Category Archives: Editors

A Blog Post to Give Comfort in Rough Times, and a Few More Links

I also found out about a website that has various posts by pro writers (such as David Morrell) about the publishing industry.  It’s called Backspace – The Writer’s Place.

Another great resource is the NINC blog. Members of NINC have to be multi-published in order to join, so I find the information and blogs professional in tone and attitude.

Also, there’s Bob Mayer’s blog. He has 20 years of experience as a fiction writer in traditional publishing, and 2 years of experience doing indie publishing, so I find his posts have a lot of depth to them.

Dealing With the Shock of All Those “No”s

Fiction writers and salespeople have more in common than they realize. Just like doing cold-calling in sales, the journey to the first sale by a fiction writer goes like this:

“No, no, no, no, no, no, …” (typically this part in parenthesis has about 40 to 500 entries of No) “…, no, yes, no, …”  (more “No”s) “…, no, yes,  no, …” and on and on and on until the writer either 1) stops submitting work to editors, 2) quits, or 3) dies.

Every once in a while, fiction writers will encounter another writer who got a “Yes” the first time a story was ever submitted to an editor.  Rare, but it happens.  For a few seconds there’s a strong temptation by everyone else to hurl their pens at that person.  However, the profession of fiction writing is so rough and tumble that at some point that writer will get a long streak of “No”s that will balance out that easy “Yes” earlier on.

In last week’s blog post on “Fiction Writers and Learned Helplessness,” I did a thought experiment where I compared the submissions process to sticking your hand into a box where one of three things happened: 1) you got an electric shock for “No,” 2) nothing happened for the situation of no response, or 3) you got injected with an opiate for “Yes.”

I mentioned some of the mind games–such as setting up a scoring points system for submissions, or having a friendly competition with other writers to gather the most rejections–that fiction writers play to keep writing and submitting despite the frustration of getting a heavy flow of “No”s.

In this post, I want to explore some of the mental techniques that can be used to keep going.   These techniques are based on ones covered in Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman’s book Learned Optimism that were developed by studying groups that had to deal with a high flow of “No”s, like salespeople.

A writer who has a pessimistic mindset that sees each rejection as permanent (“I’ll never sell a story”), personal (“My writing always sucks”), and pervasive (“I’m a loser”) is going to have a hard time of it on the journey to that first “yes” from an editor.  I ought to know, since I’m a pessimist by nature, and had to teach myself not to talk to myself constantly in a defeatist manner.

The good news is, one can change how one reacts to rejection.  Let’s take the above three thoughts in order and explore how to do that.

Seeing rejection as permanent (i.e. “I’ll never sell a story.”)

Whenever the word “never” or “always” shows up in a negative thought, consider it a red flag.  Sure, the negative thought might be accurate, but the operative word is “might,” not “is.”  Too often, negative self-talk turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If I’m constantly telling myself “I’ll never sell a story,” I’ll lose the motivation to keep writing and submitting my stories, and this negative thought will in time become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Also, another fallacy in this negative thought is the assumption that one’s writing cannot improve.  When I had doubts about my craft, one of the best decisions I ever made was to find teachers whose writing I admired and go study with them as a student.

Seeing rejection as personal (“My writing always sucks.”)

Here’s another case of leaping to a negative conclusion when a “No” is encountered.  Here’s the ugly truth about the slush pile–the editor may have been in a bad mood or exhausted that day, and decided to do automatic form rejections for everyone in the slush pile regardless of merit.

Beware of the usage of “my” and “I” in a negative thought about rejections.  There’s a big difference between saying, “This story sucks” vs. “My writing sucks.”  The second is much nastier in the self-inflicted attack.  The first will keep you calm enough to be able to look over your writing and learn from mistakes.

Seeing rejection as pervasive (“I’m a loser.”)

This is where the negative self-talk gets really ugly.  A writer gets a rejection, and immediately jumps to treating the rejection as a commentary on everything that the writer does (including non-writing activities) and who the writer is as a human being.   Please don’t do this–repetition of the “I am a loser” mantra will sabotage morale and motivation.  Again, it’s an attitude that turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy and makes it impossible to learn from mistakes.

So, that covers the problem of the three p’s (permanent, personal, pervasive) in dealing with rejections.  Also, finding ways to laugh at the whole submissions process helps a great deal–whether it’s writing a story that makes fun of it all, telling jokes, or throwing darts at rejection letters.  Try different tactics, and see what works.

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I find I have more to say, and next Monday I will talk about some of our perceptions as writers of what we can and cannot control in publishing.  We often see things as “Yes or no,” “Open or shut,” and such, when the reality is more complicated than that.   There are mental techniques that can be used to brainstorm ways to try and gain more control of  a situation.

I will be on business travel, but will do my best to get internet access to post next Monday.

 

Going Beneath the Waves as Fiction Writers

Fiction writers are like ocean divers.   The watery depths run deep and dangerous, the pressures are intense, the hazards myriad.   And there is no guarantee of anything being found of interest to those on shore.  However, the silence and mystery of exploration itself becomes addictive to the writer.  One eagerly awaits the next plunge into the depths.

Agents and editors are back on the boat, hoping you’re going to resurface with a pearl or a find a sunken galleon.  But they don’t go beneath the water themselves (unless they also write or have written fiction for publication).  So the deep ocean is this mysterious place that they never actually experience or have to survive in.

Their boats tend to cluster around places that are well-known and feel safe and predictable.   No “Here be dragons.”   This is to be expected.  Publishing is a business, not a scientific endeavor.

So at times there’s a culture clash–what a writer needs to survive as a “diver” over the decades is different from what those in the boats and on shore need.   Different personality, different set of skills.   That’s why the advice of fiction writers who’ve survived in the business for decades can be invaluable–they’ve been in the depths as well, have known many writers over the years, have learned how to survive.   And they’re sympathetic to just how addictive those oceanic depths can be.

The Value of Seeking Out Editor Rejections

It used to be that the short stories I submitted for publication got nothing but form rejection letters back.  But in the last three months that’s been changing–the letters are coming back at times with personal comments from the editors.  Considering how little free time editors have, if this happens to you, celebrate it, because it means you’ve gotten good enough in your writing that they want to encourage you.   Editors are continually swamped with manuscripts and work–to take a few precious minutes out of their schedule to say something personal to you is a big deal.

And a few days ago, I got a letter of the “we really like this novelette, but it’s too long for us” variety from a major science fiction publication.  Again, this is a milestone to celebrate if it happens to you.  It means that story was good enough to sell.

So, I took those stories, found new markets to submit them to, and mailed them off.    Why not just self-publish them?

Two reasons:  1) Quality control, and 2) audience.

Like any other writer, I am unable to be objective about my own abilities.  So I like to submit my work for traditional publication to editors because it tells me how I’m doing as far as skill level.   I want to know if I’m reaching “pro” level or not in my stories.    If a story isn’t at a “pro” level, I’d rather it sat in drawer than self-publish it.   However, if it was good enough to get a personal letter from an editor, but a hard sell due to length (such as novelette and novella), chances are that once I ran out of traditional markets, I’d look into self-publishing it.

The other reason to consider traditional publishing for a short story is the available audience.  Think about it.   If you get a short story in THE NEW YORKER, you’ve just reached a huge potential reading audience.  Even the smaller periodicals will give you exposure to hundreds, even thousands, of readers who might not hear of you otherwise.

Jim C. Hines’ Terrific Survey on How Novelists Broke In

Writer Jim C. Hines has done a very helpful survey of 246 novelists to explore the following questions:

1) Do you have to sell short stories first to sell a novel?

2) Is self-publishing the way to go to sell a first novel to a publisher?

3) Are most first sales of a novel an overnight success story?

4) Do you have to have personal connections to the publishing industry to sell a first novel?

I’m not going to tell what the answers are, because I think it’s important to visit Jim’s website to read his detailed answers and analysis there.

Here’s what Jim says on his website about his survey:

For this study, I was looking for authors who had published at least one professional novel, where “professional” was defined as earning an advance of $2000 or more.  This is an arbitrary amount based on SFWA’s criteria for professional publishers.  No judgment is implied toward authors who self-publish or work with smaller presses, but for this study, I wanted data on breaking in with the larger publishers.

247 authors from a range of genres responded.  One was eliminated because the book didn’t fit the criteria (it was for a nonfiction title).  A random audit found no other problems.

The first part of the survey is Novel Survey Results, Part 1 (answers questions 1 & 2).   Second part has just been posted today as Novel Survey Results, Part 2 (answering questions 3 & 4).  There will be a third part next week.