My first submission to WotF resulted in an Honorable Mention. I received that Honorable Mention in the late evening of September 16. The fourth quarter submission window closes on September 30. Shoot.
I scrambled to tell a story that had hung out in my brain in one form or another since a particularly visceral dream some years ago. It was a story about one person facing loss, making a series of very bad choices in a desperate attempt to avoid that loss, and ultimately paying the price for those choices.
It was rejected.
It should have been.
The major problem with this story was that there weren’t really characters. Everyone existed as a shallow cutout whose choices, actions, and presence only served to move the events along. The story was about the POV character facing the imminent death of his loved one, and that loved one was pretty much only there to be lost. It was bad characterization, and bad plotting.
Here’s the lesson I hadn’t yet learned: Short stories are stories. They aren’t vessels for Something Cool to Happen. They aren’t delivery mechanisms for Whoa Concept. They are stories. Complete stories have all manner of characteristics (beginning-middle-end, try-fail cycles, character arcs, and more), and what I submitted wasn’t a story. It was a delivery mechanism for Whoa Concept.
So, after doing a little post-mortem on the story, I looked for silver linings.
Here’s a few:
First, rejections are a fact of life. Dan Wells, said this on Twitter a while back and it stuck out to me:
Just in case you thought this job was easy: I’m a NYT bestseller, & so far this year I’ve had 6 rejections from publishers. It’s never easy.
— Dan Wells (@TheDanWells) September 12, 2017
So, if a NYT Bestseller gets rejected, then learning to deal with it seems like it might just be something I should wrap my head around.
Here’s another: Your story wasn’t good enough, buddy. The contest draws lots of entrants, many (or most) of which are really good. You thought you could whip together any old thing and it’d place? Phwa. Just you wait ’til you’re submitting against thousands of pros, not thousands of amateurs. Figure out what wasn’t great about your story and get better.