Yay! I’ve sold my story, “For Sale by Owner”, to Daily Science Fiction. I’ll post here once the story’s published.
This isn’t my first story sale, but it is my first pro sale. It’s a milestone. And this particular story is close to my heart. And it ends a bit of a dry spell.
I’ve written and published a few stories over the years, although not to genre markets until last year. I was fortunate to be part of an Ottawa writing/critique group a few years back, but other than that, I hadn’t made much of an effort to get better at short-story writing. I spent most of my energy on researching and writing novels that didn’t sell. (And being a journalist and a parent.)
A little more than a year ago, I got serious about stories.
I was fortunate enough to sell “We Take Care of Our Own” to the excellent anthology Blood and Water early in 2012 (after a rewrite request). I’m so proud to be in such a great book and it also gave me encouragement to keep on the story-writing path, even though I didn’t make another sale until now, about a year later.
I attended a workshop by Blood and Water’s editor, Hayden Trenholm, and fellow members of the East Block Irregulars Matt Moore and Derek Kunsken. I joined the Critters online critique group. I joined an in-person critique group with Ottawa writers Agnes Cadieux and Jeff Leblanc. I started reading short fiction in a more analytic way, and reading about writing, and listening to podcasts such as Writing Excuses and I Should Be Writing. I took a LitReactor course with the wonderful Kat Howard and benefited from another critique group, my fellow LitReactor students. I started keeping track of my submissions using Duotrope. I took another writing workshop, with Derek Kunsken and Marie Bilodeau. And of course my partner, Brent, read some of my stories too and gave me his comments.
I vowed to never let my ego get in the way, to take every opportunity to learn. I focused on story structure and character, realizing these were weaknesses in my novels. The thing about novels is: You can write a lot of words in a novel without learning much. Or I can, anyway. Story architecture is easier to see in short pieces, and if a story isn’t working, you can ball it up and start fresh without losing much invested time.
I became an acolyte of the Dan Harmon Story Circle.
I started writing “For Sale by Owner” last May and it was the first story I submitted to Critters, the online critique group, in July 2012. I edited and re-edited it, and sent it out. I got some lovely personal rejections from editors I admire. They weren’t the right markets for that story, and the story wasn’t quite finished, although it took me a while to realize that. I took another crack at it late in the fall, and then ran it past Agnes and Jeff. Finally, just before Christmas, I felt like it was the story I wanted it to be. I submitted it to an anthology and got a really wonderful personal note from the editor, who liked the story but knew it didn’t quite fit the anthology’s mandate.
And then I sent it to Daily Science Fiction, and they accepted it 41 days later.
Over the last year, I’ve written about 10 other stories too. I’ve given up on a few that failed, but I have 6 out there in submissionland at the moment, and another has been sent to my critique groups.
I’d racked up 28 rejections since “We Take Care of Our Own”, including a few on “For Sale by Owner” in its earlier versions.
It was starting to feel like I had got lucky with Blood and Water and the few journals who had published me in the past. It was starting to feel like I’d be tilting at windmills for the rest of my life.
Which is ridiculous, because it’s common for even successful, award-winning genre writers to rack up hundreds of rejections before their first pro sale. The great Jay Lake put up a blog post about this in 2009: He had about 150 rejections before his first pro sale, and several of the writers who commented on the post had double or triple that. (And of course, some had pro sales right away. That’s how it goes.) Tobias Buckell was brave enough to publish some of his 100-odd failed stories so the rest of us can learn from them.
As Lake and others pointed out, and as my experience since “We Take Care of Our Own” shows, the rejections don’t stop after you sell a story. I’m aware that while I could sell another story this week, it’s just as likely I’ll go months or years before my next sale.
But I do feel reinvigorated, and it’s nice to get a reminder that if I keep improving, and keep submitting, success is possible.