Friday, July 03, 2015

Manuscripts, Rejection, and the Trunk Process

The other day after Wordos, someone asked me what I do with manuscripts that are rejected: do I send them back out?  What if you liked it when you wrote it, but now you think it's bad?

The Rockstar Writers say, "Write the story that you'd like to read," and "Don't try to write what's 'hot.'"  And this is difficult advice to follow when (as I've been told) one has a quirky writing style, and publishing goes through trends.

When a manuscript comes back, I try to send it back out.  (I should be better at this than I am.)  I may scan through it to see if there's something stupid, like a syntax error that I've missed.   Looking at a story once the brilliance of a fresh work has been dimmed by the submission process makes it easier to see if a scene's staging has become less clear over time, or if the characters have become less clearly motivated.  But I really don't want to get stuck in over-revising a manuscript; to quote Edna Mode, "I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now."

At some point, I may look at a manuscript, say, "What was I thinking?" and pull it out of the submission process.  And then there are the battered manuscripts that have made the rounds to ten or so markets and have either garnered "Guess why we rejected your manuscript" form rejections, or else have gotten glowing rejections prominently featuring the word, "but."  The less personal feedback I've gotten, the harder it is to know what to do with them.

So, do I have stories that I've pulled from the submission process?  Yes:

  • The short I wrote about a over-sexed talking teddy bear that I wrote about six months before the movie (which I haven't seen) "Ted" came out.   It's a victim of timing, and will always seem derivative.  
  • The fairy tale retelling story that I couldn't sell because the market was either glutted with fairy-tale retellings or fairy tale retellings went out of fashion.   I might have found an anthology, but I ended up using this as a marketing piece.
  • The high fantasy story that's at 5500 words, which puts it over the sweet spot of 4500 words for a short story.  I'm running out of professional markets to send this to.
  • The quirky Christmas story that I like and think is perfectly fine, but apparently confuses or is unsatisfying -- it resonates so strongly we me that I can't see how it doesn't resonate with others.  
  • The samurai story I wrote in 2003 that everyone says is funny, but now feels slightly dated.
  • The madcap Superman story that one editor thought was hysterical (but didn't buy), and which another editor scorned with "is this supposed to be satire?"  

Once they're pulled, there's some triage.  The first question is: "Is this manuscript broken?"  If the answer is no, then I have to research a market that might buy it, or they go into the self-publishing pile (right, e-pub formatting...).  If the answer is yes, then the next question is, "Do I want to try to or can I fix it?"  If the answer is yes, then it goes into the "To Edit Later" pile (yes, it's a growing pile).  If the answer is no, then it goes into a trunked stories pile (yes, that's growing, too).    

In terms of trunked stories, it's helpful to remember that painters have scrapbooks filled with studies or first attempts at a subject.  It's helpful to remember the painters, composers and writers who were better known after they were dead.   And, who knows, maybe those old drafts will be the bane of English Majors in a hundred years....

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