It usually doesn’t work out this way.
Usually I write a new short story, and I brace myself for two years or longer before it sells.
I have two stories I wrote in 2016 that still haven’t sold. Two stories that have been rejected more than fifty times each.
I have a story called ‘Character Driven’ I first wrote as a screenplay way back in 2005 before I eventually turned it into a short story in 2017 and received dozens of rejections over the course of eighteen months before it finally sold to a paperback anthology.
I’ve even had stories that took four years to sell, like my piece of creative non-fiction ‘A Window to Dreams’ which I wrote in 2012 and then sold to a literary magazine in 2016.
And like my story ‘I’ll See You in the Morning,’ one of my favorites I’ve ever written, which I wrote the first draft of in May of 2015. I revised this story more than a dozen times and I collected probably seventy to eighty rejections on it before it finally sold to an online literary magazine earlier this year.
Let’s just say I’ve had my share of difficulty with trying to sell my short stories. I don’t write too many of them — one or two a year — and so each one means a great deal to me.
Earlier this year I wrote my newest short story, ‘Walter.’
This was my first story I’d written after receiving my MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Reno, in 2018, and the process of it was kind of great.
For the first time in years, I was writing a story I knew wasn’t going to be workshopped. That I was writing more for me than anybody else.
I had an encounter with a homeless man last March in Portland, Oregon, where I was attending the AWP Writers Conference, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the encounter when I was traveling home to Reno. I thought those ten seconds or so held the nugget for a new story.
Wouldn’t you know it, in mid-April of this year I sent the latest draft of my middle grade horror novel off to my literary agent, and I suddenly found myself with two to three weeks with no creative project to work on.
These periods don’t happen to me too often, actually. Usually I’m writing the first draft of one novel and then revising the fifth draft of a second novel and then maybe tinkering away on the twelfth draft of a third novel. I usually jump from one project to the next all throughout the year, with little time to dedicate to a new short story.
But suddenly I saw myself with three weeks to work on something new, and the encounter with the homeless man was still lingering in my mind.
So I wrote the story. And I wrote it really fast.
I wrote the first draft in five days. I started it on a Monday morning. I finished it on a Friday morning. I wrote 800 words a day, and the first draft was 4,000 words exactly. The original title was ‘Spare Any Change?’
The following week I changed the title to ‘Walter’ and I cut about 300 words and added about 200 new words.
The third week I cut another 300 words, got the manuscript to a place I felt really good about it, and then I let the story rest for a month.
At the end of May, I read through the story one more time, tweaked a few final things, then sent the story off to ten literary magazines.
I hoped I might hear back from a few of them throughout the summer. I heard back from half of them. All rejections. But that was okay. I’m used to rejections.
In June I sent it to two more magazines, and at the end of July I came across a literary magazine called Bosque Journal that took literary stories under 5,000 words and ONLY accepted submissions between July 1 and July 31! So I sent it off quickly. The editors at Bosque rejected a story I wrote last year, so I didn’t have high hopes.
On Tuesday afternoon, I received an e-mail.
I’ve been hard at work on other projects. I haven’t even been thinking about ‘Walter’ much lately.
I heard the ding sound from my phone telling me I had a new e-mail. I clicked on my inbox. And saw the following word.
That really is a great word, isn’t it? Especially when you’re a writer. Acceptance. Not rejection. For once in my lifetime, it’s not rejection.
I figured I’d was going to be sending ‘Walter’ to literary magazines well into 2020 and beyond. And I was okay with that, honestly. It’s my philosophy that you should send out a short story 100 times before you give up, after all.
I felt it’d be a miracle for this new story to be accepted in less than a year. I didn’t think I was going to hear any good news this summer, that’s for sure.
So color me surprised when I learned that the story was accepted by the editors of Bosque Journal, a well-regarded paperback literary magazine, and will be published in its ninth issue this November! How cool, is that?
This brings me number of story acceptances on Submittable.com to 5.
5 acceptances, and 428 rejections. Yep, you read that right.
This great news about my latest story is further proof that if you want to be successful as a fiction writer, you can never give up. You have to keep going no matter what. You might go a whole year receiving rejection after rejection. You might think your fiction is worth absolutely nothing.
And then one day, you discover your fiction is worth something. That it’s actually worth more than you thought. You discover you have talent, that you have something to say. Someone out there loved your story… and you’re about to be a published author!
Amazing moments like this one is exactly why the writing journey is worth taking.
Because when you’re rejected most of the time, an acceptance is truly an out-of-body experience.
My little story I wrote mostly for me is now going to be released into the world later this year… and I couldn’t be more excited.
It’s like what I’ve said before. You won’t get rich writing short stories, but if you love writing fiction, if you want to have a long career, it’s worth doing anyway.
So do what I did. Write the next story, revise it a few times, send it out widely.
And then see what happens.