Things I wish I knew about Dealing With Rejection when I started writing

Dealing with rejectionRejection’s never fun, and although I’ve copped a fair amount of it I still suffer from that moment of disbelief whenever another story gets returned.

Either something didn’t resonate (which is rarely the writers fault – you can’t please everyone), or the story in your head got lost in translation – which is your fault. You’re the translator, after all.

You’d be surprised at how frequently people see something you didn’t intend, or more likely, how rarely they do.

Regardless of the reason, rejection gets easier, but I doubt anyone would ever say it’s a ‘woohoo’ moment (even if you’re involved in some sort of competition to get you submitting – the more rejections, the more proactive you’re being as a writer, after all).

It’s hard not to be precious about our writing, but you can reduce the angst by writing more stories and sending out. That way you’re not pinning your hopes on one – you’ll have dozens out there carrying your dreams of publication.

Don’t consider trunking a story until it’s had at least fifteen or twenty rejections either, and probably not even then. You cared enough to write it, so there’s always going to be something magic there.

Put the story away for a while if you need to – you’ll see it with fresh eyes when you return to it.

In the mean time, write more stories and keep sending them out. Sooner or later, you’ll hit a mark. Lots of marks, hopefully.

Here’s some more great advice on Dealing with Rejection:

“Expect rejection, and when the rejection letter comes, put on your thick skin and send your story out again. Then sit down and feel the pain, and because your baby has been sent out again, feel the hope. Keep writing.” Cora Foerstner

“Rejection is part of the process and your work will not be right for everyone, no matter how good it is. Keep multiple queries or submissions going out, so you don’t have all your eggs (and hopes) in one basket.” Maer Wilson

“When I experience rejection, I consider that all the big authors have five star and one star reviews, so we should expect it too. And, when it’s your baby…remember, it will be a big and strapping young thing one day that can handle itself.” James Steven Clark

“That first rejection might hurt. Even the second. But by the thirtieth, or one-hundredth, it’s like water off a duck’s back. Doesn’t bother you so much. Trust that this will happen and don’t let the fear of rejection stop you.” Vanessa MacLellan

“Before sending off a submission, always know where you’ll be sending that story next should it get rejected. Having a back-up plan before you receive a rejection will soften the blow.” Zena Shapter

“You most likely won’t win the book lottery. Margaret Mitchell, John Scalzi, and others who have managed the almost impossible, partially got lucky, but they had the book that made it possible for them to get lucky. So if you’re getting lots of rejection letters, look to reworking your book, or abandon it and move on.” Gerri Lynn Baxter

Check out some of the other posts in the “Things I Wish I Knew About” series: Author PromotionPoint Of View CritiquingEditing Your Own Work, Short Stories, Creating Characters, Story Development, Worldbuilding and Writing.

New Year’s Resolutions

2013 has struck, but oddly enough I haven’t planned what I want to achieve this year. I’ve got a few things in motion already, so I thought I’d better write it down and build on it.

So, here’s my resolutions:

  1. Keep putting my epic fantasy out there until it finds a home with an agent/publisher.
  2. Finish editing my mermaid novel and start sending it out.
  3. Write the first draft of my blind swordswoman novel.
  4. Give at least two writers workshops.
  5. Attend at least two conventions.
  6. Firmly establish the Fantasy Writers community on Google+.
  7. Write and find a home for at least one short story.
  8. Write at least three guest posts on other blogs.

I could go add to that (considerably), but I think it comes down to what you’ll be happy with, rather than pie-in-the-sky stuff that’s largely unachieveable. With luck I’ll exceed it, but the plan is just to get it done at this stage.

Faerie Blues – my short story is now live on AntipodeanSF

Faerie Blues, a short story I wrote a few months back, is now live on AntipodeanSF!

Please check it out: Faerie Blues short story on AntipodeanSF

Podcast: Faerie Blues audio version (2.1 MB)

If you liked Faerie Blues, you might also like Saving the Unicorn.

Meet Ian McHugh – Award-Winning Speculative Fiction Writer

Profile image of Ian McHugh deep in thought.
Ian McHugh

Ian generously moderated the CSFG novel critique group this year, offering invaluable advice to each participant. Here’s what he had to say about the experience and his writing.

Q: You began running the CSFG Novel Critique Group this year. As you have your own novel in development, how are you applying this experience to your work?

I think the big lessons I’ve taken from this year’s crit circle are (1) the importance of giving the novel good structural bones and (2) the importance of fully developing characters, including their motivations, pressure points, relationships and mannerisms.

While plotting hasn’t been a weakness of any of this year’s manuscripts in terms of plot holes or internal inconsistency, the need for plots to build tension and offer some surprises has been a recurrent theme.

Going hand-in-hand with this is the need for major characters to be both active and instrumental in confronting the problems of the plot, and for a sufficient level of sadism towards one’s characters – you have to hurt them because you love them.

Q: Your critiques suggest your core strength as a writer comes from your intuitive understanding of character. How does this affect the way you offer feedback, particularly in regard to conceptual-based (ideas/plot driven) stories?

Funny you should say that. I like to think that in my short stories I generally create distinctive characters who drive the story, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it my core strength.

In my first novel, I’ve found that I’ve struggled a bit to sustain that distinctiveness and roundedness across a larger cast of characters and staying with them for so much longer.

I’ve also tended to let my created world, in wanting it to be a character itself, overwhelm the human characters at times.

So I think, rather, that my focus on characters in critiques reflects the focus of my own struggles, rather than my strengths.

Q:Your credentials as a short story writer are well-established after winning the Writers of the Future Contest. What are/were your greatest challenges in writing a novel compared with a short story, and what would you do differently next time?

Sustaining the story for so much longer and over a broader canvas. Next time I’ll write – am writing – a shorter, simpler novel.

Q: Character is story, but story needs structure. How do you approach the structural needs of a novel-length story?

Haphazardly, at the first attempt, and with a rising sense of panic.

I’ve got a lot of value out of the structural stuff we’ve done in the CSFG novel writing group this year, for both long and short form stories – particularly understanding structural archetypes and having planning tools to map character wants/needs/actions/suffering to the story’s plot.

I think a couple of other factors are really important too: (1) knowing how much you can chew before you bite, and (2) having confidence in what you know about your story.

I didn’t do either of these first time through.

Q: Do you intend to run the novel critique group next year, and do you intend to submit your own novel? If so, what would you be looking to get out of it?

I think I’ll run it if I have a novel ready to submit for it – or at least am far enough progressed that I can finish the manuscript to a deadline next year.

If I put in a novel, then I’ll be hoping for some signposts to a better second draft.

I think the novel critiquing group is a really valuable part of what CSFG offers to its members so I think keeping that going is an end in itself. I was happy to support that this year without putting up a novel of my own.

That said, if I don’t have a novel ready next year, I’ll pass the baton and focus on my own writing.

Q: If you could give any advice to an aspiring novelist, what would it be?

I’d offer one piece of advice that I did follow and one that I failed to.

The first is: learn the art of storytelling by writing short stories first. Ray Bradbury said this, and I thoroughly agree.

I think short stories give a writer enormous scope to experiment with and learn how to handle different characters, worlds, plots and styles.

Stephen Dedman once said to me that you can learn 12 times as much if you write 12 short stories in a year as if you write one novel, and I think he’s right.

I think that even if a writer’s first novel is a success and easy to write, the next one or the one after that may not be.

If you’ve given yourself the best possible grounding in short stories first, you’ll have more tools available to write yourself out of trouble. (And also, you can use short stories as world-building and character-building tools for a novel idea, while at the same time creating a marketable product that will hopefully give you some sort of record of publication to mention to publishers once the novel is written.)

The second thing, that I failed to abide by, is: don’t underestimate how big a leap it is from short stories to novels.

While you’ll learn a lot from short stories, there’s still more to learn in taking the step up to writing novels. Learning what it is before you leap in can save a lot of heartache.

Ian McHugh is a 2006 graduate of the Clarion West writers’ workshop. His first success as a speculative fiction writer was winning the short story contest at the 2004 Australian national SF convention. Since then he has sold stories to professional and semi-pro magazines, webzines and anthologies in Australia and internationally. His stories have won grand prize in the Writers of the Future contest, been shortlisted four times at Australia’s Aurealis Awards (winning Best Fantasy Short Story in 2010) and appeared in the Locus annual Recommended Reading List. Links to most of Ian’s past publications can be found (free) on his website. His first short story collection, tentatively titled Angel Dust, will be published by Ticonderoga Publications in 2014.

Check out the Difinitive Rules of Magic which were ‘created’ at the Novel Writing Group in which Ian plays a huge part, or read some interviews from of the other Novel Critique Group members.

How to write short stories editors find irresistible

I remember the first big epic fantasy saga I ever read. It was the Riftwar Saga: Magician, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond E Feist. I read it over and over (and not just because I was broke at the time and couldn’t afford to buy new books).

After that, I sought out as many epic fantasies as I could, often staying up half the night while trying to get in just one more chapter.

Eventually I came to a point where they were all beginning to seem a little too similar, and I found myself getting bored with them.

From that point it was a rare epic fantasy that could draw me in, although a few still did, but the majority became ‘just another fantasy’.

I guess I developed ‘movie critic’ syndrome.

I knew the field so well that I became more interested in the stories at the edge of the field – the alternatives, the differences, the fresh ideas.

When I found something new that really worked for me, I’d pass the book to my friends who also read fantasy, but was often surprised when they didn’t like it.

It took me years to work out why. The reason is the key to writing a short story an editor will love: short story editors are (usually) very widely read.

They love the form and read everything they can. They really know their stuff.

By the time they’ve graduated to editing short stories, they’ve probably been reading them for years and are likely to be accomplished short story writers themselves.

Sending them something tired will dramatically increase your chances of rejection.

So how do you make them want your short story?

Give them something fresh. Something new. Something vibrant.

Use your brilliant idea to grab an editor by the collar and shake them awake. Twist a tired concept into something completely fresh and pique their curiosity right from the start.

There’s little room for ‘Hollywood’ in short stories – doing the same thing over and over won’t cut it.

Short stories are about exploring ideas through your characters and treading new ground. You need to entice the jaded editor who’s seen it all by giving them something they haven’t seen.

Do that and you’ll find your strike-rate increase dramatically.


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