Tracking Numbers

As someone who just spent twenty minutes following up on a step in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness proceedings at the behest of the student aid hierophants, only to be told I am not at all eligible to do the thing I was specifically instructed to do, I have fairly strong opinions about data analysis and associated forms of number-crunching.

There are, of course, useful numbers. When a story or poem is rejected, especially with kind words from an editor, it can be comforting to know that your piece was one submission out of 250, 500, or 1000. There are Clifford Garstang’s Perpetual Folly rankings, indispensable resources for gauging the relative difficulty of placing a story or poem in any given publication. And there are the numbers I track on my own computer, which tell me what percentage of my fiction and poetry I’ve published. I’m not much inclined to get too bogged down looking at spreadsheets (I just use Word documents for tracking, truth be told), but anything that offers me a sense of the overall lay of the land is valuable.

I think there are also some advantages to be reaped from a bit of amateur analysis, too. When I look at patterns of acceptance and rejections, for instance, I can usually see errata–outlier stories that I probably ought to revisit before considering starting the submission engines again. I’m currently revising just such a story, one I find quite beautiful but (to my thinking) falls in the Neither Here Nor There category. It has speculative elements, but it’s not horrific enough to be salable horror, nor is it fantastical enough to be salable fantasy. It’s a subjective assessment, of course, but I figure any evaluation that prompts me to re-imagine the shape of an unpublished story probably arises from an intuition worth pursuing.

And at bottom it does my heart (such as it is) some good to look at a chronicle of rejections that ended in an acceptance. It took me a sizable quantity of saved-up gumption to start submitting my fiction back in the day, and while I’ve landed a couple of pieces in lovely homes on the first go, I think one of the more important writerly lessons we have to learn is pure, dimwitted persistence. I think it’s more than sensible to set a piece of work aside after a dozen rejections, but the creative marketplace really is–really and truly, no foolies–predicated on that elusive quantity called fit.

The fact that a story or poem doesn’t land right away does not mean it’s garbage. It just means a single reader (perhaps a screener, perhaps the editor themself) is not picking up what I happen to be laying down. And when I imagine that uncontrollable facet of the work in those terms, I sleep a little easier at night. I just get back to telling the best stories I know how to tell, and trust in time and persistence to tend to the rest.

Beasts of the Outer Swells

I’m incredibly excited to be writing for the crackerjack team at Superhero Necromancer on their latest addition to The Rainy City campaign setting, Beasts of the Outer Swells. The Kickstarter went live this morning, and it’s already reached its goal, which means this nifty zine will be winging its way to mailboxes all over the world in just a few months! The images are absolutely fantastic, and if you fall in love with the art, be sure to pop over to the site of the artist, Bill Spytma, where you’ll find even more of his portfolio. (Prints can be had at Society 6 as well!) Writing for games is a real treat for me, and if you’re into whimsy, weirdness, and a bit of the wicked, The Rainy City it might just be your cup of tea!


Image by Tony Detroit at

Today’s post is something of a reminder to myself, as this spring I’m writing to spec a little more aggressively than I normally would. That means I’m keeping an eye out for calls for certain kinds of stories, ideally in publications that will carry the sort of cachet my university will recognize. I find that writing to spec–writing for a specific audience or venue without any guarantee the piece will ever see the light of day–keeps my creative juices flowing, and in many cases it helps me to drain my perpetually overfull Stories to Be Written folder.

I heartily recommend writing to spec when you can, especially when it seems your brainpan feels a little on the dry side. But I offer that recommendation with three asterisks.

First, try not to force it. I tend to do well under deadline pressure, and my mind likes to tweak, twist, and recombine ideas, which usually means I can come up with a good fit for a collection or a special issue on fairly short notice. There are times, however, when I recognize that my idea isn’t especially interesting or original, or when the topic involves an expedition well outside my wheelhouse. Sometimes it’s energizing to face and embrace that sort of challenge, but it’s also worthwhile to recognize that there are stretches in our lives when we’re just not ready. If you fiddle with an idea or start drafting a story and it just doesn’t seem to be working for you, it’s well worth saving the file and setting it aside for some other time. and you can be sure that another call for a special issue is somewhere on the horizon.

Second, going in it’s worth knowing that even a very fine story might not find a home at the destination you have in mind. This piece, for example, was written in response to a specific call, but the length of it, my sense that I didn’t have many profitable ways of expanding it, and a few other variables made me realize I’d probably have a hard time revising it or finding a home for it elsewhere. It’s not a bad idea to write with open eyes, knowing that your story (while tailored to a specific call) is best left open enough to travel well. One collection I’ve submitted to, for instance, has received 240 entries for about ten spots, per the editor. I wrote that story, however, with enough circumspection so that I can put it back into rotation easily if it doesn’t fit into one of those vacancies. It’s determinedly tailored to suit the needs of the collection, but it stands well enough on its own that I think it will find a spot in a different venue somewhere down the road.

And with that in mind, it’s a good idea to maintain a hopper so that you can sit on a story that doesn’t fit a given collection or special issue for a little while. In the case above, more than 200 writers are going to be left with 200 stories that are focused on a given topic, a given theme. Those pieces will flood the submission market as soon as the special issue is filled. Lots of editors are going to see lots of stories that look a little same-y. Knowing that’s going to be the case, I plan to set my submission aside for several months if it’s not accepted. I’ll revisit the piece to see if I can slough off any content that was tailored to the venue I had in mind, and with luck fresh eyes will sharpen and brighten the story. It doesn’t guarantee I’ll get the piece published somewhere down the road, of course, but I hope it will translate into fewer pieces finding their way into The Folder of Misfit Stories.


To begin, a confession: I’m pretty terrible at self-promotion. I’m somewhere on the introverted half of the spectrum, as many writers are, and I’m also afflicted with a strong sense that lots of the content we are bombarded with in our daily lives is unwanted. So my strategy for the moment, such as it is, is to keep on posting here–what the kids call Contentâ„¢–so that readers who find me have somewhere to go if they want to see what sort of mischief I get into.

There is some fine guidance on managing the daily work of self-promotion out there, to be sure. Not too long ago Sadie Hartmann–known to many on the webz as Mother Horror–posted this super handy guide to navigating the wilderness of social media, and I’ve come across others here and there. Like any aspect of the writing life, however, one’s presence on the internet as a Hawker of One’s Own Stuff probably ought to involve a little calculation and circumspection. Back in the day I hosted a blog that I posted to daily, and I had a respectable number of regular readers. At day’s end, however, I realized that my blogging time was obviously digging into the time I needed to devote to fiction and poetry, so I had to let it go. Nowadays I hope/intend to strike a better balance, with a post here two or three times a week, posts to Twitter several times times a week, and the rest of my time devoted to my work. I’ve started off the year well, with two short stories already in the books and some writing for a game project already in polished draft form, so it seems to be a balance that suits me. The trick, of course, is finding the balance that suits you.

I’ll add to these thoughts on content a little ways down the road, but for me–at least today–it’s something like an exercise in mindfulness. I’m trying to be a little more deliberate and reflective this year in terms of what I do and how I do it, and if I chance upon any discoveries or unriddle any mysteries along the way, well, you’ll find them here first.