Heinlein’s Rules #5: Keep It in the Mail Until it Sells

Remember last week when I talked about the 98% rejection rate?

Yeah, get used to that.

Frank Herbert famously tried to get his weird desert-planet novel published at every publishing house that then existed. He started with the usual science fiction publishers, like Ace, and moved up to other publishers, like Random House, after each genre publisher turned him down. Even conventional publishers didn’t want anything to do with it and its freaky mysticism and drugs and sex and ecology crap. Finally, he sent the manuscript to Chilton, whom you may know better for printing automotive manuals.

Chilton decided to go with it, which is how we got Dune.

PICTURED: Not an automotive manual.

PICTURED: Not an automotive manual.

“The Remedy,” as I mentioned, was rejected by Asimov’s (and two other markets) before I submitted it to the Ray Bradbury Contest and won  third. “Gods of War” garnered six rejections before it won awards and got on MindFlights. I have others with even higher rejection counts. Some are still counting.

Blood on the Floor is an anthology entirely about how writers deal with rejection. Because we deal with it a lot. How you respond to it tells you what kind of writer you are.

I’ve gotten to a place in my career where I enjoy each rejection. They delight me. Because it means I’m one step closer to finding the right market for that story, whether it’s the Amazon list or someone’s anthology project or some professional editor’s hands. It means I can move forward with that story, and moving forward is the important thing.

This rule is both a psychology and an action. You have to get comfortable with the story coming back to you in the mail, and dusting it off and sending it right back out again. Paper your bathroom with the rejection slips. Burn them. Some of the editors will burn you (I have one response for my Asian gothic “White Man’s Burden” that turns the screen brown when I read it).

Whatever you gotta do to deal with it, and to keep on going, do that thing. Because each rejection gets you closer to that story’s first sale.

When it does…celebrate. Have a cup of jasmine tea. Somebody just paid you money for something you wrote. Nothing, nothing, comes close to that feeling – the firm and certain knowledge that someone else values your work.

Then, work on secondary sales. Once the check from the first sale clears, send it off to Escape Pod/Pseudo-Pod/PodCastle (as appropriate) and let them pay you again for the audio rights. Send the story to foreign markets (I like SF World out of Chengdu, China, but Iran has a surprisingly vibrant SF community too). Keep an eye open for reprint-friendly anthologies and contests, and send the story there. Put it up for sale yourself, if you haven’t already. I’ve made more money from “The Remedy” and “Gods of War” and “The Short, Strange Life of Comrade Lin” from self-published sales than I did on the initial sales (if any).

Before you do any of that, read the agreement with your first market carefully. Most of them want exclusive first-print English language rights in their appropriate markets followed by non-exclusive rights after one year. What that means is they want the right to publish the only copy of your story, in English, for one year after the publication date. Online markets tend to say “online” or “worldwide,” traditional magazines tend to limit it to one country (“American first-print rights”) or continent (“European first-print rights”). Each market will have its own way of handling the rights, double-check you’re not double-crossing them.

Make that story work. And if it has to go out again and again, that’s what it has to do.

And then write your next story…you still have to lay down your day’s workdcount, remember. But, most importantly…

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About R. Jean Mathieu

They say he speaks five languages, was conceived on a chess board, and once seduced a tong boss' daughter and lived to tell the tale. All we know is, he's called Roscoe. You can find more scurrilous lies at rjeanmathieu.com and buy his books at fedoraarts.com. View all posts by R. Jean Mathieu

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