I will start this out with a wonderful rejection. By wonderful I mean cruddy. By cruddy I mean that it wasn’t a sale.
Thanks for showing us your story “Point One Three Percent,” but I’ve decided not to accept it for Futurismic. The writing is fine, but I’m afraid the narrative just didn’t connect with me. Good luck to you placing it elsewhere, though, and thanks for giving us a look.
Fiction Editor, Futurismic
So there you go. Another rejection. It’s nice that my stable of stories is large enough now that I can get a rejection and thus a new submission about once every five days or so. I rarely take stories out of retirement. Once they have made the rounds of pro, semi-pro, and free markets I figure the world isn’t ready for a story about man eating plants again, and slip them in the “rejects” file on my desktop. To my reader I say this: I got my rejection. Went straight to my tracking list and checked off the submission and IMMEDIATELY submitted something new. As you develop a catalog of work you will find that your submission/rejection process gets to be a sort of round robin. In the old days of mail submissions the process was agonizingly slow and rejections much more painful. I suppose that has as much to do with me being a younger writer as it does with any reality of the process, but it felt worse.
Another part of the agony was the near universal moratorium on simultaneous submissions. You’ll see that phrase on most submission pages, and it starts to feel like the “no dogs allowed” refrain from Snoopy Come Home (which makes me cry). I have been on both sides of this in my thinking. In the early days of my writing when it was all mail submissions, I felt that the long response periods (as long as three months as opposed to three weeks these days), the cost of copying and mailing, and the retraction of the paying markets made the no simultaneous submission policy a farce. Besides its anti-free market aspects I felt that not being able to ‘shop’ your work made editors feel they could leisurely hang on to stories that might or might not fill out an empty section. I have been told by friends in the business that this was sometimes true- just without the leisure part. I have also come to realize that the old-school paper magazine format meant that editors were cutting, pasting, and squeezing stories, art and articles until the last minute of deadline and that if they received a note from an author that said, “sorry dude, I sold it somewhere else” it could throw off weeks of planning. I don’t give a complete pass on this. Most of us who write do it all for free and would give our eye teeth to have a job editing science fiction, but it does change how I think about it these days. With e-submissions it is possible to submit the same story to fifteen outlets or more in a couple of hours time. While this improves your odds of getting multiple acceptances, it also improves your odds of having to tell an editor that you’re sorry for wasting their time. Try publishing something at that outlet after you send them that note! Granted, unless you are the Pushkin of science fiction, or the second incarnation of Ray Bradbury (he’s not dead yet) then the odds of a simultaneous sale are scant, but you’re a science fiction writer! You need to worry about the “What Ifs!”
Another reason to avoid the simultaneous submission in this day of e-submitting is that most of these e-zines are run by underpaid and no paid devotees. There is so much more love of science fiction in the halls and homes of the staff of Electric Velocipede than there is in the offices of Asimov’s parent company Dell that you should be ashamed of giving them a hard time. These e-zines are what happens when big business vacates an entire market and leaves only the plucky outsiders. The plucky outsiders take over! Science fiction editors are increasingly devoted amateurs that discovered, “Hey, I really am just as good as Sheila Williams!” (editor of Asimov’s) Couple the goodness of these people with the super cheap (free) and super quick response times of e-submissions and you need to learn a little patience. You will never suffer like writers did in the late eighties and early nineties with less than thirty paying markets and months of response lag. Do you realize how much it costs to send a thirty page manuscript to England… three times! Well I’ll tell you that this waiter, er- I mean writer could ill afford it. So enjoy the future of science fiction because it’s hear. The stories are often free. They are liberated from many of the industry conventions of earlier eras, and you can get your work in there too. So respect the rule!
Now for a tip to new writers. A friend sent me a story yesterday to look over and I was thrilled to do it. I think everyone involved grows via the editing process. Without going into details of the story (that’s his job) I will say that we did some good work, him writing and me editing. I certainly enjoyed it. I suggested an exercise to him at the end of my notes that I began using well after I had been writing for several years. It is something I call creative plagiarism. Now it isn’t exactly plagiarism, but it is theft in the best sort of way. Take a writer with a very pronounced style, I think my first suggestion was Vonnegut, and read the heck out of them. Then, after absorbing their particular voice for a few days, weeks, what have you, try and write a story they might write. Steal themes, plots, approaches, dialog, tone- everything that makes that author unique in your mind. See what you get. Find another author and do it again. I still do this exercise. Usually it helps me dispel writer’s block, but sometimes it creates something really good. My only currently pending sale is a story produced by my trying to write an H.P. Lovecraft story in H.P.’s style (antique language and all- 10,000 words of it!!) Give it a try, but find a writer that is very stylized and not one you have already appropriated. If you spent your life reading Heinlein, and that got you writing sci fi in the first place, then aping Blowups Happen won’t really do you much good. If you are stuck in sci-fi from pre 1990 then look for newer writers. You don’t even have to find the best sci fi (or even sci fi at all) what you are working on is cogent style. If you make another style part of your own you have grown as a writer.
Last but not least I want to chat with you my reader, about the holy trinity:
These are they. The big three. The biggest, sellingest, most news standy magazines peddling science fiction. A day will come when science fiction writers don’t feel that getting into one of these monoliths is important, but that day is not today. I can’t count the interviews where a young writer says that getting into Asimov’s or The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is their dream. And I can understand their thinking in this regard; writers like Steven King and Ray Bradbury got their careers going in one or more of these venerable institutions. And that is both the rub and the justification for the big three. They don’t accept e-submissions and that drives me nuts, but they are battle tested, pay well, have good readerships, great art, and for a few lucky young writers they represent a golden ticket for agents and book deals. They are also a bridge to our past. When I curl up under the covers with a flashlight and my copy of Analog, I am engaging in a sacred ritual of geekdom. (a ritual I still engage in. I think better under there and it doesn’t have any way of getting to me unless my feet get out). And let us not forget that, even if it is an anachronism, getting in national print is still a form of ‘you made it’ moment.
I have only submitted to one of these outlets once in the last ten years. Unfortunately when I first got going in sci fi I submitted some of my early tragic work to them. The works tragedy had nothing to do with the content of the stories I can tell you, but I still keep my last rejection letter from them. My last rejection from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 2007 is still in a drawer of cherished ‘sorry slips.’ It is a half sheet page with a blue embossed letterhead of the magazine title and address in Hoboken. Underneath it says:
“Many thanks for submitting “In the Seams,” but I’m going to pass on this one. I’m afraid this mining story didn’t quite win me over, alas. thanks anyway for sending it my way, and best of luck to you with it.
Gordon Van Gelder
It is even signed in ink. Now these three years later I can look at this rejection and think: “Hey Gordon, kiss my butt I got it published anyway!” and I will know that he will never know I said that… or care.
Until next time, this is the science of fiction.