Writing Update – 2021 The Year of Short Stories

Picking through the rubble of 2020 has led many to reflect on their current situation, self included. For some, it meant leaving their job. Starting a new career. Exercising more mindfulness. A little quiet contemplation in a (hopefully) more serene environment.

For me, it meant re-evaluating my writing career.

I’ve been going it alone for a long time. Not completely alone, mind you. I’ve had some amazing mentors and friends along the way. When it came to the actual production and marketing of my work though, it was all on me.

Truth be known, I’m not a great marketer. I can read the tea leaves well enough once all the data is reported though. What they said was my words were missing…something.

That’s about as much clarity as you get as a writer. Vague intuitions. Feelings. Words you keep rearranging until one person picks them up and says, “This is great!” and their friends do the same, and their friends’ friends and so on and so on until one day you realize you’re making a living at the thing you love most.

In search of that elusive “thing” my writing has yet to find, I went back to where I started and began submitting short stories to established pro and semi-pro magazines and websites.

My intent had been to write a story a week. I’ve previously mentioned that I’ve fallen off that mark and the reason is two-fold.

First, I started my summer seasonal work. This job helps ensure my wife and I can live the nomadic life we’ve come to love. (If ya’ll would rather buy a crap of books a month, I could stop doing this and focus on the words…) The work isn’t demanding, but it does eat up some time and brain space otherwise reserved for making stuff up.

The second reason for falling behind is I started getting some intriguing responses to my submissions.

Formerly, I would get mostly rejections with the stray acceptance here and there. Those rejections often were form letters, clearly mass e-mailed to the people who didn’t make the cut.

Turns out, e-mails from the next level up are pretty damn interesting.

I’ve been asked to submit more work. Like people really want to see more. Or told specifically that the story had promise or just didn’t work for whatever specific reason. In several cases, I was sent detailed feedback and notes and that’s where I really got derailed.

From that unexpected and thoughtful feedback, I was able to start understanding better where my stories failed. So I backed off my rapid-fire new story approach and focused on rewrites.

Since December 2020, I’ve submitted stories to 38 different venues. That doesn’t mean I’ve written 38 new stories. Many of these submissions are the same story being shopped to other publishers. All told, I’ve completed 19 new stories and re-written two “trunk” stories for a total of 21.

Of those 38 submissions, I’ve had 6 acceptances (two nonfiction, four fiction) in mostly semi-pro markets. Of the rejections, 13 have been personal rejections or “non-form” rejections (in two cases, the venues sadly went out of business). These personal rejections aren’t just “thanks but no thanks,” but often include specific information to show that, yes, your story made it past the slush pile and maybe even to the editor’s desk.

Some publications provide personal feedback on -all- stories they receive but this is exceptionally rare. Most, due to the high volume, send out only a form letter for rejected stories with a small fraction of those getting feedback whether it be encouragement or constructive criticism.

Getting any kind of feedback then is pure gold.

The unexpected results though have derailed my plans for 2021. I do plan to continue writing as much as possible, but I’ve spent far more time on rewrites than intended.

The good news is, this is precisely what I was after for my writing career. I wanted to spend time on craft, learning where my strengths were, and smoothing out the weaknesses. I also intended to brute force my way into figuring out where exactly those strengths should be applied. By creating lots of stories, subbing them to pros, I could see firsthand what works.

Up to now, my self-published work has suffered from a lack of focus in both theme and style. As in life, I’m an explorer, and it’s hard to tie myself down to one location, let alone one world (or even universe…). But responding to various submission calls has allowed me to figure out where my words resonate. What kind of stories will get the necessary traction and help launch me into a less obscure orbit.

Today, I’m leaning more toward science fiction. Speculative stories with a decidedly “post-American” feel. I want to move my words into a near to far-flung future where hope and individual freedom replace blind patriotism and dogma. Where people control their destinies and not moneyed oligarchies playing puppet master to nations.

All of my work touches on these themes. With Crimson Son, it’s most obvious. Even in Ace Grant, the America Ace faced was frequently adversarial yet he often required the help of a distinctively American blend of culture and magic. (The Stormblade Saga is perhaps an outlier, though the stagnating nobility unwilling to see the coming calamity had plenty of parallels.)

As mentioned in my previous update though, I’m left with less material to share with my readers than I’d like.

With self-publishing, I got used to setting the pace. The faster, the better. With this approach, there are detriments to working too fast. And in many ways the system won’t even allow it. All the better for me to reflect on things, but also requiring patience from my readers.

With the podcast season one winding down, I’m left wondering what I’ll do for season two. My plan had been to take stories I’d written but not sold and present them on the podcast. That pool is too small at the moment for a full season.

I’ve written stories about the end result of social media run amok. I’ve written about the fall of countries and the rise of a digital citizenry. I’ve penned stories about space exploration turned into deeply personal revelations, all framed by worlds where achievement isn’t solely a for-profit endeavor.

Published by myself or someone else, I can’t wait to share them with you. Soon. I hope you’ll stick around to see the results!



Categories: Author News

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