I’ll never forget meeting Ken Liu. He came to Writefest as a GoH in 2017. Before his panel, he sat down with me to have a one-on-one conversation for at least an hour. His generous time and attention with me, a newbie, made him that much more relatable. He gave great advice:
Goals vs milestones. Goals involve numbers and tasks you set for yourself. Milestones are achievements. Goals are within your control. Milestones aren’t. Work on what you have control over, and of course, celebrate the milestones if they happen.
Writing at least 500 words a day is a goal. NaNoWriMo is a goal. Publication is a milestone. Getting an agent is a milestone. Award nomination is a milestone. It helps to know the difference. Don’t get the two mixed up. Don’t mix up milestones for goals, or you’re bound for disappointment, frustration, and despair because you’ll always feel like the odds are too low and your “goals” are beyond you. I don’t want anyone falling into that mindset.
I’ll add to this with wants vs needs. For example: Did I WANT Clarion? Heck yeah. Do I NEED it? Nope. It’s ok to want something like that. Or not. To feel like you NEED it isn’t a healthy feeling. Goal: choose stories suitable for sample to Clarion. Milestone: got into Clarion.
Keeping these distinctions in mind really helps me have a tangible, organized scheme in my mind on what I can reasonably achieve and strive for. This is the mindset that I think helps me, as a writer, stay healthy emotionally and mentally.
I thought it would be fun to make what I call “story of a story” posts, which detail the route a story had taken from completion to acceptance. Another person called it “anatomy of a sale,” and I didn’t feel right stealing that, so I came up with my own name for it.
This 2k-word epistolary Vietnam War story was written and completed during August 2019. I had 3 people I know from Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox critique it before submission. The story got higher-tier personal rejections from F&SF, Augur, and Strange Horizons, and a form from Uncanny. I submitted it to Podcastle in October, got a bump notice a day later, and the story sat there for a total of 90 days before it sold on January 13th, only 4 hours after my dad passed away.
24-day personal rejection from Escape Pod for “Diver:”
Thank you for sending “Diver” to Escape Pod. We enjoyed this story, but unfortunately, it’s not quite right for us. We wish you the best in finding this a good home and look forward to your next submission.
This story was well-written, and full of delightfully unique ideas, but the swimming/Diving analogy felt too direct and literal for our tastes. We loved it as a metaphor, but the analogy stopped working for us when both tasks used the same skills and even the same swimsuits.”
Form rejection from Shimmer for “Malebolge.” I thought it would’ve been a good fit with its voice and slipstream-y feel, but I guess not.
I submitted “A Study In Twins” to the Species: Foxes anthology, which was declined after 8 days:
Thank you again so much for submitting to SPECIES: Foxes. We certainly got a large number of submissions this year, moreso than our usual volume. That has made this volume exceptionally difficult to make decisions, and even stories that were particularly strong were not accepted due to fit and theme. I am sorry to inform you that we have decided to decline your work at this time. It was truly not an easy decision, and we encourage you to submit to future anthologies.
NOTE: I loved this story so much! Just wasn’t a fit for S:F. But definitely one of the best pieces I’ve read from you.
Furry anthologies are nowhere near as selective as markets and magazines for speculative fiction, but rejection can still happen. I’m consoled by the fact that my submission was declined only because it was not a fit for the anthology, not because of the poor quality of the story. I suppose it wasn’t “foxy” enough. Now I need to figure out where I can send this story next, which will be somewhat of a challenge considering that it carved in more of a niche than my other stories.
24-day form rejection from Uncanny for “Diver:”
Thank you for submitting “Diver” to Uncanny Magazine for consideration. Unfortunately, we’re going to pass on this one. It’s not what we’re looking for right now.
We look forward to reading further submissions from you.
The Uncanny Magazine Editors
Jaime O. Mayer
Ehh not much to read into here. I’m just glad that, like with Fireside, I was able to submit to Uncanny after trimming down my story. I hadn’t been able to submit for their last period because I was over the word limit. I thought “Diver” would have been a good fit for this magazine, but I guess not.
After waiting for 70 days with bated breath, a rejection from Fireside came for me at the end of June:
Thank you for sending us “Malebolge”. Your story reached the highest level of consideration, but we’ve decided not to accept it. We’d love to see more stories from you in the future.
Thanks again. Best of luck with this.
Fireside Fiction Company ”
Not exactly what I had in mind to end the month. I know we writers flounder in the sea of rejection all the time, and all you can do is suck it up and keep going…but not gonna lie, this one hit pretty hard. I had my hopes up, a side effect of the long wait. “Malebolge” is an Own Voices story, so it couldn’t help feeling personal. What takes the sting out of this a bit was that I didn’t do too shabby for a 1st time submitter to Fireside, I suppose. Landing a pro sale from Fireside would have been a really awesome milestone, though at least I fulfilled my goal of getting a story within their 4k word limit: a big challenge for me, considering most of my work runs over that. Can’t mix up my goals and milestones! I’m grateful for my friends and followers on Twitter for supporting me and soothing my bruised feels after this news.
I keep getting these second round/close call rejections, those “we really like this because of x, but…” and I’m trying to figure out just what is that push to get me from a no to a yes.
I won’t give up on this story; I’m quite proud of it and though I haven’t written original stories for that long, I feel that this is my best to date. I’m excited to see what other stories I can come up with, hopefully ones I’d feel good about like with “Malebolge.”
57-day personal rejection from Lackington’s for “Malebolge:”
Thanks for sending this story in, which we enjoyed reading. We love the concept of whispering micro-organisms, and the lab culture you portray, very much here. However, with regret, we must pass on your tale as our Table of Contents takes shape. We wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.
First time ever submitting to WOTF, and after a 137-day turnaround, I got notice that I earned Silver Honorable Mention for Q1. I had submitted “Diver,” the sci-fi story with a queer Japanese-American FBI agent and mind infiltration. This actually works out really well…it’s been a whopping 137-day turnaround, and have since made significant revisions and rearranged important scenes thanks to beta reader input. Looking back, what I’ve sent to WOTF is not something I’d want set in stone and published for everyone to see. Still, for what’s now an imperfect draft to get honorable mention, that’s pretty cool. Honestly it’s in that weird situation where I’m not sure whether to file this as an acceptance or rejection. Alas, no publication or money with the award, but I do get a nifty certificate that I plan on framing, so it’ll look nice on my wall.
March 14: Rejection from Clarion UCSD
March 20: Rejection from Clarion West
Oh well, there goes my first time applying. I’m glad I went to Writefest last week and found the community of writers I’d been looking for, otherwise I’d feel a lot more dejected and alone with this news. I won’t deny that I’m disappointed, because I felt like I put out my best work to date and opened up my heart onto the personal statements, which took a great deal of courage and effort, but it’ll be ok.
I’ve found that it’s actually very common for people to apply many times before getting in. Two or three times is the usual. I believe someone got in after SIX times? So I try to look at this as one step closer to acceptance. I’ve got 2 more free summers, so 2 more chances, and even if I have to call it quits after trying, Clarion is by no means the only way to be a great writer. There are plenty of people who go on to success and established a network without Clarion, MFAs, other workshops, etc. What matters is the words you’re writing and putting out, the kind of work you want to share, not necessarily your credentials.
Maybe this year isn’t my year. To be honest I’m kind of relieved I didn’t get in, otherwise I’d have to come up with all the money and quit my temporary job, which will really help me for medical school. So it looks my summer will be work and more writing. I’ll fire shots at Clarion for 2 more summers and see what happens.