W. P. Johnson

All The Other Horseshit (aka, the submission process)

In Uncategorized on March 10, 2013 at 10:49 pm


Time flies, huh? Seems like it was only yesterday I was gushing over the fact that I had managed to get six of my stories accepted within the span of only a few months. On top of that I had started a monthly column on stand up called “Standing Up To Die” at Manarchy and a second bimonthly column on all the tattoos I have called “Ink” at Slit Your Wrists (which may be changing its name to Revolt Daily). Seeing as how I currently have nine tattoos, I figure I can write that for at least two years assuming I procure more ink along the way.

I remember my father once told me that he worked himself down to the bone for nearly ten years and felt that decade pass him by within the blink of an eye. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just taking the first step on that same journey, if I too will one day wake up and find that ten years have passed me by and that I spent very little time enjoying any of it. I wonder, but I somehow doubt it.

I think it’s boring to read about the craft of writing, let alone write about it, but I still find it therapeutic to come here now and again and hammer away at these keys to let you all know how things are at this lonely desk of mine. Since my last entry I’ve nearly finished my first batch of twenty stories before breaking to write a untitled script and, following that, a novella based on my short story “A Song For John”. After that I’ll write another twenty stories before starting the novel. To some of you, this may seem like a mountain of pages, and let me tell you it’s even more work when you don’t let yourself cheat. For instance, if a story gets rejected enough times that I scrap it altogether, that story no longer counts towards my first batch of twenty. Nor do I count selling a reprint. Recently I even decided against counting a short-short.

Still, despite all of that, trekking up this mountain of pages is something that I’m really falling in love with lately. I don’t know when it turned exactly, but at some point writing went from something I felt like I needed to something I really enjoyed. For years and years my desk was a kind of punishment, a means of exorcising demons and other anxiety that would otherwise cripple me on a daily basis. There was joy, but only in the way that a drug addict feels a temporary sense of stillness when they get their fix, knowing full and well that the shakes are only a few hours away. Writing was just something I did so I could sleep at night, and for the most part it wasn’t all that much fun.

These days though, I feel an odd high when I write. I no longer think about the words so much as I just let them pour out of me and there is a strange joy I feel when I get the sense that I am literally seeing a story unfold before me as if dictated by a storyteller better than myself. Forget seeing vs telling and POV, forget the usage of adverbs and symbolism. These are all things that can be added and fixed in post. For now, just sit down and let er rip.

Then comes all the other horseshit.

There is nothing quite as soul crushing and discouraging as the submission process. For writers that have been around the block for a few years, this isn’t going to be anything new, but for those of you that read this blog as someone who reads and doesn’t write, I feel like it might be prudent to say a thing or two about the submission process. When your author friend announces through social media that they just got a story accepted, you need to know just how truly hard that accomplishment is.

Meet my short story “Painted Nails”. “Painted Nails” is a crime noir story with elements of surreal horror, S&M, and violent imagery. I wrote “Painted Nails” sometime last August and didn’t manage to find a home for it until just a few days ago when Infernal Ink accepted it (this means it took me about seven months to place the story). The process of finding a home for a story seems simple at face value: it’s a horror story, so send it to horror magazines until someone takes it. Sounds simple, and in some ways it is, but in many ways it’s a total drag.

Considering the fact that this is a horror/crime noir story, I can only send it to zines interested in horror and crime noir. According to duotrope, there are 361 horror zines and 174 crime zines currently accepting submissions. With a word count of about 5,000 words, this list gets cut down to  176 horror zines and 63 crime zines (lots of zines don’t even want anything over 3,000 words, let alone 5,000). And if I start by submitting to pro paying markets alone, this leaves me with 10 horror zines and 5 crime zines. This can be misleading however because some zines print both crime and horror. For instance Shock Totem will show up in both searches, as well as TM Publishing. In reality, there are only 13 zines I can currently send “Painted Nails” if I want to receive professional rates (.05 a word).

I know what you’re thinking. 13 zines seems like a lot of places to send one story to. But the thing is, a lot of these zines won’t like “Painted Nails”. In fact, looking over the list, I’m almost hundred percent certain that Clarkesworld Magazine, a sci fi magazine that occasionally publishes horror, is not going to like a story where someone (spoiler alert) gets their head cut off. Nor will Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show want it. And while I like Shimmer and have sent them many stories, they aren’t into anything too violent. In the end, there are only 2 pro paying zines that I think will like “Painted Nails”.

Hence, “Painted Nails” was sent to Shock Totem and summarily rejected one month later with no notes (meaning, no specific reason for rejection, leaving me to assume the worst, that my story stinks). After that it was sent to Nightmare Magazine and rejected two days later with no notes.

Once pro paying markets had been exhausted, I moved on to semi-pro and token paying markets with the same criteria. “Painted Nails” was submitted to Abomination and rejected one month later with the note, “Good story, but doesn’t work for our publication.  We lean much more towards supernatural horror rather than mystery/thriller.  This being said, if you have something more in line with what we publish, I would love to take a look.”

It was then sent to Spinetinglers and rejected one month later with no notes.

After that I sent it to White Cat Publications for their new zine Dark Intent, and it was summarily rejected with the note “I enjoyed ‘Painted Nails’, the dialogue read very natural, and the pacing and suspense were done well, but the subject matter isn’t right for our magazine.”

I sent it to Thuglit. Rejected with no notes.

I sent it to Needle, who rejected it with the note, “The florid prose pulls the reader out of the story, particularly in the early going. And yet…yet I kept reading. There is a wonderfully surreal quality to this one. But then I got was pulled out of the story because the ending required a suspension of disbelief that few readers could manage. 1, I wanted to keep reading through the whole thing. 2, I was kept guessing up until the end. 3, I was steeped in disturbing details of how to do bad things. The plot required a major suspension of disbelief.”

It was then sent to Diabolic Publications and rejected with no notes.

After that, I had hit a bit of a wall as far as sending it somewhere that would pay me. I started searching the non-paying market place. To be clear- I think writers should be paid for their work. But I also live in the real world and had pretty much exhausted all the paying markets this story would work in. That said, I settled on three zines that paid in exposure alone, submitting it to Infernal Ink first.

They responded with, “Your story ‘Painted Nails’ is exactly the sort of tale we are looking for. I’d like to accept it for inclusion in our October issue and have attached our standard contributor’s contract with your story information already filled in.”

So there you have it. Seven months, eight rejections (some friendly, some form). That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Oh, did I mention that I also edit and rewrite a story every time it’s rejected? Which means that on top of writing the story in the first place and doing numerous drafts and edits, I also rewrote it a total of eight times.

So the next time one of your writer friends tells you he/she sold a story, buy them a beer. Unless they got paid, then they can buy the first round.

In other news, my first pro-rated sale of a story, “Little Man”, is now live at One Buck Horror. The cover is pictured about and the zine is one of the better ones out there and a short sweet read for only a buck, hence the name. And that, my friends, is all she wrote for tonight. It’s Sunday and it’s late and it’s time for a beer and some Walking Dead because a man has his limits. And if I can’t sit back and celebrate the acceptance of “Painted Nails” I’m likely to blink my eyes and lose ten years.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

  1. Good for you. Way to stick with it. The only advice I’d give you is don’t rewrite it after each rejection. Leave it alone. Just don’t start submitting it to places until you can’t think of anything more to do, until it is DONE. You never know why a story was rejected. Just write the story you want to write, and let the chips fall where they may, brother.

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