Mar. 2nd, 2018
Are we there yet?
Anyone who has spent five days in a conference room, six nights in a hotel bed, and played Russian roulette with every meal in a strange place not famous for its culinary delights (yes, I’m a foodie; sue me) knows what I’m talking about. By this point, I’m just ready to be done. The end can’t come fast enough and even the upcoming TSA “experience” is something that doesn’t look as bad as the memory of the most recent TSA “experience” fades. Even the support and camaraderie of my fellow writers, the companionship of my husband, is not enough to make me want to face this day.
I have to give you a little background on this one. I didn’t want to write this story and despite the nine hours (in one day) it took to get it on paper, it was the most difficult one for me personally. The theme was “passions,” whether it was something that led to passion or a crime of passion.
A preference was stated for crime/mystery and science fiction or fantasy were not allowed. Seeing as I mostly write science fiction and don’t read crime/mystery I felt totally unprepared. The additional requirement that it NOT be an intellectual puzzle, but focus on the emotion made it even more difficult.
I wanted to skip this assignment altogether.
I didn’t for two reasons. First of all, I was always that student, the one that never blows off an assignment, never turns in anything late, etc. (Yes, you can hate me; I’m used to it.) Second of all, I’m paying good money to be here, so I’d be short-changing myself. Third, I do know what I’m passionate about. Anyone who knows me well knows this.
Even though I finished this story on the day I got the submission guidelines, I waited. By Wednesday, I knew that if I didn’t send it out now, I would not send it out at all. I had several big fears about this one, beside it being too close to my heart. I wasn’t sure how much of a risk this story would be. I also wrote it in first person (a distancing technique) and I pulled back even further by using a lot of filters, even though this was the “Disney” version of events.
The summary: Fictionalized account of true events and crimes under the Ceaucescu regime as told by a survivor of communism. Renata’s childhood experiences drive her passion for and love of America.
- Editor 1: Pacing issues but still got into it; startlingly good.
- Editor 2: Wow; really well done; compelling narrator voice kept him in there; liked wrap; really nailed emotions; played on the heart strings; parts had a dreamlike quality; backed away from the emotion in places; showed atrocities at arm’s length; powerful prose; loved the ending; move in closer (i.e. close narrative distance by removing filters for example).
- Editor 3: Without question a powerful story; not sure it’s a crime of passion; they’re government crimes; might not fit concept; no idea who is being lectured; need a cause for narrator’s reaction, so it’s not a general conversation.
- Editor 4: Agrees with editor 3; thought character was too passive; wasn’t powerful for her.
- Editor 5: Worked for her because [the editor] lived through the Cold War; liked it; character’s passivity is exactly what communism would do to a human being; would’ve bought it.
- Buying editor: Spectacularly written; disagrees with editor 1 because the literary nature of the story needs big paragraphs to slow down the reader and let him see the horrid life the character saw; the character is talking to all of us who dismiss other people’s painful stories, so it doesn’t need details about the person being responded to; the passivity is absolutely logical; the character is NOT passive at the end; passionate for new country; it’s about the character learning how to be active; works well; great writing; difficult things that are being addressed; buy.
I was still recovering from the word “buy” from Kristine Katherine Rusch when Dean Wesley Smith (editor 1 in this case) said he went back to re-read this particular story after working with me on my space opera pacing issues. He told me that if I can get this kind of emotion and power into everything I write, readers will be flocking to me in droves.
I tell you this not to brag, but because I know that as writers we tend to focus far too much on the criticism we get rather than the praise. We don’t hear or take in positive things like we hear or take in negative things. While this may be especially true of writers (including myself), I think it’s very much a human trait, and it’s there for a good reason—survival. Our brains are wired to respond to threats so that we can run or fight, and this tendency to give the negative power over us is part of that survival mechanism.
I come away from this intense and exhausting week, a better writer.
My purpose in sharing this, especially with all of you writers and would-be writers, was to show you–really, truly, show you–that a rejection is not fatal, and that it is contingent on many factors.
Please, please, please, note how many times something was “liked” but not bought. Please note the difference between taste, personal preference, and the wide range of possible interpretations based not just on the editor’s life experience, but also on editorial goals/requirements:
- Did this story fit the theme?
- Did the word count justify extra length?
- Was the writer willing to make changes knowing that even with requested changes, it might be rejected?
- Was the story fixable in the time the editor had?
- How did the presence of other stories influence the take on your story?
One unique aspect of this workshop was that editors bought pieces submitted to other anthologies. That’s how I ended up with two sales. One to the anthology I originally wrote it for, and one to an anthology which rejected the piece I wrote for it but bought a story I wrote for a different anthology.
You won’t find that in a slush-pile setting, but its equivalent is “send it out again.” Find another market for it. Even one element of the story can fit another theme and get you another chance to have someone say “buy.”
So send it out again.
You may recall from my first post about this workshop that we were supposed to read the stories as if we were buying them, i.e. generating a table of contents for each anthology, as if we were buying. It was essentially the equivalent of saying “I liked it” and nothing else. Only three of the other writers in the workshop included The Greatest Crime on their buy list. Remember when I said that only the buying editor’s opinion matters? This is why.
Not only are we the worst judges of our own writing, other writers don’t do so well either. By the way, I didn’t go look at the lists. I don’t know which of my other stories made it onto the lists (someone else in the workshop brought this story’s “count” to my attention). I avoided looking at the list because in the end, other writers’ opinions don’t matter either.
So take those opinions with a grain of salt—a big grain—as well.
It’ll save your sanity.
And your writing.