Sometimes I might start a post by asking a question and then giving my answer to that question.
This is not one of those posts.
This time, I’m asking a question, but have no concrete answer. I’m really wondering how to know when a story is no good. And by no good, I don’t mean that the story needs some revising; I’m saying that the entire story needs to be thrown into the trash.
I’ll use a couple of examples from my own work:
“Story A” is something I’m really proud of. I wrote the first draft in a single night and really felt it. Right away, it got a couple of personal rejections from pro-paying markets and a shortlist rejection from a semi-pro site. That makes me think it’s a perfectly acceptable story and I shouldn’t change a thing in it. Oh yeah, I should mention that it’s a story that will turned 5 in May.
Five years of submitting and my “perfect” story hasn’t been picked up yet.
So let’s look at “Story B”. “Story B” is a story I was never super-crazy about. It was based on a dream I had, but I could just never get the ideas on paper. The characters are unlikable and in the end, the plot is pretty generic. It’s a story that I never felt was ready and I just continued to submit it, hoping that it would either get published so I could forget about it, or at least remain pending for six months so that I could put off the revisions.
After nine rejections, I finally decided to save the “good” parts and delete the rest, and then rebuild from there. But before I actually did that, laziness got the better of me and I sent it off to one more publisher, vowing to start the major revision after that rejection came in (which would hopefully be something like a year later.)
Please note that the behavior above is totally unacceptable for a real writer 🙂
Anyhow…that usually slow market answered a week later. With a contract to publish. And no, I’m not going to tell you the title of the story. We shouldn’t be insulting our own works or the editors who agree to publish them.
But what does it all mean? One story I love can’t get picked up, while another I hate got accepted just one rejection shy of getting thrown in the recycle bin.
Is it all random?
Obviously not, but it just goes to show that one editor’s trash could be another one’s treasure, to use a cliché.
Maybe the answer is simpler than I think:
Have more people critique your work. If a whole bunch of people say “good job” then it’s probably okay, but if a whole bunch of people think it’s a stinker, don’t wait for a dozen rejection letters to tell you that.
Which, I guess means my only viable solution is to unleash “Story A” on our good friends at Scribophile.
What about you? Do you have any personal favorites that you just can’t sell? Leave a comment and let us know why you think that is.