Waiting for responses

I am very much a newcomer to the writer community.   As such, I often feel like I don’t have much to offer in way of advice or support.  But there are some areas where I have, I think, earned the right to share what I have learned.

The big one is the managing of emotions that swirl around the submission process.

In the past I did not handle them well, which is to say, I did not handle them at all.  Submitting, waiting for responses and reacting to responses were incorporeal entities that controlled me, and in most cases, crushed my spirit.  Not once, but twice.

When I was in high school I had a secret that I shared with no one.  I was writing stories; longhand and then pecking them out on a 1950’s Remmington typewriter my Dad used when he’d attended college.  I sent them in to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (IA’sfm) as it was known as then.  To me, there was no other SF publication.  I lived in a small town that did not have a bookstore, and Asimov’s was the only magazine I had access to at the time.  Little did I know that I was sending my unkempt prose into what was at the time the market that had the highest pay rate, the highest readership, etc.  I latched onto it because Isaac Asimov was my favorite author.

I kept at it after graduation, through the year I worked to pay off my car, and into the two years I spent attending Ohio State University.  During this four year period, I only wrote six or seven stories.  All were rightly rejected, but because I was such a green neophyte, I did not understand some basic things that George Schithers tried to tell me with his rejection rubric.

George was the original editor at Asimov’s.  He had a form rejection letter that had several one-line paragraphs, each with a blank line at the beginning.  He (or more likely a slush reader) would put a check mark on each line that applied to the main reasons for a rejection.  Now that I look back on this, I feel that this is a brilliant way to communicate some very basic information back to a novice author without having to spend a lot of time on a more detailed personal response.  I hope at some point to stumble across one of these rejections in some of the paperwork that I have stored away, but for now I can only assume they are lost.  For me, these rejections were devastating.

No one knew I was writing stories for submission.  This means that no one was critiquing stories for me.  No one was giving me advice or sharing there own experiences.  I was isolated in my own little self created vacuum from mid-1978 to mid-1982.

I gave up.  Partially.

I kept jotting down ideas.  I’d write a scene or two, now and then.  During this time, 1983-1995, I was busy finishing college, working multiple part-time jobs, getting married, supporting my growing family, getting a permanent job, moving to ChicagoLand and living a fantastic life.  At work I was writing technical manuals and training manuals and that helped keep my writing desires satisfied.

In the late 1990’s I got the urge to submit stories again.  By this time my world had expanded and I was aware that there were more than just a few magazines that were printing the stories I liked to read, which were also the kind of stories I wanted to write.  I wrote down notes and rough outlines.  With great expectations I sent a few stories off to Asimov’s, Analog and Aboriginal SF.  They were rightly rejected.  I was crushed.

After only a few months I gave up.  Completely.

Well, nearly so.  Every so often I would jot down an idea that would not leave me alone, but I never seriously tried to file away those ideas and most of those scrap bits of paper are now gone.

Eleven years passed without me writing a single line of fiction.

When I was confronted with a request to write a story, I very nearly turned it down immediately.  But instead I started thinking about why I had stopped writing.  I read as much as I could about writing.  I lurked on message boards where actual published writers hung out.  I realized that I still had the old desire to get stories down on paper and let other people enjoy them as much as I did  I even had a story idea for that request.

But I was afraid.

I had never looked at submission, waiting, and responses as being anything other than something that would just happen.  My subconscious had really been thinking of it as if it were a fast-food order.  Place the order, wait for it to be assembled and it is handed over to you.  From that point of view, every rejection would have to be devastating.  It would be as bad as paying for a Big Mac and the cashier handing you a form letter that said your order wasn’t what they wanted to make.  It sounds silly, but it fits.

Some writers, like me, get this feeling that we have paid for a product.  We have worked hard.  Changed this word and that word to make the scene or dialog perfect.  A lot of payment–time, effort, sacrafice–goes into creating a story.  It is easy to feel that a editor should realize this and just snap it up because the product we have paid for is a sale.

In reality it is the other way around.  The story is the product.  The sale only means that a particular editor at a particular time decided that the story was right for their magazine.  I imagined that my story was on a menu, and that there were editors around a dinner table.  Maybe, if one of those editors was hungry for my story, they would select it.  It was a revelation for me.  Sure, I had read or heard authors talk about not taking rejections personally, but it didn’t sink in.  Now, whenever that envelope comes back, or an email shows up, from an editor, I think to myself “this is not personal”.  It helps enough that I know I am not going to quit again because of rejections.  Having a few sales has helped assure me that I am not insane for wanting to do this, but I honestly think that even if I had no sales at this point, I would feel the same way.  You see, writing the story has become its own reward.  It is an accomplishment regardless of whether it is accepted by the first editor that reads it, or the twentieth.  Even if it never sells, I still have the accomplishment of creating something that I like, and that is satisfying enough.

Right now, I am struggling with waiting for responses.

Up until recently responses have arrived like clockwork.  Both acceptances and rejections have arrived within a few days of the response times reported on Duotrope, a writer resource website.

Right now, however, I have two stories at two different magazines that are past the number of days that are typical for rejections.  I find my hopes building to unjustified levels that this means that my stories have passed beyond slush and perhaps are on the cusp of being accepted.  One is a professional market, and the other is a very well respected semi-pro market.  I would be “dancing in the street” happy to make either sale.

This is new territory for me, and I am trying to hold onto reality.  I mean it just could be that the slush piles were extra large when I submitted.  I know that if either of these two stories get rejected that I will be more disappointed than normal.  But just the possibility that they won’t be…

I am so very glad that I was able to learn how to manage the submission demons.  Now they are just imps that dance around and make me smile.

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2 Responses

  1. And a response came. It was a rejection, but it was accompanied with a nice personal note from the editor who thought I had an interesting premise. This is the first feedback I have gotten from an SFWA qualifying market.
    S0…that takes a little of the sting out.

  2. My story, Shedding Skin, was published in Neo-opsis a few months ago. They had the story for over a year before accepting it. I’ve got another story that I submitted to a dark fiction anthology. After a few months they sent back a note that they were interested and if I agreed they would do some line by line edits. They emphasized that it was NOT an acceptance, but that with a bit of tweaking it might be acceptable. I said “sure” and now seven months have passed with no further word.

    Sigh.

    I wrote a book about my day spent as a hostage. The problem is that it is short – around 60,000 words. I know this kills it with some (or most) agents, but I asked a few agents before I started querying if the length would be too great an issue. Each of them said it would not. So I started querying and…
    I’m now in the process of wallpapering my office with form rejections. One agent did ask for a couple of chapters, after which she said that the writing was really good, but it was too short (which was perplexing, as she knew the word count before she requested the chapters). Another agent seemed interested and actually sent me his agency contract “for me to look over”, but then apparently decided against representing the book. I say “apparently” because he simply stopped responding.

    So, yeah, even though I know how the process works, the waiting is still the hardest part.

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