Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Writing Lesson #5: First Acceptance

Note: Sara is on holiday so I'm posting this on her behalf.

When I finished school in 1988, I moved back to England, and began in earnest my quest to get my short stories published. I learned two things fairly quickly. First of all, the short horror story market was a rich vein (no pun intended) in the late 1980s, and there were a lot of magazines around – pro and semi pro – publishing the sort of nasty little stories I was writing.

Secondly, I was now in the grown-up world and things were very different. As a minor, everyone had been terribly supportive of my writing – presumably not wishing to crush my fragile adolescent soul. But once I passed the age of 18, I was an adult – at least in British law – and I was just one of many people writing and submitting. I was not a special little snowflake, and my form rejection letters reflected that.

It was a harsh lesson, but I’d been researching the whole process of submitting, and I’d come to understand that one must expect rejection, and not take it personally. I’d also been researching where to send my stories. One day browsing the newsagents in my lunch break (as I’d left school and entered adulthood, I’d also entered the scary world of Working for a Living), I came across a magazine called FEAR. As well as articles and reviews on books and movies in the horror genre – and covers that would offend most people of a fragile nature – they featured short stories by new writers in every issue. Aha, a market for me, I thought, and after buying and studying an issue, I sent to them a story called “The Top Floor”. I’d written it at age 17, and it was about a young man who goes to visit his friend in his new apartment, and stumbles across a ghostly re-enactment of a murderer who butchered his family in the apartment block years before.

It was a story with flaws, there is no doubt about that. But it was set on Friday October 13 (yes, it was also full of clich├ęs) and 1989 – the year I submitted it to FEAR – was a year that October 13 happened to fall on a Friday. I think this appealed to the editors. They accepted the story, and it appeared in the Hallowe’en issue that year. They also paid me £50 for this.

I admit I got a little smug. I was 19, I’d just sold a story for what was, I thought at the time, a considerable amount of money, and I thought I’d got it made.

Sadly, reality swiftly crept in. That £50 was a lot of money. It’s more than I’ve ever made, collectively, from my writing in the 21 years since then, including all the royalties I’ve had from SUFFER THE CHILDREN.

I learned I couldn’t give up the day job if I was to continue writing. But I also learned that what I was writing was publishable, and it paid to be persistent.

The rejection letters continued to come, but I framed that first acceptance letter and to this day it hangs on the wall in my ‘writing corner’, to remind me of the day I first became a ‘proper’ writer.

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