The 30-Year Story
A looong time ago, I wrote a 4500-word light romance. Back then, there were a number of print magazines that published that sort of thing. I worked on it till it was polished, then sent it off. It didn’t sell. I sent it to another market. Same result. Over the next few years, every time I spotted a new market, I sent it off. It never sold, but I kept it in inventory. As time went by, print markets for popular fiction began to shrink. So did the story length they wanted. Each time, I revised the story downward. It went from 4500 words to 3500, to 3000, then to 2500 and finally to 2000. The last time out, it had shrunk to 1500 words.
Meanwhile, I was having some success with other things: confessions, short articles and essays, a newspaper column for a year and a half, and dozens of academic papers written in the course of earning two master’s degrees. The years continued to pile up, accompanied by another development, the rise of the Internet, followed by a proliferation of online magazines. Now there are hundreds, if not thousands of markets for every possible form of fiction.
In an online forum, I saw a call for submissions for an online newsletter, Seeds, edited by Michael Bracken. The story fit the market, but he only wanted 1000 words. Really? From 4500 words down to 1000? Yes. In this case, the market rules. Cutting the story still further was hard, but not all that hard. I sent it off.
Michael responded that he had gotten such a response from his call for submissions that he was now overstocked. Would he mind if he held on to the story till the next year. (He only prints fiction in the January issues of the newsletter.) Sure, what the heck. Truth to tell, I thought this was an editor’s version of “I’ll call you.”
But, no, Michael was a straight shooter, and last October, he sent an email asking if the story was still available. What I really thought was, “Oh, yeah, after 30 years, ya think?” But I try to be professional in these communications, so I affirmed that it was.
Michael has published the story, called “All Creatures Great and Small” and you can read it here. (You’ll have to scroll down.)
There’s no need for me to spell out the first takeaway from this account. All writers, or at least the ones that get published already know it. But it reinforced some other principles I believe in. First, connections matter. I would never have seen the call for submissions if I weren’t a part of the online writing community. Second, any story can always be made better. In the case of this story, cutting, cutting and more cutting saved it from oblivion.
But there is another thing to ponder. Why did I hang on to that story? I had discarded many others over the years that I knew were dead ends. I’ll talk about that in a future post.
If you are a writer, especially of genre fiction, and you aren’t familiar with Michael Bracken, I urge you to follow his blog and/or read this interview with him. He is smart, hard-working, generous to fellow writers.