A short story gets accepted and…

I searched on “story accepted!” and found a number of instances of jubilant authors. Exhibits A, B, C and D.  Everybody is happy and they want you to read their stories.  That’s cool.  We write to be read, right?  And we all want to be accepted.  I’ve had my own little victory dances here.  But what does it really mean to have a story “accepted”?  Does it matter who accepts it?  If money comes along?  If anyone reads the thing or reviews it?  If it wins an award?

Acceptance for readers mean they get access to the story.  They hope that the stories that will move them and stick in their memories will somehow find their way to them.  (For some readers, finding the writer becomes possible after they’ve seen the name a few times.  I sought out Harlan Ellison, Philip K Dick and, most recently, Ron Carlson, after bumping into their stories from time to time and saying wow.  Readers also seek writers’ stories after engaging reviews or recommendations from friends.)

So acceptances that ultimately bring a story to a reader are successful if the story entertains or transforms the person who reads the words.  But what do acceptances mean to an author?

  • Encouragement — Hey!  Somebody likes what I wrote!  I’m not the only one!  Writing is a lonely business.  Almost by definition, it means long hours spent by yourself typing out words with only yourself as an audience.  During this time, any sane person has doubts.  Even an insane person like myself, who claims he can sell anything, has doubts.  (Just ask me about my current anxieties about bring the worst playwright in New York.)  When someone, often someone who reject over 90% of what they are offered, says yes, there is a validation of sorts.  I do believe that any worthwhile artist needs to be self-validating, but that does not diminish the good feeling of an acceptance.
  • Proof points — Editors are as nervous and anxiety-ridden as writers.  Maybe more so.  If you show them that anyone has taken a chance on you, I believe it reduces the fear of accepting something that will make them look foolish or diminish their publications.  I list recent pubs that have accepted my stories in every cover letter.  As the list has grown, I’ve gotten nicer responses.  (Of course, this could be because the stories are getting better, but I have my doubts.)  My last two rejections notices came with virtual apologies and assurances that the stories would sell somewhere.
  • Money — I do not disparage those who get free copies or just have their story added to an e-publication that does not pay.  I’ve been there.  It is a good starting point.  It is an exceptional starting point if you end up in a little magazine that is read for “best of” anthologies.  But the currency of our culture is… well… currency.  If you get a little money, it means someone put that much extra into validating you.  Get a nice check and you don’t feel as guilty for all that money put into writing books, courses and stamps.  Get a really nice check, and maybe you can dream about doing this full time.  Sometimes I turn the money back to the pub if I feel it is the right thing to do, but I don’t give any of my stories away for free anymore.
  • Prestige — You can be mocked for selling a short story or for selling anything in a genre that is disparaged by the New York Review of Books (virtually anything I write falls into that category).  You will also run into a lot of people who have never written more than a piece they got a A in high school composition for who will think selling a story is no big deal.  They could do the same thing if they wanted to.  These folks can discourage the faint of heart, but their barbs won’t touch me.  For most people, the news of a sale brings on honor to the author.  Oftentimes to an embarrassing extent, people will get excited and even brag about you.  You can become “the writer” among your peers, who will send their aspiring children to you for advice or ask you to look at their letters to the electric company.  This is helpful.  Writers need to have their identities as writers reinforced in every way.  (Just don’t expect friends, family or colleagues to read any fiction you wrote.  That rarely happens, even if you write short shorts.)
  • Bragging rights — Yes, writers like to brag.  They like to compare.  They like to count.  And selling a story gives you something to talk about on Facebook or at a class reunion.
  • Exposure — Unsold stories are not usually eligible for awards or anthologies.  They do not get reviewed and do not get read by agents.
  • Feedback — On occasion, a sold story leads to comments that are helpful.  To be honest, seeing one in typeface in the context of other writing forces me to see where I can do better.
  • The end to a long wait  — See the last blog entry.  You can now exhale.

I should add one more: the fulfillment of the purpose (at least partially) of the work.  Stories are communications.  They are written to be read.  (And one hopes that they will be read by an audience that is exactly right — about which I’ll write in another blog entry.)

Okay, is this a bit more than the usual, “I got accepted!  Yay!  Please read my story!”?  I hope so.

By the way, Zeitgeist Rangers sold to Bards and Sages (Yay!) and should be published by the end of the year.  Please read my story.

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