So today I sold a story.
The story in question is “Memento Mori”, a strange, slightly surreal little piece that was hugely inspired by the closing passage of Bob Doto of Quiet Earth’s review of Werner Herzog’s My Son My Son What Have Ye Done, which remains one of the best movie reviews I have ever read. It’s finally been sold to Shadows & Tall Trees, which is a new annual publication; being that they seem to feature strange, slightly surreal fiction, it’s a good fit. I’m very happy to have placed it there.
However, I’m mentioning this not so much to toot my own horn–though I’m always happy to spend time on that–but instead to highlight the journey of this particular piece, which I think is illustrative of some things.
Some numbers: I originally wrote “Memento Mori” in the spring of 2010, so it’s almost a year old. Since then, it has gone through eleven rounds of submission, counting this one. It has been rejected nine times. It got one rewrite request, which eventually resulted in one of the nine rejections. As a result of that rewrite request, about a third of its original length was cut. It’s been cut further–though not as much–with this acceptance, because the editor at S&TT was nice enough to say “I really liked this but I think I could only accept it if the last couple of paragraphs were gone; would you be okay with that?” To which I naturally said yes, because the story was honestly better without those paragraphs. I count myself extremely, extremely lucky that I happened to send it to an editor who would take the time to look carefully at the piece and then point out what would improve it. Twice.1
I should note that I’ve submitted almost a hundred times in the past twelve months and only three times, counting this time, has an editor been this generous. The point is that this is rare, not because editors are mean, but because they are very busy.2
So what’s my point, besides the above? I have a couple. The first is that when someone tells you “this just wasn’t a good fit for me,” they often really do mean it, because a lot of the time it really does come down to fit. I’ve retired stories that went through way fewer submissions cycles than this one did, for two reasons: I kept getting emails from editors to the effect that the story had almost made the cut and was extremely good, and I believed in it. I really believed it was a good story. I don’t honestly feel that way about everything I write. Some things go through a few rounds of rejection, and I look at them, and I shelve them. I may come back to them. I may not. The point is that they were getting rejected because they just weren’t that great, and I could eventually see that. I did not see that here.
Which leads me to my second point: Sometimes you just have to keep at it. Even when the numbers seem to be telling you otherwise. Even when you’re combing market listings with real anxiety about the idea that you might be running out of reasonable markets. Sometimes you need to give up, but sometimes you really, really don’t.
And that’s the third thing that I think comes through here: Sometimes this is what it takes. Sometimes you have to look at nine rejections–all of which hurt, and some of which hurt a lot–to get that one acceptance. This is a hard business, and it really does take a degree of mental and emotional toughness. I had read that before I got into this, but–surprise, surprise–reading isn’t the same thing as actually going through it.
So “Memento Mori” has a home. Which is good. It makes me happy. It also makes me immensely relieved, and immensely grateful. I think those are all probably pretty healthy ways to feel in this context.
1 I am still grateful to the market who rejected me after the rewrite, because I still got some free work-shopping out of it, and also they might remember my name when they see it again.
2 This doesn’t count things that were accepted for publication and then edited, by the way, in case that was unclear.