Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Full Disclosure (Final Part)

It comes to this.

Fitting that the final story in this series is also the most well-traveled, and oft-rejected story I've ever written. It's a little sci-fi yarn about a scientist who figures out a way to look into the past, and it's called "The Machine".

We are currently at eight (count em: 8) rejections, and waiting to hear back from a ninth market as I write this. The first rejection came a year ago almost to the day, in March of 2010. It was from Flash Fiction Online, and easily my most positive PRL yet:

"Dear Joseph,

Thanks for your patience.

I wish I had better news for you, but I'd like to congratulate you on your story "The Machine" passing the first round of our selection process. That's no small feat. Only 15-20% of all stories make it that far. 

Unfortunately, the second round proved too great an obstacle. 

As a writer I always appreciate feedback on my stories. That's not true of all writers, so sift through what we give you for anything useful and disregard the rest. Keep in mind, these comments are often raw gut reactions and personal opinions that may seem harsh, but are certainly not intended to be. So, for what it's worth, here's what some of our readers had to say about your story:

Our editors felt the story had some good points, but lacked mainly in a clear and logical plotline and clear character motivation. Some felt a greater exploration of characterization might have helped. As one editor summed it up: The story "needs a tighter plot and characters we care about, with clear motivation for the things they do and say." 

We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere and hope you will consider submitting with us again.


Suzanne Vincent

Associate Editor
Flash Fiction Online"

Did I mention it's also the longest? Yikes. But how cool was that? Flash fiction is 1000 words or less (though they give you 1100, and if they like it, they'll work with you to parse it down to 1000) and it was my first genuine try at it, so that's a pretty great reaction.

Since then, "The Machine" has expanded by about two thousand words or so.

The next stop was Clarkesworld. I will again omit their rejection, because it's literally the same one everyone gets, and if you've submitted there, you've seen it. After that was Lightspeed. Now, here's the thing: this was my first rejection from that market, and when I read it, I hit the ceiling. Have a look:

"Dear Joseph,

Thanks for submitting this story, but I'm going to pass on it. It was nicely written, and I enjoyed reading it, but overall it didn't quite win me over, I'm afraid. Best of luck to you in placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way. I hope you'll try us again with something else."

Awesome, right? But it looks a lot like the one I'd get later (back a few posts) regarding another story. This one is a lot better than that one, but is it really a PRL? Or is it a tiered rejection? Meh, either way, it felt good and still feels good.

Next up is Apex, which is another generic rejection not worth posting. Actually, so was the one from Asimov's, Daily Science Fiction, and Strange Horizons. The only other PRL I got was from On Spec, which went like this:

"Thanks for sending us your story. After a close reading, we have determined it will not be a good fit for On Spec. There are many reasons why a story gets rejected. We look for the most effective combination of plot, characters, emotion, and originality. Many stories have one or two of these, but only a few have all of them. And sometimes the story just doesn't suit our personal editorial style. The initial setup (steampunk or historical) appears to be broken when the characters are actually modern." 

Interesting take. I wrote about this particular rejection earlier. Accidental Steampunk, I think I called it. That aside, this is the only story to rake in so many PRLs, and I think that's a good thing. It is currently at another market, so I hope to be hearing back from them soon.

Anyway, that'll do it for today. Hope you enjoyed it.

Full Disclosure (Part Seven)

"The Catina" is a science-fiction story about intolerance. I love the story, though I admit after reading it again a few times, the prose isn't as smooth as it could be. I'd like to really get back and revisit this one sometime.

This story has been rejected twice. First by Daily Science Fiction back in August of last year:


Thank you for submitting your story, "The Cantina" to Daily Science Fiction. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we had just taken with a similar theme or several other reasons.

Best success selling this story elsewhere.

Take care,

When Clarkesworld rejects you, it's easier to push it out of your mind, because they really do only publish twenty-four stories per year, only half of which are unsolicited. But getting rejected by a market that distributes 365 stories per year is a toughie. Not saying DSF is an easy market to crack, but you'd think there would be more room for the aspiring writer. And I'm sure there is, and this story just wasn't up to snuff. But that's the point--you really can't sugar coat getting rejected by a market that has to put out a story once a day.

The second rejection came from Strange Horizons:

"Dear Joseph Romel,

Thank you for submittng "The Cantina" to Strange Horizons, but we've decided not to accept it for publication. 

We appreciate your interest in the magazine.

--Lydia Waldman"

I don't know what will become of this little story, but I suppose it's worth finding out.

Full Disclosure (Part Six)

One of my oldest stories is "The Bright Walk", which is your basic vampire tale, as narrated by the vampire himself. I added a new wrinkle or two to make it my own, and I personally think it's the best story I've written so far...which probably isn't a good thing, but I don't care. It's a damn good story.

It has been rejected five times, including one from just the other day. The first rejection came in October of 2009 from Clarkesworld, which I will not be including since the only difference between that one and any other rejection they've sent me is the name of the story. The next rejection was from Shock Totem, later in the month. This one is as form letter as it gets. They don't mention my name, nor the title of the story. Literally, a form rejection.

"Thank you for your submission to Shock Totem.

Sadly, we regret to inform you that we are declining acceptance at this time. Good luck in placing this submission elsewhere.

The Shock Totem Team"

The next rejection came from the fine folks as Dark Discoveries in February of last year. Sadly, I don't seem to have that rejection in my inbox, so I guess you'll just have to take my word for it. I definitely kept the next rejection, which came in August of 2010 from Weird Tales, probably the most famous of all fantasy fiction mags around, given the heavyweights it has published, most notably HP Lovecraft. This was also the longest it has taken any market to respond to my submissions--a whopping 174 days. And this on the heels of a 114-day wait from Dark Discoveries to reject the very same story!

"I am so sorry I held onto this so long, especially since I'm going to have to pass on it. Not quite what I'm looking for. You are welcome to try me again with something else, but note: closed to all submissions until the first of the year (January 2011).

Thanks for your patience,

Ann VanderMeer
Editor-In Chief
Weird Tales"

I don't know if that rejection was as personal as it appears, considering I have seen something very similar to it--especially that first line--posted by another blogger recently, but it made me feel very good at the time, like I had a real shot at making it. Rejection can do that for you, believe it or not; they can make you feel like a great writer even though they're saying they don't like this particular story.

Because that's all a rejection is: it isn't a condemnation of you as a writer or your talent, but of that story. That's it. Nothing more than that. Good writers write shit sometimes. It happens.

The last rejection (so far) for my baby was at the hands of fledgling market Arcane. The editor there is Nathan Schulmate, the same fella who served as editor of the creepily cool Arkham Tales magazine, which is now on indefinite hiatus (which means dead).

This one hurt, because this story should be right up their alley. I was really hoping to break in here, but I guess I'll have to wait a little bit longer. Anywhere, here's the letter.

"Dear Joseph,

Thanks for submitting your story "The Bright Walk" to Arcane. I'm sorry, but it's not quite what we're looking for. I'd love to give a detailed critique, but I'm the one-man band on the editorial side of Arcane, so I just don't have the time for long replies to submissions. 

Feel free to submit more work to us in the future.

Nathan Shumate
ARCANE: Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century"

Don't worry, though. "The Bright Walk" is already sitting in the slushpile of another magazine, looking to finally find its way into your home. And I really believe it will get there.

Full Disclosure (Part Five)

I wrote "Glory in the Wasteland" because I wanted to write something post-apocalyptic. I have since read Cormack McCarthy's "The Road" and will never attempt to write anything like it again, for his work puts mine to shame. (I'm only half-joking, honestly)

Rejected twice, the story is currently trunked. I may revisit that later, but probably not. The first rejection came in October from Lightspeed Magazine, John Joseph Adams' new rag. He was the editor (or assistant editor? I dunno) at Asimov's for a long time before branching out and doing his own thing. I believe he also helps edit Fantasy Magazine, a market I have yet to submit to.

"Thanks for submitting this story, but I'm going to pass on it. It didn't quite work for me, I'm afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks for sending it my way.


John Joseph Adams
Lightspeed Magazine"

The next one hurt, I'll admit. I liked this story, I liked what it did and I liked how I handled the action sequence at the end, but when I send a story to a market like Asimovs, I don't expect it to get accepted. I just don't. But they held onto my story this time for 29 days. That happens to be their average response time, but considering that they had never taken more than a week to get to me before, I allowed myself to dream a little.

In the end, I got the same old rejection letter they send. Pleasant as it was, it totally crushed me. That might be why the story is in my trunk. Maybe I'll have a peek later on...

Full Disclosure (Part Four)

"Broadcasting Live From Bensk" is my first attempt at political Sci-Fi, even if it only classifies as "soft," both in terms of Sci-Fi and politics. But I really like the story, so I'm wondering why it's still sitting on my HD and not out on a slush pile somewhere.

It has been rejected three times. First by Clarkesworld Magazine, which gives the same exact form rejection every time, so if you really want to know what it looks like, check a couple posts down. That was from September 27, 2010. On October 5th, Asimov's also declined:

"Dear Joseph,

Thank you very much for letting us see "Broadcasting Live From Bensk." We appreciate you taking the time to send it in for our consideration. Although it does not suit the needs of the magazine at this time, we wish you luck with placing it elsewhere.

Please excuse this form letter. The volume of work has unfortunately made it impossible for us to respond to each submission individually, much as we'd like to.


Sheila Williams, Editor
Asimov's Science Fiction"

The third and (so far) final magazine to pass on the story was Pedestal Magazine, another one of the markets I really, really want to crack. On November 17, the letter came:

"Dear Joseph,

Thank you for submitting your fiction to The Pedestal Magazine. We enjoyed reading it but after careful consideration have decided we cannot use it at this time.

We wish you the best of luck in placing your work elsewhere and sincerely hope that you will submit other writing to us in the future. 


The Editors"

The story has not been out since. I may have to remedy that. 

Full Disclosure (Part Three)

I have two stories that have so far only received one rejection a piece, so instead of giving them each their own post, I thought I'd condense them into one. The first, "All Debts Public And Private" is the most autobiographical story I've written. I had a very unique relationship with a girl for several years in my early and mid 20s. I was in love with her, and she was gay and in love with another woman. Though, come to think of it, that's like opposite of Will & Grace, so maybe it's not so unique after all.

Anyway, the story is the fictional account of our reunion, should it ever happen. The names and events have been changed to protect the innocent, of course, and it's something of a stylized version of us, but the emotion is real. Can't fake that.

It was rejected on November 20th, 2010 by Plougshares, one of them there fancy literary magazines.  I haven't sent it out again since, but that's something I'm going to take a look at as soon as I'm done with my current project. Or something like that...

"Dear Joseph Romel,

We regret that your manuscript does not fit our current editorial needs, but we appreciate the opportunity to consider your work. Thanks very much for submitting. 

The Editors of Ploughshares"

The other one-shot-kill story is "Magic Words", a story about a girl dealing with abuse. I've read this one several times since the rejection, and it never feels right. Too clunky, every sentence like a piece of tough meat. It's not that the subject matter is too difficult, it's that the writing isn't up to the task. I fear this one will be retired to the trunk.

Keep in mind that while I say this, I received a very positive, honest-to-goodness Personal Rejection Letter. Here goes:

"Mr. Romel,

Thanks for sending us "Magic Words." Unfortunately, we're not going to publish it, but I think it has some potential, which is why I've hung onto it as long as I have. I found your main character to be well-written and sympathetic, but felt that the story fell apart in the climax - perhaps because I didn't buy that she'd leave her little sister, perhaps because the "magic words" part of it felt kind of sudden. Thanks for thinking of Basement Stories, and I hope you'll send us more work in the future. 

Best Regards,

Carol Kirkman"

See what I mean? That's a great rejection! Goes to show that what the writer sees isn't necessarily what the reader sees. In that sense, it's a little scary because it throws into question how much I am able to accurately judge my own work. I honestly feel this is one of my weaker stories, writing-wise, and yet here's the editor of a respected magazine saying otherwise.

Oh well. Onward and upward. Or, well, in my case, just onward.

Full Disclosure (Part Two)

The next story on the docket (we're going alphabetically) is "...And Other Significant Junkies", a story that came to me while listening to Nirvana. The first place I sent it was Glimmer Train, and the Rejection Express made a whistle stop at my inbox on November 27th, 2010:

"Dear Joseph,
Thank you for submitting "...and Other Significant Junkies". While we won't be publishing this piece, we appreciated the opportunity to read your work! Because we read so many stories, it is not possible for us to give specific feedback, but, if you're a relative beginner, you may find something of interest here: Editors' Input"

The next stop (I'm done with the train stuff, promise!) was Clarkesworld Magazine. This one came back just the other day--March 24th, to be exact. "Junkies" has been consoled and comforted and sent back out again since, so don't fret. Here's basically the same rejection everyone gets from Clarkesworld:

"Dear Joseph,

"Thank you for the opportunity to read "...And Other Significant Junkies." Unfortunately, your story isn't quite what we're looking for right now. Each month, we receive hundreds of submissions and while I may like many of them, I can only publish twelve of them per year.

In the past, we've provided detailed feedback on our rejections, but I'm afraid that due to time constraints, we're no longer able to offer that service. I appreciate your interest in Clarkesworld Magazine and hope you'll keep us in mind in the future.

Take care,

Neil Clarke
Clarkesworld Magazine"

On to the next story!

Full Disclosure (Part One)

The stories keep pumping out, and the rejections keep flooding in.

Fourteen stories in all have hit slush piles across the country (there may have been one or two in Canada, as well), since I completed my first short story in February of 2009. Doesn't seem like all that long ago, really. I even remember writing a journal entry about it. From the wee hours of February 23, 2009:

I was at my brother Chris’s apartment, and I somehow managed to change the “Go Home” icon--it takes you automatically from your location to your home--from my home to Chris’s apartment…so I ended up driving around the block and landing right back in front of Chris’s apartment. I was struck by how I didn’t even realize what had happened until I pulled up in front of Chris’s place, and that’s when the story had taken form: We rely on these technologies at a great cost. Cellphones made it so we don’t know anyone’s phone number, and if we lose our phones, we’re effectively cut off from our friends, and sometimes our families. GPS’s will obviously make us never pay attention to where we’re going, so ultimately we won’t know how to get anywhere. That alone is scary enough!
 Forgive the spotty grammar, I had been awake for something like 20 hours when I wrote that. Anyway, fourteen stories doesn't really seem like a lot given that I've been writing for two years now, but considering how slowly I tend to write, and how often I've taken lengthy hiatuses to nurse my fragile ego after tough rejections, a story every two months ain't so bad.

GPS was also the first rejection I ever received, doled out by Emanuel Page over at Macabre Cadaver magazine. As I've detailed in previous posts, I was not prepared for rejection. I don't know that you really ever can prepare yourself for someone saying your hard work isn't good enough (not that a rejection necessarily means that...but a FORM rejection kinda does, in my humble opinion), but I definitely wasn't. I'd like to share that rejection with you now:

Hello Joseph,
We have read your story, "GPS,"
and we have decided to pass on this one.
Thank you for your submission  
to and support of Macabre Cadaver.
Emmanuel Paige
Publisher, Editor, Macabre Cadaver Magazine

 I took it pretty bad. So bad, in fact, that I didn't submit another story to a market until that October--six months later. But that six months must have done my ego some good, because the next story I wrote, "The Bright Walk" went to Clarkesworld, probably the top  semi-pro magazine around today. According to Duotrope, I received a rejection letter from them on October 2nd, 2009--one day after I originally sent them the story. Talk about a kick in the pants.

I don't see the rejection in my email inbox (I've saved all of my rejections...or at least I thought I had) so I'm guessing I was so aghast at the swiftness of the turnaround I deleted it immediately, but I can guess that it looked exactly like every other rejection I've gotten from them, since Mr. Clarke only hands out 1 or 2 personal notes a month, by his own admission.

GPS underwent a rewrite and later became "Postcards From Arborville", which was rejected by The Absent Willow Review:

Dear Joseph,
Thank you for submitting your work

for our review. Unfortunately, it does
not meet our needs at this time.  

We receive many submissions on a daily
basis and are only able to select a
small percentage of those for
Please continue to write and we’d 
really like to hear from you 
about any future success.
Kindest Regards,
The Editors
The Absent Willow Review
Absent Willow Publishing,LLC

 Now, this rejection was a particular punch in the throat, not because it was a form rejection (even the ones others claim to be PRLs are really just specialized form letters in many cases), but because of how quickly it came. This was officially 1 day, but I swear it was no more than five or six hours. Maybe I'm remembering it wrong, but I remember being shocked at just how fast it came back. Undaunted, I quickly sent "Postcards" back out on her way to another prestigious market, from which I hope to hear soon.

I'm going to split this up into several parts, one post for each story I've gotten a response back on. I'll include the rejection letter if I have it, so check back!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


I've written more words over the past month than I did in the four prior, so it's mostly sunny over here at Camp Joe. Did a little digging around the ol' story trunk and found a couple of goodies that could use some polish, and that's where most of my efforts are currently. That, and a complete rewrite of a story that is currently out for submission at a big market...

Yes, I know, stupid. But I think the story could be so much better than it is if I had approached it from a different angle. I don't even know if anything will come of it, frankly; I'm kind of in a funk, and can't quite find the voice, so it might end up being one more useless exercise.

Did re-read "The Bright Walk," the story I have out currently at The New Yorker, and man if that isn't the best damn story I've written so far. It's got heart, character, voice, pitch-perfect narrative (if I do say so muhself). It's at a level I've always thought I was capable of, but haven't reached in a long time. Reading it again was a nice reminder that I'm not as terrible as I sometimes think.

I'm up to five stories out for consideration as of today, which is a very good feeling. Three of them have been out a while, but two left the coop only a day or so ago. Very exciting stuff. Found a very cool new market on Duotrope Digest, decided to sub there. Semi-pro rates and everything! I'll let you know more about them if they're smart enough to accept my story!

Til next time...

Friday, March 4, 2011


I've finally completed the first draft of my first post-hiatus story. It's called "Sonny" and it's about a day in the life of a boy dealing with abuse at school and at home. It wasn't particularly difficult to write, but it came it fits and starts over the course of a couple of weeks.

A big part of that, I think, is my dedication to reading. There's no coincidence that the writers we all read are constant readers. Sure, full-time authors have more time to dedicate to it than we do as aspiring writers, but that's no excuse.

It's a mainstream story, and all (or at least a good portion) of those markets are slow as hell, so once I give it a good once-over and send it out, it will probably be a while before I hear back. In the meantime, I have a few unfinished nuggets in the ol' trunk I'd like to have a whack at, and a new idea or two knocking around upstairs that probably should get a look-see. But first, I need to finish off BLOOD MERIDIAN.

Oh, and in other news, the official release date of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS has been announced, for all my fellow fantasy buffs. Mr. Martin confirmed the announcement on his Not-A-Blog. He isn't finished quite yet, but he's apparently close enough for his publishers to make the announcement, which means the end is very near.