I’ve posted a couple of other writings by The Ferrett (Ferrett Steinmetz), but this one is particularly excellent. It compares trying to get a date online with submitting writing to publishers.
The piece works well for me because I’ve been a writer since I was a teenager and have socialized with other writers for a couple decades now.
This is utterly accurate. Utterly.
When I send in a short story to a professional market, I am literally one of a thousand short stories they read that month. They only have so much money to buy stories at eight cents a word, and so the editors there are ridiculously picky.
And I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon:
I have colleagues who are brilliant writers who tell me these magazines just don’t get them. They write elegiac stories that break people’s hearts! The editors are stupid for not recognizing how great my friends are, and sometimes when they get rejected they send snide emails telling the magazine how fucking dumb they are and they didn’t want to be in your idiot magazine anyway.
These people never ever get published.
Then I have colleagues who aren’t brilliant writers, and when they get rejected they go, “Well, it’s a tough market, and even the best writers get rejected more often than they’re accepted. And it may be that I’m not the right fit for this magazine. But it’s also probable my story wasn’t as good as I thought it was, so… what can I do to make my future stories better? What am I doing wrong?”
A surprising amount of these folks go on to get published. It often takes years. And writing lots of stories. But honest self-appraisal gets ’em there a lot better than blame.
I say this because I’m watching reactions to this writing, wherein guys are like YOU CAN’T GET LAID ON FETLIFE I TRIED IT SUCKS MEN CAN’T GET A DECENT BREAK HERE.
And I think, “Wow, you are never getting published.”
Look. It sucks if you’re a guy – as mentioned elsewhere, “Dick is abundant and low value.” Women are beseiged with strange penises coming at them, like some LARP-action game of “Penis Invaders,” and you’re merely one in a bobbing sea of choad.
Kind of like, I dunno, the thousand slush manuscripts piling up this very week at Clarkesworld.
And yeah, there’s a lot of things out of your control. Maybe the woman you really want doesn’t like short guys. Maybe she needs waiflike elves, and you’re a big ol’ bushy bear. Maybe she’s a lesbian, wait, she’s a lesbian and you emailed her anyway and you’re getting upset about getting rejected? Go sit in the corner and regret your life’s choices.
But the point is, writing is a lot like life in that I find the people going, “I’M DOING NOTHING WRONG IT’S EVERYONE ELSE WHO’S FUCKED UP” tend to not really do all that well. This overweening confidence stops them from improving.
Whereas the people who are like, “Wait, maybe I’m not as good as I think I am, what actually works?” wind up eventually having the breakthrough that cracks the market.
And make no mistake: Sometimes that breakthrough is, “That market is not a good fit.” As much as I’d love to be published in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, I’ve come to realize that I don’t enjoy writing dreamlike fiction enough to get good at it. It’s fine.
Thinking of every magazine as basically being the same when you file the serial numbers off is a n00b’s mistake. Thinking of yourself as being this global blob of universal appeal is the other n00b mistake, because part of making yourself appealing as a fiction writer is writing stuff so personal and unique that, inevitably, some people won’t like it.
Writing isn’t about charming everyone. It’s about making something you’re happy with, and trying to find that intersection between “Personal” and “Publishable.”
And yeah, there’s the danger that people read this and take away the message that “Spamming is your only hope.” No. You can submit to Clarkesworld for years and never get in. Your hope is actually to go, “Wait, why is this not working for them? What other approaches are authors using? How can I get honest feedback, if this is what I want? Why is this not clicking?”
Or you can bitch to all your friends about how this is impossible, and the editors are too blind to see your amazing genius, and send ’em nasty notes that the editors pass around and quietly note you as “Being a dick I’d prefer not to work with,” and complain that the people who are getting published are sell-out hacks and it’s all about who you know, man.
It has all the satisfaction of self-righteous rage.
It also has none of the chance of being published.