I have been floating on Cloud Nine this week, though not–as one might expect–because of any impending sales contracts (wouldn’t that be nice!). Actually, I’ve been feeling fantastic because I’ve now officially got six stories out rotating the markets, and after years of whining and complaining about how I need, need, need to submit more, that makes me feel FANTASTIC. Even better? I’ve almost rounded the bend on THREE OTHER STORIES that could go out by the end of this month.
IN ONE MONTH.
For any of you who have been following this blog for some time, you’ve got to see how crazy that number is. ABSOLUTELY BONKERS. The “three” I’m aiming to get out by the end of the month are actually even more special than the six already out–not because I don’t believe in those, because, looking back on them, I really like them now that the standard ZOMG I’M CRAP I CAN’T WRITE WHAT WAS I THINKING phase has passed–but they’re special because they’re NEW. The six currently out are stories I tripped over at some point in the past year or so, stories that are polished and presentable, but for some reason I lost faith in and set aside. Or stories I got a nice critique back on from some editor I reeeeeeally wanted to impress, and thought: well, I’ll just buff this up a bit before I get it out to the next—NEVER.
I’m starting to understand what I’ve heard any number of professional authors say over and over again: unless an edit recommended in a rejection is easy, OR, unless they’re offering to buy it with a few tweaks, don’t do it. Don’t fuss with it. Trust yourself and get it back out as quickly as possible. Because IT’S A TRAP. An Admiral Ackbar sized trap. Especially for those of us who don’t submit as often we ought to–because so much is riding on that one or two stories we DO get out–it’s a nasty, insidious trap. This story HAS to succeed, so we pick at it, tweak it, keep fussing with it.
Let me tell you a story. I wrote a tale I really liked. I wrote it in a flurry, I polished it up, and sent it out. It got a LOT of very, very positive rejections, all from places I would pee myself if I found out I got something accepted there. SERIOUSLY. Nice, nice pro-markets. SO CLOSE. Requests to submit more, that kind of thing. I kept submitting it. Not tweaking, just submitting. I took a writing class, and offered it up as one of my to-be-critiqued pieces. Again, nice, nice criticism, and a few suggestions for tweaks that made sense to me. I made the tweaks, figuring I’d send out the revised version once I got the latest rejection back. ONLY IT SOLD. Without the tweaks. Without the changes. I ended up placing it at a dream market, probably annoyed the hell out of the dear editor by requesting (several times) to insert some small tweaks which he didn’t even necessarily feel the story needed, and it got published. It was my first pro-sale, so by now, you’ve probably guessed it was “The Behemoth Beaches.”
The truth is, the story didn’t need the tweaks to sell. I feel better about it, knowing some of those tweaks got into the story before it went to print, but it didn’t sell on those merits. It sold on its own, as it was, because it was fine on its own. So this is a Public Service Announcement to say: keep those stories out there. Don’t do what I did and let things get hung up on being “just a little bit better” before getting it out to the next market. Some pro authors can handle that, and if you’re one of them, that’s totally awesome, and I’m impressed, because for me it’s a dangerous high-wire act that I too often fail to get past.
But…if you’re starting to pile up stories in your drawer, or on your “to edit again” list, after some personalized rejections–letting them sit for months (or years) without running the market gamut–I have this to say: STOP IT.
Look, these stories may not sell. They may end up retired, anyway. But they deserve a shot at getting out there. Because sitting on the sidelines doesn’t get them out, and more likely than not, you’ll eventually lose interest in fixing these ancient stories, especially if you’ve basically run them through a large chunk of markets and the only ones left are the token pay places–good places, mind, but do you want to bust your tail fighting with a story’s ending that you like just fine, but one editor a couple markets back said was maybe too abrupt, all for a payout of $20? When you could be writing something new that can go to ALL the markets again and maybe earn you closer to $200-$400?
It’s not all about the money, but the amount of time you’re spending on any project is a career choice. Futzing with one story over and over again, widdling down its options in the market as you go, means you’re spending a lot of creative energy on something that–as Martin Eden(1) would say–is “work performed.” Let it go. Move on to the next thing and keep those criticisms in mind for that work. Try again. The old work can’t be the dead horse you keep revising. Let it run it’s time, and then let it go. Or set it aside in case a market comes up it might fit in, that pays enough, to justify taking a full running swing at revising it. Otherwise, let it be.
That’s what I’m learning, and it’s what I’m hoping will claw me out of a fairly considerable creative rut. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes, but for right now, I’m just chuffed as hell that I’ve got work out again. THAT feels good!
(1) Also, if you’re a writer and you haven’t read Martin Eden by Jack London: do so. Right now. It is an amazing examination of the writer’s life and process and so much of it painfully still rings true today.