Rejectomancy in words and numbers

There’s been a lot of talk online lately about rejectomancy. For those who don’t know, rejectomancy is the dark art of turning rejection into motivation and positive reinforcement. It’s a kind of bloody-minded alchemy of will. As Kate Heartfield wrote for the SFWA Facebook page on the subject:

Now I’m a non-fiction editor as well as a fiction writer, and I understand that rejection is the default, as it would be in any other transaction. When a customer walks past a rack of shirts in a store, that is not necessarily an assessment of the store-owner’s abilities. Maybe the customer is looking for pants. Maybe someone else will buy a shirt.

This is a great analogy and the line “rejection is the default” is absolute gold. It’s really worth bearing in mind two things when submitting for publication:

1. There are hundreds of people vying for a handful of spots, so you are much more likely to be rejected than accepted;

2. Rejection doesn’t mean your story is bad – it means your story is not right for that market at that time. You’re selling shirts while that editor is looking for pants.

Now, of course, repeated rejection might well be a sign that your story is bad. That’s what beta-readers, critique groups, editors and so on are for. As a writer, you absolutely must learn from rejection. Every time a story comes back, give it another read, another polish. Always make sure it’s been through the wringer of critique before you send it out in the first place. It’s in your best interests to only send out your best work, and your best work is not a first draft. Or even a second, third or fourth draft. And the better you get, the more likely you are to succeed with submissions.

You will, of course, get better the more you write, the more you submit, the more you learn. You should always be honing your craft. I know that I’m always looking to improve. I always try to learn from rejection. I’m definitely a far better writer now than I was ten years ago – that’s evidenced by the fact that I can make pro sales now where before I was selling into semi-pro markets, and before that token pay markets, or giving stories away to non-paying markets. Incidentally, you should never do that. I should never have done that. No one reads non-paying markets (except for a few notable exceptions) and you’re really just throwing work away. But, of course, we all do it, looking for that early validation of being published. So go for it, do what works, but try to gravitate to paying markets ASAP. Even if it’s a token payment of ten bucks or a bucket of cold fish or a fucking hat. Get something for your work.

But I digress. Back to rejectomancy. When I say there’s been a lot of it about, I’m talking about things that SFWA post I linked above and then Elizabeth Bear tweeting:

And Nalo Hopkinson replying with this:

In fact, those tweets triggered a flood of chat and it’s been Storified here:
https://storify.com/rcloenenruiz/the-writing-life-the-truth-about-rejections

Pretty good reading, right?

You didn’t read it? Go! Read it now, I’ll wait…

*flicks over to the other open tabs*

*makes sure no one is watching*

*giggles*

Oh, you’re back? So, that says it all about about rejection and I don’t need to say more. So why am I crapping on about it here? Because that’s what I do. And I thought I’d add some numbers of my own to the mix. A lot of those folks are talking about novels as well as short stories and the same rules apply to both in terms of submission and rejection. But for the sake of numbers, here are my figures for short fiction.

Out of 56 published short stories for which I have rejection figures, I have a total of 238 rejections. That might seem like a good rate at first glance – after all, an acceptance rate averaging a hit for every 4 or 5 submissions would be fucking great! I’d love to have a strike rate like that. But I don’t.

Some of those early hits were non-paying markets that accepted my story on the first try. Zero rejections for that yarn. Which is good on the face of it, but is actually only because those markets are desperate for anything that’s basically literate and a trained monkey could get published there.

There are also several stories on that list which were accepted with zero rejections because they were written specifically for anthologies after I’d been invited to submit. That happens later in a career when you’ve established yourself and your ability. Sometimes editors come to you. It’s an awesome feeling and one of which I’ll never tire. Of course, even then there’s no guarantee you’ll be accepted, but the chances are obviously much higher than cold subs.

So all those with zero rejections are actually skewing the results a lot.

Looking at cold subs, to paying markets, I have a handful there that landed the right home on the first try, but the vast majority have at least a few rejections first. Among those, I have 24 published stories that collected 5 or more rejections before selling. That’s almost half of my published stories that were rejected five times or more. The rest had 1 to 4 rejections, with the handful of exceptions mentioned earlier. But let’s just look at those with 5 or more rejections before a sale.

Of those 24, the breakdown is like this:

8 stories rejected 5 times before selling.

3 stories rejected 6 times before selling.

2 stories rejected 7 times before selling.

3 stories rejected 9 times before selling.

2 stories rejected 10 times before selling.

1 story rejected 11 times before selling.

1 story rejected 12 times before selling.

3 stories rejected 14 times before selling. (Not sure why 14 is becoming a theme!)

And my current record-holder:

1 story rejected 17 times before selling.

That’s right. I have a story that was rejected 17 times and I didn’t give up on it. You know why? Because I’m a stubborn fucker with a skin thicker than a geriatric rhino. You have to be if you want to be a successful writer. But you know what else? That story changed a lot between submissions. It started out as a sci-fi story and sold as an urban horror story. I realised the SF trappings were wrong for that one. I listened to editorial comments. I made it better. And then I started sending it to the right markets for that kind of story.

Several of the stories with high rejection counts had similar changes – massive cuts, title changes, characters taken out or put in. But not all of them. For many of them, the changes were very small, but I just kept on until I found the right desk at the right time. I used rejectomancy to alchemically change those stories from unpublished to published.

Subsequently, among those stories with 5 or more rejections, one won a competition, several were listed on Recommended Reading lists, and a couple were nominated for awards!

That tweet from Elizabeth Bear above is so true: “Right desk, right day, right story, write better. It never stops being true.”

So good. I might put that on the wall above my desk, in fact.

So there you have it. The dark art of rejectomancy. Embrace it. Use it. Learn to love it. Go and read that Storify about rejection again. And whenever you feel down about it all, just remember that some of the greatest books and stories in the world were rejected numerous times before they sold. There’s nothing different about you. Stay strong, be stubborn, thicken your skin, always hone your craft and never give up.

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Punishment of the Sun at Tales to Terrify

tales-to-terrify-logoI’m becoming a bit of a regular at the Tales to Terrify podcast, which is fine with me as it’s one of my favourites. This time, it’s my only vampire story, Punishment of the Sun, which was published in the Dead Red Heart anthology from Ticonderoga Publications in 2011. It also got an Honorable Mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year #4 (Night Shade Books 2012) and was on the Recommended Reading List, Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, 2011 (ed. Liz Grzyb & Talie Helene, Ticonderoga Publications). I’m very proud of this story. I always said I’d never write a vampire yarn – the whole trope has been so overworked that I thought there was nothing else to say. Then editor Russell B Farr put out the call for the Dead Red Heart antho where he wanted distinctly Australian vampire stories. So I saw a challenge there I could rise to. And I’ve subsequently worked over the whole vampire mythology in my own way again in my novels, but not in a really upfront way – more as a small part of the larger supernatural world I explore in them.

Anyway, go and have a listen to the podcast here and be sure to grab a copy of the original anthology here (or wherever you prefer to shop), because it’s bloody excellent. See what I did there?

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Bloodlines table of contents announced

I’m very happy to announce this one, as I’ve been sitting on it for a while. You may remember, if you follow my short fiction writing, that a couple of years ago I had a story in a book called Bloodstones. Published by Ticonderoga Publications and edited by the wonderful and award-winning Amanda Pillar, it got a bunch of award nominations and loads of excellent reviews. It’s a great anthology and you should really check it out if you haven’t already.

Well, Amanda said that Bloodstones was hopefully the first of a series of dark urban fantasy anthologies and now the second one has been announced. Where Bloodstones was an anthology of dark urban fantasy with mythological influences, the new one, Bloodlines, is really embracing its title. Billed as “a non-traditional dark urban fantasy anthology” it will feature tales inspired by blood and blood magic. I’m sure there’ll be a very exciting array of yarns here, because Amanda Pillar is a brilliant editor like that. And I’m very pleased to say that my story, “Old Promise, New Blood”, will be included. Here’s the full table of contents announced today (alphabetical):

  • Joanne Anderton “Unnamed Children”
  • Alan Baxter “Old Promise, New Blood”
  • Nathan Burrage “The Ties of Blood, Hair and Bone”
  • Dirk Flinthart “In The Blood”
  • Rebecca Fung “In the Heart of the City”
  • Stephanie Gunn “The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth”
  • Kelly Hoolihan “The Stone and the Sheath”
  • Kathleen Jennings “The Tangled Streets”
  • Pete Kempshall “Azimuth”
  • Martin Livings “A Red Mist”
  • Seanan McGuire “Into the Green”
  • Anthony Panegyres “Lady Killer”
  • Jane Percival “The Mysterious Mr Montague”
  • Paul Starkey “The Tenderness of Monsters”
  • Lyn Thorne-Adder “Lifeblood of the City”
  • S. Zanne “Seeing Red”

That’s a fine line-up of talent right there. I’m sure a cover reveal will be coming soon, and the book is slated for release in print and ebook before the end of this year. Exciting stuff!

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“Burning, Always Burning” at Tales to Terrify

“Btales-to-terrify-logourning, Always Burning”, a twisty, weird story I co-wrote with Felicity Dowker for the Damnation & Dames anthology, has been podcast by those wonderful people at Tales To Terrify, read by Dan Rabarts. The story required the coining of the term “paranoirmal”.

The anthology is great, available from Ticonderoga Publications here. You can find the podcast here:

http://talestoterrify.com/tales-to-terrify-171-dowker-baxter-lights-out/

Another Dimension Magazine needs you!

Another Dimension is a new online, print and audio magazine from editor Angel Leigh McCoy, who was the inspiration and driving force behind Wily Writers for so many years. AD is Kickstarting right now, and needs some support. I’m guest-editing issue 2, so I have a vested interest in it, but I would support this project anyway because the concept is awesome. It’s basically a modern Twilight Zone.

To get you started, you can have the digital copy of Issue 00 for nothing. It’s now available for download in PDF, .Mobi, and .Epub on the Kickstarter page. It is a pared down version of the planned publication, in black and white.

And here’s a little widget with the audio Story of the Month:

They’ve also been working hard on a Tumblr with the idea that it will be a source of inspiration to fiction writers, artists, and aficionados of a dark aesthetic. Go check it out here.

So if this sounds like your kind of thing as a reader, or something you might like to contribute to as a writer, or both, go to the Kickstarter page and give it some love. Here are all the links you’ll need:

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