Fuck Your Pre-Rejection, Penmonkey

Title says it all.

Fuck your pre-rejection.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? See if you’ve ever done this:

You wrote something. Maybe you edited it. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you didn’t even finish it. Then, you concoct a series of reasons inside your head why nobody will give a hot wet fuck about it. Nobody will wanna read it. Nobody will wanna buy it. You’ve got your reasons — maybe one reason, maybe a whole catalog full of them. And frankly? They all sound good. This isn’t the one, you tell yourself. It’s not yet right. And soon it becomes smart because, hey, you don’t want that thing you wrote out there. This is a sound business decision. This is a practical creative decision. Not everything you write is going to be aces. And so you open a drawer and you chuck this manuscript into it. It lands on top of five, ten, twenty others. A cloud of dust kicks up like an allergenic mushroom cloud — poof. And then you close the drawer.

That is pre-rejection.

You have killed the thing you created because you imagine its inevitable rejection.

It’s the same way you don’t ask that guy out because you already know how he’ll say no, and it’ll be embarrassing, and jeez even if you did date, he’d probably be a jerk, and even if he wasn’t a jerk, the marriage you’d eventually have would suck, and the kids would be shitheads, and it’d end in divorce and misery and death.

Don’t take that job — you’ll only get fired.

Don’t move to a new house — probably be haunted.

Don’t step outside — ha ha ha, you’ll probably just fucking die. (And so many ways to die! Flu ebola measles stabbing shooting planking rabid bears assassin bugs arsenic in the water shanked by a free range Gary Busey, and so on, and so forth.)

The glass isn’t half-empty or half-full — it’s just full of scalding hot cat urine! YUM.

Except, yeah, no.

Pre-rejection is bullshit.

It’s a control thing, a power trip, a grotesquely pessimistic fantasy. I know, you’re saying, uhh, it’s not a fantasy, weirdo — except, au contraire, panda bear, it is a fantasy. It’s much easier to reject ourselves than it is to weather the crotch-kicks delivered by someone else. You could far easier slide a knife across your open palm than let someone else do it — it’s so much better when we control the pain that’s sure to come. It’s comforting, easy, lazy even to just get that rejection out of the way now rather than later.

Fuck that static.

The pain isn’t sure to come.

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.

But if you’re going to do this thing, you need to get hard to it. You need to be not just ready for rejection — you need to be willing to embrace rejection. Not your own — but proper rejection. Rejection you don’t control. You need those calluses and scars. Rejection is always a part of who we are and what we do, and that’s not just in writing. That’s in life. What, you think you’ll get every job? Every date? Every bit of approval from every corner of your life? Life isn’t just a series of hand-jobs and clit-tickles, folks. You will be rejected. It is part of what we do. It is proof that you are doing what you love. It is evidence of the fight you contain within you.

You must defeat the urge to pre-reject.

I’m not saying everything you write is going to be perfect. Far from it. But rejection is clarifying. And it feels awful at first — until it feels awesome. Awesome because this is what successful people go through. Writers who get published are writers who have collected ten rejections (or more, many more) for every one acceptance. Cherish your rejections. Hell, collect ’em. Staple-gun them to your chest like merit badges for a particularly psychopathic branch of the Scouts. Certainly this also doesn’t mean you should send out any old piece of laundry you have hanging around in the hopes some drunken editor will buy it accidentally. But the signs of pre-rejection don’t linger at just one story left unsent. It’s when those start to pile up. It’s when you go beyond feeling that this one isn’t right and start crafting a morbid, macabre fantasy about all the terrible things that’ll happen when you send this manuscript and all the others out.

How do you defeat it?

Practice, for one. Stop thinking so much. Stop worrying. Start submitting. Editors need material. Agents need material. Readers need stories to read.

Let other people read the work. Let them send it out, if you must.

Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. Control what you can — and no, that doesn’t mean to pre-reject, it just means, write the best story, and find your feet with writing.

You didn’t get published, you didn’t win the award, you got a bad review.

Repeat after me:

That’s all right. I can try againI can get better.

But you have to give yourself the chance to try again.

You don’t get better by just chucking manuscripts in a drawer.

You need the agitation.

You need that fear, that uncertainty, that courage.

You need input from other human beings. Which means:

Fuck your pre-rejection.

You want to get rejected? Do it the old-fashioned way.

Let someone else reject you. Take your shot. Worst you can do is fail. And failure fucking rocks.

Sure, maybe you’ll get rejected. But maybe, just maybe, the opposite will happen.

How else do stories reach their audiences, you think?

84 responses to “Fuck Your Pre-Rejection, Penmonkey”

  1. Thank you for giving this a name, though I usually go one better and reject what I’m writing halfway through. Not everything, but yes, some of it. Great post. I think I need to read this again.

  2. Goddammit Chuck, sometimes you say exactly what I need my Tyler Durden to say….
    You know, Chuck. And I want to print this out and pin it on my ceiling so when I give up I have your words to say: “Fuck you, get back to it.”
    Thank You.

  3. Oh yeah I know this monkey well. I still eventually DO submit it but not before this monkey makes me its bitch for a while. Thanks for this.

  4. Damn, how true! For years I never submitted my novels because I feared rejection. As age 50 slammed me, I was like “just fucking do it!” After having a few moderate sellers out there, I’m thrilled that publishers accept my work and wow, people read my words

    What worries me more is how—now that I’m writing weirder subject matter, like a m/m Gothic horror romance with a Lovecraftian vibe—the rejection quota has ramped up. Ten rejections and counting, but damn, I will find a home for this novel.

  5. Day after tomorrow I am handing over my precious baby first completed novel to my critique group. 48 hours to finish the frantic polishing. I am so scared. And excited. But mostly scared. No one has read this thing yet but me. I think it’s fabulous. Except for all the places it isn’t. And maybe it’s rubbish. What if it’s rubbish? But it’s time to send it out into the world and find out.

  6. WOW … What timing! I had my writer’s group meeting tonight. We were discussing our submissions that are due tomorrow. Some were afraid their project wasn’t ready. I’m ready but wasn’t going to push it. We stopped talking about it for about 90 minutes … Then this email popped up. All I can say is minds were changed after I lumbered through the reading of it. Thanks Chuck!

  7. I run into this problem not only with completed works, but also on a sentence-by-sentence basis. How? it goes like this:

    Write a sentence. “Hmm, I don’t like that.” Erase a sentence. Write it again. Another five times. Until it’s PERFECT (but still not actually perfect.)

    I wish I could save the editing for the editing phase. I’d get a lot more words down.

  8. I agree that we should keep sending it out there to see if it really is shit or not. I did for 20 years before someone agreed to publish it. A slight problem might be if someone finishes a piece of work that actually is shit and decides to just publish it him/herself straight away and adds to the shit pile of self-published rubbish out there (disclaimer: although I would never have published my stuff unless a publisher considered it good enough, that doesn’t mean that some people won’t think my small-press published novels aren’t shit either…)

  9. This is so what I need right now after a string of 60-hour work weeks and zero productivity on the writing front.

    When you go through those dry spells, that writing voice seems to subside into a whisper, while that sinister little voice of self-doubt gets a little louder each day. Soon you even start to believe that shit, start to ask yourself crazy questions like, “Am I meant to just be a [insert ‘not-writer’ job title here]?” or “Should I even continue this story? I mean, I haven’t touched it in a month.”

    I suppose it’s natural to ask these questions. It’s when you stop recognizing that the questions themselves are bullshit that you fall into real danger as a writer.

  10. I love your blog. The way you pluck out the heart of your subject matter, put it through a mangle, then liquidise it and spread it on your toast. Wonderful. However: You missed something here, Chuck. For anyone building up a serious head of self-rejection steam, we now have this fantastic new safety valve called KDP. My drawers are full of rejection slips – hundreds of em – but I’m a published author and I’ve had some success. People buy my books. Why go through the submission – rejection roundabout of hell? Publish and be damned, and let the readers do the rejection.

    • I don’t quite agree with this assessment — I do think that self-publishing is a vital marketplace for writers, but also, we don’t want KDP to become (remain?) a dumping ground. This is the problem with letting readers be your gatekeepers. (A post from about a year ago: readers are not good gatekeepers.) The submission/rejection process can be very illuminating — but reader rejection is often demonstrated as simply not buying the book. That’s not instructive because, what does it mean? Oh, so you wrote a bad book? Maybe. Could also be that your marketing efforts were off. Or you chose the wrong distribution model. Or cover, or editing, or, or, or. You just don’t know. You won’t even receive bad reviews if you’re not reaching an audience.

      So, using KDP or other self-publishing venues as your first and only rejection ground is near worthless because it adds way too many variables to the equation and forces you to immediately consider bad reviews and lack of sales as not only a creative rejection but also a business problem. It forces growth on two grounds.

      For folks looking to self-publish, I’d still recommend finding a way to be rejected — a rejection from an agent or an editor can be illuminating. Hell, get rejected by a group of beta readers. Somebody, anybody, before you just click PUBLISH.

      — c.

      • I think you’re hinting at unedited self-publishing here, Chuck, and I agree. Self-publishing without using a professional editor is the way to creative annihilation. I wasn’t suggestion “using KDP as my first and only rejection ground”. As I said above, I have hundreds of rejection slips (all fully earned). I have a brilliant editor who lets me away with nothing – in the plot and in the writing. Surely that’s enough. After all that, I’m happy to let the readers be my gatekeepers. I know I’m not Marcel Proust (or C. Wendig) but thousands of people buy my books. They read them. Sometimes they even review them.

        What I was suggesting is that KDP is a safety valve – a way forward if and when a writer gets buried under a mountain of rejections. JJ

        • I agree, in part — an editor, a good editor, is actually a pretty strong gatekeeper. The problem is maybe in that “buried under a mountain of rejections” part — at the simplest level, that’s not quite enough. The trick is learning to read the rejections. Like, when BLACKBIRDS went out, I got tons of rejections that told me how much they loved the book but how they couldn’t sell it. That was meaningful, because it told me the book was GOOD, but that the publishers just didn’t what to do with it. That meant that self-publishing was a viable option. (To be clear, the book went on to sell to not one but two publishers anyway, and that’s paid off nicely.) But a mountain of rejections isn’t itself useful unless you use them to improve.

          Some books *do* need to be trunked, but the trick in the trunking is that we’re simply not the best judges of our own work.

          • There ya go. You have the craft, the skills to elicit constructive rejections. We’re not all that good, Chuck. The vast, vast majority of the rejections in my rejections pile say: “I’ll pass on this one”, or “Not for me”, maybe with a dash of “my judgment is purely subjective”, or *no response*. (Actually, I did catch the eye of one or two London agents before self-publishing.)

            You seem to be suggesting that writers should stay away from publishing until some trad publishing gatekeeper hints that they may have written something worthwhile. Are you?

            For me, the KDP option was a no brainer. I’m too old now to muck about waiting to be *discovered* by the publishing establishment. 🙂

          • “You seem to be suggesting that writers should stay away from publishing until some trad publishing gatekeeper hints that they may have written something worthwhile. Are you?”

            No, I’m saying that they should stay away from it until somebody, somewhere, tells them. When I say that writers are not very good at judging their own work and shouldn’t self-reject, the opposite is true, as well — they shouldn’t assume that everything they’ve written is worth reading.

            The attitude of, “Let the readers sort it out,” becomes one where lots of young or untested writers hear it and say, “Great, I’m going to write this thing and publish it.” They write it one month, and at the end of the month, they click the publish button. Some of the bigger self-publishing proponents actually suggest this, and I think that’s bad creatively, I think it’s bad business, and I think it’s incredibly dismissive of the readers.

            I don’t think a “traditional” gatekeeper is an essential — though, again, those so-called gatekeepers get a lot of shit when, really, you can learn a whooooole lot by trying to play in that ecosystem. (For instance, you catching the eye of a couple agents is one of those moments that maybe tells you that you had something.) But *some* kind of gatekeeper is good. One that isn’t just:

            a) the writer
            b) the reader.

            As I said in my previous comment, that might mean an editor, that might mean a group of beta readers. Or consider publishers outside the expected traditional space — a lot of small, brave publishers are out there. Or maybe you test it out at a site designed for this kind of thing. But more than a few self-published authors choose to skip any testing and instead test it on the readers. And given the quality of some of that material, it might be kinder to just test chemical weapons, instead.

            As for me having the craft and the skills to elicit constructive rejections — I wasn’t born with them. I did this thing called “practice.” Which means the first five novels I wrote are not ones I self-published. To be clear, I didn’t self-reject them — I wrote them and tried to do things with them. Agents didn’t bite, editors didn’t bite, and looking back it was for good reason. They weren’t up to snuff. Not everything we write belongs immediately in the public eye.

            — c.

          • I have to agree with Chuck. I’ve made several purchases of indie published book (a few trad, but very few) where I got halfway through a book and it was just god-awful. Objectively awful. And there were some nuggets of goodness, but mostly just crap. And I just wondered if they used any beta-readers at all. you can’t just show your mom and take her word for it that it’s brilliant. Have some pride and wait until you write something worth reading.

          • Fuck pre-rejection, post-rejection and all rejection. I gave up on -all- that noise. I agree with that KDP and self-pub should not be a dumping ground. I also agree both trad pub and self pub are equally viable routes. But after collecting a bunch of marketing based rejections (not craft or story based) as to why a novel wouldn’t work, I self-pubbed and have been happy ever since. Now that I’m in business, a story or a book is a commodity. Putting it on the shelf to collect dust for 6 months, 9 months, a year, YEAR AND A HALF, while some editor/agent somewhere mulls over the possibility of -maybe- accepting it feels like bad business. I write, test the results out on readers and crit partners, and get the good stuff out there. True, I don’t have the reach many of the trad pub outlets have in marketing terms (and I’d probably never turn down an offer from the same) but I’ll get there as I build my readership. And I can write things which might, by some slim chance, be “the difference between a market commodity and the practice of an art” as Le Guin puts it.

          • If you think traditional publishing is bad business, then you don’t agree that they’re equally viable routes.

            My self-published work hasn’t ever had the reach or range of my trad-published work. And the same is true in reverse for other authors.

            But rejection often taught me things. At the bare minimum, it toughened my ass up.

            — c.

          • Never said it was necessarily bad business, but that it -felt- like bad business. You don’t create product and hide it somewhere, you get it out there. And I did mention I don’t have the reach, but I’m working on that. (And yes, I may never.)

            But the point is, I’m not sitting on my ass waiting for someone to find me and “accept me”, I’m out there making that happen. This feels more like business to me.

            I don’t necessarily subscribe to the old theory that you have to be “toughened up”. Yeah, it helps to have a thick skin in any creative endeavor, but at the same time one can name authors who “made it” in trad pub without so much as a lashing with a wet noodle. Whether luck, good timing, or smart marketing on their part, they sold however many jillions of copies and landed the movie deal, etc. etc.

            I’ll tell you what really toughens you up is putting the weight of everything on your own shoulders and going out there beating on doors, setting up your own appearances, signings, writing press releases, trying to convince the people with the “old school” mentality to talk about your book and not turn their nose up. You want a workout – there it is. And if someday I ever land (or feel I need ) a traditional deal, I’m light years ahead of the guy who has been holed up in his office cranking out query letters and synopses for books that are floating in one slush pile or another. Is it for everyone? Hell no. But I’ll take it over staring at the inbox any day.

  11. *cries a little*

    I actually used said something about practical creative decisions today while putting a manuscript in the drawer and telling myself that’s the last time I’ll take it out.

    *settles down at the computer for coffee and late-night second thoughts*

  12. Thank you for this post, Chuck. I’m always pre-rejecting, and even when I’ve been accepted I think, “Is someone really going to want to read this?” You’re right, it’s about letting go of control. We’ve all been rejected enough times in life to know that’s how we learn.

    Great post and so easy for me to relate to.

  13. I am going to print this article out, roll it into a tube and trepanne it into my brain. Metaphorically rather than literally, I admit, but only because it’s less messy that way and not likely to be red-buzzered by my life insurance policy.

    I am sooooo guilty of pre-rejection. My current w-i-p is the first I’ve ever NOT given up on, but every day I go through the pre-rejection warm-up as I sit there typing away. No wonder I can’t get to that magical ‘2,000-words-a-day’ output beloved of all those how-to writing books that prove it’s possible because… well, the author wrote THIS one about writing 2,000-words-a-day by writing 2,000 words a day… **head explodes in a fit of ‘I’m not worth-eeee!’**

    Thank you Chuck, for sticking up for the ornery child inside me that is, for whatever reason, telling me to keep going with my current w-i-p. She will give you marbles, mix her strawberry squash with your orange squash (no, that’s a good thing – honest!) and biff your enemies in the belly with her scruffy, graffiti-ed rucksack if you wish.

    And ‘au contraire, panda bear’ has now been added to my list of Awesome Things To Say. 🙂

  14. You know what rejection is? It’s evidence that you finished the work. You can’t get rejected if you didn’t finish, didn’t submit, didn’t do what 99% of the other people out there didn’t do.

    I know. I’ve got years and years of stories that never even got started because I couldn’t think of how to finish them.

    Got my first rejection (a really very nice one from C.C. Finlay of F&SF magazine) just last month. It was great! I’ve sent that story out to another market. I’ve got another story that needs a rewrite and is being submitted later this week.

    Submitting is powerful stuff.

  15. I’ve always said, ‘You don’t know until you try’…the trick is you have to actually TRY. I’m never afraid to ask because the worse they can say is no, and if you never ask, it’s already a no, and they just MIGHT say YES.

    I’ve had this mentality all my life and its gotten me a lot farther than had I been to scared to not ask at all.

    Life’s too short to live without taking a chance. So write it. Submit it. Just DO IT!

    ^fives Chuck — you rock!

  16. I needed this. Reminds me, when I get home I need to staple the “finish your shit” wallpaper to my desktop. 3 stories lingering, all will be finished.

  17. I’m running up against an even earlier form of prejection: the one where I love an idea, but even if I wrote it brilliantly, it would be unpublishable. Not “hard to market” or “challenging to pitch,” but outright unpublishable.

    See, I write smut. Smart, literate smut, I hope, but let’s call it what it is. I’m not ashamed of that, but it does mean that sometimes I run up against the barriers that most people don’t realize are there. I don’t mean finding an agent, or trying to market to a tradpub house – no, I’m talking about the Terms of Service that selfpub sites apply to content.

    I gravitate to well-worn tropes. Not because I think I can just fart out yet another “alpha billionaire seduces naïve, submissive woman” story and Rake In The Bucks, but because I want to change it up. My version of that story would begin with the woman walking out on the rich, abusive creep to find someone worthy of her time. I love self-discovery stories, tales of a person coming to terms with who they are… and that’s where the complications start.

    I’ve got a story about a trans woman working up the courage to come out to her family. It’s part of a longer work, and there’s some smutty content between her and her boyfriend. So far, so good… until, as part of the pivotal chapter, she talks about something that happened when he was eight or so. Nothing smutty there, just the memory of a tea party with his little sister. (Yes, the masculine pronouns there are deliberate; the character still identified male at the time.) To me, that sounds like a key character revelation. It’s juicy insight into how she began her journey, right as she’s gathering the strength to take the next step. Golden moment, right?

    Apparently not. See, I checked with someone at a certain selfpub site to clarify their Terms in that respect. The response was unambiguously blunt: if the story is erotica, it can’t have any under-18 characters. At all. In any context, no matter how innocent. I even showed them the paragraph, just so they could see that there was no sex in or around the flashback – but to no avail.

    There go a LOT of thoughtful stories, right out the window. How do you write a story about a person coming to grips with who they are and who they love if you can’t talk about their formative years *at all*? My big goal was (is!) to elevate smut beyond the “pizza delivery with extra sausage” level, and right out of the gate – WHAM. Ninja gatekeeper attack!

    Of course, I get why they want to be careful about the intersection between erotica and kids. I’m not advocating kidsmut, not at all, and I’m not even getting into the “half of American teens have had sex by 17” statistic. Still, this sort of huge, blanket denial is exactly why I wonder if there are any other Term-inal depth charges waiting in that digital ocean. In theory, I can’t even write a “Ted and Alice put their kids to bed, then make sweet, explicit love in their own bedroom with the door locked” story – because, y’know, it’s got kids in the prelude. Meanwhile, “college graduate watches her parents have sex” is totally fine, as long as she doesn’t join in. (No lie; I checked. Weird world, isn’t it?)

    So now it’s like not thinking of elephants. Get an idea, start thinking it out, and… there’s the scene that gets it tossed. So much for the one about the heir who grew up with the butler’s kid, because I can’t use any of the backstory that would inform their legal-age relationship.

    Prejection sucks. Especially when there’s no way around it.

    • *Gets out the ten foot pole* Honestly, I’m not sure any sex scene depicted for kids younger than 17 is “erotic” by any means. It’s awkward at best, creepy at worst. If you are writing it for titillation (which erotica implies), you’re off the mark. If you are writing it as an honest experience of a child and coming to grips with their sexuality, that’s not “erotica”. Don’t call it that and the censors may leave you alone.

      • I think you missed some key lines of the comment, Russ. She specifically said she *didn’t* have any sex scenes featuring kids younger than 17. Just NON-sex scenes with kids. Flashbacks, really.

        Anyway, J.B. – maybe going back to the original meaning of ‘self-publishing’ is what you need to do. Find someone who will print and bind a book, not publish it for you. Market and sell it yourself. Purchase an ISBN and then get a converter program like Calibre, and sell it on your own site.

        *I’ve never done this, so there may be an obvious flaw in this plan, but it seems possible at least.

        • Right on. I misunderstood the age of the boyfriend / girlfriend smutty parts (it does say “woman” so not the teens I envisioned). I still say this sounds exactly like she described it – a story about a woman’s journey of self discovery and a person coming to terms with who they are. Which happens to have sex (a “few” smutty parts) so I’m not clear why you’d want to necessarily pin it with an “erotica” label which might draw unwanted scrutiny.

          • Oh, there’s more than “a ‘few’ smutty parts” – and I think you’re overlooking that I want to write stories that work on both levels. I enjoy books that get me off AND make me think; my whole mission statement is that a reader (or writer) shouldn’t have to choose one or the other.

            Even if I were to accept your plan, there’s the question of “how much is too much.” How explicit can I get, and how many times, before leaving the “erotica” label off becomes dishonest? Is there a “one scene per X-thousand words” rule somewhere? No, that’s no solution. That’s the MPAA ratings board.

            Take a look at some of the content Amazon’s _Transparent_ series covers – I couldn’t self-publish that under those Terms, because there’s a lot of sex, a lot of talking about sex, and a lot of when-they-were-kids flashbacks. (“Best New Girl” stands out in particular, for the 13-year-old youngest daughter’s subplot. There’s no way I could include something like that on the page, but the series won an award.)

            I mean, I’ll fudge ages where I have to. People may question the math when a character says she turned 18 in her junior year of high school, but doing that’s better than leaving out the incident that warped her personality between then and when she started college. I personally don’t see the problem with saying that she wasn’t a virgin in her last year of high school, as that’s pretty common here in reality – but you have to deny those facts to cover your ass these days. (Maybe her hometown starts first grade a year or two later than most other places.) All things considered, that’s a small enough tweak that I don’t object too much, especially since the story takes place in college and all the high school stuff is backstory.

            Really, that’s my big objection. Reality is sloppy and messy. It doesn’t fit into neat little boxes, and fiction should be able to reflect that. Even erotica and smut. (And since you asked: if there’s a difference between erotica and porn, it’s a very fuzzy one at best. There’s a perception in some corners that porn is low-class and erotica is classy, but that’s not how the categories are being used in ebook stores. It all gets shoved together in the Erotica bin.)

          • Well, by my thinking, you ignore the “how much is too much” as even a question worth asking. Just ignore the whole mess. Hell, put a foreword in there that mentions how you were inspired by Amazon’s own Maura and practically dare them to pull it.

            But yeah, I get your point, it is a ridiculous and unfair limitation though I can understand how they don’t want to be in the business of determining what is straight up child pornography and what isn’t. Again, I think that’s why you leave the “erotica” label and the associated “porn” stigmas and such behind because it sounds like that’s where they worry it would crop up. To them it seems the category has become synonymous with porn (regardless how you want to define it) and the only purpose is titillation and thus no good can ever come of having kids mentioned.

            I agree completely how fiction doesn’t fit into neat boxes. Though, I will say the self pub movement is busy destroying those boxes (unlike trad pub) so these are interesting times. And reality is a messy thing which should be able to be accurately represented in fiction without persecution.

            I’m sure you will find a way to get your work out there! Best of luck!

        • There are two flaws in that plan.

          First, the real killer: that new EU VAT law that requires insane levels of bookkeeping because it lacks a “minimum threshold” exemption for microbusinesses. Sell one copy to one person in Europe, and you’re responsible for mounds of paperwork. I can’t afford that.

          Second, the ideological problem. It feels really skeevy to have to choose between writing serious material and including explicit content, especially when one of the major critiques of erotica is that “it’s not REAL fiction, just smut.” This is more geared towards Russ’s suggestion than yours, but one post is better than two. 😉

          Take a look at _Showgirls_ for a minute. Yes, the thoroughly-panned movie. Once you get past the “oooh, name-brand nekkid boobies” reaction, look at the story itself. It’s a classic morality play, the story of a woman asking how much she’s willing to compromise herself for her dreams. (Take another little piece of my soul now, baby.) Change her ambition from “showgirl” to “chef,” and all that problematic sexy content goes away… but at what cost?

          My position is that we shouldn’t have to make that kind of choice. Erotica, smut, pr0n, whatever you want to call it – we should be able to write thoughtful stories in those genres. The fact that we can’t, that it’s been mostly abandoned to writers who don’t give a shit about grammar, let alone plot… that’s exactly why I don’t want to take the “don’t call it erotica” route. It’s prejection all over again.

          I know it’s an uphill climb, but since when has skipping a challenge been the right thing to do?

          • I get it and I think genre boxes shouldn’t be straight jackets though often people (usually publishers and the like, not so much readers) pretend they are. Sure, it’s definitely easier to market something that isn’t outside those boxes, but I agree with you that picking one genre or another shouldn’t dictate what you write. (And isn’t there a difference between porn and erotica? Not that it really matters.)

            In the same respect, since I think those boxes are a bit silly, I still don’t see any problem with calling your work whatever gets you the pass and into reader’s faces. Why fight to defend the artificial tag in the first place? Maybe I’m just shameless with no pride, heh.

  18. I just love you and your mind, Sensei. You’re a hot mess of of truth and glorified guts. YOU ROCK HARD!!!

    I have finished the 2nd book (with your inspirational help) of 5 planned in a series. Now I need to find an editor I can trust. Then collect my rejection and acceptance letters….

  19. Oh yes, I am definitely guilty of this. I have withdrawn so many manuscripts from editors because I am so sure they’ll be rejected anyway and I don’t want to read yet another rejection letter. Know I gotta work on that, but low self-esteem as an author is a very hard nut to crack.

  20. We must be getting the same alien brainwaves or something, Herr Wendig. I just sent out my weekly “prompt” to my writers group and basically said the same thing — you don’t learn anything if you don’t send it out. Do your research. Know the submission guidelines. Get it out there. @Jeremy Robert Johnson — I like that editor said. Since I’ve been being less harsh on my stories, they are actually getting published, because, surprise! I’m sending them out.

    On a side note, I’m not going to let my Autistic son read this, because part of how his spectrum presents is near agoraphobia. He doesn’t need any other reasons to NOT go outside ….”free-range Gary Busey” indeed. 😉

    Regardless, thanks for the validation and kick in the pants, as usual.

  21. Once again, your words are uncannily familiar. At first, I went into writing my manuscript with loopy delight, “No one will ever want to read this, and I fucking love that.” Now it’s more like, “Ugh, I’ve spent three years trying to put this thing together, it’s still a mess, and no one will ever want to fucking read it.” For the past sixth months its been halfway in the drawer while I’ve tried to distract myself with other projects. But the same way its hard to keep hacking away when you’ve worked on something for so long, its also hard to let go of it. I guess I do need to learn how to let go, but not of this story. So thanks, Chuck.

  22. I’ve never pre-rejected myself, ever, and that says a lot, because I’ve been writing books since I was ten. My main problem is losing faith after getting a form rejection. But after a few weeks, I´m back in the game.
    Great post! 🙂

  23. Recent success story that I hope every writer gets to experience.

    I had a story I really loved and really believed in rejected so many times I lost count. A couple editors gave me some good feedback, but it normally just got sent back into as a ball of shame wrapped in the soulless embrace of a form letter.

    I was close to giving up when I got a letter back from a decently well-known/regarded editor…and he liked it…sort of. He said the writing was good (YES), but the subject matter just didn’t work. Lovecraft and Modern Conspiracy fiction? No sale.

    I was crushed. The pay wasn’t that great, but I really thought this editor might have been willing to a chance on what I was doing. I sighed and figured this just wasn’t a story anyone wanted to buy…until a couple hours later when my email inbox pinged. I opened it to find that another market DID want the story for 5X the rate of the one that just rejected me.

    It was a pretty great feeling. It was also beautiful yet extremely rare moment. For every triumph there has been hundreds (thousands?) of “We’re sorry, but this story just isn’t for us” endings. During one particularly crappy week in my life, the publishing world got in on the act and sent me 20 rejections in the span of a few days.

    Keep plugging, keep grinding, keep getting better. Don’t do this for the hope of fame (HA) or money (HAHAHAHA!). Do it to make yourself a better storyteller through the act of writing.

  24. I’ve written things before, and thought twice about bringing it to the writers’ group I attend. “No one is going to want to read this, no one is going to get it, and no one is going to enjoy it,” I’ve told myself.

    Then I ran copies and brought it anyway – and over time, I’ve learned that I may not be the best judge of knowing what other people might like. Now I just write it the best I can, bring it to the group, and get ready to be surprised.

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