Being Good Is Not Enough

Here are a few verbatim excerpts from some recent rejection notes I’ve received for different stories from different markets. Hopefully the editors and first readers who wrote them don’t mind — any advice or encouragement they take the time to send is always gratefully received. But it just goes to demonstrate that having an editor or slush reader like or even love your story isn’t enough. As well as being flawless, the fit and timing have to be just right.

Note: I’ve omitted the inevitable qualifiers, the list of perceived faults and deficiencies, the particular reasons the submission wasn’t appropriate for that market at that time, etc…so the skew here is obviously to the positive.
“This is well written, and riveting. The characterization is strong, the ending is just right. Your descriptions and narration were great…A beautiful story, expertly told…”
I think this idea has great potential and I hope it finds a home. Your story made it quite far in our process and I’m sorry to let it go.”
“This is a perfectly good story…”
“… this piece is fantastic. Absolutely amazing. I really enjoyed the read…I loved this story — and I really do: the prose, the idea, the pace — …”
“…This is a very fine piece of sf…”
“…all the staff agreed that this story was very good…”
“…It had good imagery and the prose is fluid, so you can write well for sure…”
This is a good story and I enjoyed reading it…”
“This has an inventive setting and the main character is interesting, and there are some beautiful bits of prose…”
So if all the above are true, what, then, does it take to achieve a sale?
Research the market you’re submitting to. Read what it publishes. Always follow the submission guidelines. Don’t forget that any story can always be improved: carefully consider the advice given, even if it can sometimes be contradictory (different editors have different tastes, target audiences, and visions for their market). If a common criticism emerges from different readers then take particular note…in the end, you can’t buck the market.
And always take this piece of advice to heart, because very few of my published stories sold to the first market they were submitted to, or to a market I had never been rejected from before:
“Please consider submitting to us again. Best success selling this story elsewhere.”


Brain The Size Of A Star System…

“…and they ask me to calculate what?” (Apologies to Marvin the Paranoid Android fans.)

My flash story “Within Without” is now up at Lakeside Circus. There’s also a podcast version, read by the inestimable Don Pizarro. Various beta-readers commented on the machine-like quality of the “voice” in this story, yet Don manages to inject both a sense of gravitas and escalating urgency to his performance. I’m really pleased with it.

“Within Without” features a Matrioshka Brain, a solar-system sized calculating engine, facing an existential crisis. The story arose from a prompt requiring the use of frames — a story set within a story set within a story, etc. In the end I didn’t write anything like that at all, but instead used a nested structure. And even that was drastically abbreviated. So basically I utterly failed at satisfying the prompt criteria. Still…as to the story itself, you can judge for yourself.

A spiral structure in the material around the old star R Sculptoris. ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/M. Maercker et al.

A visualization of a spiral structure in the material around the old star R Sculptoris.  Not a matrioshka brain at all. No.
ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/M. Maercker et al.


July. An uneasy, humid heat pervades the land. As far as I’m aware, no stories of mine are going to be published this month. (This is not something unusual.) Instead I’m concentrating on writing new stuff. Trying to finish off works in progress that have been stewing for months. Blasting out new ones before they get a chance to atrophy. Making sure the word engine stays ticking over. Making sure I keep looking at the world…aslant.

Dawlish Pier, photo by Henry Szabranski

Dawlish Pier, photo by Henry Szabranski

I See Faces In Things. Don’t You?

Pleased to announce my dark flash story “Animus” has been accepted by Horror D’Oeuvres.

I wrote this story whilst tossing and turning in bed with flu, so that may explain some of its hallucinatory fever dream vibe. Combine a high temperature with a writerly imagination and all sorts of strange visions may result. Once I was laid up with tonsillitis and I still clearly remember the weird fish that swam across the ceiling during my illness. And a fever wasn’t always required before I started to “see things”. As a child I was taken to the doctor because I claimed disembodied faces floated about my bed at night and stopped me from sleeping. A course of placebo sugar pills later and the apparitions faded away…or so I assured my worried parents.

Nowadays I hardly ever hallucinate. Apart from the boys’ toys (which are always chattering away to us and to each other), I haven’t heard common household items speak to me for a good long while. Although I admit I do hear voices emanating from my phone from time to time.

“Animus” will “go live” later this month, at 12 EST on 20th June (to be more or less exact). A site subscription is required to read the full story.

Update: “Animus”‘ is now live at the site.


Fantasy Circus Or Lakeside Scroll?

Happy to learn a couple of stories have been accepted in the past few weeks. “Within Without”, a hard(ish) SF flash piece at Lakeside Circus, and a 5K story “The Dragonmaster’s Ghost” at Fantasy Scroll Mag. The latter is the third and very probably final instalment in the “Mevlish The Mighty” sequence of tales that started with The Edge Of Magic and continued in The Clay Farima. I’m really pleased all three found good homes and readers can follow the whole saga (if they wish!).

Pure coincidence, but the current Issue 1 cover at Fantasy Scroll Mag by Jonathan Gragg is actually a pretty good match for the theme of “The Dragonmaster’s Ghost”. More details about this story and “Within Without” closer to their publication dates.


Happy Easter


Been a while since my last post. Reason being…there’s not much news on the writing front. Various pokers in the fire, none ready to withdraw yet. Past two weeks spent in Cornwall, the last week in the Lizard, the most southerly part of the United Kingdom, a peninsula surrounded on all sides by coves and cliffs and harbours and beaches, each day spent at a different one. Glorious. My body and mind are still recovering.

Kynance Cove

Kynance Cove

Fantasy For Good

Very pleased to announce my story “The Edge Of Magic” will be included in the upcoming charitable anthology “Fantasy For Good”, edited by Richard Salter and Jordan Ellinger, published by Nightscape Press. Net proceeds will be going to Colon Cancer Alliance.

The anthology’s contributor line-up includes some of the best known names in fantasy writing. Frankly, I can’t believe I’m sharing a ToC with these people: Michael Moorcock (I grew up reading Elric, Corum, Von Bek, et al: they’re a part of my writerly DNA), Piers Anthony (again, I grew up reading early “Xanth” novels, “Kirlian Quest”, “Blue Adept”, etc.), Alan Dean Foster (before “The Empire Strikes Back” was more than an improvised twinkle in George Lucas’ eye, the only Star Wars sequel that existed was Foster’s “Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye“), Neil Gaiman, Nnedi Orokafor, Carrie Vaughn, Jay Lake…the stellar list goes on (see more here). Oh, and there’s also some guy called George RR Martin, who’s recently enjoyed some modicum of success with a popular long-form tale involving dragons, knights and zombies — but to me, he’ll always be the author of “A Song For Lya“, “Sandkings“, “In The House Of The Worm”, “The Way Of Cross And Dragon“…some of my very favourite SF stories.

Oh, and the anthology cover. Lookit that cover by Paul Pederson. Judge the book by it. Go on: judge it.

So yeah. Many, many reasons to rush out and buy multiple copies of this anthology when it comes out this summer.

I’m honoured and humbled to be a small part of it.