I stumbled across some blogs belonging to fellow aspiring/fledgling writers today, and immediately noticed a theme...
Almost all of them had been published. But almost none of them had been published in a paying market.
I wondered to myself, did this writer submit their work to a paying market first? Did they suffer rejections from Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's? Chiaroscuro? Lightspeed? We are, thankfully, not as short as we once were on paying short fiction markets, and yet the thought crept into my mind that these people hadn't even bothered.
Granted, I don't actually know if they have or haven't, but I get a sneaking suspicion the latter is true. And I know exactly what they're going through.
When I first started writing seriously, the major hurdle I had to clear was my fear of rejection. Yeah, I mean, at first it's not even real to you, the idea that someone would reject your work. I tried to tell myself that I'd probably get 50 rejections before I got one acceptance, and that it wouldn't be the end of world when it happened. But did I really believe that someone would read my story and pass? After all, I'd wrote it, and I'd read it, and I loved it...why wouldn't they? So no, despite all the times I tried to convince myself that I would suffer rejection, I never honestly thought it would happen.
And when it came, it was crushing. It was in a form letter email from Macabre Cadaver magazine. It was so short, so matter-of-fact, that it almost seemed insulting. Of course it wasn't really, but if you've had rejections, you know what I'm talking about.
So for a long time, any time I finished a story, I did a ton of research into various small presses and magazines, trying to find places that I thought would like my work. That is a nice way of saying, I was looking for magazines with low standards.
And my first acceptance came from a place called Midwest Literary Magazine. A very, very small press that didn't even have a cover for their monthly e-zine. They accepted "Goldie" in mid-February...for their February edition. Now, please, don't misunderstand; I am not knocking MLM. They're a nice little small press who isn't looking to knock anyone's doors down (They call themselves "The Quiet Press" for a reason), but I also know that they just aren't going to get the same quality of submissions as a paying market. And if they aren't receiving submissions from the likes of Kij Johnson and Tobias S. Bucknell, then they're a hell of a lot more likely to say yes to me.
I look back on those times with more than a hint of shame.. Was it that I really considered myself second-rate, or was it merely that I could not get over my fear of rejection? And are many of the authors who share their journeys here on Blogspot just as frozen by their fear as I am? Is that why they submit to places that don't pay and don't have any significant readership?
I came to the conclusion not all that long ago that I would stop living in fear. I have plans to make a living at this, after all, and hiding from the Big Boys isn't going to make that happen any sooner. I decided to submit to paying markets first (when available) and upon rejection, move down the list. If I'm going to be accepted to a non-paying market again, it's only going to be after all the paying markets said no. And why not? Why should I settle, when I'm about to turn 30 and still haven't had a professional sale?
The answer is, I don't have to. Every story I believe can move people will go to the biggest markets so as many people can see them as possible. I know it's probably taboo to say where you submit your work, but do you know where my latest story is? It's in the slush pile at the New Yorker.
Yeah, that's right. The New Yorker. I saw an interview there today in which Stephen King talked about them passing on one of his stories last year. Granted, it was because of length, but it doesn't change the fact that they rejected the most famous living American author just last year. And you know what? If they reject it, it will suck, but I'll just turn around and send it somewhere else. Someone, somewhere, is bound to publish it. And if that ends up being "VAMPIREZ ANTHOLOGY VOL III: BLUD IN THE NITE", so be it.
At least I tried.