This path leads to madness and ruin. Maybe.

I finished moving my scattered notes over to the Drive spreadsheet I’m using now, and updated this post accordingly. Having a detailed tracker helps me to see:

  • My acceptance rate from 2010 to 2013 is 54%
  • I submitted twice as much in 2010 as in any of the years after.
  • I earned $720.94 for those acceptances, from a total of 9 paid sales, with 11 unpaid acceptances (including one I donated to an anthology). The whole of 2010, I only made $7.

It’s tempting to stay on that path – submitting to places I’m fairly certain will be happy to have my work, waiting to be invited to an anthology. There’s a lot less risk involved when you’re not opening yourself up to the possibility of failure or hurt. But, at the beginning of 2014 I resolved to try a new path: no more writing for free, with the exception of a handful of literary markets, and no more letting months go by between submissions.

This means I have to write more, finish the pieces I have started, have them read/critiqued/edited, revise it, and submit. It’s also going to mean a lot more rejections, as I move from smaller markets where I was a big fish, to bigger markets where I’m a tiny guppy. I’ve sent out four submissions this month so far, and three have already been rejected: two form rejections from Clarkesworld, and a personal from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency:

Hi Carrie –

This certainly has its charms, but I’m afraid I’m going to pass. Cracks more smiles than laughs. Appreciate your considering us, though. Hope you’ll try again sometime.*

I’ve put a counter in the top right corner of the site to share my progress this year. Feel free to poke me if you haven’t seen it change in a few weeks.

I don’t know if this experiment will result in me moving up to the next phase of my writing career, or just depress me into a drunken stupor. But I do know that I don’t want to stand in the way of my own happiness, letting my fear or worry keep me from achieving my goals or creating the life I envision for myself.

Risk it is, then.

* A rejection like that is not nothing, but it’s still a “NO”.

Stats: Submissions, Rejections, Acceptances, and Notes from my writing career to date

My amazing writer’s group* has been comparing the number of rejections we’ve all had in the last few years. Rejections are a measure of success because they mean you’ve been submitting your work, giving it a chance to be sold. Other folks in the group have 200, 300+ rejections, which means they’re submitting over a hundred times a year.

I haven’t submitted 100 stories in my lifetime.

I went over my notes from 2010 to now, and compiled my stats:

I have submitted 37 pieces (1 essay, 1 poem, and 35 fiction submissions) so far.

Sold/placed 24, had 13 rejections.

The rejections represent 9 pieces I haven’t yet been able to place (including a couple that I’ve trunked now). Of these, two ended up in my collection, so I’ve sold them that way, but they weren’t accepted by someone else.

4 personal rejections, 5 form, 3 maybe-form rejections, one “market closed while my piece was on sub”.

Of the sales, one was a reprint, a couple were micro-fiction, one was a pro-rate story (“Call Center Blues” to DSF)**, one was non-speculative noir. Three were for invite-only anthologies, and one of those was the essay. Less than 1/2 of the paying sales were for flash, which surprised me; I always thought of myself as more successful with flash, and it’s true that I’ve sold nearly all of it that I’ve written, but I’ve made more sales overall of longer pieces (for $) which means I must be writing more short stories than I thought.

This doesn’t count all of the non-paying non-fiction work I’ve done: guest essays, podcasts, blog posts, and my columns for Functional Nerds and SF Signal. Those weren’t things that were really going to be rejected, and other than building my resume/fan base, they don’t help my fiction career.

On the upside, my acceptance rate is pretty high, but that’s because I carefully research my markets, very selectively submit, and haven’t been subbing to many pro-markets. I didn’t aim low but I didn’t aim too high, either. I’ve started to change that this year, with my first submission of the year to Clarkesworld Magazine (and my first rejection, from them, 48 hours later).

As I get more out, I know my enviable ratio is going to drop like a stone. That’s the price of moving forward, and I’m willing to pay it if it means a more successful 2014.

* which includes Julie Day, Michael J. DeLucaAdam MillsDon PizarroAngela Still, and Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam. Aren’t I lucky?

**  which made me eligible for the Campbell in 2012 and 2013, but I never felt I’d sold enough to warrant publicizing myself as such, and I’ve now expired out.

Writing Advice: Shop at ALDI

Where I live, we have several options for buying food. In addition to the local grocery store chain, there’s a fancy yuppie market, a “whole foods” -style store that sells a lot of vegan/veggie foods, a farmer’s market (a couple of days of week through the summer), an Aldi, Walmart, an Asian market… even the Target has a grocery section. Usually, I do one or two big shopping trips to Aldi a month, and that covers everything except for what I get at the Asian market (lumpia wrappers, pancit noodles, etc), and a a trip to the chain store to get the few items I can’t get otherwise (or I’ll get them if I have to go to Target that month).

The last few weeks I’ve been so busy that instead of taking the time to shop at Aldi*, I’ve been picking up just what I need most, at the chain store. It’s much more expensive, and though it’s quick, it’s a time spent on lot of little trips. Plus, instead of having a fridge full of food to choose from, I end up stressed and annoyed that I don’t have choices; I don’t eat as healthily, and it’s tempting to get fast food or order delivery instead of yet another trip to the store to get dinner…
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When We Think Different is Brave

I use Pinterest for a couple of reasons. It’s a think-ahead, a place to put ideas for things I want to own, because I tend not to be an impulse shopper. I like to know that if I’m spending my money it’s on something I’ve wanted for awhile, not just to fill a void at that particular moment. I use it to collect book covers I like, so that I can be inspired when I’m designing. There are recipes for drinks and food, some of which I’ve tried. There are also reference boards, with links to info on types of shoes or knife blades or the fancier ways to knot a tie.

While it isn’t the sum of human existence, it is an example of something I’ve been pondering for a while.

I’ve noticed that a lot of writers curate collections of “characters”. Photo reference for costume, inspiration for writing–there’s nothing wrong with the idea, on the surface. I have boards of images for reference. I’ve been collecting one for my Mythos noir story, so that I can get the prices, clothes, cars, and buildings right when I write. Visual models are great for adding true detail to a story when you’re no longer (or never were) in that time or place.

The problem is, many of these boards are filled with women or people of color, and labeled things like “fierce female characters” (or “fabulous”, or “tough” or “strong”–something implying they’re acting in a way that the bulk of the population wouldn’t). When the images are of women in armor, appropriate (or not) to their native land, then okay, an armored up person of either gender, of any race, is pretty fierce. They’re ready for battle, and as long as we’re not talking about chainmail bikinis or something like this*, it’s a segment of the population I think we can rightly label as impressive.

But what about a woman wearing a traditional hat, the same as any other woman in her part of the world? How about one standing outside, smoking a cigarette? Or a little girl standing in front of a bed? How about a woman who is laughing, carrying a baby, or the thousands of other images you find labeled the same way?

What makes all of these women similar is that they are doing perfectly normal things, without being afraid to do them. And we think of that as “special” and “strong”, because we expect women and people of color to be afraid, to blend in, to be unseen and therefore not making a target of themselves. Anyone acting differently, even if it is to simply be themselves in an unflashy but unafraid way, well, we call that “brave”. We decide that it’s fierce and strong and bold. We mean it in a good way, don’t we? We’re proud of their courage, we salute the fact that they’re not just bowing down… but that’s because there’s still an expectation that they should.

It’s a tough situation because as long as there are people who oppress anyone who stands out, then it can take bravery to be different. But we shouldn’t be encouraging a world where that’s true. And we definitely shouldn’t be writing new worlds where that stupid idea gets perpetuated.

Start with this: stop collecting pictures of women or people of color under the banner of “brave”, if you don’t know their story. Instead, give them accurate labels. Write down the real reason that photo moved you. “Woman wearing a hat I would never wear” or “little girl wearing a dress that took her mother hours to make, far more than my mom would spend on me” or “I wish I was brave enough to wear those earrings without being afraid someone would laugh”. At least then you’re admitting what you really think, and giving yourself–and others–a chance to consider that truth.

Note: I left out the women athletes, actresses, artists, musicians, or activists–people who we know something about. Though it’s more accurate to call someone strong when you know their personality, my point was about incorrectly labeling images without context. You want to say Joan Crawford, Frida Kahlo, Sigourney Weaver, Octavia Butler, Hazel Ying Lee, Bessie Coleman, or Elsa Avila are strong? Yes, I’m sure that they are. But we know they accomplished things that most people–regardless of gender or race–don’t ever do.

*Not “viking woman”, as the tag I found it under said, but Skyrim cosplay. In case that wasn’t obvious.

Haiku for Procrastinators

Without a deadline

Words pile up in advance of

A reason to be.

I always know I

Should be writing. I never

Forget that I’m not.

I think if I wrote

You would see my heart beating

In letters, and love me.

I want to be so

Much more than a person who

Hasn’t yet written.

All of my stories

Are nothing but dreams, without

Words on the page.

All of my dreams are

Stories I haven’t told you

But one day, I will.