The Millstone

December 28, 2011 in General Topics

Every year around this time response times slump among many of the fiction markets. It’s hard for me to fault them. Outside of the fact that slush readers are often volunteers or only barely paid, it’s a time constraint issue given the holidays. I’ve had my own millstone to toil with lately and it, too, is a beast hewn of time. And friction. The two are interrelated.

To begin with, there isn’t much to report at the moment in terms of submissions. It’s a very serial pursuit, getting short fiction published, and I’m sad to say that — outside of the rush of activity when a story is accepted — it is usually quite drab and boring. There are endless hours writing cover letters (even when one has a template), formatting a tale to match some editor’s guidelines (“I need it in Cyrilian in pink in open office format!”), sending off mail at the store, or what have you. I simply soldier on, as my dad might say. It is a slow, deliberate process. Tedium doesn’t begin to describe it.

(Notice the word “purposeful” is nowhere in that paragraph. Why did I bring this up? Because it gives me a chance to point out just how much I hate that word.)

When you’re in grind mode and just keep churning fiction in the hopper, (by the way, I just added another science fiction piece), you can make the mistake of drawing comparisons. This is insidious stuff.

More than anything else, comparisons to other authors and their style, talent and accomplishments hold the greatest potential to derail an author. Nothing sucks worse than when you see a string of rejections or non-responses, and along comes Author McAlwaysPublished landing yet another sale and gushing review.

I deal with a lot of insecurity. I’m not afraid to admit that. And it’s kind of odd. There was a time where I couldn’t have imagined ever having a fiction sale — now I have nearly a dozen. I couldn’t have imagined accolades — that’s coming along, too, with three to my name (check “honors” in the tab up top).

But I fall into the trap of benchmarking the value of my fiction along a sliding scale that continually nudges itself above my head. It rises because I’m the one that keeps shoving it upwards.

My latest obsession is the lack of a pro sale to my name. Oh, I’ve come very, very close before. But the lack of this credit type gnaws at me. I know a very nice fellow author I’ve had a few interactions with — great guy — who has turned out two sales to a very top-tier pro market. Good for him. He once commented that he’d been trying since 2007.

I laughed when he said that. Bud, this is not a derision at all, but I’ve got rejection letters from the same place…dozens of them from this one market, since 2004.

The sad thing is that when I do eventually get a pro-level sale, I’ll be thrilled for a few weeks, then the thought will enter my skull: “What if it’s a fluke?”

Then, of course, the other questions: “Am I fooling myself?”. “Is my writing simply never going to be good enough?”. “Am I not talented enough for this craft?”

I think it’s absolutely critical to get a handle on this, or it’s going to drive me whacko. I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching and praying about it. My fiction has gradually improved over the years, so there’s no need for me to imagine it won’t continue to improve going forward, and I am certainly taking steps to ensure that happens. It just feels like things are. Taking. So. Long.

Seriously – where the hell are the sales?

I have no easy answers or solutions, and perhaps that is the most maddening thing of all.

Stay tuned.