Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Lemon Tree

People ask whether I paper my walls with rejection slips.  Sometimes I explain that in the twenty-first century most story rejections come by e-mail.  Sometimes I just smile.  But even though they’re not on paper, those rejections live on – in my submissions results folder.  You could think of it as a lemon folder but I think it of as folder full of seeds, with the potential to grow.

My advice last week was to know your markets.  Today’s advice – never diss an editor.  My editors, especially of e-zines, have often provided helpful comments that kept hope alive and pointed the way to making a story saleable.  I’ll share a couple of examples from my folder to show how an editor’s comments helped turn a story from a reject to a winner.

I had the pleasure last fall of talking to Adrian Simmons, an editor at one of my favorite on-line magazines, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  Adrian and I were workshop participants at FenCon in Dallas and I thanked him for his critique of “Shaman,” my previous short story submission to HFQ.  His response to the submission had been – “I like the setting and the characters but. . . try us with something a little less convoluted.”  By taking his comment to heart, I was able to eliminate the overly complex passages and sell it to  You can still see there.  Take a look.  With enough looks, it may get into their next anthology and earn some more money.  And, yeah, I’ve submitted another story to HFQ.  Will it sell?  At least I can hope for quality feedback.

“The Gates of Shaizar,” like “Shaman,” suffered from the handicap of being based on characters and incidents from a still unsold novel.  The fictional equivalent of the plea “but it really happened that way” is “but I really wrote it that way.”  Just because you wrote a novel a particular way doesn’t mean it’s going to translate into a short story in the same way.  In the initial response to “Gates,” Rob Santa of Ricasso Press wrote, “What bothered me, I suspect, about this piece is the non-linear way the story was told.”  When I looked at the story in light of that comment, I saw that I had been too fixated on a historically accurate way of dating its flashback scene.  After all, I’d spent a lot of time researching dates.  But changing from an A.D. date to the simple statement “Two months earlier” before the flashback scene resulted in a sale to the Pulp Empire Volume Two anthology.  You can buy the Pulp Empire volume at Amazon and see what I mean.  Please do -- I get a percentage of the royalties.  A little fertilizer for the lemon tree.

(I found all the markets mentioned in this article through  Next week, why I subscribe to market listings besides Duotrope.)

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