Was It Just Yesterday?

So, in the slow death march of clearing the other house so we can put it up for sale, I came across a box of rejections. Why I’ve kept that and moved it from the other house, heaven alone knows. Actually moved it, then added to it.

The rejections in the box range from 16 to 12 years ago, that is from my being rejected more or less everywhere to my being a brand new published writer, fresh as paint, hitting the wall of the stores ordering to the net. (As well as having my first book out a month after 9/11, but that’s something else.)

I was in a melancholy mood as I had the last of the pre-op appointments (so you guys don’t freak, I’ll be running mostly guest posts here and at ATH for a week. I have no idea how long it takes to recover, and I suspect it has to do with what they find when they go in, too, but hopefully it will just be a lot of sleeping and recovering.)

I glanced over the rejections, as I threw them away. And it’s amazing, both the distance and how close it all is.

When did I become a different person and a different writer than that bright and eager woman those many years ago? When did I change, from hopeful to burned out to… calloused would be the best way to put it.

I don’t know. I didn’t notice it. Most of the years were just a lot of work and trying to finish the work between hands at the time, trying to keep my head above water just a little longer.

But here are some things that have changed:

  • I had no idea how to approach a publisher. Going cap in hand never gets positive results. You need to be sure of yourself and your work.
  • Did I really submit to all those half-penny magazines run by people who even now are stuck at that level? Thank heavens for indie.
  • I didn’t understand when I was being told my future society was politically unpalatable and thought it was all craft. (This refers to the fifty or so space opera stories.)
  • I still expected the one book that would make me huge (that was not from the rejections but from other materials from the same period.) While this could happen, I’ve come to believe that it’s more important to just concentrate on building a career. If the black swan comes, then great, if it doesn’t I’ll still have a career.
  • I’ve forgotten most of the short stories I wrote back then.
  • I’ve forgotten most of the magazines that existed back then.
  • The snootiness of the rejection was inversely proportional to the payment/size of the magazine.

More importantly, I’ve discovered looking at those rejections that what seemed an endless journey and an immutable barrier had an end and fell down.

That wall of rejections broke with a trickle of acceptances which then, insensibly, became the norm.

Looking back it seems like it was only yesterday I was that writer who kept flinging stories into the void and getting them rejected. The writer of no future.

And now–

I packed the brag shelf. All those novels, all those mags with stories of mine. When did it happen? Surely I’m still the same person, at least inside.

And yet it changed.

If you’re beating your head on the rejection wall, or if you’re beating it on the indie low sales wall, be aware it changes.

Keep working. The payoff might not be immediately obvious, but if you write it, they will come.


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49 responses to “Was It Just Yesterday?

  1. Draven

    ‘polticially unpalatable’? what, did people actually go out and do stuff instead of navel gazing?

  2. Dan Lane

    There was a wall…

    On one side, it just doesn’t pay. There’s blog posts, there’s opinion pieces, there’s the pile of unmentionables stuffed under the bed (and you’re thinking of putting it on supports so you can jam more stuff under there). The other has money. People pay you to tell them stories.

    Some people go looking for a door. Perhaps there’s a door somewhere with a sign marked “Authorized Personnel Only.” And maybe they have the right think, right skin color, right undercarriage, or they might just decide that falsies and makeup are good enough camouflage. So they go in. That’s one way through the wall.

    Some go over the wall. There’s no password, no scanner, no Praetorian Guard. Just a few guys and gals that’ll throw you a rope- you have to climb it yourself. If your story is good, if it entertains, they don’t give half a damn if a mutant squirrel comes over. It’s a stiff climb though, and it’ll only hold the weight of so many at a time. Baen takes the best.

    There’s another option, though. All it takes is a hard head, and enough determination to batter straight through the wall. Even if it takes years.

    At least, that’s how it looks from this side of the wall. *grin*

    • Actually there’s room for almost everyone in indie. The audience is growing and my lord some of them like crud.

      • That just makes me feel worse about the $14 and change I made last year…. Clearly the key is marketing. And having a full length novel. I’m working on the later, although all the overtime is really eating into my life.

        • I’d switch those around; the most effective marketing you can ever do is writing the next story.

          Marketing, you see, can only attract so many people at a time. Keeping them, having them remember you, and having them come back? That depends on how well your stories entertain. If all you have is one story, then there’s nothing for them to go on to, and it’s very, very hard for readers to remember a name of the author they read in this one book once. The internet (and Amazon) is full of distraction, and shiny new things to try.

          This seems like terrible news when you have one story – but the flip side is, it’s great news when you have ten. Keep writing, and don’t worry too hard about the sales on one short. You’ll get there.

          • Oh, I really like what I have planned for Necessary Evil, the HARD part is getting a chance to sit down and do anything with it. And always, it’s the bits of necessary writing before you get to the scene that’s been burning a hole in your brain cells throws a wrench in the works. And the worst thing is when there’s too much domestic stuff pending because of all the weekend overtime so that when you DO have time to yourself, it’s dedicated to more mundane pursuits.

            • Dan Lane

              Heh. This is where I was going with the “beating your head against a wall” comment. When you’ve little enough time to read a few sentences let alone write, well, there’s probably too much stuff on your plate.

              Ah well. Time to man up and be the better person. *work work work*

          • (But the joke was about people liking crud, but not liking my story, OTOH, it IS a pretty nasty story.)

    • Laura M

      I was thinking I was in the last category, and that I was stubborn enough for it. Then I realized it wasn’t just Baen that tosses out ropes. The guys and gals here at MGC do that, too, and I’m really grateful to all of you. I’m still trying to figure out how to climb the darn rope, but that’s on me.

  3. I’ve been rejected three times from Asimov’s. Not once was it anything but the shortest of form letters. (Cleo, Solid State, and The Strange Case of the Atlas Field.) Two of them were online, I think the only notification was the change of status on the submissions web page. Certainly nothing you can paper a wall with. Since I wasn’t trying to go pro with it, each time something got rejected, I put it up for free on my DeviantArt page, where at least some people got to enjoy it.

    I guess that made me predisposed to going indy, where everybody downloads it when it’s free.

    • One of my asimov’s rejections in that bunch was “thank you for submitting your client’s work to us” — for the win. They didn’t even care enough to use the right form.

      • Jerry Lawson

        All you needed was to include some feral Girl Scouts, and you could have had a sale.

        (No joke – their October issue last year had a story about a Girl Scout troop going feral, and having to be hunted down. That’s why I dumped my subscription. Wasn’t SF, wasn’t fantasy (aside from the feral part) – so why the hell was I spending good money on a magazine I wasn’t particularly enjoying, aside from nostalgia?)

        • Reality Observer

          Feral Girl Scouts are fantasy? Have you done any grocery shopping the last few weeks? Just try escaping the packs without buying yet more Thin Mints ™ that your waistline does not need…

          • It’s easy in our area– I’ve seen exactly one kid, who could probably drive and was wearing a costume, and the rest are manned by their mothers.

            I haven’t even had to try to explain that I can’t, because some other grown-ups decided that they’d use the cookies for things I don’t agree with, and if I bought some the money would help those things I don’t agree with. Thank goodness. Hope my luck holds.

        • I dumped my subscription to F & SF when they published their story where women were descended from peaceful dolphins and men were descended from raping apes.

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            Not enough heads, not enough desks.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            At least they got the sex right.

            Terrestrial humanity is mostly descended from the sorcerer-alchemist Tu’Gui’Lui’Furn’s combination of Dolphin and Bonobo.

            However, at least seventy or eighty percent of those human’s appetite and capacity for evil came from the Dolphins.

      • It used to be one of my goals, to get in there, but I gave up my subscription when I realized I wasn’t reading it any more. I do miss the occasional Mike Resnick story though.

  4. You got me thinking, Sarah, and I did my version on my blog. Thanks… I know it’s been rough on you, but you’ve been inspiring. http://cedarwrites.com/coffee-in-the-fog/

    Don’t you know that doctoral students crave those primary source materials? If not now, then one day?
    You have long since built up enough of a reputation to make some college delighted with a donation of your papers.

    • I’m never going to be that big, Pat. I’m not a bestseller.

      • Reality Observer

        Never know, Sarah. Now, true, it might only be your heirs that are thankful in forty or fifty years…

      • Uncle Lar

        Ah, but think of how interested folks in the future will be about the home life and parental inspiration that produced the sibling Nobel laureates who cured cancer and discovered an endless source of free energy.

  6. “The snootiness of the rejection was inversely proportional to the payment/size of the magazine.”

    Thinking back over my own pile, which I got rid of a *long* time ago, I had the same experience.

  7. The one thing that made me hesitate in submitting stuff was that I was rather afraid I would be crushed by the rejections … but once I did start submitting, I was pleasantly surprised at how positively insouciant I got over receiving them. I’d open the envelope, glance at the contents and cheerfully sling it into the rejection file and go on without a moment’s thought. I believe I was buoyed up by confidence brought on by knowledge that my stuff was good – I had that affirmation from being a blogger first, and then branching out.

  8. You think you’ve changed in 16 years? Look at the world. Honey, it’s let itself go worse than me! Flabby marxist fat all over, and Jihadi spots! Getting thin on top, too. Oh Dear!

    Yeah, we all change, hopefully for the better. Hard to say, in mid change, though.

  9. Alan

    “fifty or so space opera stories.” – granted you’ve changed as a writer since then, but I have a sneaking suspicion I’d like the earlier you, too. Surely some of those lovely space operas could see the light of an indy day?

  10. 16 years? I think, then, that I may have started before you did. However, in my case I spent a lot of that time more or less fafiated. I was just starting to make a few sales when I entered college. There went both time and energy for writing. Then after college getting a job and getting married and. Well, it was a long time before I got seriously back into writing.

    When I finally got back into writing with any seriousness, I made a number of sales in rather quick succession. However, it turned out that some of those sales were because I had “sucker” tatooed in 10 foot letters right across my forehead. (Yes, I know. Work with me here.) Still, it does look like my writing is better than it was back in the day. And I’m finally…finally getting back “in the groove” for productivity compared to then.

    Sales still suck. I mean really, really suck, but even with expenses like things for cover art I am making money in net. Just not much. Maybe, eventually, I’ll actually make enough to pay a bill–any bill–with it. 😉

    And maybe someday I’ll be able to tell this story, end it with an “and now I’m…” and be encouragement for someone else. 😉

  11. This makes me feel better. Not entirely happy, because sales-n-stuff, but better. (I know, I need to publish more, faster, and market. And I’m in a slower-moving genre-esque category.)

  12. I’m finding that the words are flowing much better now that I’ve committed to going indie with my novels. Not as smoothly as I’d like, but I’m finding that I’m no longer getting a few chapters into a novel, or worse, halfway into a novel, only to feel that there’s just no market for it and lose all enthusiasm for it and decide to move on to something else. Maybe I can finally get some of those other novels back out and get them finished and up.

  13. Ray

    As a young man just getting started in the audio industry I decided that I wanted to work for a recording studio. Since I lived in NYC where there were probably more recording studios than anywhere on the planet I thought this would be a good move. I sent a resume to all 180 recording studios in the Manhattan yellow pages, and got zero replies. I broadened my search to include companies that made equipment for recording studios, and sent out another 350 resumes nationwide. I then got a handful of rejection letters.

    Then I got a call from someone I have never heard of and had not sent a resume to, and wound up building the largest recording studio complex in Chicago.

    If you really want to do something, don’t give up.

    Don’t know if I will ever attempt to write fiction, but I have this nice letter encouraging me to do so from Dean Ing.

  14. I’ve just explained on my blog why you won’t get to see the review of the astounding book PRE-RELEASE (no spoilers, though) as soon as was expected. Short version: another brush with the nasty GI impact NSAIDS have on me.
    But tomorrow, fer maybe.
    And then I will need more stories to review. PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME BEG!!!

  15. Aaah, blessed hope…