So, last year I made my first short story submission. Before I could do that, I wrote the story.
Then I revised it. Then I revised it again. Then I got my writing group to critique it and revised it another time. I gave it to a few friends and parsed their statements, carefully separating honesty from kind lies (updating their annual friendship performance assessment documents appropriately) and revised it.
To eliminate awkward phrasing, I read it aloud to myself in normal, bass and falsetto voices and sang it to the tune of a randomly selected song from Queen’s Night at the Opera. I used a tarot deck and thesaurus to make the most ideal possible word choices. (With a ouija board to handle neologisms). Then I revised it again.
Eventually I convinced myself that I had managed to create a work of fiction that was not garbage. Or, at least, not the bad kind of garbage? It was…aluminum cans or reclaimed copper wire. The kind of garbage that you could maybe sell.
Found this (relatively high) in an image search for “garbage,” I’m sure for some entirely valid reason? Anyway, this bird is badass and now represents “good, sellable garbage.”
I submitted it, received a form rejection and decided that my story was definitely in the candy bar wrapper, six-pack plastic rings, used wet wipe category of garbage. Then I tried to forget that story existed.
So, rejection. My brain isn’t good at that yet. Evidence indicates this is a problem I share with a few others.
What I Want My Brain To Do
Logically, after a form rejection I know I don’t have enough data to shift my assessment of a story so dramatically. Good/great stories get rejected, often.
There are a ton of people submitting a ton of short stories out there. Editors may have published a similar story recently. It may not fit their market’s genre window/taste profile/inner fiction soul. Different people have different tastes in fiction, so no single story is going to tickle everyone’s gizzard (check everyone’s box? pinch everyone’s thimble? None of these phrases are spinning my satisfaction orb). Apparently, even the “pros” rack up rejections frequently.
I can use rejection as a chance for revision, but with a form rejection, I don’t actually have any new data. And if I’ve done my job correctly before submitting (see above re: multiple revision rounds, questionable divination practices, vocal wrangling, etc.) then revising in the “just rejected” state of mind seems more likely to damage than improve my story (at least for this author).
What I want to do is follow the general approved wisdom of “keep on submitting until you run out of appropriate markets while simultaneously working on newer, better stories and also, god, don’t get all angsty, Mitch, it’s just rejection, seriously.”
Since my brain does respond well to numbers and points and other kinds of gamification/achievement systems, I decided to see what I could do on that front. So, I created a submission tracking spreadsheet (a good thing to have anyway) and built a point system into it!
Here are the details:
Submitted (no response yet): 1 point
Form rejection: 2 points
Higher tier rejection (like a personal rejection, or a rejection after a hold notice): 5 points
Acceptance: 10 points
So each submission will end up netting 2, 5 or 10 points total.
I considered weighting acceptances higher (or lower) but like the balance now. I don’t want acceptance points to overwhelm the points you get for just keeping a story out there. And given that rejection is hard, I could make an argument for making acceptance worth the same (or fewer) points than form rejections.
With this system, every form rejection I receive means I get one additional submission point! And if I submit it again, I get another point! So, now I have a reason (a small, arbitrary and imaginary reason, but still a reason) to look forward to rejections.
Other things I’ve thought of (but not implemented) are giving more points based on number of words or scaling points based on how many days a story is on submission (or even negative points for gaps between receiving a response and sending it out again).
Right now, one could argue that this spreadsheet incentivizes me to write as much low-quality flash fiction as possible and submit it to the markets with the fastest turnaround times. Luckily, my general fiction writing inclinations counter-balance that influence. Even so, I may add new features in the future. At the moment, though, this is enough to help me take rejected stories and send them back out into the wild.
With this, I can set goals on getting a certain number of submission points per year, or month. I can hook it into other life gamification systems, like Habitica and promise myself rewards for certain submission point thresholds. The dinner I buy myself for hitting one thousand points is going to be…well, given the amount of food I’ll let myself eat, probably pretty disgusting.
Here’s a download link for a template version of the spreadsheet if you want to try it out. On the first tab you can update how many points each status is worth if you don’t like the default values. And please comment if you have your own mind hacks to deal with rejection, so that I may use them for personal gain.
On a different, but related vein, here’s a great post by Mary Robinette Kowal talking about writer’s block and depression and writing gamification.