The Scribe’s Arcanum
Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 1
How do you get published traditionally? A lot of newer writers have this question. I can tell you how I did it, giving you some insight into the process. This will be a longer post, probably the longest of the Anatomy of a Sale series since I have to start from the beginning. I’ll try to work though the background information quickly.
I wrote my real first short stories back in junior high. I had the opportunity to read a story to the class, and once I did, I become known as: The Writer. There was another classmate who was known as: The Artist. I was envious of him as I had wanted to be an artist myself, a comic book illustrator to be exact, but found what I really wanted to do was tell a story. I discovered in short order it was easier to tell a story with words than with pictures——at least it was for me.
Then in high school I wrote a short story for an English class. At the time, I was trying to sail under the radar. I couldn’t help but take up the challenge, and once my teacher saw I had talent, I lost the ability to remain invisible in that class. There’s a lot more to this story, but I’ll save it for another day.
Fast forward to late 1996, early 1997. After a couple years of marriage, I felt settled down and focused enough to try my hand at writing again. This time I wanted to see if I could make a fiction sale. I told my wife as much, asking her to buy me a Writer’s Digest Short Story Market for Christmas/Hanukkah.
I made her a promise that with that tome by my side, I would write a story and send it out. If nothing else, I’d get my first rejection letter.
I had researched enough to know that even top writers like Stephen King had spent a great deal of time collecting rejection slips. I felt that getting a “thanks, but no thanks” letter was an achievable goal, and it kept me from worrying about the results. The worst that could happen was that I would be sent an acceptance letter and not get my goal of a rejection. That would have been a “failure” I could live with.
I wrote my first story, with an eye towards making a sale, on a Brother word processor, sending out a hard copy in the mail and waiting breathlessly for the post office to send me a response. Instead of a rejection, I was surprised to read a short note informing me that that the magazine had just gone out of business.
Immediately, I sent the story to a small press magazine. A few months later I received a very nice note written on a form rejection letter stating: “Good story! Just too traditional for this publication.” Not a bad first rejection. In-fact, it’s extremely good. Much better than I realized at the time.
Most of my rejections were like this. I had immediately received encouraging letters and notes, but no sales. It was a better sign than I could have known. I was close, but life was getting in the way. By the end of 1997 I had transitioned into a management position in the security industry. Producing reports and policies and procedures manuals kept me writing, and a 24 hour pager and 16 hour shifts kept me exhausted and with little time for anything else.
In the year 2000 I completed a transition to a human resources position, regaining some of the time I had lost. With extra time came an emptiness I couldn’t seem to fill. I had returned to martial arts over a year earlier (having left my old school in 1997) and even though I loved my training, it wasn’t enough to fill me up. It was only when I returned to writing that I felt whole again.
That year, I found a message board frequented by horror writers who had been popular in the 1980s. These authors had been my writing heroes, and they inspired me to return to my horror roots. Before that, I had spent most of my time writing science fiction. I figured I understood the horror genre more than SF, and that I would have a publication credit in no time. How wrong I was!
In 2004 I placed a short story, “Graven Image,” with a webzine called The Swamp. I didn’t get paid for that “sale” but I did get an acceptance, something I sorely needed at the time.
It wouldn’t be until 2006 when I made my first sale. Yes, It would take me six years to make my first paid sale. Persistance pays off. Persistance and practice. I’ll tell you how that happened next time. Stay tuned.