Earlier this week I walked up to the bank to deposit my check from Daily Science Fiction, for the story they just published.
I felt ridiculously good about it.
Let me put this is some perspective. This was not a large check. I think maybe I could have paid a household bill with… well, let me check, yes, I could have paid the energy bill with it and had enough left over for lunch. Not a fancy lunch, and it’s summer, so our energy costs this month were low, but still.
It’s a big enough check that it would have paid for a nice dinner for Spouse and me, but the phrase “don’t quit your day job” has not become obsolete. And, still, I’m ridiculously pleased.
We are, good or bad, a capitalist society and getting money for something means that someone besides you (or your parents, partner and friends) found it to be of value.
Why is this teaspoon of validation so important? There is a high volume of rejection inherent in sending out your work. Better writers and essayists than I have written and discussed rejection in detail. They’ve talked about strategies to overcome the disappointment and hurt that comes with many rejections, the hopelessness.
Most of us don’t even talk about all the locked doors, barred windows and Don’t Even Think of Parking Here signs you see in the writing biz, long before you even get a rejection.
You’re told that there are no markets for short fiction (especially genre fiction). You hear and read that publishers won’t take an “un-agented” manuscript, but an agent won’t read your manuscript, they want a pitch. They want you, introvert that you are, to schmooze them about your book. When you start researching markets, you find that they all closed to submissions just last week. You find that their minimum word count is just five hundred words higher than the word count of your current story, or the upper word limit is far below the length of your story. You find out that they no longer plan to accept unsolicited manuscripts. You find that they are defunct. You find out that the deadline for the contest you just heard about, that your piece would be perfect for, closed yesterday, the day before you heard about it.
None of these is a rejection. It isn’t even as good as a rejection. They haven’t listened to what you have to say. They won’t let you in the door. It’s discouraging.
That can all be tolerated, but underneath it is a steady rumble, a hum, kind of like an air conditioner running in the background, that shares with you all the reasons you shouldn’t even write at all. There are people who can’t wait to tell you why you shouldn’t bother.
There are lots of them. Many –most—are on Twitter, and many are writers. There are so many, and they are so consistent in their urge to explain that writing is hard work, that you aren’t a special snowflake and your words really don’t matter, that publishing is a cutthroat business run by shoemakers who don’t care about books and you can’t trust anyone, that I do have to wonder if some of it isn’t motivated, if unconsciously, by a desire to thin out the competition. And it will work, if you let it, because the chorus is so constant.
Yes, there are hundreds of generous writers out there who provide space and encouragement to new writers, and yes, I know… just get off Twitter. I’m talking about the general atmosphere. And about getting off Twitter—well, I had a story accepted by an anthology today. I wouldn’t ever have known about it if a friend of mine hadn’t tweeted about it. So, staying off Twitter is a strategy with mixed results.
Besides, the steady rumbling comes from other places besides Twitter. Sometimes it’s from the friend next to you at the lunch table, explaining that it’s impossible for women to get published because college-grad-aged entitled white males have gripped the New York publishing scene by the throat and they only publish their friends and besides you’re a woman over fifty so you’re invisible anyway and there’s no one no one no one who wants to read your work or see your work or hear about your work or—
So a small check is a dissenting voice in the churn.
An acceptance lets you know that someone read your work without obligation, and they liked it. A check, sadly, still lets us know that they valued it. It breaks the drumbeat rhythm of the endless naysayers. It gives back some hope. It means I can go through my submissions spreadsheet and make sure everything I’ve got is going out, and not languishing. And it gives me hope to keep on writing.