Friday, 22 June 2018

Exploring Publishing Options: Part 1 - The Traditional Route

As I get closer to completing Avenging Glory,  you’d think I would have the path ahead mapped out.

After all, I’ve been writing for decades, have researched the markets exhaustively, have lots of friends who are published authors, and know a few publishers and agents personally.

But the truth is, only a few of those people I know are happy with the paths they’ve taken. And number of people who used to be happy, are no longer satisfied. The number of potential routes have multiplied to the point where it’s fair to say that all or any of us can get published – but hardly any of us will get noticed outside our circles of friends, or adequately paid for all the hard work we’ve put in. Many of the publishers are flying by the seat of their pants. Or doing it as a labour of love. And there are almost as many publishing models out there as there are publishers.

Before submitting the book to major publishers, I need to think seriously about getting an agent. There are publishers who accept over-the-transom queries and submissions, but it would be good to have someone (an agent), who is known by the publishers, pitching and negotiating on my behalf. If a book has impressed an established agent, publishers are more easily persuaded that taking a look might be worth their while, and on the off-chance that one of them does show an interest, it would be good to have someone knowledgeable, and maybe a little bit money hungry, negotiating on my behalf.

For my first time ever with a novel (I’ve had a few short stories I’ve felt this way about), I’m not the least bit worried that this book isn’t good enough to get picked up by a major publisher. But the quality of a given book is only part of what traditional publishers are looking for. Whether or not any of those publishers decide to take a chance on a first novel by a late career writer is another story. This is where I’m thankful for Jeff Vandermeer for showing that it can be done. But Jeff’s career has been much more illustrious and prolific than mine from the get-go – so while he may have opened the door a crack, I still have to come knocking with a novel that’s good enough to open that door the rest of the way. And not many writers have the ability to create something audacious and well-written enough to do the trick. Riding the zeitgeist is harder than riding a mechanical bull dialed up to 11. And just because one veteran writer managed to hold on, doesn’t make it any easier for the next one.

Not that I’m putting my book in the same league, but we’ve all heard the stories about works of genius like Confederation of Dunces – which took decades and miraculous patience to find a publisher (from the authors mother after he committed suicide) – or even huge bestsellers like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – which went out to over a dozen publishers before finding a buyer. There are undoubtedly countless good novels that never managed to make it to print at all! And as fraught with hazards as the process of finding a publisher was in the late 20th century, it’s almost certainly much harder today – with more competition and fewer publishers than ever – and on top of that, most publishers are less willing to take chances!

In the end, all the sizable publishers have their eyes on the bottom line – which encompasses not just breakout potential but follow-up potential – and no one has ever accused me of being prolific, so it seems unlikely that I will turn on a dime and suddenly start churning books out – although I may have a few surprises in store – in fact, I promise I do.

But before I start tilting at those particular windmills, I have to ask myself, “Do I really want to go there?”

I’ve never had much success in the American mainstream or genre markets. Other than a nod, a wink, or an acknowledgement here or there (mostly from American writers as opposed to publishers), most of the success I have had is with Canadian small publishers. No matter how exceptional this particular novel may be, throwing myself at the same markets that have been blithely turning me away for 40 years, seems like a recipe for disaster. Their expectations –based on my publishing history – are likely to be quite limiting. Getting turned down by a succession of agents and/or publishers is unlikely to boost my self-confidence. 
I just have to cling to the conviction that it may well have little to do with the quality of the book. It may be better to write under a non de plume and hope to be “discovered.”

On the astronomical chance that my tactics (whichever ones I use) actually work, what then? A multi-book deal? Hmmm. I’ve known too many exceptional writers who have been published by established genre publishers and been totally trapped in the mid-list – working in every spare minute to produce to unreasonable deadlines and expected to outperform the previous book each time out, in the face of decreasing support from the publisher, distributors, bookstores. Print less, sell more! Yikes! Charles Dickens would blanch. I can’t count the number of writers I know who have been trapped in this sort of puzzle box, with grave concerns about promotion, distribution, and the publisher’s dedication to helping their books succeed. It’s really hard to keep their careers going as publishers “cut back.” And what large publishers these days are not cutting back?

Writers picked up by big “mainstream” and or venerated “literary” houses seem to do far better on average than those picked up by genre houses. Small publishers can be a good entry point for prolific or early career writers – but the quality of their books vary widely – as does their power in the marketplace. Small genre houses are another story, since even the best of them tend to get nothing but disdain from the literary elite. There is nothing any of those publishers can do in the face of that disheartening phenomenon, except keep publishing the best work they can find and watch as their more successful authors are poached by the bigger players.

Prolific small publishers don’t seem as well regarded as the more selective ones. And many of them expect the Earth, the Sun and the Moon for an e-mail handshake and “future royalties.” Uh huh. And then they’ll add it to their website as one of the 22 books they’re “publishing” this month. There are so many good writers hoping to see their works in print by any means, that these pirates on the Sea of Crushed Dreams have no trouble filling their slots (no doubt by killing off the galley slaves they’ve already been bleeding dry for months or years).

I have been cautioned in the past by some well and fairly well-published friends about taking the self-publication route with a first novel. And I have seen for myself – as a consumer, a writer, a publisher and a competition judge, that there is automatically less respect given to projects that are clearly self-published. Funding bodies like Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council regard self-published work with more than a little suspicion.

But the world is definitely changing – it keeps changing and changing and changing. What was wrong 2 years ago is going to be right 20 minutes from now (maybe for a duration of about 20 minutes). All of which leads me to believe, quite strongly, that there are no wrong or right answers, approaches, philosophies or attitudes.

All any of us can do is apply some of the lessons and methods we have learned in our lives, and hope we’re using them right, and that maybe we stumble onto some new and effective ways of doing things.

I’ve seen as many examples recently of people getting rich from self-published projects as the folks who have entered the front ranks through traditional publishing routes.

So what conclusions have I come to? Well, none yet, to tell the truth.
Every publication route out there has major problems and concerns. And entering into a traditional contract with traditional publishers in the traditional way – seems like the least promising and least rewarding conceivable path for those who aren’t already among the acclaimed new voices in any field. For some writers, they’re perfect, but for the rest of us, there’s probably a better way.

So my first step is going to be getting the novel in the best shape I can get it into – then simply putting something out there in the pre-publication stages in an attempt to create a buzz. With the advent of print-on-demand, I think I can come up with some pretty snazzy looking galleys and beta-versions that I can send to a select group of readers, critics, publishers, agents, random readers, tv studios. (Anyone who’s interested can drop me a line – through the comment section –  although I will definitely be selective, since each pre-publication copy represents money out of pocket for me.) I’d like to fuck around a bit with the process – produce galleys and beta-copies with different covers (future collectors items, should miracles happen). If I’m going to do a marketing experiment, it makes sense to do it with a book that I feel genuinely has the potential to take off. That way, if I do stumble into something brilliant – I’ll be in a position to reap the rewards.

And if it doesn’t take off – I’ll have one of the most interesting failed vanity projects around – and some really nice copies of a book that I’m genuinely proud of. (May even be able to sell enough of them to make my money back). Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Please stay tuned for future developments.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Inevitability of Politics

I have always voted, and at the age of 17, even campaigned for Liberal candidate Mel Hurtig in Edmonton. He lost by a landslide to a career politician whose major claim to fame was the two months he spent as the House of Commons speaker who refused to allow an emergency debate on the American deployment of Bomarc missiles on Canadian soil - thus bringing the minority Conservative government crashing down. 
I lost respect for politics and most politicians, at around the time that Hurtig made his unmemorable exit - an attitude that my eight month stint working for the government in BC in the nineties failed to change. I remember two different Social Credit ministers during my short time there, and neither of them impressed me as people who cared about anything beyond getting elected and appointed to cabinet in the first place. I guess they wanted to be perceived by the electorate as doing a good job, but not enough to, you know, actually do a good job. They were surprisingly ignorant of the issues – leaving that sort of ‘detail’ to their Deputy Ministers and Communications departments. Once again, my light brush with politics left me disaffected and scornful. In a world run by big business, politicians tend to be ineffective at best, complicit or corrupt at worst.
In 2004, I started publishing a magazine to help newcomers settle in Canada. It was worthwhile venture that actually did help Canadian newcomers to find resources and get settled in Canada - and it was recognized as a good idea by a number of Liberal cabinet ministers. The Immigration Minister, Judy Sgro, was a good hearted, open-minded person who did her job well. The future Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, was doing a great job of representing one of the most ethnically diverse ridings in the country - which was just down the street from my magazine's office. Support and goodwill abounded, from all levels of government. But, despite my efforts to keep the publication studiously non-partisan, everything went to hell shortly after Stephen Harper’s PC’s took power in Ottawa.  Seeing first hand the ephemeral nature of politics did nothing to assuage my previous negative feelings.
All the while, my fiction remained completely unaffected by politics. I never had the urge to write a political science fiction story in the vein of 1984. I was never tempted to write anything didactic or allegorical like Animal Farm. I never ventured into imaginary politics as in fantasy books like The Goblin Emperor – or write works that were innately political, like most of Guy Gavriel Kay’s fiction.
But there comes a time when politics becomes – if not impossible – then, at least, unwise to ignore. Books written during the rise and and for quite awhile after the fall of the Nazi regime in Germany could not help but be aware of human rights and human rights abuses. Lots of allegorical books and stories were written. In a charged political climate, fiction can’t help but be effected by the pervading mood, tensions, and concerns of the times. During and after the rise and fall of the Third Reich, fiction tended to be deeply philosophical – examining the vagaries of human nature and the human condition. Wilder, Sartre,  Hemingway, Ayn Rand, Camus all wrote bestsellers at the start of that era. Much work of the time dealt, at least allegorically with issues affecting the world.  A great deal of the fiction dealt with the theme of overcoming adversity, and a few books, like John Steinbeck’s 1942 novel, The Moon is Down, offered a slight variation and commentary on real world events.
A similar effect happened during  the cold war, with a sense of paranoia and distrust running through many of the most popular books and movies of the time. The cold war went of for long enough that much of the fiction published at the end of the span dealt directly with themes like espionage, nuclear threat and other cold war issues.
With the modern swing toward instant news online and rampant self publishing, political preoccupations and issues start coming to  the fore almost as soon as incidents happen and political concerns take over public consciousness.
It was bad enough when the worst aspects of politics were weak kneed and corrupt politicians, but now that celebrity, notoriety and big business have slopped all over the political spectrum, we have politics driven by ego, personal profit and extreme narcissism. We see the rise of politicians who could potentially make Hitler look like a boy scout. All this at a time when the world is at a tipping point that there is no coming back from. This is, unavoidably, going to affect every aspect of current literature and preoccupy, or at least distract, every artist sharing in this reality. Anyone who cares and humanity or the state of the world – if not already political – is going to get that way.

So much for being non-political.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

On Blooming Late

So, when I was 25, I remember looking around to find writers who experienced great success before the age of 30. I was hopeful. Ambitious. And ultimately, disappointed. Oh there were lots of writers who came out of the gate like being shot out of a cannon. I just wasn’t one of them.

A few weeks back, I googled “writers who publish their first novel after the age of 60”.

Came up with a couple hits, including an article from The Atlantic about great literary late bloomers. Not just good, but great. So it has been done and done well. Time flies, hope springs eternal and WTF??? Over 60 and still haven’t published a novel? My 25 year self would be so ashamed. In fact, he’s standing behind me right now and whacking me with something wet and sticky that smells horrible. Or maybe I’ve just filled my adult diaper again. These things are so confusing.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Reminiscing about my path to glory. My younger self was such a cheeky little prick – thinking that the best way to fame and fortune was to break as many taboos as possible. But no. Turns out that’s just a good way to embarrass yourself with stuff that’s so irredeemably politically incorrect that you want to do nothing more than bury it. But – of course, this is the internet age, so  nothing stays buried. Nothing to do but own it. So if you find something of mine that deserves to be buried, please just go to a different web page and forget you ever saw it. I have already forgotten it. 

Don’t know whether that’s the old age or these gummies I’ve been sucking on. Joy for the toothless generation.

What was I saying?

Right. Literary late bloomers. I need your support, eh. Are these bloomers are supposed to be worn under the diapers or over? It ain’t the writing that’s hard – it’s remembering where I put my reading glasses.

So anyhoo, to that end I’m going to cut and paste my entire novel into this blog entry. It’s “CTRL-X,” right?


What does the CTRL stand for? And where’d I put that novel. Don’t worry. I’ll find it. I’m nothing, if not persistent.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Becoming a Legend in my Own Mind - and why that might be good enough

Over 50 published short stories and no novel. What’s that about?

I’ve been writing seriously since I was about 15. For a few years, in the late 80s and early 90s, I was fairly prolific, publishing upwards of eight stories in one year. I spent a long time pushing the envelope, trying to be edgy – and I even succeeded on occassion. One in three stories I’ve written over my lifetime was good enough to be selected to appear in my collection, Psychedelia Gothique, which contained 17 stories – several of which had been nominated for Aurora Awards, Pushcart Prizes and the like. A number of my stories appeared in small scale “Best of” anthologies – with pieces in Wild Things Live There (The Best of Northern Frights), The Best of Eotu Magazine, and the Sign of the Times 20 Year Anthology. A couple of my pieces appeared in newsstand magazines and in the same table of contents with some of my favourite authors. Writers I admire reviewed several of my stories very favourably. A magazine I co-published and edited featured work by big name writers, and was nominated for numerous awards. And I currently need just a couple more pieces to round out a second story collection. 

But unless your name is Harlan Ellison, short stories alone, even award winning ones, do not make much of a career in genre fiction. And mine are award-nominated at best. Fringy stuff – including some embarrassing work that survives in dark corners of the web, despite my best efforts to expunge it. My comeback (nine new stories in three years) after a twelve year writing hiatus has gone mostly unnoticed. If I wanted excuses, I could fall back on the psychiatrist visits a few years back that revealed that I most likely have undiagnosed ADD. What could I do with a gnat-like attention-span? Unfortunately, excuses aren’t much of a balm. What I need are novels. A whole spate of great, late-career novels! Yay! I’m a closet Tolkien. 

No, really.

I have written some novels. Sure, I’ve never sent them out, and  have shown them to hardly anyone. A few people have said some encouraging things about them. A few others conspicuously haven’t. But what do I care? I’m now writing one of the great novels of the 21st century. Or at least, as long as I keep it more or less to myself, I can imagine that it’s one of the great novels of this century. Seriously, I tell myself all the time, that it has the potential to become my breakout work – to fulfill my dream. And who are you to say it isn’t or doesn’t? Have you read it? Of course not. Because I haven’t shown it to you.

Which brings me to another cusp. It’s time to show it to people – to finally reveal my hidden genius or tragic lack thereof. After all, if I follow the same ratio as my short stories, there are two duds for every genuinely good story. And this will be my third finished novel. It’s about time! And, as an added bonus, I now have the maturity to realize that even if the world doesn’t fall on it with the glad cries I feel it deserves, I will have written something I am profoundly proud of. 

Avenging Glory is very much a novel of our time. And for somebody who has spent the past 20 years outside of the writing establishment – for someone who fears he couldn’t find the zeitgeist with both hands if it flew up his own ass – for someone who never went to Clarion or got stories in the major publications – I have to say, this is (going to be) a pretty kickass novel. 

Publication and wide acclaim are wonderful, desirable things – things that this book might well never achieve (beyond self-publication and self-aggrandizing bluster at any rate). But it’s almost done. And I promise that it will be world-class and groundbreaking and fun! And if I’m the only one in the world who thinks so…at least I really, truly think so. I will have succeeded on my own terms. And who else’s terms really matter? Those folks with the money? That would be nice. But as long as I manage to write the book I have always wanted to read, then the money is honestly just a perk. And the lack of it won’t keep me from embracing my personal success. 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Support this Project

Government funding of all kinds is notoriously unstable and fickle. A change of government often means the end of funding for some worthy organizations and the beginning of funding for others. I get that it’s often offered as seed money – after which point, citizens now aware of and grateful for a particular service are expected to take up the slack, which is great in theory but (in my experience) seldom works in practice.

The only expectations funding should be contingent upon is whether or not the money is used as promised and does the greatest good for the greatest number of people who genuinely need that support.

Which is why I am puzzled by the loss of funding from the Ontario Arts Council for the ChiSeries/Chiaroscuro reading series.

In case you don’t know much, or anything, about it – ChiSeries is a public reading series run and hosted by Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory - Ontarians both - and publishers of the celebrated ChiZine Publications which has won all sorts of awards and published gorgeous books by some of the best literary, speculative fiction authors in the world, including Craig Davidson, Helen Marshall, Tony Burgess, Caitlin Sweet, Michael Rowe, and Gemma Files.

An important venue for newcomers and veteran writers alike – ChiSeries has built community, by hosting genre fiction readings and other literary events – for thousands if not ten of thousands of attendees in Toronto, Ottawa, Guelph, Peterborough, and Windsor – as well as major cities in other provinces. The hundreds of authors and performers (readers do not need to be ChiZine authors; ie: While I have never been published by ChiZine, I am grateful for the opportunity to have done a couple of Chiseries readings.) not only get to present their work to receptive, enthusiastic audiences – they get paid for doing it! If there ever was an arts project that deserved government funding, this is it. Hopefully, the Ontario Government will eventually come back to its senses and renew their support. But in the meantime, Brett and Sandra have had to look for other ways to keep this great reading series going. One of the best ways to support them is by attending – because then you get get to enjoy the wonderful music, stories and camaraderie firsthand. But there are other ways.

So if you like reading, writing – or even just watching great sci-fi, fantasy and horror – you’d be doing a good deed for creators across Canada by dropping into the their website and making a five or ten dollar donation. Visit to find out about readings in your area and maybe make a Paypal donation. And spread the word about their Kickstarter in September 2017. 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

My little bookshelf of publications has always been my most prized possession - the first thing in the house I'd save in a fire after all the living creatures were safe - the only tangible evidence of my years of hard work.

My first published story was in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. It was available on my local newstand plus several others in town. I think I bought six copies. Holding it in my hand gave me something much like a new car feeling. Sort of a "new me feeling."

That natural high lasted for a week.

When I sold a story to Pulphouse The Hardcover Magazine issue 1 and appeared alongside Harlan Ellison, Ed Bryant, Kate Wilhelm, Charles de Lint and Michael Bishop, I bought at least four extra copies, gave some away and sold the other two.

Despite more than half a dozen fiction sales over the past three years, my bookshelf has stopped growing.The bookcase contains very little printed since 2010. Now everything is virtual. And I do hope people discover and read these publications - even though my only evidence they ever appeared is my bibliography coupled with my increasingly leaky memory along with an e-pub or pdf in some subfile of a subfile. Somehow, it doesn't sound like much of a legacy anymore. I guess it's more important now than ever to point readers to those publications, so...

The Colored Lens: Spring 2017 by [Sengupta, Tamoha, Roth, J. J., Cleden, David, Ryan, Peter, Bilsborough, Mark, L. Sproule, Dale, Johe, Serena, Wijeyeratne, Subodhana, Olsen, Madeline, Miller, A.P.]I'm proud to say, that The Colored Lens #23 (Spring 2017) contains my story, "Ladder of Ashes" - a ghost story set in an old British settlement in Myanmar.
(Read my story, "Along Dominion Road" from issue #17 free here)

As of February, my story (with Sally McBride), "The Birthing Blades," is in the anthology Unbound 2 - Changed Worlds. (This one has a POD version available, but doesn't send authors hard-copies as part of payment)

In Winter 2017, my story "Two Yurts" will appear in Hidden Animals: A Collection of Cryptids from Dragon's Roost Press.

None of those are in my bookcase (although as soon as my Pal Pal account gets reloaded, I will buy a copy of Unbound 2). Nor are they at risk in case of fire. They exist only as virtual entities. I have to confess that the internet has taken away something very precious to me.

I've read quite a few books on readers and tablets. Most I happily release back into the electrical field. But when I like them, I almost always want to reread them in hardcopy.

That's not a point of view that gets expressed often, because we all want to be seen as forward thinking, environment friendly and responsible.

But, I have always been a very tactile person, which explains why I was drawn to sculpting. Online art is hard to appreciate - since my mind can't put a value on it and my material self can't pine for it - I can have it whenever I want it.

So, as much as I am proud of my recent and upcoming story sales, I am wishing that modern publishers still gave writers and artists something to hold in their hands. It is lovely to get paid, and Pay Pal is handy when I feel the urge to go music shopping. But I would take a single samisdat assemblage of staplebound pages - with my story inside as payment - rather than cash. And if I thought your publication was cool enough, I'd buy copies for friends, family and self-promotion.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Is That the Best You Can Do?

As we were setting up our first ever sculpture show, my partner, Laura, and I, were photographing the pieces. Noticing the absence of one of my oldest sculptures during the photoshoot, Laura asked, "What have you done with The Ponderer?"

"Oh," I said, "He's on the shelf in the guest bedroom downstairs."

"You should bring him up for the photos."

By the end of the day, he still had not appeared.

"I'm sensing that you don't like that sculpture very much?" she said.

I agreed.

But she didn't let it go. "What don't you like about it?"

"It's just I dunno, it's just blocky and dull."

Laura nodded agreement. "Sorta grey?"

Ponderer - 2015

"More swampy. I thought it was going to be so spectacular when I was working on it and then, when I polished it up, it was just sort of mud coloured."

That conversation while setting up for the show stuck in my head, and got me thinking about ways to make it less blocky. I brought it upstairs and started looking at it critically.

I needed to add more detail to make the sculpture effective from all angles. So, I took it out to our workshop and went at it with the rasps, adding a curve here, a scallop there, and paid lots of attention to things like harmonious planes and angles and exposing different layers of colour.

Reflector - back

Laura had pointed out that I never even bothered to finish the back of it properly. The part of
the surface that had been left raw was as exciting as concrete. I felt that I should make the shape even more dynamic to make up for the dullness of the colour. But as I got down to the sanding stage, I remembered how high my hopes had been for this sculpture - because the colour and marbling were incredibly vibrant and translucent and transforming – a vivid bolt of golden lightening running through it.

I decided that if I could see all the rich colours and organic detail while sanding, it had to be possible to make it visible in the finished sculpture.

I just needed to do a better job of buffing and waxing. We had much finer sandpaper available now than we had when I had first worked on The Ponderer in 2010 or thereabouts. The three grades of paper I'd used had finished the piece to a high gloss, but left the viewer with the feeling of glimpsing the colours through six feet of pondwater. If it was possible to bring out the colours, I swore to do it.

I worked on faith for more than a week, doing the sanding an hour or two at a time. Usually one or two grades a day, through 80, 100, 120, 150, 220, 320, 400, 600, 1200 and 2000. I cleaned up the nooks and crannies as I went along. I didn't know for sure that the extra effort would pay off until I reached 600 grit – and it began to glow. The 1200 and 2000 grades of sandpaper made the golds and yellows more vibrant and the contrasts even more dramatic.

It has become one of my most impressive pieces. The Ponderer struck me as a rather ponderous name for a sculpture with so many dramatic curves and planes and angles. Now, the stone doesn't just speak – it sings in ancient tongues. I thought maybe, Reflector would be more appropriate. Two years ago, I had completely given up on this sculpture and declared the attempt an artistic misstep. Now, it's clear I was on the right path all along, but didn't trust my own instincts and abilities. I had told myself "This doesn't work," rather than asking myself, "Why isn't this working?" or "How do I fix it?"

The same technique should work on stories.

Why isn't this working? Because it's too expository, doesn't draw the reader in, has shallow characters, ends where it should be starting...yada, yada, yada. If I find an answer, I'll ask myself  "How do I fix it?" And then do it. So simple, right?  Why don't I do that all the time?

Because it works best with a special set of circumstances. It has to be something that inspired me to work at the highest level possible for me at the time. And which I have since gained the skill to execute much more professionally. Revisiting that sculpture made it so clear what I needed to done and I am so grateful to Laura for urging me to do it.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Stories from the Near-Future goes LIVE

There's nothing better than having your stories republished in a great venue that you're proud to appear in. I'm pleased to say that's happening to me now!

My near-future, grimy-black comedy story "Bad Copies" appears in Stories from the Near-Future.

You can pick up the paperback at Amazon:  - and Stories From the Near Future earns my respect and devotion by sending every contributor a hard-copy book (no longer a perk writers can count on)!

If you don't care about hard-copies  - then you can get the e-book for $2.99 from Kindle or Amazon. 

Kindle link: 

Congratulations to editor Andrew McRae and all the writers published within the pages of this handsome book. Now...go order your very own copy.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

When Excitement Turns to Ennui

Finding out that one of your stories is shortlisted or held for a second or third reading is exciting. It fills you with delicious anticipation (tinged with a bit of dread that you'll find a rejection slip every time you check your e-mail). But as the weeks and months drag on, any excitement inevitably turns to ennui.

After four or five months, the anticipation goes away entirely because all you have come to expect is another day, another week, another month of waiting. It does dull the pain when the rejection finally comes. Hurt and frustration are replaced by relief. You may understandably feel a bit of anger if you've waited six or eight months and all you get in the end is a form rejection. After that length of time, a conscientious publication should send you at least a personal rejection.

This entire process is repeated ten or twelve times a year when you have a lot of stories on the go. That's when publications like Clarkesworld and F&SF become a panacea. Sure you will almost certainly get a form rejection – but it generally just takes a day or two – sometimes a week. Getting rejected so fast it makes your head spin can feel invigorating after months and months of waiting. And these editors sometimes send out personal rejections. A personal rejection in five days is SO much better than a form rejection after eight months. Doesn't matter how mercenary their process is! Doesn't matter if they don't read past the first line...first paragraph...first page. Fine! Those publications earn your loyalty and subscriptions.

Then there are the other occasions, when the market you've submitted your story to responds with an acceptance rather than a rejection. Oh happy day! Does it make up for all the waiting? Hmm. If there are enough sales, they might. Enough to give you a feeling of having momentum – three or four sales in a season. Heck, that many sales in a year feels like pretty good momentum to many writers. But one sale? Especially if it pays less than professional rates. Sure, it's nice, but…meh. No offence to the wonderful editors who have published my work - but that's one story out of twelve - or twenty. And by the time it gets accepted, my enthusiasm about the story itself tends to have waned a bit.

Then, there's usually an additional wait for publication. Four months, eight months, a year. If you've been writing for a long time, you've undoubtedly experienced what it's like having a story accepted only to have the publication go under before they get around to publishing your story. Or paying you for it.

Robert Runte recently mentioned on the SF Canada listserver that the worst thing that can happen to a writer is landing in the "maybe" pile. Robert once bought one of my stories for Tesseracts 5. I was in his "maybe" pile for months and would have been rejected if he hadn't fought hard with the publisher to add pages – which allowed him to buy my story along with a couple others. Generally, visits to the maybe pile don't have such happy endings. And once you reach a certain level of competence, without achieving a commensurate level of acclaim or recognition, that's where you tend to spend a great deal of time.

I've been thinking about changing my name. Mr. Maybe is sorta catchy. I might actually do it. Just let me think about it for six or eight more months. Then again, I might be too bored by then to actually make a decision.