We’ve reached the end of the Alphabet Blog Challenge!  Thanks very much to Arlee Bird of tossing it out for proposing it to us.  I’ve found some new blogs to read.

Thanks also to everyone who stopped by to read mine.  I appreciate your comments.  I hope to see you back again soon!

I’ve been tested by posting every day.  Sometimes I’ve had to ask friends and colleagues for suggestions, and they’ve come through wonderfully.  I tried to acknowledge their suggestions.  I’ve decided to post at least three times a week and continue my tradition of Saturday’s post being about whatever I want.  If it’s a writing or art subject, fine; if not, I’ll try to make it entertaining.  But I won’t bore you with too much personal junk, I promise.

I call this post Zygote because if you use a baby as an analogy, that’s where my writing career is right now.  It’s not even into fetal stage yet.  I have only published one story so far, in my school literary magazine, but I count that.  It’s an unusual story; you can check it out on the Read Me page.  I liked it, and the editors of the magazine claimed they did also.

In the zygote stage, it’s easy to get discouraged.  Sending out queries or submissions with only rejections or no reply at all (another rejection) wearies a person.  But it’s the only way to do it.  It will pay off when (not if!) I get where I’m going.  I refuse to give up, because I’m nothing if not persistent.  Maybe I have no other purpose on this earth, but I can’t believe I’ve been given an ability I’m not meant to use.  In the meantime, I’m learning.

To succeed as a writer or artist, you must be able to admit that you don’t know everything.  I thought I was good and I’m not bad, but there is much I can do to make my work better.  You shouldn’t be afraid to seek out those things, whether it’s marketing advice or craft.

Learn as much as you can about the business end of things.  There’s a ton of info out there on the Internet.  Let’s face it; in today’s world, if you’re not on the Net you’re not going to be able to keep up.  Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, websites all help writers to gain readers and promote their work.

Most of those who have run the gauntlet that is the publishing process are kind enough to share the perils and pitfalls with the rest of us, and this little zygote is very grateful to them.  People have no idea how writing works, and publishing even less.  It makes doing the initial work to get your career off the ground that much more frustrating.

I’ll keep you updated on my journey.  Until then I’ll attempt to be as entertaining and informative as I can.  See you next time!


I apologize for posting my Y post late.  Here it is, for your enjoyment.  I’ll get the Z post up soon.

I found an interesting word that I thought I’d share with you for my letter Y post.

Yellowback (aka sensation novel) – cheap pulp fiction from the nineteenth century; what some would qualify as airport novels today.  Called that because the color of the jacket was often a bright mustard yellow.

During the Industrial Revolution, mass production of goods began, and suddenly anyone with the money could fill his house with all manner of furniture, linens and accessories.  A look at the Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck catalogs from the late 1800s reveals a plethora of items for sale, including books.

The yellowbacks followed the penny dreadful, the best known of which is Varney the Vampire, or The Feast of Blood, a gory, overwrought vampire tale that could be purchased for a pittance and was widely devoured by the mass market.  The cheap pulp books of the day tended toward what we now call genre, or category fiction.

Category fiction falls into several areas:


Usually man and woman; mutual attraction and love; almost always has a happy ending.  The happy endings and Three’s Company-type misunderstandings which keep the characters apart are why I don’t read straight romance novels.  But then, I lean more toward the dark side.  It has cookies.


Criminals are usually protagonists.  Can involve cops/detectives, courtroom drama, and the like.  Generally, the perpetrators of the crimes are known.


A detective, forensics expert or amateur sleuth.  The majority of them are whodunit novels, where the perpetrator is unknown to the reader and to the detective, with a reveal at the end.


Think Commando, with missions, jungles, weapons, and machismo.  I know that’s a movie, but it’s a great example of the genre.  Also David Morrell’s First Blood, the novel Rambo came from.

Speculative fiction

Includes fantasy and science fiction, is a broader term for those.  Fantasy involves invented worlds, magic, supernatural beings.  Science fiction is science, technology, and future-oriented and can be hard, where technology drives the plot, or soft and more character-oriented.  Alternate worlds fall into this category also.


A subgenre of fantasy, horror tales are the monster stories, ghouls, ghosts, and reanimated corpses seeking brains or revenge.  You can have straight monsters, like Pennywise in Stephen King’s IT or explore the terror within, as in Robert Bloch’s Psycho.


Cowboys, cattle drives, and water rights, just like the John Wayne movies.  Notable Western authors include Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry.

Literary fiction

Ha, got you! Literary fiction is not strictly genre, but it’s fiction and it’s a category.  So I’m putting it in.  It’s characterized by serious themes and great attention to style, depth and character development.

Category fiction is broad and malleable, and writers often combine elements of more than one genre in their work.  For example, you can write a romantic story set in an alternate universe, with magical elements.  Or like my book, where a relationship begins amidst a criminal setting, which would make it a romantic crime thriller.  Predator, while not a novel, is actually a monster (horror) movie in an action/adventure setting.  Sometimes this results in the invention of a new subgenre–vampire romance, for example–which if successful will spawn a score of imitators.

It’s recommended that you at least know what category your story falls into before you query, so you can target agents and publishers who handle that type of work.  One of the biggest reasons for rejection is sending a query to someone who doesn’t represent your kind of story.

It also gives them a better idea of where they can sell it.  Obviously your agent won’t want to take your romance novel to a horror publisher, unless it’s about monsters in love who tear down the city.  Hey, that actually sounds like something I would read…

Don’t worry if you think you’ve written a yellowback.  People have been slurping them up for over a century.  Some snobby people think genre fiction is not real writing, but tell that to Stephen King.  When your horror novel hits the bestseller list, you can laugh all the way to the bank.

X-actly What I Need!

I typed “X” into Google for today’s topic because the only word I had that began with X was xylophone.  I don’t play the xylophone!

Discovering that X-ACTO makes electric pencil sharpeners made me think about office supplies. You could lock me in a Staples with $10,000 and I could spend it all in no time.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE office supplies!

Writers use lots of office supplies.  Some we all need on a regular basis include:

  • Paper.  Probably the most used consumable item writers purchase.
  • Printer cartridges.  Expensive.  If you buy a laser printer, you will save money in the long run.  If you are making money from your writing, I think you can write off the expense on your taxes.  Alas, I spent $350 on a huge commercial laser printer and haven’t recouped the cost yet, but someday I will.  The advantage is it came from a company that will service it in my house if something goes wrong, unlike retail.
  • Pens, pencils.  Not so much anymore, unless you enjoy writing longhand.  With laptops and netbooks, who needs to?
  • Envelopes.  Catalog size for manuscripts, #10 for SASEs, business correspondence and invoicing.
  • Business cards.  Not strictly an office supply, but something a professional writer should have.
  • Shipping supplies. Being hopeful, I bought a bundle of nice, inexpensive plain boxes for mailing manuscripts.  No one’s asked yet.  Nuts!

Not everyone uses these, but they come in handy:

  • Markers. You can use different colors when editing your manuscript, to mark repetition, clichés, typos, things you like/dislike, etc.  This lovely idea came to me courtesy of Renni Browne and Dave King’s book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.  Besides, who doesn’t like markers?
  • File folders / cabinets. Unless you’re a die-hard digital devotee who immediately scans and backs up everything that crosses your desk, you no doubt have paper copies of rejections, manuscripts, correspondence, articles ripped from magazines, notes, etc.  You need somewhere to put them.
  • Sticky notes and page flags. They come in lots of colors.  I use them to mark pages in books when I’m researching, mark the stopping point in a hard-copy manuscript when I go back to work (I have to edit on my lunch hour sometimes), and to remind myself to do stuff.
  • Stackable letter trays.  I have seven of the plastic ones.  I keep things like envelopes, labels and those plastic sleeves in them.

Office supplies get expensive.  Look for coupons and sales.  Sometimes discount stores have cheaper versions of stuff like sticky notes.  The name brands are usually priced higher.

Check the flea markets.  I know that sounds wacky, but I found those letter trays there for a dollar each.  They retail around five or six bucks.  Pack rats will occasionally clear out their closets and stick all those lovely supplies in their booths.

I also found a leather padfolio with the name of a local hospital embossed on it (probably some kind of employee premium) and a pen for only four dollars.  It even had a blank legal pad inside.  I’ve seen address books, refillable appointment books / Dayrunners, and all kinds of notepads for next to nothing.  And you’re trying to set up an office, the flea market can be a great place to find cheap furniture.  Plus, you’re recycling!

If you love office supplies and have found a great way to save on them, or just want to list your favorites, please share with us in the comments.

Write Me a Letter

Writers spend a lot of time surfing the intertubes for magazines and agencies.  Numerous websites exist that aggregate submission calls, including NewPages.com, Duetrope’s Digest and various freelance market listings.  The most important page you’ll see on any magazine or agency site is the guidelines.

The short story market has shrunk from what it was years ago.  Competition is fierce, and screeners look for reasons to reject submitted material.  Pieces that don’t fit the guidelines are the first to go.

You have to tailor your submissions to the magazine itself.  If you’re writing articles, it makes sense to know you won’t be able to sell something about finance to American Cowboy, unless the article is about economical ways to board horses.  It has to address what the publication is looking for.  Same with an agency; you wouldn’t query a weepy historical romance to someone who is looking for crime thrillers or young adult fiction.

Fortunately magazines, literary journals and agents let writers know what type of material they seek.  Most websites have a page titled “Submissions” or “Guidelines.”  Read that page and then do what it says.   They use this information to screen submissions.  If yours doesn’t fit the guidelines, they don’t’ have to waste time reading it.  Too many pages, too many submissions to read and coddle each one.

Lots of agencies these days won’t even respond if they’re going to reject your work, so you might see something like “If you don’t hear from us within four months, assume we aren’t interested.”  Pretty clear, if you ask me.

I’ve seen literary journals whose submission instructions are so vague it sounds as though they are open to anything, but usually they’re not.  In those cases, read the journal if you can.  If the material is online and subscription only, go to the bookstore and find a copy.  You can sit at Barnes and Noble and read it; just don’t spill any coffee on it or you’ll be buying!  University libraries might have copies of literary journals also.

Guidelines do more than filter material.  They tell screeners if you can follow directions.  Think of it like answering a job advertisement.   You wouldn’t want to work with someone who can’t follow basic instructions, and neither do they.

Don’t assume each agency or publication’s submittal process is the same either.   Check!  Look on the website.  Very few don’t have websites now.  A lot of agents and magazines are going green and have switched to accepting email submissions and queries.  Remember, AN EMAIL QUERY IS STILL A BUSINESS COMMUNICATION.   You must take the same care with your letter as you would if you were mailing it.

Here’s a great post from Rachelle Gardner’s agent blog about why guidelines are so important.


Edited because in my first Batman example, someone pointed out the word “pounded” made them think of something other than hitting and resulted in unintentional hilarity!

Anybody remember this?

Schoolhouse Rock Verb: That’s What’s Happening!

If you don’t remember Schoolhouse Rock, you’re too young, and I’m truly sorry.  You missed out!

Verbs tell us like it is! They tell us what’s happening, what the character is doing.  How we use them makes the difference between exciting and boring, ho-hum writing.

What’s going on in this sentence?

  • The Joker was pummeled hard by Batman’s fist.  The crimson paint of his smile was enhanced by the blood from his mouth.

If you said, “Those sentences are passive,” congratulations.

Who is doing something in this passage?

Batman’s fist, or rather, Batman, since he pummels the Joker.  Joker just sits there and takes it.  Batman is the subject of the sentence, and Joker the object.  In passive construction, the subject of the sentence receives the action, instead of performing the action.

To keep the sentence from boring people to tears, you must remove the passive verbs and replace them with active verbs.  Active verbs tell readers what happens.  They have more flavor and color.

Using active verbs, the subject performs the action on the object, like this:

  • Batman pummeled the Joker.  Joker laughed.  Blood from his mouth enhanced his crimson-painted smile.

Batman acts upon Joker.  He does something.  The blood is the subject of the second sentence.  It adds to the red paint Joker likes to wear on his mouth.  The active sentences give a more dynamic feel to the passage, and we can see better what Batman is doing and how he does it.

Notice that the active construction takes fewer words.  Hard is unnecessary, because pummeled tells us how Batman hit Joker.  So is fist, since we know Batman pummels with his fists.  Active verbs tend to be more descriptive.

It’s not bad to use passive language sometimes.  It sounds more formal, for example, as in a police media liaison officer reading from a prepared statement.

  • The Joker was beaten by an unknown assailant.  It is believed the Batman may be responsible.

Official police reports are almost always written in passive language.  Besides formality, it maintains distance and a neutral tone.  Also, they don’t know who beat the Joker, so an actor is not present in the sentence.

  • All the stolen jewels were dissolved. (By what?  By who?  Again, we don’t know.)

You can also use that construction to establish character.  One Joker henchman telling another would probably not use the same language to describe the incident.

  • “Yeah, the Batman bashed his face in,” George said to Lenny.  “And I heard he laughed the whole freakin’ time.”

George’s story is plain and simple, using active language because that’s how most people speak.  He’s a down-to-earth character and doesn’t need to make a formal report.

A newscaster speaking of the same incident might use a bit of active language in his newscast:

  • “Sources say an unknown assailant beat the Joker badly.  Police suspect the mysterious vigilante known as the Batman,” the handsome blond anchor said.

Or, he might not:

  • “Sources say the Joker was beaten badly by an unknown assailant.  The mysterious vigilante known as the Batman is the police department’s prime suspect,” the handsome blond anchor said.

Which one sounds better?  The active one does.  Not only that, but it takes less time to say.  I imagine news people wouldn’t want to have to rush through their copy.  They make more mistakes that way.

You can find some resources about active and passive language at these websites:

Purdue Online Writing Lab


Essay Writing Assistance – Columbia College of Missouri


Here’s a great one with lots of examples:



Thanks to Rukia for this topic suggestion!


It’s Saturday again, and time for another random alphabet post!


I absolutely adore a good villain.  One of the best to come along in recent years is J.K. Rowling’s deliciously evil Ministry of Magic stooge, Dolores Umbridge.

Umbridge appears in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth book in Rowling’s uber-popular series.  It’s easily the fattest book and one of the darkest.  If you haven’t read the Harry Potter books, get your butt to the library now.  For any writer who is thinking about a series, it’s worth taking a look at these books, one of the most successful of all time.  Not only that, they are really enjoyable.

And yes, I just happen to be one of those annoying Potter-nerds.

Potter plug aside, Umbridge is a delightfully evil character.  She is a Ministry of Magic official, the former Senior Undersecretary to the Minister himself, Cornelius Fudge.  When Harry reports the return of the evil wizard Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Fudge begins a systematic campaign born out of fear to deny the whole thing.

He sends Umbridge to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.  There she is to teach theory only, without any practical defense skills, because the official Ministry line is that there is nothing to be afraid of.  Umbridge soon takes over the school and Harry and friends must stop her.

Rowling presents Umbridge as a study in contradictions.  She is small, round, toadlike and favors pink cardigans.  She doesn’t look evil, only ridiculous, like the substitute you enjoyed tormenting in grade school.  She has a high, overly-sweet voice and a polite cough (“Hem, hem!”) she employs when she absolutely must interrupt you.  In truth, she is a sadist and her greatest joy is torturing students and gaining power by pushing the Ministry’s agenda.

Some of her most egregious crimes include:

  • Getting Harry in trouble with the Ministry by sending Dementors after him and his cousin Dudley, thus forcing Harry to defend himself magically, a no-no outside of Hogwarts.
  • Punishing students with things like the special line-writing quill, which inscribes the lines on the student’s flesh instead of the parchment.
  • Appointing herself Hogwarts High Inquisitor.
  • Attempting to control the teachers and even sacking Sybil Trelawney, the Divination instructor.
  • Her horrible treatment of Hagrid, the half-giant caretaker of Hogwarts and a special friend of Harry, Ron and Hermione.  Umbridge hates part-humans and in Book 7, she has become the head of the corrupted Ministry’s Muggle-Born Registration Commission.
  • Effecting the removal of Albus Dumbledore as Headmaster of Hogwarts, and appointing herself Headmistress.

A successful villain has to have traits that trump the hero.  If the villain is too easily defeated, the possibility of conflict is low and the story would be over in a few pages.   What makes Umbridge a successful villain?

1.  She’s a tremendous suck-up.  While not a particularly effective witch, Umbridge is an opportunist who can spot an opening a mile away and immediately squeezes herself into it.  So she makes up for her shortcomings by attaching herself to those more powerful than she.

2.  She’s relentless.  Umbridge never stops, no matter what the cost.  She’s completely committed to the Ministry’s party line, but also to her own mad desire for power.

3.  She isn’t afraid to defy the rules.  While laws stop most of us from going too far, a true villain has little regard for them.  Umbridge even threatens to use an Unforgiveable Curse on Harry to get him to tell her where Dumbledore’s secret weapon is.  She justifies it as unavoidable to quash a dangerous rebellion, but we all know she enjoys it.

Eventually, our heroes have to triumph, so a villain has to have some weaknesses.  These also make him/her a more rounded character.  Umbridge does have her vulnerable points.

  • Overextending herself.  She is convinced that no one can oppose her, and as such, is committed to stamping out any rebellion.  Unfortunately, that means she has to put out so many fires that she misses a few.
  • Stupidity.   While she is evil, she’s not very smart.  She can’t figure out how to eradicate Fred and George Weasley’s messes in the Hogwarts corridors, and she believes Hermione’s bluff about a secret weapon.
  • Her temper.  A paragon of self-control in the beginning, she finally cracks and her mouth gets her into terrible trouble.  It also makes her more fun, because the reader can enjoy watching her lose her cool.

The revenge Harry and friends take on Umbridge is terribly satisfying, but I won’t spoil it for you.  Read the book!

If you have any other examples of a great literary villain, please share them in the comments.


I like to read decorating books.  I don’t have any money to redo my house, but it’s fun to imagine what I would do if I could.  Paint, paper, slipcovers, pillows, flowers and accessories go in and out of style, so I usually end up eventually tossing or recycling magazines and books I’ve saved or bought at library sales.

In the back of one of them, I found a neat little set of pages like graph paper, and another set of pages with furniture shapes.  You were supposed to trace the shapes, cut them out and use them on the graph pages to virtually rearrange your furniture.

Well, I didn’t keep them because I have a computer program that does that.   Being too lazy to sit at my desktop and use it, I’ve also done it in Word.  I made a whole two-page spread of the bank robber’s hideout in Rose’s Hostage, along with Heroine’s apartment.

Why did I do that?

It’s one of my tricks.  The layout helped me to place characters in the space inside my mind when I wrote the Bad Thing that happens in the middle of the book, which takes place in the hideout.  It’s a small, old house and I had a lot going on.  With the computer layout, I had a very clear picture that I could even print out and draw lines on.  I was able to chart the movement of each character in the big action scene.

I found that in real life it didn’t look the same as in my head.  Imagination can remove walls and rearrange stairs, doors, and windows.  Also, when you’re in tight POV with a character, it’s limited to what that person can actually see/hear/feel.   That helped me; I knew if one person was in the kitchen, for example, that it would be difficult to hear from another part of the house, since the floor plan wasn’t open as in a modern dwelling.

Another trick that helps me write is speaking dialogue.  When working out a scene, such as Heroine and her best friend discussing (arguing) about something, I practice out loud what I want my characters to say.  It’s like an improvisational acting exercise, except usually I don’t have anyone but the cat to bounce dialogue around with.  So I’ll go through it when I’m washing the dishes or in the shower.  If I land on something that sounds true to my character and is uncluttered, I’ll write that down.  I usually have to edit it several times, because real speech is full of “wells” and “ums” and other extras that don’t work on the page.

Character worksheets are another trick people sometimes use.  I don’t do these much because I prefer to let my people do stuff organically, in first draft, anyway.  What notes I make aren’t set in stone, because during revision I might change a lot of action and motivations.  However, the sheets are a big help when I can’t get a handle on someone.  Look on the Internet for worksheets you can download and use if you want to try this.

Starting in the middle is the biggest trick of all.  I find it hard to start a project sometimes.  I often know what will happen later on in the book or story, so I’ll skip the beginning and write a scene from farther on.  I jump around and then transition everything together.  In first draft, it doesn’t matter if it’s awkward or clunky, because it will probably be revised and maybe even edited out later.  Sometimes it’s easier to add stuff than take it away.  First draft is simply for getting it down on the page; the niceties can come later.

If you don’t write fiction, some of the tricks can still work.  Others are helpful for both: outlines, lists, timelines—on a big nonfiction or academic project the timeline can be for you instead of characters.   Since events in Rose’s Hostage takes place over a month’s time, I had a calendar on which I wrote notes in each square for what I wanted to happen on each day.

If you have tricks that help you with characters, scenes, or concepts, feel free to share in the comments.

Sturgeon’s Law

Sturgeon’s Law is an adage that states “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” It is attributed to science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, who said it in response to numerous attacks on sci-fi’s literary merit by people who used terribly-written books as examples to prove their point.

What he was trying to say was that yes, there is crud, but in everything, not just sci-fi.  If everything contains a certain percentage of awesome, then what’s left must be crud.  If you apply the Law to current films, it’s pretty hard to find gems among all the floaters out there in that great big Hollywood Bowl, which kind of proves Mr. Sturgeon right.

Why do people read / watch crud?

I’m not saying there’s anything WRONG with it.  Some people might think when my books get published that they’re crud. They’re entitled to their opinion.  If I could make a boatload of money writing crud, I probably won’t care that much.  But I’d like to produce something worthwhile while I’m at it.

Why do people buy it?

I’m not completely sure myself, but I’ll take a stab at it.  I think there are several reasons.

1.  It’s entertaining.

Campy crud TV shows are hilarious.  Movies too.  Who hasn’t watched a terrible horror film with a ridiculous monster and improbable story and howled with laughter?  It’s fun.  Even more enjoyable is making sport of the movie after you’ve seen it.   A cruddy novel is a rip to pick apart too.  Witness all the sites making fun of Twilight.  And some crud, done cleverly as satire, makes fun of us.  Example:  Idiocracy’s portrayal of a dystopian society as the result of the dumbing-down of America.

2.  It’s familiar.

Usually crud relies on tropes everyone has seen a thousand times.  A valiant dog.  The innocent child walking unknowingly into danger.  The misunderstood villain.  A hooker with a heart of gold.  The valiant dog rescues the innocent child from the misunderstood villain and changes the life/outlook of the hooker with the heart of gold, and then dies.  Always prettily—never in a mangled heap of flesh by the side of the road.

3.  It doesn’t require any thought.

At the end of the day, after leaving their soul-murdering, life-sucking slogging jobs, people are tired.  They want a bit of entertainment they don’t have to think about, without deep moral quandaries or philosophical implications.  All they want is a cold root beer, a taco and a bit of escapism.

4.  It makes them feel smarter.

When you watch a movie or read a novel where everyone is a complete idiot, doesn’t it make you feel smarter by comparison?  Let’s say the hero’s flunky hears the zombie gurgle from the locked broom closet, and instead of leaving and setting the house on fire, he opens it.  You yell, “Don’t open that door!” Or you think, “I would never do that!”  And because he’s the flunky, you figure he’s going to die.  If he’s wearing a red shirt, you know it.  You might even think “I can do better than that.”

If you can, get cracking!

For writers, it’s pretty frustrating to work like hell on something crafted to be clever and original and engaging, meticulously edit it, flawlessly present it, and still lose out to another brainless marketing trend.  I can only imagine what screenwriters are going through right now.

Don’t feel bad if you enjoy a bit of crud now and then.  I myself have a taste for old B-movies, horror in particular.  It Came from Beneath the Sea, Bucket of Blood, The Fly (1958), all great fun.  I can still appreciate Mr. Sturgeon’s fine writing and that of Emile Zola, Mark Twain and the poetry of Shelley and Dickinson.

What’s your favorite crud TV show / movie / book?  Why?  And what’s your favorite “smart” material?  Please share in the comments.

Reply O’ Doom

Sooner or later a writer seeking to be published will receive a rejection slip, or, as I like to call it, the Reply O’ Doom!

I remember my first one.  In college I sent a story to a women’s magazine fiction competition, waited what seemed an interminable amount of time for a reply, and got a lovely form letter.  “Thank you for your entry.  Unfortunately it was not chosen to appear in our publication,” and words to that effect.

I was so green I didn’t even mind the negative response.  It impressed me to get correspondence from a big-time publication.  And I knew about rejection slips already thanks to Stephen King, who said he used to put them on a nail in the wall of his bedroom.  I still have the slip somewhere.  I save all of them; someday, when I become famous, I might like to look back on them and cackle evilly in triumph.  :)  Or just see how far I’ve come.

If the same people worked at that magazine were still there, I doubt they would remember my little story about a woman’s affair with her friend’s son.  I reread it recently.  The writing wasn’t bad, but the story was dull and the characters flat.  I didn’t have anything to say at that age, and I didn’t know anything about what drove married adults to cheat.   I was barely an adult myself.

Now I’m older, though not necessarily wiser (!) and I have a bit more experience under my belt.  Not only that, I know how to seek ways to make my writing better, and I have more discipline.

Most rejection slips are form letters like the one I got.  Magazines, literary journals and agents receive so many submissions and queries they simply don’t have time to hand-write a note on each one or give a bit of encouragement in an email turndown.  Thus the writer has little feedback about why the story was rejected.

So how to prevent this?

You can’t.  If you’re going to be a writer, it’s inevitable.

Things you can do to reduce your chance of rejection include:

  • Presentation.  Check your formatting.  Make sure it’s impeccable and conforms to industry standards.   Look online for help with this.  Anne Mini’s blog Author! Author! is a great resource.  She has a ton of material on formatting (mostly books) and rejection as well, from the POV of Millicent, her exemplar of literary assistantship.
  • Professionalism. Your query should be as well written as your manuscript.  It’s a business letter.  Don’t tell why your story should be published, don’t offer to mow anyone’s lawn or feed their pet python if they do, or to feed them to your pet python if they don’t.   Do I have to tell you to Google “queries” at this point if you’re not sure how to write a winner?  I hardly think so.
  • Pursuit, of mistakes.  Anne Mini advises, and so do I, that you print a hard copy of your manuscript and check it meticulously for errors.  After so much time looking at it on the computer screen, you will miss things.  I just did this last night, while preparing an email query.  Read it out loud to yourself.   I caught three stupid things right off the bat!
  • Pinpoint.  Make sure you’re targeting the right publication or person.   A magazine’s submissions page online will usually tell you to read a few issues to get a feel for the kind of material they accept.   It might tell you who to send submissions to, but if it doesn’t, check the masthead of the magazine.   Agencies might or might not have a website, but if they do, they usually let you know what kind of material they are seeking.

What should you do after your work has been rejected?  Well, it’s tempting to curl up in a little ball and ingest chocolate until you can’t see straight, but the best thing to do is get right off your duff and prepare your next query or submission.   Find another place to send that story and get it right back out there.

The best rejections contain a personal comment.  Yes, they do happen, and it really does take some of the sting out of it.  I sent a story out a while back and it came home with a form slip attached and a nice note the reader had handwritten about a particular aspect of my story she liked.  That’s encouraging.  Someone else wrote a lovely email saying how bad they felt about rejecting it—another positive sign.  I know eventually it will find a home.  When it does, I’ll be happy to share it with you; I think it’s a very nice story.

It’s okay to feel a little punk after you see your SASE in the mailbox, or the header on the return email.   You won’t always know why it happened and that’s okay too.  If you making a real effort to learn the business and improve your craft, someday the “No” might finally be a “Yes.”  Indulge yourself a bit; eat your ice cream or chocolate (a small portion) and then get right back on that horse, cowboy!