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:
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.
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:
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.