Today I sold my first fiction story. It’s hard to express my thoughts and feelings. I will keep working hard, and I will eventually sell more, but today I am elated.
Below are some musings and reflections on what led me to today’s achievement. This is hardly to say that I am an expert after a single publication; it’s a list of things I think I did right that might be useful ideas for others. I have read many tips on getting published from experts. They doubtless have more experience than me, but they got published when the industry was really different. They have had years to gain some distance from the hard emotions associated with the process.
- I learned to finish projects. I used to be good at big ideas and poor at execution. I made grand plans and I never finished anything. I dreamed but I didn’t labor. I credit grad school and aging for teaching me to finish and work on the long scale. The Fairy Tales collection featured on the side of this page was the first big project I finished; it took about a year.
- I exposed my work. For some people, this is easy. It was very hard for me. To me, exposing my work involves more than having others read my work–it’s about hearing what they say about it. Unlike engineering, writing is subjective (which is terrifying!). If enough people say it’s bad, they’re likely right. As a first step, I started this blog, slightly over a year ago. Then I joined a local writing group.
- I accepted critique. This is related to the point above. Of course I think my work is good, but sometimes it just isn’t. If one reader didn’t get the joke, maybe they’re a little dense. If several didn’t, the joke wasn’t properly conveyed. I’ve met a lot of other aspiring writers who are uncomfortable with this fact. It’s very hard. I wrote in a vacuum for years; sometimes I got it wrong. I got great critique at critters.org.
- I wrote regularly. For the first several months of this blog, I posted three times a week. Three times a week I had to say something (semi) coherent. My writing group has a monthly theme, and I made myself write something every month. It wasn’t always good, but that was good motivation. Recently I’ve been writing at least one writing prompt a week and posting it here. This month I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo.
- I submitted. And I submitted and I submitted. Stories are rejected for tons of reasons; inadequacy is just the tip. Many places accept only 1% of what they get. Some places only publish half a dozen stories a year. Some places are vague about what they are looking for (in my experience, beware the “we never get enough of x” statement). Sometimes they already have a story about a cat, or a story where the protagonist is disappointed, or a horror story, or an intimate first person story. Any of the above are reasons to get rejected. My story got rejected three times before it got accepted; it was the 32nd thing I submitted since the end of June. My favorite story has been rejected 8 times so far. Others in my writing group have excellent work that they have submitted and have had rejected. And then they stopped.
- I researched those markets. I read what they said about themselves. I used places like The Submission Grinder and Duotrope to find out their response times. A lot of my rejections have come from sending pieces to unsuitable markets–it’s hard, but I got better at it.
But mostly, I am so happy. I worked hard and got very frustrated sometimes. This post is as much to motivate myself as anything, since the journey is hardly begun. I hope it will be useful to others as well.