Drinking Fountain in Shaw’s Gardens from Poŝtmarkoj el Esperantujo

As far as I can tell, I’ve never written a proper year-end wrap-up of my fiction writing. But I haven’t really done enough fiction writing previously to warrant it. My first fiction publication was in 2006 (Milos kaj Donos) and my first speculative fiction publication was in 2010 (Kion dio farus?). My 2016 story, Krespusko sub Fago, won an honorable mention in the Belartaj Konkursoj. But this year was basically the first year, I made a serious effort to submit fiction in English.

In 2021, beginning on June 12, I made 49 submissions of 10 manuscripts to 25 different markets. Four of the manuscripts were older (the oldest manuscript was started in 2004) though much revised. Six of the manuscripts were newly written in 2021 (including a 22,000 word novella, which was begun in fall 2020).

I received 39 rejections. Eight submissions are still outstanding, not including one “revise and resubmit.” And I received one acceptance.

Most of the rejections were variations on “Unfortunately, this story didn’t work as well for me as I’d hoped” or “Unfortunately, your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now.” One wrote, “There were things we enjoyed about it, but overall it didn’t quite work for us.”

I got two rejections that included actual, actionable feedback:

I loved the cooking details and craft details, and that the [MC] tried to think his way out of his fate, but the fable overall felt a bit more simple to me than I needed in order for it to feel satisfying, and the frame narrative to me didn’t have as much of an inextricable role in the story as I was hoping.

While I liked [the MC]’s curiosity, especially as it serves to move the story along, I found I did want to see more of his thoughts on what was happening around him, and to see his world through his own eyes, to see what he would think when he saw the sheep on the surrounding hills, etc.

My one acceptance, for The Third Time’s the Charm was by Water Dragon Publishing which I’ve already written extensively about.

I’ve learned a lot about writing this year — most of all from my interactions with Paper Angel Press (Water Dragon Publishing is an imprint of Paper Angel Press), the managing editor Steven Radecki, and the lively community of associated writers (aka The Island of Misfit Toys). The feedback I got from the reader panel was very helpful to identify and correct a number of small but significant issues with the manuscript. I learned several really useful things from the editorial process. The most important of these was to report facts via the character’s observations in preference to reporting them as the narrator — this corresponds directly to the comment I got above from one of my rejections, but which I couldn’t really understand until I saw what the editor was doing with my manuscript. Now I can watch for that myself.

I’ve also learned a lot about publishing — and about promoting myself. I’ve never felt comfortable engaging in self-promotion, but it’s clearly become an increasing important part of the publishing process. To paraphrase the demotivator: “The only consistent feature of all your unprofitable books is you.” I’m even using Facebook (Ugh). But I’ve drawn the line at Instagram.

I learned from various other experiences as well. I attended two writing conferences, Readercon 31 and Discon III. In both cases, due to the pandemic, I was a virtual attendee. Readercon did a fantastic job of creating opportunities to meet and interact with people, perhaps because it was virtual only. (And also due to a particularly talented organizer who managed the technical landscape like a virtuoso.) It was at Readercon where I met the friendly folks from Water Dragon. I didn’t feel like I really met anyone at Discon III which was split between a face-to-face environment and a virtual environment. The virtual part of the conference felt like a balkanized afterthought.

I also investigated two local writing-support organizations: Straw Dog Writers and Amherst Writers. I attended one writing workshop (by Straw Dog) “Darling, You’re Making a Scene.” It was well organized and I learned some stuff. I haven’t joined either organization yet, but I probably should — for self-promotion reasons, if for no other.

In the new year, I’ve identified several things I want to work on. I recognize I need to get better at story structure. This is hard because I like my stories the way they are and I don’t necessarily want to write stories where the stakes are higher or the main character has to “risk everything”. That may be a hill I’m willing to die on. (Or maybe not, thinking about my most recent writing.)

I also want to get better at titles for my stories. I was fascinated when I learned that the author wrote I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter, in part, because it was a meme and they wanted to co-opt and subvert the meme. Note: I’m not saying I want to have my titles embroiled in the same kind of controversy (or any kind of controversy, honestly) — but that watching these events unfold that brought home to me how important titles are and that I need to put more thought and effort into choosing titles because I suck at it.

I would also like to join a writing group. Unfortunately, I’ve not had good experiences with most of the writing groups I’ve joined previously. Many of them were organized by, and primarily peopled with, women and felt unwelcoming to me. I do have a small circle of readers who have graciously read my manuscripts and provide excellent, thoughtful feedback, but I think I need more in-depth critiques. Maybe I should consider taking a class. Or I would love to attend Viable Paradise. But those are hard to do while I’m employed full time. And when I do have time, I want to spend it writing.

I’m also hoping to attend several writing conferences in 2022. I’ve already signed up for Arisia and Chicon. And I’ve agreed to attend the Rhode Island ComicCon to help table for Paper Angel Press in November (though I’ve not yet registered). But the Omicron variant of COVID may prevent me from attending Arisia. And we’ll have to see what conditions are like next fall.

Mostly, though, I’m just going to keep writing because, for the first time in a long time, I’m finding that I’m happy. In no small part, this is the result of working with Paper Angel Press and Steven Radecki. I’m constantly impressed by their energy, professionalism, and support. I’d been unhappy for so long that this year has been a revelation to me. For the first time in almost as long as I can remember, I’m genuinely looking forward to what the next year will bring.

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