Learning from Rejection

snoopy-rejection-letter-charles-schulz-cartoonIf you’re a writer, you’re probably used to rejection. After all, it comes with the territory. But if you’re one of the lucky ones, you can learn from it.

Such was the case with my first real attempt at a mystery short story, Plan D. I hadn’t really thought about writing a short mystery, until this callout for an anthology, Fish or Cut Bait, came from Sisters in Crime – Guppies:

SHORT STORY LENGTH: 1,500 – 4,000 words.
ANTHOLOGY THEME: A character finds him/herself in a position where she must make a decision (she must fish or cut bait), and that decision significantly affects the story. The decision must be an integral component of the story (not merely implied) and something the character feels compelled to make. However, the character may not be assessing the situation correctly, so an outsider would not necessarily agree that she had to make the decision right then, or even that a decision had to be made or that there were only two possibilities. In addition, the story must involve a crime, but any sub-genre or cross-genre is acceptable. (Note: feminine includes the masculine and singular includes the plural.)

Fair enough. I had a deadline. I had a word count. I had a premise. Now all I needed was a story.

As with any story, long or short, I always start with “what if something-or-the-other happened?” Then I start writing.

For the most part, Plan D came together pretty quickly, at least if I compare it to the intensity of writing a novel, which takes several months, if not years. A few revisions and I thought it was ready to submit. The bonus? Not only would I be considered for the Fish or Cut Bait anthology, I would get feedback from three judges (based on scores of 1-poor to 5-excellent) on the Overall Writing; Characters; Setting; Plot; Ending; and Overall Feeling.

I have to admit I had a good feeling. I was particularly proud of my clever twisty ending. So you can imagine how much that rejection stung when it came. Especially since my average score was only .2 below the overall average. That’s right—point two.

Now, I could have just sent the story out somewhere else, as it was. But that would be wasting an opportunity to learn from the judges’ comments. And here’s what surprised me most: not one of the three appeared to “get” my clever twisty ending.

I reread the story, as if I’d never read it before. Since it had been about three months since I’d wrote it, this was actually easier than it sounds. And what I realized was that my ending was so clever, the clues so nuanced, that someone in the position of reading a couple hundred stories wouldn’t have time to sit back and ponder it.

So I rewrote the story, paying special attention to the areas where I’d scored the lowest, until I felt Plan D was the best it could be. Then I submitted it for consideration in the Sisters in Crime – Toronto, anthology, The Whole She-Bang 2, scheduled for publication November 2014.

I knew the competition would be stiff. I’d read the first anthology, The Whole She-Bang, a collection of 20 short mystery stories by established and emerging Canadian authors, and loved it. So to say I was ecstatic when I received the email telling me Plan D had been accepted would be an understatement.

But most of all, acceptance made me appreciate how much we can learn from rejection—just as long as we’re willing to listen.

Fish or Cut Bait is scheduled for publication in late 2014. Check out the Guppies first two anthologies, Fish Tales and Fish Nets

The Whole She-Bang 2 is scheduled for publication in November 2014, and will be widely available in print and e-book. Find out more at www.sistersincrimetoronto.com.


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