Friday, 18 August 2017

When should we give up?

I don't mean giving up on writing, but when should we give up on a particular story?

Like most short story writers I've submitted to competitions and magazines and like many of us, have received more rejections than acceptances. I've resubmitted several pieces elsewhere and have sometimes received more welcome news, with a placement or even a prize.  This has often come on the story's 3rd or 4th outing. Some were resubmitted after a few tweaks, a couple went exactly as they were.

But what about those stories which (I almost said 'who') have been rejected or relegated to the non-long-list pile several times. Obviously one can re-read, examine for flaws and re-write, but when any form of success seems light-years away, what then?

We all know success isn't just about having a good, well-written story, it's also about finding the right magazine or competition. It's also about a bit, or probably quite a lot, of luck. Magazines might be a little more predictable as they give guidelines for submissions, but competitions are a trickier beast.

We are frequently advised to read previous winning stories and if these are readily available online are well worth checking out. Sometimes, though, it means purchasing an anthology, some of which come with fairly hefty price tags. There's a limit to how many we can buy but I guess if we are focusing on specific competitions, this would be money well spent.  But although the long-listers and short-listers may be the same readers, many annual competitions have a different judge each year so unless we can find previous winners selected by this judge we may still be in the dark as to what hits their prize winning criteria.

I've done my fair share of research. I read the winning stories and often think 'Wow, a worthy winner.' but I also find that many competitions select writing that I find quite bleak. I note that most of my winning or listed stories, especially flash fiction, have been my starker examples and that's not my favourite writing style. It's not that I want to write only cosy little stories, indeed, a couple of the lighter stories I've submitted to women's magazine have been considered too downbeat, and one happy-ending story which featured a main character who was physically disabled was deemed 'not suitable.'

So, where to go from here?  To search out new competitions? To rewrite the rejected stories? To keep submitting as they are? Or quietly put them to bed?  I've done all four.

What do you do in face of rejections?


Rae Stoltenkamp said...

I found exactly the same situation when entering competitions. I was then reworking stories to fit a particular brief which I didn't feel suited my writing style. So I rebelled and moved into longer pieces I prefer and then self-publishing. I may not have been long listed or won any competitions but I'm no longer beset with frustration.

Nicola said...

It is difficult to fulfil the criteria of magazines and competitions. Like Rae, I kept true to myself and self-published the stories deemed unsuitable for the magazines. However, surprises do happen. Just a few weeks ago I was contacted by an editor who was interested in a story I submitted two years ago. That story has since been bought! YAY! I think the lesson to be learned is never give up on a story. Thanks for sharing such an interesting post.

Rosie Canning said...

I agree with Nicola: "Never give up on a story'. You'll know when the right competition comes along. As I said on Twitter, I tend to just forget them which seems easier these days. Or I share with Greenacre Writers or a particular writing friend and ask for feedback. It's amazing what new eyes can see.

Wendy's Writing said...

It's a tricky one, Lindsay - after all, someone has to win but the subjectivity of the judging is why I never enter competitions (only judge them!)

Patsy said...

Rejections - and acceptances - are VERY subjective. More than once I've had stories rejected, with an explanation from one market and then accepted with a comment which totally contradicts the rejection.

Maria said...

Regarding competitions, it usually comes down to the judges own personal preferences, so a story that hasn't been placed in two or three competitions may do well on a fourth outing with a new title perhaps...

If you love your stories just the way they are...why not publish them for yourself? However, if you want them to earn you some money, you may have to keep sending them out, and who knows, just because they weren't a hit wth one editor, that doesn't mean they won't suit another.

Good luck

Lindsay said...

Thank you for all the comments. Food for thought there! I've given one story, which was causing me some doubts, a tweak and one more outing! We'll see if that helped!