alabama, in February, 2015. For more about her, check out her webpage www.carladamron.com


I am just back from a wonderful writing retreat among some very creative women. Part of our weekend included writing exercises. The following is one I completed—a story in a letter. Sort of. My fellow wild women writers suggested I share it, so here goes!
Dear Author,

Thank you for submitting your novel, A Long Road to Nowhere, to Acme Publishing. Unfortunately we do not feel it is a good fit for our company. It may have been a good fit, had I read it before lunch, and if lunch hadn't included two glasses of a very nice chardonnay.

Or maybe it would have fit if I hadn’t just read five chapters of someone’s else’s work, an Apocalyptic YA novel about transgendered vampires, that had an opening which I loved, but completely fell apart at chapter two. (Seriously? A transgendered vampire would not convert to Buddhism.)

And, you may not want to hear that we just accepted someone else’s work, a coming of age graphic novel, reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird, except that it’s set on planet Zargon and the protagonist has tentacled arms and drives a moon-ship. Graphic novels are all the rage this week.

And perhaps your work would have fit with Acme Publishing, if my boss, the assistant acquisitions editor, hadn't just handed me the novella written by our editor-in-chief’s thirteen-year-old niece, with orders that I find something in it that’s salvageable. “She did a nice job with her margins” was not, apparently, strong enough praise.

Your manuscript aside, I found your query letter striking. Interesting that you mentioned sending it to forty other publishing companies. Were we supposed to be flattered to be number forty-one? And, while I’m very glad that your mother loved the work and your writer’s group thinks it’s as good or better than Joyce Carol Oates, these opinions are likely biased. (My mother loved my high school performance of Anne Frank but you don’t see me on Broadway, do you?)

The inclusion of a bottle of scotch with your manuscript was a nice addition. Perhaps it would have scored more points with me if the editorial committee hadn’t snagged it before I saw the label. They’re in the board room right now singing Abba tunes.

As you know, author, the selection process is a subjective one, and you may find another publishing house that is eager to accept your work.

Best wishes,
Intern to the assistant acquisitions editor


PS. What's the most interesting or fun or depressing rejection you've ever received?
This has nothing to do with today's topic.  Melodie and Eve
wanted to see me in my clown costume.  Here it is.  I'm second
from left (as though you couldn't tell!) Hate I can't find a full-
length picture because my hot pink and purple cowboy boots
were magnificent both in Nashville and as a clown.

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you!

10 January 2014

Interesting Rejections


OR: If at first you don’t succeed…

 Well, the holidays are over and we’re rapidly approaching that time when writers can, once again, open their mailboxes hoping to find responses from agents and editors.

 We all hope for acceptances. But, we all know there will undoubtedly also be rejections.

 John Floyd’s excellent post about rejections, on January 4th, evoked so many thoughts in my mind, I suffered a mental log-jam. I finally realized I’d be better off posting some of them as an article, instead of as a comment.

 Over time, I realized this article may probably be better suited to newer writers, because my thoughts are not really about how to handle the standard multi-xeroxed rejection letter a writer usually receives, but rather how to handle rejection letters that name names (or wish to!) and get specific. The more experienced writer, however, may wish to continue reading to get a kick out of foolish things I’ve done. (It won’t hurt my feelings.) And, though I’m usually long-winded, today I’ll include only three examples.

I love the last clause on this sign.  It just seems so appropriate.

Example 1 

 The first rejection I ever received was for my very first fiction submission, which I wrote on an electric typewriter while still in the army. I got a very nice hand-written letter from the fiction editor at Omni magazine, saying the piece wasn't right for their publication. She then went on to praise my writing, adding that she hoped I’d send more stories in the future.

 The editor was correct; the story wasn't right for Omni — it narrated the death of a young boy murdered by a satanic elevator in a post-nuclear-holocaust world. I should have sent it somewhere else, which is what that editor suggested. I, however, knew nothing about fiction markets and had no idea where else I might send it.

 My biggest mistake, of course, is that I thought the editor was “just being nice.” So, I tore up the manuscript and her letter (after reading her praise several times), then burned them in my fireplace, thinking I just wasn’t cut out to be a writer. Nearly a decade passed before I submitted another fiction story.

 (While the experienced writers go dispose of the clumps of hair they just pulled from their scalps, I’d like to take a moment to address newer writers, then we’ll move on to the next two examples.)

 Newer writers should be advised: Editors don’t send hand-written letters praising your work just to be nice. They’re far too busy. If you ever get a rejection like this:


1.   Do NOT destroy your manuscript! The editor actually liked it. A lot! Somebody else will almost surely buy it; you just have to find the right publication.

2.   Visit the website of the magazine that rejected you so kindly, and read their Writer Guidelines, then write a story that falls within those guidelines. There’s a very good chance they’ll buy it! After all, the fiction editor likes the way you write.

Example 2 

 I once submitted a speculative fiction piece and received a short note on my form rejection letter, which read: “Next time PLEASE GIVE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER A NAME!”

 A friend who saw this was very taken aback. She said, “Wow! That’s harsh!”

 I told her, “Hey, at least I know what they didn’t like about it. Some magazines don’t mind printing stories with unnamed protagonists. Now, however, I know this one doesn’t like it.”

 I consider such information to be quite valuable.

Example 3 

 I once wrote a story that concerned me quite a bit.

 The thing that bothered me was: men who read it tended to like it, but almost every woman who read it hated the thing. I had a pretty good idea why this was, but didn't feel I could do anything about it, because it was a central aspect of the story: remove the problem-causing aspect, and the story disappeared.

 Finally, deciding “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!” I shipped it off.

 The rejection was very useful. The editor said she was sure I’d be able to find a venue which would publish the story. I can’t remember the precise words of the letter, but she then added something pretty close to:

 “Please never send us anything written in this voice ever again.” 

Strong words.

But, honest.

And, very useful. I’d been worried that women didn’t like the story. The editor’s response convinced me: This may be a powerful story — it certainly provoked powerful reactions from more than just the editor — but

 As a writer who’s still trying to build his name, I have no desire to alienate female readers who might confuse the protagonist’s voice (the story was first person) with mine.  Consequently, instead of trying to sell this piece elsewhere, I keep it in my computer’s memory bank.

 Perhaps, one day, if I ever gain a large following, I can afford to let it see the light of day. But, for now, I think I’ll sit on it and try not to alienate one of the only two genders on the planet.

 See you in two weeks!
--Dixon

04 January 2014

Reversals of Fortune







Two weeks ago I posted about story sales in 2013 and tried to address some issues about the number of submissions that we writers make to short fiction markets. What I didn't address was the number of rejections I received for the stories I submitted in 2013. Counting those up is always about as enjoyable as eating a live frog with blue cheese and anchovies, but I did it--and discovered that I was given a thumbs-down 14 times last year. That's a lot.

We always hear and read about the fact that rejections are to be expected and not dreaded, and that writers have to learn not to dwell on them. Well, that advice may be true, but--as with most other pieces of advice--it's easier given than followed. Nobody likes to be rejected, whether the subject is manuscripts or salary increases or dates to the prom.

War stories

Allow me to digress a moment. Years ago, when I hired on with IBM, I went through an eighteen-month training period during which I--like all sales and systems-engineering rookies--shuttled back and forth between my local branch office and classroom courses at various IBM education centers across the country. In my case, I first spent a month at the branch office; then a month in class in San Jose, California; several more months in my home branch; two months in class in downtown Los Angeles; several more months back home; two more months in class in L.A.; several more months at home; and finally a month in class in Endicott, New York, to end my year-and-a-half. The time at the local office was always spent getting field experience and studying for the next trip to a course location, and the courses themselves were a marathon of lectures, case studies, presentations, and eighteen-hour days that made me wish I was back in military boot camp.

My point (there is a point here, believe it or not) is that those ed-center classes served a second purpose: they thinned the herd. On the morning of the first day of every course, we newly-arrived students were given an entrance exam covering the material that we'd studied for the past few months, and those who didn't pass were quietly approached during lunch, kicked out of the class, and flown back home at the expense of their branch. The rumor, and this was never verified, was that anyone who failed one of those exams never continued with the company. I do know that I stayed with IBM for thirty years and I never once saw any of those folks again.

That, my friends, is rejection. To me, it's on a par with being abandoned in your wedding dress at the altar, or turned down for a loan by the last bank in town. And though no one knew it back then, similar fates would await some of those who went through the widespread downsizing of the national workforce twenty years later, when so many large companies "restructured." Those were grim times. We used to joke (miserably) that the motto in Corporate America in the 1990s was "Beheadings will continue until morale improves."

On a lesser scale…

I realize I'm being a little extreme, here. Literary rejection, although certainly unpleasant, doesn't compare to any of that. The rejection of a story or novel manuscript is not only a rite of passage for new writers, it can be a regular occurrence to many fiction authors throughout their careers. Lawrence Block once said that rejection letters are membership cards to the universal fellowship of writers. But they're still no fun.

In a 2012 piece for Glimmer Train, author Katherine Ryan Hyde (who wrote Pay It Forward and many other novels) revealed that she was rejected 122 times before her first story sale, but was able to put it into the correct perspective. I especially liked one of her observations: "I think the most damaging misconception about rejection is that your work has been judged as 'bad.' . . . In reality, you don't know how it was received."

The following are some of her suggested (and paraphrased) reasons that an editor might have for rejecting a short story:

1. I just didn't like it.

2. I liked it but I didn't love it.

3. It was good, but suited to a different type of publication.

4. I short-listed eight stories and had space for only four.

5. I liked it but couldn't sell the other editors on it.


Good reasons. And there are probably many more, including "we ran a story similar to it last month," or "it's a bit too long," or "my back hurts, and I didn't get enough sleep last night." As Ms. Hyde mentioned, there's usually just no way to know the reason a story got rejected, and it does no good to worry about it. One point, though: if you've already sold a lot of stories to a particular editor, he or she will sometimes come right out and tell you why a story didn't make the cut. I know for sure that some of my stories have failed because of reason number 5, above. If the editor-in-chief vetoes it, it doesn't matter how many lesser editors okayed it. Does that knowledge make me feel any better, or make it any easier to make a sale to that market in the future? Not really. But, again, it's important to remember that not all rejected stores were rejected because they were poorly written.

Do you recall how many rejections you received (novel, short story, nonfiction) before the publication of your first work? Did you at any point find yourself discouraged or frustrated? Did you ever come close to quitting? I think all writers suffer some measure of self-doubt, and a long run of rejections is a frequent cause.

To paint all this in an brighter light,

Consider the following:

- Grisham's A Time to Kill was rejected by 16 agents and 12 publishers.

- 12 publishers rejected J. K. Rowling's first Harry Potter novel.

- 20 publishers turned down Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki and William Paul Young's The Shack.

- 21 publishers rejected Richard Hooker's M*A*S*H.

Catch-22 was bought on its (?) 22nd try.

- 23 publishers rejected Frank Herbert's Dune.

- 24 agents turned down The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks). A week after the 25th accepted it, it sold to Time-Warner for a million dollars.

Carrie got 30 rejections.

Gone With the Wind got 38.

The Cat in the Hat got 46.

- Stephen King's early short story "The Glass Floor" received 60 rejections, before selling for $35.

- 60 agents rejected Kathryn Stockett's The Help. The 61st accepted it, and it was sold three weeks later.



And the REALLY big numbers . . .

- The Chicken Soup for the Soul series was rejected 140 times

- Louis L'Amour was rejected 200 times before Bantam published his work.

- It took Alex Haley eight years and 200 rejections to sell Roots.

- F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have received more than 300 rejections before he sold a story, and Jack London received 600.

- John Creasey, the world's most prolific crime writer, wrote his first published novel on the backs of 743 rejection letters.

So the next time you get one of those cold, prissy little notes that says "We regret that your submission does not meet our requirements" (which, for me, will probably be tomorrow), go ahead and say a dirty word. I do. But remember this:

You're in pretty good company.

10 December 2012

Worse than Rejection


Sleuth Sayers have addressed the subject of rejection several times in the past.  It’s painful, and even the most successful authors have been (and are) rejected (and dejected) at times during their writing careers. 

Personally, I’ve been blessed with a fairly easy road to publication.  I began submitting magazine features while still in my teens, and most of them were accepted.  The ones that weren’t brought encouraging letters rather than form dismissals.  When I completed the first Callie Parrish mystery, I found an excellent New York agent who was able to place that book with the Berkley division of Penguin in a great deal with an advance and contract for two additional books, but I’ve recently begun writing and submitting an occasional short story.  Rejection HURTS!

             Rejection has been dealt with very well in SS, however, so today I’ll focus on an issue that’s just as excruciating at times—reviews.  My present publisher for the Callie books is wonderful, and the publisher of my pen-name efforts is almost as accommodating, but neither can protect me from that curse of the Internet—the occasional bad review.

Most of Callie’s reviews are and have been positive. She’s a little extreme, her vocation is unusual, and her friend Jane is atypical.  What this means is that most readers either like her or hate her and thankfully, those who hate her don’t usually bother to post reviews, but some do.  When I read the reviews from those who love Callie, I want to seek them out and give them all great big hugs.  When I’m interviewed on radio or television and the interrogators obviously like Callie, I want to take them home and cook them a fine southern dinner (and then hug them).

Recently, I Googled myself and read reviews going back to the first Callie in 2007.  Most of them made me think warm, fuzzy thoughts.  Those who bad-mouthed me, my writing, or my characters, did, however, create in me a strong urge for reaction. If the criticism was constructive, it made me consider changes. If not, it made me want to respond.  I don’t want to harm them, but I feel compelled to ANSWER them!

Prior to suggesting how to handle that feeling, I want to share two negative reviews with you as well as what I would say if I were foolish enough to try to answer them,

My favorite (or should I say least favorite?) bad review of all time:

I don’t read books about or by stupid, uneducated people. 

My response to that is, “Are you insulting the University of South Carolina where Callie received her BA in Education or me personally or the universities where I earned two Master’s degrees?”  Then I read the next part. 

I hated the first book, and I didn’t like the second one either (Hey Diddle, Diddle, the
Corpse & the Fiddle.) 

My reaction:  “If you hated the first one, why did you buy and/or read the second in the
 series?  If ‘stupid’ were a word I used, I’d say it describes those actions.”
The Reviewer


            My next least favorite review is over a page long and compares the Callie being reviewed to the second and third books in this series.  Actually, at that time, the new one was the third. (Gross error tends to discredit opinions.) It continues by saying that Jane feels entitled because she’s short, blonde and blind.  Jane is taller than Callie (5’4”) and a natural red head.  The only thing right in that sentence is that Jane is blind.  Callie talks too much. Callie books are first-person narrative.  If she doesn’t talk, there’s no book.  Same review says there are too many men in the series—Daddy, MANY brothers, TWO male bosses, and a former BF who is a Dr. @ the ER.  My response to that is to remind the reviewer that he/she (can’t tell from the initials) left out the sheriff, who is also male. Of course, the review mentions Callie’s use of “puh-leeze” and “ex-cuuze.”  I admit that was overdone in the first books, but I’ve toned it down recently. What I object to is that the reviewer accuses Callie of saying “looooooooooooooove” and a few other words that aren't stretched out in any Callie stories.

This same reviewer dislikes Callie barfing when she's frightened, then calls Callie a nauseating Southern belle.  The review closes with Get rid of Jane and the other problems in these books, and I might/could read another Callie Parrish mystery. 

How do I deal with a review like that?  Do I even want this person to read another Callie Parrish mystery?  I remember that I'm a professional and a lady.  I imagine myself purchasing  expensive linen stationery and responding through the mail in my finest cursive handwriting.  I've gone to great effort to locate the perfect clipart of that reply and you are welcomed to mentally mail this to anyone who deserves it.  Do remember that the message on this clip is directed ONLY to the above reviewer and not to other reviewers nor to SleuthSayer writers or readers.  Please scroll down to see that perfect clip.

Keep scrolling.

Keep scrolling.

Just a little more.

'Don't give up.

Keep scrolling.

Here it is:

05 June 2012

Rejection


    A recurring theme here at SleuthSayers has been the rejection letter.  This only makes sense since rejection is often on each of our minds.   My short story output is glacier compared to some of my colleagues but even then rejection looms over me a lot of the year given the fact that each story usually dangles out there for two months before the editorial outcome is ultimately known. 

    Short story writers can be tempted to think of the rejection letter as our own personal demon since we tend to inundate a perpetually shrinking market with numerous short pieces of fiction.  There is even a website, The Rejection Generator, administered by Stoneslide Books, that can generate a changing menu of humorous rejection letters.  Rather than posting some of the examples, I invite you to try the website so that you can personally experience the emailed rejection gems it doles out. 

    But, in truth, particularly given the current state of national employment (or, more correctly, unemployment), the rejection letter is hardly the personal province of writers.  My son Colin, currently a second year law student at George Washington University, was recently rejected by a law firm to which he had not even applied.  And I remember on more than one occasion when searching for legal employment receiving rejection letters that were written to a different (although equally rejected) applicant but then sent to my address.   And this really underscores the most irritating aspect of the rejection letter.  We each offer up something personal, that we have worked on a long time -- this may be a short story, or it may be that curricula vitae that encapsulates in a page who we are -- and it is then rejected impersonally and in short order. 

    One has to be careful what one wishes for, however.  The rejection letter can be a two edged sword.  What is worse than an impersonal cookie cutter rejection?  How about one that really tells you what the rejecting party was thinking.  Often we are simply not prepared for that level of truth-telling.


    Take, for example, this 1938 classic sent out by the loveable old Disney studios.  They certainly leave no doubt as to why this poor applicant didn't get an interview. And isn't it a nice touch that the letter is drafted by a woman, and features that loveable early example of one of the long string of Disney princesses in the margin.

    The letter is from a website 10 Funniest Rejection Letters  which provides the following background information concerning the unfortunate applicant:
This letter belongs to Kevin Burg, whose grandmother received it in 1938. Despite Disney's declaration that women aren't to do any creative work, his grandmother eventually became an animator during WWII when women had to step up “For the War Effort.
    Sometimes we really do bring rejection on ourselves.  Imagine applying to law school and then receiving this letter in reply. 

    A friend of mine witnessed a variant of this exchange, albeit oral and not actually involving a rejection letter, at a student orientation conducted at a prestigious (but for present purposes unnamed) university some years back.  The dean of the school purportedly was describing to the parents of the entering class the fact that the school receives something like 50 qualified applicants for each applicant accepted.  When he invited questions from the assembled parents a woman in the room raised her hand.  The dean recognized her and the woman, quite agitated, stood up and explained that she was quite upset since her daughter wanted to major in pre-med and they had now learned, for the first time, that the major was not offered.  My friend reported that the dean responded as follows:   "Madam, your daughter is attending the wrong school.  And you are an idiot."

All of this, quite predictably, has led to some proactive responses from would-be rejectees.  This past January the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom reported the following:
Madalen College, Cambridge, England
It is not often that Oxford University finds itself receiving a rejection letter from a would-be student, rather than issuing them with one.

So it will have raised a few scholarly eyebrows when state-educated Elly Nowell, 19, wrote to the elite institution’s Magdalen College without even waiting to hear whether her application to read law had been successful.

In a parody of Oxford’s own rejection letters, she told admissions tutors: ‘I realise you may be disappointed by this decision, but you were in competition with many fantastic universities and following your interview I am afraid you do not quite meet the standard of the universities I will be considering.’
   A similar example, perhaps even more proactive, is the following letter, currently making the rounds on the internet:
412A Clarkson Hall, Whitson University
College Hill, MA  34109

Dear Professor Millington,

Thank you for your letter of March 16.  After careful consideration, I
regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me
an assistant professor position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually
large number of rejection letters.  With such a varied and promising field
of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

Despite Whitson's outstanding qualifications and previous experience in
rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at
this time.  Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor
in your department this August.  I look forward to seeing you then.

Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.

Sincerely,
Chris L. Jensen



04 April 2012

Five Red Herrings


1.  Did anyone else notice something odd about the March/April issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine?  There were fifteen stories and I am going to summarize the plots of eight of them.  No major spoilers here....

    * A tourist faces danger in the Caribbean.
    * A city hunter disappears in the north woods
    * A wealthy woman visiting 18th century Bath meets a charming rogue
    * A camper faces danger in a mountain park.
    * City kids on a fishing trip here a rumor about a possible serial killer
    * A girl's odd boyfriend wants to take her on a boating trip
    * Suspicious circumstances abound at a family resort
    * An ancient Roman citizen encounters murder in Asia


The theme of the issue seems to be: Stay home.  It's freaking dangerous out there.

Maybe so.

2.  My nephew Chris Messineo is the director of the New Jersey Film School.  Undone is the latest crime short-short put together by him and his students.  The young lady is his daughter Joanna.  I can't get the video to embed here but you can find it here.


3.  Amazing article in the New York Times.    Nothing in it quite rises to the level of crime, unless you want to use words like negligence, I suppose, but boy, you could sure write half a dozen crime stories based on it.

Briefly, the University of California - Berkeley misplaced a piece of art that was in their care.  Worse, it arguably belonged to the federal government.

So what was this little doodad they lost track of?  Only a  23-foot long sculpture, worth over a million bucks.  How do you lose that, much less sell it as surplus - for a hundred and fifty bucks, plus tax?  (I'm glad they got the tax, to keep it all  legit).  Too bad they couldn't find an art expert to assess the piece for them - like, I don't know, maybe at the University of California- Berkeley?

Happy ending: it wound up in a library.


4.  On the Short Mystery Fiction List recently they were discussing framing versus flashbacks as ways of telling a story and I remembered that I had written about that on Criminal Brief.    What I did not recall was that the ornery story I complained about in that piece - because I was having trouble with figuring out a way to tell the opening scenes - was "Shanks Commences," currently appearing in the May issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  So I guess I solved that problem.


5.   Ever hear of James Payn?  He was a Victorian novelist and I believe his books have been forgotten, but he has one eternal claim to fame.  True story: In 1886, as editor of Cornhill Magazine, he rejected A Study in Scarlet.  Yup, the first Sherlock Holmes novel wasn't good enough for his mag.  You have to wonder what he published in that issue instead, don't you?

In his honor, every time I get a rejection I say "What a Payn!"

Written apologies available on request.

01 February 2012

RSI


by Robert Lopresti

Envelope by augenbuch
Envelope, a photo by augenbuch on Flickr.
 
The office wasn't much like I expected.  The building itself was shabby and worn out, but the office was brightly lit and neat as a pin.

She opened the door herself, a short woman with sharp eyes, short hair, and a white lab jacket. She had a slight accent; vaguely eastern European.  

We introduced ourselves and she said: "Did you bring it with you?"

I nodded and pulled it out of my jacket pocket.  She winced and I sensed that this was not a good beginning. "A plastic bag would have been better.  Your finger prints and bodily oils..."

I suddenly felt grubby.  I muttered an apology.

"No matter, no matter.  Put it here."

I grasped the envelope by one edge  careful too late, and placed it gently on the black metal surface of the table in the center of her office.  She picked up two large pairs of tweezers and expertly removed the letter in less time than it would have taken me with my ten clumsy fingers.

She unfolded it and laid it gently on the table, using small magnets to hold it flat. Satisfied, she turned to me.  "And you brought another?  From...happier days?"

I had.  I pulled it from my jacket and we repeated the whole exercise so that the two pages were lying side by side.

To my surprise she then backed away.  She frowned at the two pages, first one and then the other."

"I think--" I said.

"Quiet!"

"But you're looking at them upside down!"

She sighed, rather dramatically, I thought.

"I am perfectly aware of that.  But there is much to consider before we get to the text itself,  and the text is distracting.  May I continue?"

I nodded.  She continued to peer at the pages from different angles; and then pulled  a magnifying class from her jacket and moved in for a close examination.

"Interesting," she muttered.

"What is it?"

"The gentleman who sent these items... does he have any staff?"

"A part-time assistant, I think."

"Part-time.  That's not very helpful.  If the same person had sent both letters, it would be more conclusive."

"What would be?  What have you figured out?"

She gestured with the magnifying glass.  "The older letter has crisp and even folds.  The more recent one is sloppy." 

I was impressed.  I hadn't noticed the difference, in all the time I had stared at that page.  "What does that suggest?"

"If the same person prepared both letters then he was clearly in a different mood.  Calm and controlled when he folded the first, agitated when he did the second."

"Agitated?  You mean, upset?"  I thought that might explain a lot.

She shrugged.  "Upset, angry, frightened, in despair.  There is a limit to what we can tell from a fold.  The watermark is the same in both pages, by the way."

I was feeling both impressed and baffled.   "What does that tell us?"

"Alas, not much.  If the quality of the paper had diminished that would suggest a change of fortune, yes?  But, who knows?  Paper supplies may last after luck runs out."

Again she used the glass.  "Interesting.  Notice that in the older letter the block of text is perfectly centered.  Proper office format, which you don't see all that often these days."

"And the new letter?"

"The text is up toward the letterhead, while the bottom third of the page is empty.  That suggests the message was shorter than the typist expected it to be."

I puzzled over that.  "You mean, he meant to add something and changed his mind?"

"Possibly.  Or perhaps he wrote less than he usually does in such cases."

I didn't like that idea at all.  "What else?"

"Time to examine the text.  Hmm.   He addresses you the same in both letters.  The closing is the same as well.  This indicates that the man himself hasn't changed much, nor have his essential feelings about you."

"Then what gives? " I asked, losing patience.  "Why did the editor reject this story after buying my last few?"

She straightened up.  "Ah.  I think that is clear.  He didn't like it."

"Didn't like it!"

She nodded.  "He says so.  See?"

"I know he says so!  I was hoping you could tell me why he didn't like it!"

Another shrugged.  "Perhaps it wasn't very good?  Where you going?"

I shoved my rejection slip and acceptance letter  back into my pockets, not giving a damn about fingerprints and bodily oils.  "We're done here."

"But my fee-"

"Send me a bill."

She did.  I sent her a rejection slip.  Let's see her investigate that.




26 October 2011

Hesitation Blues





by Robert Lopresti



Imagine, if you will, that I have been having a very bad day. Assume that the IRS has shown an unhealthy interest in my career, that the Klingons have fired disrupters at the starboard nacelle, and that Hittites are demanding apologies for my allegedly anti-Hittite rant at a nightclub. That sort of day.

Evening has fallen and I am checking my email. There is good news and bad news. Unfortunately the good news is all from strangers who want to improve my love life or want me to help them smuggle millions of dollars out of Nigeria. The bad news tend sto be from my nearer and dearer, and it is not improving my mood.

After reading and weeding the majority of correspondence I find a message from a familiar name. Specifically an editor. The subject line is YOUR STORY. My fingers reach for the Enter button, and then I hesitate. This is what you might call a binary dilemma. Either I am about to get an acceptance or a rejection. Good news or bad news.

And the way my day has been going there is no reason to expect good news, is there? I am really not in the mood for more gloom.

I know a lot of writers keep all their rejection slips. Do they print out the ones that come electronically, to add to the pile of misery? That seems above and beyond. I used to save mine, but it began to feel ridiculous. And the file was overwhelming my acceptances. (I got seventy-sox of the precious little beasts from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine before I collected one sale there.) So the rejection slips have gone away.

Nowadays when I get a paper rejection note I tend to crumble it, throw it across the room, and stomp on it before I throw it in the recycling bin. Call me Mr. Mature.

My favorite rejection note was from an agent, informing me that she had decided not to represent my diet book. Fair enough, but I had sent her a mystery novel. Perhaps she was making a helpful hint.

Of course, this current email might NOT be a rejection note. Perhaps the editor has seen the light and decided to share my masterpiece with her lucky readers. I DO keep all my acceptance notes, or contracts.

The first acceptance I ever got came with no letter or contract. I opened the envelope and out fluttered a check; there was nothing else. Fortunately the check had the title of my story on it or I might never have figured out what it was for.

Meanwhile the current email is still waiting for me to open it. I seem to be stalling.

Of course, the note doesn't HAVE to be a yes or no. Once an editor wrote to tell me she had lost the manuscript and would I please send another copy? I did, and she rejected it.

And once an editor wrote to say she liked part of the story and suggested that I rewrite the ending. I'm still thinking about that one.

Okay. I've run out of stalling techniques. Time to hit the button and see what there is to see. Cross your fingers.

Here goes...

Screw the Klingons. We're gonna party tonight.