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. 

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