The oddest rejection to date

A couple of days ago I sent an essay to a national magazine. It was an account of my time visiting friends in a small town and going with the family to a Little League game on a hot summer afternoon. I’m pretty happy with the piece, so I’ve been sending it to larger magazines, which, as a side effect, tend to pay pretty well (relatively speaking, of course). Within hours of sending the story I had a reply. “That’s not a good sign,” I thought. It didn’t seem like it was enough time for anyone to read it at all.

Well, in fact, someone did read the piece. The message was a polite note from the publisher himself, and said, in part:

Thanks for this submission. It’s a very nicely-written piece, and I enjoyed it. However, it appears to be a fictional piece (although you said it was non-fiction) and we do not publish fiction.

[snip]

I was really anticipating that the trick play was going to work…nice twist.

Nice twist indeed. I’d be proud of that twist if it weren’t for the fact I didn’t make it up. In fairness, the style of the piece is, well, mine, and sometimes when I’m on a roll I can give the world a fairy-tale feeling. My favorite blog episodes are that way. Also, I must confess that I am quite flattered by the italicized “very”. It’s a bit of extra effort on his part for no other purpose than to pay me a compliment. It’s funny how much I cling to those things, these days.

And hang on a sec… was I even rejected? There’s no actual “no” in the message. Perhaps he just wanted clarification and now a check is in the mail.

The message also included a conversational question, so I used the opportunity to send a response assuring him that the piece is entirely non-fiction, but in the two days following he has not responded. I probably should have composed my response more carefully; I have (in my mind, anyway) put myself in an ambiguous position. If I can convince him it’s non-fiction, is he still interested, or does he feel that his readers will think it is fiction in any case? Maybe I can ghost-write an accompanying article with the coach of the team, diagramming the trick play.

Maybe he meant… gah! I have witnessed this phenomenon in the correspondence of other writers; I call it thinking too much. Writers have a lot of time to think, and the imagination to really spin things to preposterous conclusions. It’s our job. If only we could turn this power to the good.

It’s (almost) Heeere!

I’ve got a story in the upcoming issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. They call it the July issue, despite the fact that there will be another issue out before July.

Here is an excerpt of a review of the issue:

Note: apparently there are other stories in the issue as well. Go figure. The review is protected by copyright, so I will only reproduce here the parts that have to do with meeeee meeee meeee.

Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction – July 2006 by Gordon Van Gelder (Ed.) (Spilogale, Inc. May 2006 / ) – Contents: *blah blah blah*

The July 2006 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is another great one with all the stories getting a Very Good rating from me.

*snip*

The issue is rounded out by stories by new writers. “Memory of a Thing That Never Was” by Jerry Seeger is a nice little tale about a man recruited for a war against The Other. They are apparently aliens but there is more going on here in what makes for some good intrigue.

*snip*

Again, this is a magazine that you should be picking up.

So there you have it! I get a Very Good. So does everyone else, but that just means the magazine has high standards, and somehow I snuck in there. You know what you have to do, right? It’s a three-step process:
  1. buy an extraordinary number of copies of the magazine.
  2. write the editor and tell them how much you like the story by that new guy.
  3. promise you’ll subscribe if they run another of my stories (Note: please don’t sign the letter “Jerry’s Mom” or “Jerry’s credit counselor” or anything like that, or they might get the idea that you are not completely unbiased.)

The goal, of course, is to have their marketing boys say, “It’s uncanny! Sales are through the roof! The only possible explanation is this little story, Memory of a Thing That Never Was. We’ve got to get more of this guy!”

That’s what I’m shooting for, anyway.

The assistant editor who first rescued my story from the slush pile (the large stack of material that people send them even though they haven’t asked for it) will be publishing an interview with me on his blog simultaneous with the release of the magazine. I’ll put up a link so you can read my erudite drivel about things I have no business talking about.

I’m still working on getting the names of the production staff to give them a special thank-you, but I don’t want to pester the editorial staff at the magazine. Maybe there will be credits in the magazine itself.

Mail Call!

I got four things in the mail today. Two were good, two, well, not so much. Goodness was proportional to size.

Mail arrives on the first step of the flight up from the landlord’s place to mine. Today I was heading out to meet fuego to watch some hokej (rhymes with hockey) when I discovered a stack of stuff waiting for me. On top, two envelopes. Two rejection letters, one from an agent and one from a magazine. Neither came as a surprise, but of course I would never have sent them anything if I didn’t think I had a chance. The magazine is a forcefully independent one-man show with a good reputation. I like the way Brutarian thinks, and when I raise my game, he will be hearing from me again. I can run with those dogs. (My submission had been previously published over at Piker Press, which couldn’t have helped its chances. Brutarian will consider previously published stuff, but not with the same enthusiasm. Or something like that. Although I consider it a paying market, I would not have received any money for this submission.)

A bigger disappointment was the agency. These guys are big time, and they don’t take many new writers, but dang I wanted to be one of the few.

Of course, these folks send out thousands of rejections every year, and they have no time to give me a clue how to make my pitch more attractive to their competitor down the street. Forward, ever forward, is all I can do. Hone the message, sharpen the pitch, and try again. This is not a business for the fragile, as much as we want it to be. (Show us your inner heart, we ask of the artist. Lay bare your soul. Artist complies. Never mind. You suck. People wonder why Van Gogh cut his ear off.)

Next in the mail pile was a package from a Muddled friend. I now have in my paws More Booze Than Blood, by Sean Meagher. He posted here a while back that he would send people his book and I was not slow to take him up on the offer. I haven’t read past the cover yet, but the story is calling to me in a language that I don’t know, but understand. I’ll let you know. Perhaps it was some subtle way with words he showed when he posted here, perhaps it’s just that he paid the postage, perhaps it’s the striking cover, but I’ve got a good feeling about this.

At the bottom of the stack was the birthday box. Cans of green chile, a nice card, and a squirrel. Alas, the squirrel took some damage on his trip across the deep blue sea — the tail, which almost but not quite can be used as a beer holder, was forcefully and brutally separated from his butt. A team of mocrosurgeons is standing by to attempt what before has only appeared in science fiction: a squirrel retail. While they’re at it, they’ll see about beer-sizing the little guy.

Little Buddy

Any minute now, I will have a story going up over at Piker Press. It’s the April Fool’s issue, and for the occasion I decided to just have fun with an idea that could have come from the Weekly World News. I cranked out the story, and after a little tender loving care I must admit that this tale quite tickles me. I have not grown tired of reading it; I hope you enjoy it as well. (OK, it’s a little over the top, but you should see what I didn’t put in.)

This week’s Piker is an issue devoted to frivolity, and I hear there is some damn fine frivolity indeed. I’m looking forward to reading it.

A pre-thank you

On the subject of copy editors, One of my stories just went through one, and without any input on my part came out nice and clean, with my style (not always grammatically correct) completely intact. I do not know the name of this person who so naturally found the balance between correct and right, nor do I know the name of the person who laid out my prose very prettily for the upcoming magazine. There are probably many other people I don’t even know I don’t know the names of. Yeah, you’ve got your technology and all that, but there’s still someone hunched over printouts with a red pencil, making marks. And those anonymous and underpaid souls accomplish only one thing: they make people like me look better.

If I can find your names, I will thank you here personally in a later episode. In the meantime, hang in there, guys.

Sloppy!

In an earlier episode I said:

On the subject of getting published, I had a letter waiting for me when I got home last night. It was a slip from a large paying magazine, rejecting a story. The note was brief and said (in only slightly friendlier language) “We rejected you story either because it was stale, sloppy, or (most likely) it just plain sucked. Or there might have been another reason.” Obviously in my case it couldn’t possibly have been any of the three stated cases – I suspect it was just too long for a first-timer.

Yeah, too long, that’s the ticket.

Well, maybe it was too long, but I’ve been going back over it and it was also sloppy. Before I submitted it I read over the thing God-only-knows how many times, and then tonight I decided to go and tighten it up a bit before submitting it to the next place, and what did I find? Errors. Phrases repeated three paragraphs later, ambiguous pronouns, even a friggin’ spelling error. Advice to writers: Do not edit a piece and then submit it. Edit it, wait a week at least, read it over carefully, then submit it. Right after you edit, you already know what each paragraph says, so you don’t read it as carefully as you should. You need time to forget what you wrote.

I do, at least. Dang, that was embarrassing. The editor of that magazine is also an agent; I decided to give her time to forget about me before I send her a query.

Edited to add: It seems I had broken my spelling checker. Running experimental software may ultimately be the cause, but until I rebooted I had to check with British English – my American spelling list would accept anything. I try not to depend on those things anyway, but sure enough, I should have sat on my new super-short synopsis a bit longer before sending it out. (Sent before I discovered the errors in Old Town or I might have been more cautious.) We’ll see what happens.

The lesson is patience. I’ve been working on the novel for years now, and I couldn’t wait one more damn day to send off the queries. Part of it is that I set a goal for the day: hit up agents. I let little things stop me sometimes, so yesterday I was determined not to let that happen. I should have. The mistake was in setting up the expectation that I could produce the exact materials that each query required in a single sitting. (I now have 3, 5, and 20-page synopses, and the next agent will want a different size. More on that next episode.) I was going to send out a pair of queries today, but I’ll wait until my even newer 5-page synopsis has time to mellow.

Programming note

Oh, hey, by the way, I’m on the cover over at Piker Press this week for a rather silly story I could swear I posted here a while back, but now I just can’t find it. This version is improved in any case.

At least, I think I’m there – I can’t load the page right now.

On the subject of getting published, I had a letter waiting for me when I got home last night. It was a slip from a large paying magazine, rejecting a story. The note was brief and said (in only slightly friendlier language) “We rejected you story either because it was stale, sloppy, or (most likely) it just plain sucked. Or there might have been another reason.” Obviously in my case it couldn’t possibly have been any of the three stated cases – I suspect it was just too long for a first-timer.

Yeah, too long. That’s it.

So let it be known far and wide that Realms of Fantasy magazine was the first paying market to reject a story by Jerry Seeger. Old Town will have to find a home somewhere else.

Accepted

I spent the afternoon at the bowling alley, trying to get the upper hand on my squirrely media empire. Just as I was running out of electricity, I got a message from Soup Boy: “Little John is here, heading for bez in 45 minutes.”

Thursday already? Sure enough. Bez night. My computer put itself gently to sleep and I packed up, bundled up, and headed out into the cold. I beat Soup Boy and Little John to the bar and made myself as comfortable as I could.

Is now the time to explain bez? No, it is not. Bez is an interesting cultural phenomenon, but not the subject of conversation tonight. This night, it’s all about me.

I ordered myself a Budvar, known in czech as “the real Budweiser”. I sat back and waited. Soup Boy and Little John showed up not long after, and parked around the table. Hello, how are ya, and so on, then Soup Boy handed me a letter.

Before I even opened it I was excited. It was not one of the envelopes I had included with each submission to make it more cost-effective for them to reject me. This was a company envelope, with my address printed on it in full czech spelling, and a hodge-podge of stamps. I opened it and out came a letter and a check.

Now, I expected the letter to be a little friendlier, to share my joy and excitement, but in retrospect I don’t know why. It was all business, a contract and nothing more, and that is how it should be, because they are running a business. I’m supposed to be a businessman as well, but there in the Budvar Bar Near Home I stood and did a small victory dance, compact but intense. Then I did another. Soup Boy bought me a whiskey. For the rest of the night I have been saying, “Oh, did I mention? I sold a story.” (Did I mention? I sold a story.)

Now, selling a story and publishing a story are two different things, it seems. What I have is a check that gives the publisher the right to use the story in the next three years. If they don’t, the rights all come back to me. If they do publish it, I will be in one of the leading science fiction magazines in the world (just ask ’em). So let it be known always that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction was the first to pay me for my work, the short story “Memory of a Thing That Never Was”. Dang, I hope they print it someday.

This is a huge moment for me, the biggest since I got my first piece published over at Piker Press. I have conquered the foothills (by my own declaration); the mountain looms ahead. A most heartfelt thanks to all of you who have boosted me on your shoulders to help me get even this far. You know who you are.

A milestone, I guess

I just left the post office, where I sent off four packages. Two were to fairly large magazines, and two were to literary agents. It was a pain in the ass figuring out all the different do’s and don’ts, and it ended up being much more time-consuming than I had imagined. What I thought would take a couple of days sucked up my whole week. I wish I had numbered the drafts of the letters for the agents, the number would be very high now. Cover letters accompanying my fiction were simpler, but I hope in the future to hone them to let my personality shine through a bit more. (Carefully crafted casualness.)

I didn’t include mention of my media empire in the letters, and now I’m thinking I should have. It could be an important asset when it comes to promoting my books. Or… something like that.

An anecdote you won’t give a rat’s ass about:

I spent several hours agonizing over a two-sentence description of Hunter for my brief description of The Monster Within. I had a longer version and one that came across as glib. After quite a bit of sweat I came up with a compromise that didn’t bother me too much. Then it was time to review the synopsis, and right there in the second paragraph was the exact sentence I was looking for. Should have known to look where I had already made a compact version of the story when trying to come up with a compact description.

I managed to avoid revealing the Big Plot Twist until the third sentence. There wasn’t much more I could do about that.

I’ll be getting one more short story out tomorrow, then I’m gonna take it easy for a while.

By the way, a special thanks to Jojo – not only is she a fine beer slave, she has been providing lots of valuable information and encouragement. She made things much easier for me this last week.

Making the leap, one baby step at a time.

I’m tidying up a couple of stories, wrapping them with a neat little christmas bows, and sending them out to publications that… pay for writing. Yes, indeed, it is time to face rejection. To date, nothing I’ve submitted anywhere has been rejected. (At least since Junior High – those ninth graders so totally should have used my column in their underground rag. Probably it was just too sophisticated for them. Not that it bothered me.) While Piker Press has been berry berry good to me, I need to take a few baby steps out of my comfort zone and find more competitive markets.

There are several factors that make a market competitive. One of the biggest factors is the pay rate. Not surprisingly, the more a periodical pays, the more quality submissions they receive, and the more writing they reject. Although there have been some very promising new writers over at the Piker Press lately, it is a weekly, and therefore has a voracious appetite for content. The editorial quality over there is steadily improving and they have some promising new writers, but there’s no denying that they have a long way to go to compete with some of the other magazines out there. Ironically, one of the ways I can help them out the most is to become known in other venues.

So, what the hell, it’s time to get rejected, and I intend to start out by getting rejected by some of the top magazines in the country. Heck, why not?

Well, there’s one reason. Most of these publications still want submissions in the dead-tree format, and with double-spacing and huge margins even a modest short story can consume a lot of pages. Between my short stories and my submissions of novel manuscripts to agents, an acceleration of the deforestation of Canada and the Pacific Northwest is inevitable. (I’m told they can plant new trees, so future generations can chop them down once more, in a process known as ‘agriculture’. I find this encouraging.)

So ask your stockbroker for tips on paper companies, and maybe put a little into the toner cartridge market as well. Maybe you can find a paper-and-ink mutual fund. If there isn’t one, there ought to be.

NaNoWriMo Kerplop!

Normally December for me is a time of hectic productivity for me. Each NaNoWriMo leaves me with tremendous momentum and a story in the vault that likely would never have been written otherwise. I am reminded to write without fear, to get the ideas down and worry about the niceties later. I’ve been away from my main projects for a month and there are things I been looking forward to fixing in them, or new ideas on how to give a particular bit of dialog some extra wallop.

Not this year. I’ll make the word count goal again for the fifth straight year, but given my current lifestyle, that’s no big deal at all. I expect there are very few months in which I don’t write 50,000 words.

There are several reasons for this, I suppose. for one thing, this will be the last time I write anything I dare call a novel without planning it carefully first. I can see the germ of a really fun story in what I did this November, with some true Douglas Adams-style blink-blink moments of complete cultural disorientation that power forward what really is a funny story. Or at least it would be funny if there weren’t vast sections of it that just don’t fit together, and lots and lots of filler, and a few spots that just plain suck.

Another, bigger, reason is that with one novel complete, and another approaching completion (um… sort of…), I am forced to recognize that in the long run adding another unpublished work in the hopper isn’t moving me forward professionally. So as a significant annual milestone I have to look back on the year and take stock of my progress. I finished a novel. The whole damn thing. On the way I deleted and rewrote hundreds of pages, honing the language while (hopefully) not eradicating the soul. So that’s a good thing.

It is far less than I had set for myself to accomplish in the last year, however. According to the timetable I set out at the end of last November, I am supposed to be finished with The Test, and well under way with my American Road Novel, tentatively titled The Fish. The Test has some brilliant moments (if I do say so myself), but lacks structure. It’s taken longer than I expected to get it under control, but that’s all right. It’s big, and one of my challenges right now is to split it into two satisfying stories. (I will not put out of these so-called “series” which is really just a single, rambling story. I hate getting to the end of a book only to discover that when I shelled out my money for a story, I only got a fraction of a tale. Or, worse, buying a book and finding myself in the middle of a story with no clue what’s going on and who the hell all these people are. But I digress.) So, okay, writing a novel (at least one that doesn’t suck) takes a long time.

The business part of my chosen profession is a bigger problem, however. It is languishing. I have identified likely agents, identified their requirements and prioritized which ones to approach first. The shotgun method is not appreciated, so this will be a time-consumong process. Well, it would be time-consuming if I was spending any time on it. At the rate I’m going now, the ETA (estimated time of agentedness) is, um… (… carry the four, take the hypotenuse…) infinity.

So this December, rather than pick up my real writing projects, I think I’m going to take that energy and channel it where it needs to go. It is a measure of how much I like my “job” that I can use allowing myself to work as a reward when I make progress in other areas.

Programming note

I have the cover over at Piker Press this week. I don’t always mention when I’m published over there, but this one I rather like more than half the time.

Although there was one edit I wanted to make before it went live, and then I just plan forgot. D’oh!

Hell-Cricket

I have a piece over at Piker Press this week. I was looking for something different in tone and I got it, by jing. I intentionally didn’t over-edit the piece, so it’s a little rough, but it works OK.

1

Shoulda Mentioned

I’ve got a piece this week over at Piker Press. When I started writing it, I had a much different idea about where it was going to end up; but this ending presented itself, and, like a parking place in Prague, you just don’t pass that up. The first part of the story appeared here, I believe, as a Chapter One a while back. It’s the cover story – I’m not sure they gave fuego the photo credit, but that’s his work photographing the pizza.

Another Piece at Piker Press

Just a quick note to let you guys know that I have another bit as the cover story on this week’s Piker Press. Unfortunately the press had some computer difficulties last week at the same time I decided to make some minor changes to the story, and those changes are not in the version they published. I’m still pretty happy with it, though. Take a look!