As I contemplated what to write for this guest post, I received another rejection from a fledgling crime fiction magazine. It came with an encouraging note that said, “This story came super close to getting picked for publication. We think you’re very talented and hope you submit again.” I was disheartened but buoyed at the same time. That weird bipolar feeling many of us writers understand.
This is a story that I wrote for Bouchercon’s “Murder Under the Oaks” anthology last year but was rejected. No lovely note, just a “thank you but it wasn’t selected.” Undaunted, I had sent it off to another publication. Several months later, another pleasant rejection arrived in my inbox. That was the point where I thought “okay, maybe my story isn’t as brilliant as I thought.” I tinkered with it until I thought “Now, it’s brilliant.”
A few weeks later, I sent it off to another fledgling crime fiction magazine (not the previous one I mentioned) and received encouraging feedback to the point that they told me they thought it was going to get in but ultimately it was up to their guest editor. That’s where my story’s journey ended unfortunately. However, I did receive notes which I most definitely did not ignore.
So now here I am with a story that has almost made it in to two different markets. I’m kind of at a crossroads: is it just a matter of not finding the right home or is it in need of more editing? At what point do we say: this story sucks and my dog could write something better? Or the opposite: this story is badass, it just hasn’t found the right publisher yet so I’m not changing a single word.
I set it aside for a bit and then re-read it a few weeks later. It hit me that it needed a new ending. Something about it had bothered me all along and that was it. The ending is the most difficult part for me to write. It has to have that knockout punch yet ring true for the characters. Once I torture my writing group for one more read-through, I’ll be ready to send it out into the world with its shiny new ending, confident that it’s reached maximum brilliance.
Okay, that’s a lie. I don’t think I’m ever 100% happy with anything I’ve written. Even after it’s published, I spot things I want to change. Coincidentally, I read a recent post by Art Taylor on Sleuthsayers that covered this same subject. He mentioned how endings, for him, are the hardest part of the story to write and he’s constantly revising even after submission. I totally related to that. Then I read an article in the February Sisters in Crime/LA newsletter from Lida Bushloper about a short story she wrote that had a 30-year journey to eventual publication. Now that right there is inspiration to keep revising and submitting.
The key, I think, is that something in the story keeps tugging at me or I wouldn’t come back to it over and over again, setting aside my masochistic tendencies. It also helps that two markets told me to keep working on it because they saw the potential in it.
Which brings up another point. If an editor or publisher tells you to work on something and resubmit—or even better, gives you notes and tells you to resubmit—then get on it. In fact, a highly respected publisher recently brought up this exact issue and referred me to an article on resubmitting: Submit Like A Man. It talked about how gender affects resubmission. Men tend to resubmit more than women. I found myself nodding along to many of the points. Gender was something I never even thought about when it came to resubmission frequency. It’s an issue worth discussing, but right now, I have to get back to my story and tweak the ending just a little bit more.
Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. Her crime fiction short stories have been accepted for publication online and in various anthologies, including All Due Respect, Akashic, Plan B, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, Betty Fedora, Issue Two, Spelk, and the Sisters in Crime/LA anthology, Ladies Night. Her noir novella, Cleaning Up Finn, is coming out May 2016 with All Due Respect Books. www.sarahmchen.com