WRITING QUESTION: WHEN TO GIVE UP ON A STORY

One of the hardest parts of being a writer is dealing with rejection. Many writers send out their shiny new story, receive one rejection, and put the story into the drawer, forever. Others make it to three or four rejections, and then it’s into the drawer with the story, forever. Very few will make it to eight or nine rejections. Even fewer go beyond. Should the author take the rejection as a sign that the story should never see the light of day? Or should the author continue to believe in his story and persist? Many stories are sold to the eighth magazine, or the twelfth magazine, or the twentieth magazine they’re sent to. That can only happen, though, if the author keeps sending them out. To bring some clarity to this issue, we asked the Odyssey graduates for their advice.

How many times do you submit a story before you give up on it?

Abby Goldsmith, class of 2004

Rejection letters have absolutely no bearing on whether or not I give up on a story. If I gave up after, say, twenty form letter rejections, I would have quit writing fiction altogether.

I never give up on a story that I believe is good. I’ve given up on novels I wrote as a twelve-year-old if you can call that “giving up” and I’ve given up on “stories” that had no plot. I’ve given up on stories that I recognized as pathetic attempts at expressing a ghost of a vague idea.

But if I think the story has something worth saying, then I keep submitting it, regardless of rejection letters. Some of my short stories have been circulating and collecting rejections for five or six years. Eventually I will run out of notable markets, and then I’ll self-publish them. The few pro magazine editors out there might not like my work–although some of their rejections are nice and encouraging–but I’ve had positive reactions from readers, which keeps me going.

Jason Ridler, class of 2005

I only give up on a story if I don’t like it anymore. I’ve sold stories that have been rejected over twenty times and sold stuff on the first shot out the door. The number of rejections doesn’t have much of a bearing on the quality of the tale since rejections can be for a whole host of reasons beyond an issue of quality. So I don’t let rejections be the gauge of whether or not I pull a story
from the inventory.

That said, you should listen to rejections if there’s advice included. That advice can help minimize the number of rejections you hit until a sale. But only take the advice if you think it’s right. If not, stick to your guns and keep marching.

In short, the path to publication is paved with rejections. Only abandon a story because it’s your choice. Don’t toss something away simply because it gets a lot of rejections. There could be markets just up ahead that are perfect for the story. I don’t know how many times that’s happened to me. I’ve sold at least a handful of stories to markets that did not exist when I first finished the
story.

With over 246 rejections last year to get to eleven sales, I’d hate to think of what little I’d have to show if I let the first handful of rejections stop me from getting my work published.

Ronya F. McCool, class of 2007

I think the answer to this question depends on how much faith you have in your story–how far are you willing to go to see it published? Then again, this is where faith and reality smash into each other–a point exemplified by the story of how Confederacy of Dunces finally saw print.

I’ve been considering retiring a story of mine that I believe really is as close to perfect as I’m going to get it. But it continues to be passed up by editors. I last sent it out in February, but I’m not ready to give up on it. I plan to retire it for a few more months, research new markets and try again. I could be a naive optimist, but I really want to see this particular piece published.

At Odyssey, we were advised that publication is really a matter of “right time, right place, right editor.” I believe that is true for this particular story. It used to be that the cost of submission was prohibitive and sometimes still is, but nowadays more magazines allow you to sample issues and submit works online. So minus some research, there’s not a lot of reason for me not to keep trying. I know that editor–someone who really gets the story and its message–is out there, somewhere.


For more information about Odyssey, its graduates and instructors, please visit our website at http://www.odysseyworkshop.org.

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