How My First Short Story Was Accepted For Publication

Well, it finally happened. I opened an email today and saw the news that one of my short stories had been accepted for publication.

And after only 15 rejections! (That’s crazy talk!)

I was absolutely ecstatic. Still am, actually.

I’ve emailed the publication with my formatted manuscript and put the contract in the mail. Due to a backlog, it may be a while before I hear back from the editor, so now it’s just a waiting game.

While I wait, I thought it might be of use to someone to know exactly what I did to get there. I started trying just under two years ago, and I should have my first professional publication by the end of the year. Maybe I did something right. If I did, maybe I can help you, too.

What I Did To Get Published

I have a handful of shorts that, over the past few years, I’ve kept on continuous submission. I never let one sit unsubmitted for more than a day once I get a rejection letter. The way I see it is simple: there is no way to get published if I don’t try.

So I went to Duotrope, picked the professionally paying markets (those that pay $.05+ a word), and started tracking my submissions on a spreadsheet. When a rejection comes in, I label it under “Rejection Letters” in Gmail, mark it on my spreadsheet, and send the manuscript off to the next magazine on my list.

That’s the easy part. Honestly, it is. The hard part, as any writer knows is writing a salable story.

That’s where Tobias Buckell’s Nascence comes in. If you haven’t read it, go buy a copy. It’s worth every penny. I pinky-promise.

I can honestly say that I attribute this sale to Buckell’s advice, specifically to two major lessons I learned from the book.

First, Submit to Professional Markets.

Remember, crap rolls downhill. Shit filters down. If you write stories that are good enough, you’ll eventually sell them to a professional magazine. You’re only as good as the company you keep, after all.  If you’ve exhausted all of the pro gigs, then move into semi-pro.

But why short-change yourself from the outset?

Second, Answer The Question.

What’s that question, you ask? What single question could be that important?

Simple: What’s the fucking point?

If you can’t answer that about your story, then it won’t sell. Period. I had already received a rejection for this story when I read Nascence and saw The Question. When I went back and reread it, I realized, there was no point. It was just an idea.  A good idea, yes, but just an idea.

My original idea was this: Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a zombie in Best Buy?

Then: Wouldn’t it be cool if that zombie got shot in the head and its brains went all over a salesman’s shirt?

That’s it. That was my story. You’ve read it. 3,000 words of that.

What’s the fucking point, you ask me? There wasn’t one. The story was fun and self-indulgent, but there was no fucking point.

Then, I went back and revised it. It ended up being 2,000 words longer than it started, and that’s after I cut out a lot of the crap and found the point.

I found the story. I found the characters. I found that the zombies were, like in any good zombie story, the set-dressing for the people in it.  Here’s the synopsis I included in my cover letter with the story (note: the synopsis was requested as a part of the submission).

“Working Retail” is a comedic look at a recent college graduate who is working at MediaTown to make ends meet after the zombie apocalypse ruined his prospects of employment in his field.  He was promised a cushy job at a tech firm after graduation, but unlike him, the firm did not survive the outbreak.  Now, he is struggling to make ends meet while he not only deals with problem customers, but also zombies who shamble into his department and want to buy HDTVs and laptops.

I am a college English instructor, with my M.A. in English and working toward my Ph.D. in film and television studies. I have recently created and taught a senior-level horror literature course at my institution, where I got the idea for “Working Retail” and what life would be like if a zombie apocalypse did not destroy the basic infrastructure of our day to day lives–how would we adapt to zombies as we work our nine-to-fives?

You see that? That’s the fucking point, as Tobias Buckell would put it. I found it, latched onto it, and sold the story to the first market who read it. All because I found that nugget of what the story was actually about, not what I thought the story was about.

Waiting and Seeing

Now, it’s back to waiting. My acceptance letter said that the story should be out during 2012, which is a pretty quick turn-around, I think. I’ll be sure to post updates as they come and will definitely post the link to where you can read the story once it’s available.

Thanks to everyone for all their support as I built up to this, the hardest sale I’ll ever make. I hope that some of the lessons I learn along the way can help you, too.

Comments