Rule 10. Rejection is now your life. Get used to it.

I like to think I have a sense of humour. Some people have even asked me why I didn’t become a stand-up comic. I tell them I couldn’t deal with all that rejection…so I became a writer instead.

<cue laugh track>

The fact is if you want to be a writer you’re going to get rejections. That masterpiece you’ve been slaving over draft after draft likely won’t sell on the first submission. Maybe not even the second submission, or the third.

Or ever.

It’s even harder to sell a story that has been rejected for a themed anthology. Not because it’s bad, but because there may be at least a hundred other stories rejected by that anthology floating around, glutting the market.

It’s a part of this business. But what can you do? If the story sits, it doesn’t get published. Like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play.

So, you send the story out, again. And it comes back rejected, again. Send it out again. It comes back again like a boomerang. It’s frustrating and demoralizing–and it’s something you have to accept.

You will get rejected.

Don’t see rejections as an attack you, the author. It’s not an indictment on your character. In most cases it’s not even a criticism of your story. Editors of anthologies tend to have a certain vision of what they want, and your story just didn’t fit that vision. Magazines have limited funds and space. They also get A LOT of submissions and for whatever reason your story just didn’t grab them…alas. As for book publishers…I’ll let you know when I figure that one out.

Of course there are reasons that are your fault, most notably not following the publication’s guidelines. READ THE GUIDELINES! Don’t send a fantasy story to a magazine that only prints hard science fiction. Don’t send erotica to a magazine that caters to children. Don’t send your fan fiction anywhere.

If you act professional, you will be treated as a professional.

So, what to do with those rejections? In most cases you’ll just get form letters. Editors are busy people and have many stories to read. For most editors it’s not like the Golden Age. They aren’t sitting in a grubby office in some ancient building on 5th Avenue. They’re probably at home, having just finished a full day at a real job, trying to squeeze in an hour or two between cooking dinner and spending quality time with the wife and kids. The last thing they have time for is composing an in-depth rejection letter.

That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. When you do get them, take the comments to heart, especially if they’re words of encouragement or suggestions for improvement. That editor felt you have skills, and wants you to keep writing. Do it.

Rarely you get the discouraging letter. Unless you submitted something so incredibly ghastly and heinous, broken every rule in the book and even invented new rules to break, submitted a 3,000 page manuscript in crayon, with each letter and punctuation mark in its own unique colour created by a crayon creator, unless you included a severed body part, you can pretty much ignore these kinds of rejections. Whatever the reason that editor chose to write such a response, it is unprofessional.

Severed body parts, however, will likely get you a visit from local law enforcement.

Some people save their rejections as kind of trophies. Me? I simply make note of the publication so I don’t accidentally send the story twice. Then I destroy/delete the rejection. Why keep the losing lottery tickets?

I do, however, keep acceptance letters. Yeah. They are nice to re-read on cold rainy days.


Rule 9. Always carry a knife…for editing.

As I mentioned when I began my rules, I based them on the rules created by the main character of the TV show NCIS. Among the more infamous rules is Rule 9: Always carry a knife. For federal investigators, having a good knife makes sense. Besides the obvious self-defense factor, a good knife makes a useful makeshift tool.

Mostly it’s great for cutting.

The knife I have in mind is more mental, the ability to view your completed work with a critical eye and, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, “kill your darlings.”

If you want to get published you need to make your stories tight. The right word, the right phrase can reduce and entire multi-sentence paragraph and have more impact. Most importantly, it gets that word count down.

When a publication guideline reads: Max. 5000 Words, that means 5000 words is as long as they want the story. What it really means is they would be happier with something shorter, but 5K is as high as they’ll go. In fact, the closer to the max you get the harder a sell it’s going to be. Get that word count down.

For many that’s difficult. Some writers I know need paragraphs just for a character to say, “Hello.” Many just can’t see that their story actually starts on the second page and the first 500 words are superfluous. Some, like me, just love every damn written word.

Cut them.

Get that knife out and slash and hack. Be a serial killer of words. If you run across a particularly nice phrase that just doesn’t quite fit, save it to a special file for such things—every diamond needs the right setting—just cut it out of that story. Make that story tight. Keep the readers interest throughout, because once it wavers, you’re toast.


Rule 8. Write where you are most comfortable being weird.

In the movie, The Whole Wide World, Vincent D’Onofrio portrays Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian.

One scene that struck me was of Howard at his typewriter screaming out prose as he typed. I don’t know if that was true of Howard, but I do understand it. I have my own quirks when I write. You probably won’t see them because I do most of my writing alone.

That is where I am most comfortable.

That’s me. If you’re one of those people who need a crowd, or like to sit in a coffee shop and write, that’s great. But if you find that you really aren’t being productive, consider it might not be the environment distracting you.

It might be performance anxiety. You might want to cut loose with a string of choice four-letter words, laugh out loud, thump on the table in frustration, but you don’t because you are in a public place. To so would make you, and likely those around you, uncomfortable.

I feel comfortable writing by myself. There is no competition with other writers who type faster than me, no idle chatter to draw my attention, no pastries that I really don’t need but will likely buy. Just me, my keyboard, and my imagination.

And the internet. You know, for research and stuff.


Rule 7. Finish your WIPs

So often writers begin a project, then—SQUIRREL! They get distracted by an idea for another project and drop everything to



Rule 6. If you can, join a good critiquing group. Other writers will make your work better and vice versa.

It’s difficult beginning a writing career. For the most part you’ve no idea how good you are. Sure, your family thinks you’re the next bestseller, and your friends are mildly impressed you can string words together to form a sentence, but every submission you send comes back rejected.

What do you do?

Every writer needs feedback to grow and to improve their craft. That feedback isn’t going to come from people who don’t want to hurt your feelings. What you need is good critiquing group. Unfortunately, getting into one isn’t easy.

So many writers are introverts. They like nothing better than to be left alone and write, emerging occasionally from their mental cocoon to get some tea or coffee, check their emails, and maybe spend too much time on social media. Here is where the Internet can be a good thing. There are online groups you can join such as Critters Writers Workshop. It’s free to join, with a simple quid pro quo for getting critiques for your work.

While Critters is a great entry-drug, nothing beats a face-to-face critiquing group. This is even harder to get together. First you have to find the right people, settle on the logistics of location, decide on a suitable time for all to attend, and most importantly, who will bring the snacks. You can try to get into an established group, but I advise against it.  Instead, find other writers that are on the same level as you and have the same goals for success. You will soon discover you each have different strengths and weaknesses. You will challenge each other to become better writers. But if all anyone wants to do is get out of the house and share poetry, move on.

So, where to find these people?

Well, going to local genre conventions is a great place to network. Posting on the bulletin board of your local public library is another source. And of course there is our old friend Social Media. I was asked to join my group The Stop-Watch Gang because I’d gone to conventions, made connections so that when the group formed my name came up. Joining the Gang was the best decision of my career.

Okay, you’ve gathered a small group, now what?

Establish rules of conduct and of critiquing. We’re called the Stop-Watch Gang because we time our critiques. Literally. We have five minutes set on a watch. When the five minutes are up an alarm goes off and we stop. That way we avoid extraneous nitpicks and get right into the nitty-gritty. At the end of the critiques the author is free to respond and there is usually a little back and forth on how to fix things. You might think this harsh, but consider we were critiquing 3-4 stories a meeting with some 5-7 members. If you did the math…multiply by 3…carry the one…ah, well, that’s a long time. Anyway, it’s a process that works for us.

Another benefit of a good group is the support you get from them. Writing is hard and while the successes are great, sometimes you just find yourself floundering. A good group can bolster your confidence and reenergize you. Meeting for critiques or just getting together for a lunch is like going to a mini-convention. Usually a few of us go to the same local conventions and have at least one meal together. If we are there in force we might even try to organize our own panel.

That kind of camaraderie is invaluable, especially if you’re an introvert like me.