Dealer gets 21

Sadly, this won’t be a story about a dangerous gambling experience in a mafia-owned casino.  It’s just another blog post about my short stories being rejected by magazines and anthologies.

I received my twenty-first rejection last month.  I know, some of you authors are laughing and saying “I got twenty-one rejections last week”.  My progress has been slow partially because I’ve submitted to a lot of anthologies, which have long submissions windows and long decision periods.  More importantly, I only have two stories out there on the rejection circuit.

Two stories is a pathetic output level, but keep in mind that I’m not a professional author, and at this point, I’m not even a hobbyist author.  It’s more like my hobby developed a hobby of its own.

I am considering devoting more time to hobbies in the future, though, as I crunched some numbers at work, and derived the following equation:  [ Reward = Effort * 0 ].  Broadening my analysis, I determined the true form of the equation is [ Reward = (Effort * 0) + (Schmooze * 100) ], but my schmooze value was preset to negative ninety-five, and I can’t seem to change the factory defaults.

On the positive side, I have completed a third story, but I’m not submitting it anywhere yet.  It’s a little more mainstream than my other work, so I’m hoping it has a better chance, and I’m waiting for more beta reader feedback to see if I want to change anything.

My first story has received ten rejections (and it’s submitted to another magazine now).  Two of its rejections contained feedback.  The first feedback just said something similar to “I like the worldbuilding”.  At first, I thought this was useless, because it doesn’t tell me what I need to fix.  Eventually, I realized it was useful.

My writing is typically concise (OK, I blather on endlessly here on the blog, but my fiction writing is concise, and my scientific writing was practically laconic, until people forced me to re-write it), but thanks to that comment, I don’t feel that I need to include boatloads of descriptive detail.  This rejection was also a higher-tier rejection, meaning something along the lines of “your writing is professional-level, and I’m sure another magazine will take this”.  Unfortunately, that piece of info was sort of written in code, and I didn’t understand it until I later read an interview of the editor.

My second rejection with comments gave much more detail (and only one day after I submitted!).  This was from the editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology series.  I’m kicking myself about one piece of feedback, because I added a new scene for this submission to explicitly amp up the humor, and the editor said the story would be greatly improved if I axed that scene.  Kick kick!

The editor also said he liked the writing and the ideas in the story, but that I was trying to accomplish three separate things with the story, and he didn’t know which one was the main theme.  Again, I think without that additional scene, this would have been more clear.  Kick kick!  Still, I was really glad to see that the editor read the entire story, and “got” what I was doing.

I was also invited to submit a second story in the same submission window, which I did, but my other story (in my opinion, not as strong as my first) just got a form rejection.  If any of you guys have an idea for a humorous story, I’d recommend giving Unidentified Funny Objects a shot.

My second story has received a total of eleven rejections, all standard form emails.  I have it submitted to another anthology, and if it comes back from there with a rejection, I may bury it in a shallow grave.

I also pulled the story from consideration at one other anthology, because the editor needed to find a new publisher and had no idea on the timeframe.  Get this, the anthology was dropped by the publisher for being too anti-capitalist!  There have been surveys showing that publishing is pretty much the most liberal profession in the USA, and the original publisher was in Portland, Oregon, one of the most liberal cities in the USA.  What the heck was in that anthology?  I knew the editor had a bit of an anti-capitalist bent, so I thought my story might slide in because the main character likes to bitch about his (or her — it’s first person and I never specified) boss, and there was another aspect of my story which fit with the anthology’s theme.

That’s the past, what about the future?  My first concept was to write stories of different types, to see if I had a hidden talent (a really, really well-hidden talent) with a particular story type.  I made a grid where one side is the genre, and one side is the tone.  I’m not sure if I chose the best attributes — let me know if you think of better ones.  Here’s my progress so far:

Grim Normal Silly
Sci-Fi 50% done outline finished
Urban Fantasy 90% done outline finished
Medieval Fantasy outline finished 75% done

I also have several ideas for horror stories, but I don’t plan to write them.  I’m not really happy that my brain came up with them to begin with, and I don’t think I want to put them in someone else’s brain.

You might wonder why I have multiple partially-completed projects.  As I mentioned earlier, I can be concise.  So, I’ll often need to put a “completed” story aside, and think of a new scene or character to beef up the wordcount.

I’m not sure whether I’ll stick with my full nine-story plan.  I’ve been unsuccessful with submissions and dissatisfied with most of the magazines I’m reading.  That combination tells me the magazines and my stories probably aren’t for the same readers.  What else can I do to get eyeballs on my stories?  (Not literally, I already said no horror).

I noticed that I have a few sets of stories that fit together with common themes, so I’m considering putting two or three stories in a collection, and self-publishing it on Amazon for 99 cents.  Ninety-nine cents, the lowest price allowed at Amazon, is a weird place.  For that price, some authors sell individual short stories, others sell collections of a dozen or more short stories, others sell novels, and some (who I assume have just given up on writing forever) sell box sets of a dozen or more novels.

For those of you who know even less than I do about Amazon’s author reimbursement, any price below $2.99 gives the author 30% (maybe less some sort of electronic delivery fee) while prices $2.99 and above give the author 70% (again, maybe less some small fee).  I don’t have a problem only getting 25 cents per collection, but I’m not sure I can get over the idea that I do all the work of writing the story, harassing my beta readers to read it, editing it, formatting it, designing its cover, and pushing customers to Amazon, but Amazon takes 70% or more, essentially just for processing a 99-cent credit card transaction.

Now, if Amazon would put my collection in front of huge numbers of people I don’t know, then I’d say “heck yeah, you earned your 70%”, but in reality-land, we all know how this is going to go.  A dozen (or if I’m really lucky, two dozen) of you, my loyal readers, will check out my stories.  A random aunt or cousin might pick up a copy.  Word on the street isn’t consistent, but says that you need either fifteen or fifty reviews of your work before Amazon will start showing it to new customers, and we all know that only a small percentage of readers leave reviews.

It seems I’ve defined my choices as no readers with the magazines, or a handful of readers with Amazon.  Sounds like I need a Plan C.  Any suggestions?

Or, perhaps I should sit in the lotus position, meditate, and reflect on really does have something for every occasion.


  1. Well, if you’re asking, I’ll toss out a few suggestions. Grains of salt first: My published short stories and novels are both in the single digits, so don’t take this too seriously.

    Don’t think of those two stories as “your body of work.” Think of them as “practice pieces.” Writing is a skill that takes practice. The more you do, the better you get at it. Sure, try to sell them, but focus more on new work. The nine-story grid looks like a great way to start.
    Write a lot. Rather than polish a story, add or remove scenes, just keep it as is and write a new story. Remember Heinlein’s rules, only rewrite if an editor asks you to. By writing a lot I mean scores of new stories:
    Look for markets that are a fit for the stories you like. You’ve read a lot, go for the Cirsovas and Red Suns. If you write enough, publish collections at 2.99. Focus on getting published rather than getting into pro markets.
    Alternately, focus on writing novels. The market likes them better than shorts.This is the approach I took. My shorts are mostly written because I was seized with an inspiration.

    Good luck!

    1. I might have to start fresh with new story ideas to go after Cirsova, Storyhack, Broadswords and Blasters, etc.. The characters in my current stories may not be red-blooded action-hero enough. My third story could be considered kind of pulp-style, with the character getting into and out of a lot of trouble, but he’s mostly just trying to save his own skin, rather than being heroic.

      My first story has a character who does some things I consider heroic, but they’re more subtle rather than action-oriented, like a defeated captain refusing to get in the lifeboat, because he thinks his family will be punished if he comes home in disgrace.

      I agree with you about novels being more marketable than short stories. I have a couple of other ideas which I could work on, which I think would probably come out around novella-length, but who knows, maybe they’d come out longer in the end.

      1. For right now, write them all.

        If it helps any, I looked up my rejection log. The stories I’ve sold had zero to seven rejections each, average three. A couple of others are up to double digit rejections.

  2. I’d be happy to look at your stories and offer notes. You can message me via my blog.

    1. Thanks! I’ll contact you whenever I get back to my home computer.

  3. A series of rejections, even positive ones, can make you question whether you’re the only audience for your work.

    I also tend to be concise in writing, which can be a problem when traditional markets have so many wordcount dead-zones. Of my in-progress/waiting for me to do something with them novels, half are only in the 50,000s (and one is over the limits, and I might split it into four short novels).

    Pricing your work cheap, or free, can be frustrating initially. Especially when it’s still fresh and you feel that attachment to it. Older stuff I find easier to price low, and I accept it’s unlikely to sell even then, but it has the chance of drawing readers to higher-priced work.

    Even the series starters I have set to free (Amazon price-matching gods willing) don’t move well. I’m not sure those that do get read anyway, or whether they’re simply grabbed while they’re free. I look at them as bait to try and catch any reader who might like my writing, since otherwise they’d just be sitting there doing nothing (I don’t get many sales, so don’t see I’m losing much by giving some away). This approach requires a large enough backlist to which to potentially draw customers, but no interest in a dozen novels can feel as frustrating as no interest in a short story.

    If self-publishing shorter works I make sure to state the wordcount in the description, to counter some of the negative reviews that you can get (even if it’s in the short story category, it’s safer to be clear).

    And if you do self-publish, and are asking the audience you already have on the site to consider buying it, suggest the day those interested should do so (presumably publication day). It doesn’t take vast numbers to give you some traction on the charts, especially the sub-categories (there’s debate about how much the charts can help, but they won’t hurt).

    1. That reminds me of an old US Army recruiting campaign, which said something like “An Army of One”, but my slogan can instead be “An Audience of One”.

      Maybe your concise writing style is why I’ve liked your short work in the past.

      Of course, I don’t have any other work to draw readers to with a free or low-priced book, but I’d be satisfied to get a few more blog readers instead. I suspect free books on Amazon aren’t of much use, as people tend to load up on them and forget about most without reading them.

  4. My self-published work doesn’t fare much better. Every once in a while one will jerk violently upward, but it soon settles. My 99¢ titles have led to sales of my longer works. Someone above mentioned practice novels. I have two of those that likely cover about 220K words. They aren’t good enough for public consumption. My suggestion is to use your blog. Possibly even invite feedback. This builds your following at the same time. Be cautious as to what feedback you pay attention to.

    1. I might post some more flash fiction on the blog — stories in the 500-1,000 word range. I don’t think blogs work well for stories in the 4,000-5,000 word range. In fact, I already wonder if I scare off readers with my usual 1,000-1,500 word blog posts. I could break the stories into pieces, but then they pieces are listed in descending order and that always seems kind of weird to me, plus it’s possible the natural breakpoints in the stories won’t be at nice, even points.

      Also, I guess I was sort of hoping that by getting these stories out somewhere else, I could bring more readers to the blog….

      1. I’ve posted a few micros. I had a friend that posted two-fers. One story, two days back to back. They worked pretty well. I know several That serialized a longer story, and they were well received too.Trick is to not drag it out.

  5. I’ve had stories written for a specific market rejected out of the gate, only to be picked up later. I’ve had stories I wrote mostly for me get rejected a couple of times only to get picked up elsewhere. I also have stories I really like never get picked up that I file for the yet-to-happen collection I hope to one day put out.

    As for individual markets, all editors are slightly different and it does help to pay attention to:
    1. Their individual guidelines.
    2. If the provide any helpful ideas as to what they are and aren’t looking for.
    3. Picking up a copy to see if the story you wrote lines up with their aesthetics.

    Not an exact science to be sure, but might prove helpful.

    1. Fortunately, I don’t tend to write things on their excluded lists, like vampire romance. There are fantasy magazines that won’t take any urban fantasy, though, so I have had fewer targets for my UF story.

      I’ve read a few magazines that, yeah, I can tell, would never run the kind of thing I’d write. With anthologies it’s harder to tell what they’re really looking for.

  6. Love the motivational poster. I have one that says, ‘If you can’t learn to do something well, learn to enjoy doing it poorly’ I reckon it’s my motto for life.

    1. I need to get some of these posters for my office.

      1. Yeh, they’re brilliant aren’t they.

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