The Meta Rejection

July 2, 2012


Public submissions for UFO opened 48 hours ago and they’re pouring in. I’ve read and responded to nearly 200 submissions so far (which means another statistics post is just around the corner). I’ve been keeping (marginally) sane by talking about the slush process on Twitter.

Many of my fellow writers hang out there, and one of my Twitter buddies is L. Lambert Lawson of Kazka Press. He does this thing where he posts the rejections on his blog. So when he sent me a story which I had to reject, I knew the rejection letter was going to find its way onto the greater Internet, fast. And since I knew this in advance, I had to make it the most epic rejection letter to ever grace his blog.

Did I succeed? You decide. Read a rejection letter in three codas and a poem. The poem is courtesy of Anatoly Belilovsky. It appeared previously on my blog.




Guest Post: “Dreams, Horses and the Little Story That Could” by Beth Cato

April 23, 2012

Today I’m pleased to feature a guest blog post by Beth Cato, the author of “Red Dust and Dancing Horses,” a SF tale  featured in the current issue of Stupefying Stories. Beth writes about perseverance and not giving up on the stories you believe in, and I wholeheartedly agree.


Dreams, Horses, and the Little Story That Could

By Beth Cato



There’s something I’ve learned during the past few years. If you want to succeed as a writer, it’s not all about talent. It’s not about developing a thick skin. Rejections make you cry? Scream? Those are valid reactions sometimes. But what enables you to succeed is sheer stubbornness. You send the story out again.

Case in point: my story “Red Dust and Dancing Horses.”

From the time I wrote the rough draft, I knew this story was special. It hit me on a personal level. The tale is a horse story set on Mars, where horses can’t exist. It’s about a young Martian girl who has to accept that her deepest desire–to know horses–will likely never come true.

I was completely horse obsessed from the time I could walk and talk. I adored Rainbow Brite from age 3, but my biggest love was her horse, Starlite. I collected Breyer horses from age 4 (I wasn’t into My Little Ponies as much because they weren’t realistic enough). I read every horse book in the children’s section of the library, and if a new book came in the librarians told me. I knew the difference between a Shire and a Paso Fino, a forelock and a fetlock. My parents owned two acres of property, and I knew exactly where we could build a stable and corral. I took riding lessons. I knew exactly what my dream horse would look like and how his mane swayed in the breeze.

And at age 11, I finally had to accept that I would never have a horse.

I was mature enough to realize we were too poor. Money was tight. My riding lessons stopped as we couldn’t even afford the $10 for my riding lessons every two weeks. How could we afford a horse, or hay, or tack?

The dream died, but my love for horses didn’t.

That was the emotion I put into the story, only using a grittier Martian backdrop instead of a central Californian one. I posted the story on OWW. I revised heavily. I started sending it out to magazines. And this story I loved passionately was soundly rejected by almost every pro science fiction market.

Really, I could see why. It’s a horse story, on Mars. People don’t usually pair horses and sci fi, much less horses from old westerns. But it still hurt. This was a story that I felt was not only one of the best things I had written, but it was also a story I loved.

But I loved it so much, I kept gritting my teeth and sending it out again. It had some close calls. It won an honorable mention in Writers of the Future for the 4th quarter of 2011. But it still didn’t have a home, so I sent it out yet again.

You know what? It has a home now, an amazing one. This is what the editor of Stupefying Stories, Bruce Bethke, said in the forward for this March issue:

I’m about out of space now, but would be remiss if I did not call special attention… especially to my personal favorite in this entire collection, “Red Dust and Dancing Horses” by Beth Cato. If this story doesn’t wind up on several Best of 2012 lists and on the short list for at least one major award, I will be disappointed.

While querying agents, the big mantra is, ‘It only takes one yes.’ That’s true for short stories, too. “Red Dust and Dancing Horses” finally found its YES, and whatever happens from here, I’m happy, because the story finally found some other folks who love it just as much as I do.

The dream lives on.

“Red Dust and Dancing Horses” can be found in Stupefying Stories 1.5, on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.



“Seven Conversations in Locked Rooms” accepted at The Memory Eater anthology

April 10, 2012


Yay for second chances!

Last year I wrote and submitted a story called “The Take” to The Memory Eater anthology. The concept of anthology revolves around the device known as the Memory Eater. This technology is capable of deleting specific memories from one’s brain. Who would use such a device and for what purpose? There are many different stories that can be told based on this prompt.

“The Take” made it all the way into the final round of consideration but was ultimately rejected (although the editor told me it was a close call). I edited out the Memory Eater references and sent it to Daily Science Fiction, where it was accepted and published recently.

At some point in the editorial process, C.P. discovered that he had room for one more tale. So he reached out to me, asking if I would like to take another stab at the prompt. The catch? Whatever story I wrote had to match up with an illustration he had already acquired for use in the anthology. I was up to the challenge, and a few weeks later “Seven Conversations in Locked Rooms” was born. It’s a 1600-word SF story of a man willing to pay a tremendous price in order *not* to have his memories removed via the Memory Eater.

Want to know more? Pick up a copy of this anthology next month. Better yet, you can support their Kickstarter campaign, which is going on right now.


Awesome Rejections

March 30, 2012

One of the most important skills to being a writer is the ability to deal with rejection. Understanding that  an editor choosing to pass on your work is not personal, and that you will receive a lot more rejection slips than acceptance letters.

Every publication deals with rejections differently. The most common are form rejections. You get a very generalized note that looks something like this:

Dear Author,

Thank you for sending us “Story Title Here.” Unfortunately have have decided not to publish it. Please feel free to submit more of your work to us in the future.

The Editors.

Or some variation of above. It’s short, impersonal and to the point–but it gets the job done.  Some markets will offer small bits of personalized feedback in order to offer encouragement or–better yet–let the writer know about some specific flaw in their story that contributed to its rejection.

But who says rejections have to be boring? There’s a way to inject humor, originality and outright strangeness into the mix!

Consider the famous Rolling Stones rejection sent by Hunter S. Thompson in 1971 (warning: do not click on this link if you’re easily offended by profanity). Had I been on the receiving end of this I would be framing that thing up on my wall. I should probably do that anyway, and look at it any time I get a rejection of my own. I think it’d make me feel better.

Then there’s this poetic rejection, riffing off W.C. Williams:

This is just to say we have taken some plums

we found in our mailbox.

You were hoping it would be

yours. Forgive us,

others seemed


or colder

more bold

or whatever.

Again, this is a “make your day a little brighter” kind of bit, at least when you’re seeing it for the first time.

But my favorite form rejection (and the one that prompted me to write this blog post) is one not being used by any magazine or anthology. It is a hypothetical rejection letter written by a friend and fellow New York SF writer Anatoly Belilovsky.  If I’m ever in position of some editorial authority, I hope to make use of the following, at least once:

Your stories soar like birds,

I wish I could acquire ’em,

but I seek only words

fit for an aquarium.



Guest Post on

March 7, 2012

Sorry the blog hasn’t been very active lately. I was away for a family vacation in Key Largo, FL, where I enjoyed all sorts of cool stuff such as kayaking, visiting an alligator farm, and watching awesome sunsets like this one:


I did not, however, get a nearly as much writing done a I would have liked. And now I’m preparing for yet another trip next week, to a conference in Las Vegas. Will this cut into my writing time? Almost certainly. I’m trying to make up for it as much as possible this week, and I’m definitely keeping up with writing one new story per week so far, but I’m not racing ahead of my self-imposed schedule with submissions and writing as I have been in the first six weeks of the year.



Some of that “getting ahead” writing included penning a guest blog for which went live today. It’s about the submission metrics and I make the case for setting yourself clear submission goals in addition to word count/story total goals. My 2012 submission total stands at 48 as of today, well ahead of the benchmarks I set for myself at the beginning of the year. If I continue at this pace, I may just have to challenge myself with a higher submission goal. Would 366 submissions be utterly insane? That’s one for every day of this leap year. I won’t commit to that just yet, but will reexamine my goals in another month or so to make sure they’re ambitious enough to make me work harder, yet achievable.


Rejecting Faulkner

January 17, 2012

William Faulkner


Rejection sucks.

Every time an author gets that bit of bad news in their mailbox it stings a little. An author is sad and dejected. Unwelcome thoughts run through the back of his mind. Maybe the story is terrible. Or maybe it’s good, but it didn’t match the editor’s taste. Maybe it’s great, but they bought something similar recently. Then, there’s a tiny red guy with a pitchfork lounging on the author’s shoulder. It whispers: The editor is a fool who doesn’t recognize your genius.

Don’t listen to that voice. The latter is almost never the reason your story got rejected. Sure, there are notable exceptions. J.K. Rowling struggled to sell the first Harry Potter novel. James Patterson was rejected many times. But for every Rowling and Patterson there are hundreds of aspiring authors who get rejected because they aren’t good enough yet, because they haven’t thoroughly polished their manuscript, and for dozens of other, perfectly legitimate reasons.

Authors who eventually succeed learn to develop a thick skin when it comes to rejection. Shake it off, send the manuscript to the next market, and work harder on your next one. Those people who don’t handle rejection well end up quitting, including some who have the makings of a great writer. Then there are the angry, bitter writers who blame everyone and everything for their lack of success – except themselves.

Today I read an essay by G.D. McFetridge, who appears to be firmly in the “blame someone else” camp. The essay is titled “Show Us, Mr. Faulkner” and can be found in the winter 2011 issue of Mobius magazine.

To summarize, Mr. McFetridge submitted a slightly modified 4,000-word excerpt from William Faulkner’s “The Hamlet” to a slew of literary magazines, as an original short story. In the essay he proudly shares the rejection slips he got from slush readers and editors, and questions their competence for having rejected Faulkner.

This in itself isn’t really news. Every so often an exasperated writer tries this sort of a nasty trick on the magazines that have been rejecting him. No one except other exasperated, rejection-collecting authors is amused. You can guess how the editors and slush readers feel about this. (Spoiler: They dislike it. A lot.)

In the end, it proves nothing. Stories really are rejected for dozens of reasons. Each publication is seeking a certain kind of voice, style, something fresh. Any magazine worth its salt receives hundreds of submissions for every open slot in their table of contents and must, therefore, reject plenty of great stories. And these are real short stories we’re talking about–I question Mr. McFetridge’s wisdom in yanking a chunk of a 50-year old novel and hoping that Faulkner’s voice alone would magically make it work as a standalone piece.

G.D. McFetridge didn’t stop at plagiarizing Faulkner (yes, I know he wasn’t actually trying to steal somebody else’s work, but …). He went on to submit several stories published in prestigious anthologies under his own name and collected more rejection slips. He then impersonated famous authors and called editors on the phone, asking them to pull the work of his protégé out of the slush pile for a closer look.

He was then scandalized that they obliged.

In a nutshell, Mr. McFetridge’s point is that editors and slush readers at literary markets are incompetent, corrupt, and that a regular Joe has almost no chance of succeeding under this rigged system. To which I say: nonsense.

Let us examine what it is McFetridge decries as being wrong with the publishing word:

  • Big-name authors bypass the slush pile, their stories landing directly on the senior editor’s desk.

What’s wrong with that? They’re big-name authors because they have already proven their ability, by winning awards or by selling copy–either is a fine metric.  A-list Hollywood talent are asked to star in films–they don’t have to pass an audition the way newer actors must.

In speculative fiction magazines, there are many criteria that will get you past the slush reader. You may be an author whose work the editor already enjoys. Some magazines bump up SFWA members, or folks previously published by top markets. Some advance anyone who has attended a prestigious workshop like Viable Paradise or Clarion.

All of these are legitimate decisions that signify meritocracy rather than corruption.

  • Several editors were all-too-happy to pull a story from slush on a recommendation of a (fake) famous author.

Again, what’s wrong with this? If an accomplished author I like and respect suggests that another author’s work is amazing, I am likely to pay attention. This happens all the time – just look at the back of any book cover.

Mr. McFetridge brandishes this as evidence of a broken system, but in reality a recommendation from a mentor can only get a protégé so far. Once the manuscript lands on the editor’s desk it must stand on its own merit. Stephen King himself couldn’t endorse a fledgling author’s bad story strongly enough to get it published.

  • The game is rigged, and you must have some special connections to get published

This is really the crux of Mr. McFetridge’s essay, and the part I disagree with the most. He writes: “The Pretty People Review is open to all submissions, but be forewarned. We hand out special treatment to insiders and the chosen few—and if you ain’t one of them … tough nuggets!”

Yes, you can get special treatment from a magazine. In most cases, there’s good reason for it (as described above). But, in every case, getting past the slush pile will not guarantee a sale. The only way to do that is to submit a great story.

Every single one of those big-name writers the essayist is raging against started out in the slush pile. In his book “On Writing” Stephen King talks about years of rejections he endured early in his career. King, and others like him, made it in the publishing world based on their talent and hard work, and so can anybody, regardless of whatever special connections they may or may not possess.

Ironically, G.D. McFetridge’s own writing is pretty good (based solely on reading his essay). Sure, he could stand to learn the difference between “ascetic” and “aesthetic” (see paragraph 3), but nobody’s perfect. He will probably get published, if he keeps at it. Though, I bet, not by any of the venues he pranked.