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By popular demand, a quick note on the rejection math statistic from last time.  Said slightly differently, tell me again why it is that it’s going to take Tor.com 132 years to buy my story?

Here’s the way the math works.  We start with the average response time for a rejection, which varies widely in the industry.  Some markets (Lightspeed) are very fast, and will happily reject your story in just a couple of days.  Others, less so.  Tor.com is an outlier, with an average response time of (according to Duotrope) 154 days for those stories they reject.

We then divide that number by the acceptance rate, which in the case of Tor.com is 0.32%.  This is the same as multiplying by one over the acceptance rate- that is, the reciprocal.  The reciprocal tells you have many times on average you will have to submit for each acceptance, which, in the case of Tor.com, is 1 / .0032 = 312.5.

So if it’s 154 days per rejection, and it requires 312 attempts per success, then 154 * 312 = just over 48000 days, or 132 years.

You can repeat this same math on any market for which you have the data (and I did, in the previous post, though you probably have to click on the image to read the numbers).  In some ways it’s a uselessly grim exercise, but it does serve to temper expectations if nothing else.  In practice, about the only thing I actually do with these kind of data are stay away from markets with absurdly long cycle times.  My  goal is to tighten the feedback loop, because first and foremost I am trying to get better as a writer, and it doesn’t do me much good when a story drops into a black hole for six months when I’d rather be working actively on it.

End of math lesson.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog…

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I have been writing with varying degrees of seriousness of intent for the last ten years.  Much like grief (perhaps too much), writing for me comes in waves, and when one of those waves hits, I feel as though I have always been and will always be immersed in it.  And then, inevitably, it passes; life distracts, circumstances change, the muse falls silent for a time.

Still, I always seem to come back to it.  Over the course of the last decade, I’ve written about three hundred thousand words of fiction:  two 80,000 word novels that I still maintain are worthy ideas, but in which the writing is, um, not quite up to par, a novella (which I’m currently shopping), and fifteen or so short stories, six of which have seen the light of day (and some of which I still believe will).   And of course I’ve  taken writing courses, joined critique groups, gone to workshops and conventions, read books on writing, and so on and so forth.

Maybe none of that is much to show for ten years, but I’m proud that I haven’t given up.  And this time around – I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because I have less free time than ever, but somehow am writing more.  Perhaps it’s the arrival of my daughter that has crystallized my focus, or maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and am no longer so content to wait for somedays that won’t ever come if I don’t wrestle them into existence by sheer force of will.  Whatever the reason, I’m writing a lot these days (by my standards), and it feels different somehow.  Like I’m surfing the wave for once, instead of drowning in it.

But enough of all that.  The goal here is to, if not educate, then at least entertain, and to that end I shall take it upon myself to share what I’ve learned about writing thus far, in the fashion God intended.

With PowerPoint.

Enjoy.

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Talking points:
We begin with a standard 2×2 dimensionalization, with Writerly Skill on the X-axis and Writerly Fame on the Y-axis.  This yields four quadrants:  I) The Beginner, where we all start, since no one pens Hugo-award winning novels at the age of eight, II) The Marginally Competent, which is where your humble author believes he currently resides, III) The Wrongfully Successful, which is no one so stop worrying about it; successful writers get that way for a reason, and IV) Famous Authors.

The path by which one traverses the problem space is shown by the tan arrows.  There are two key thresholds along the way:  1) The Threshold of Competence, at which point it is reasonable to hope you might get something published, and 2) The Threshold of Making a Living At It, which I’ve heard exists but know nothing about.  I should like to point out, however, that it is possible to be spectacularly successful by all objective standards, to publish multiple novels, win awards, gain fame and recognition, and all of those things, without in fact ever quitting one’s day job.  I find this simultaneously depressing and incredibly hopeful.

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Talking points:
Here are ten pro Science Fiction short story markets, chosen from a search on www.duotrope.com (a fantastic resource I whole-heartedly recommend signing up for.  They do charge now, but that seems eminently fair to me for the value delivered).  Duotrope lists the acceptance rates and response times; what I have done is to derive from that basic information an expected rate at which stories can be sold to those markets on average, and what that translates to in dollar terms to the author.

The numbers speak for themselves:  if your story is of average quality (more on that in a minute), and you start submitting right now, and keep submitting ever time you get a rejection back, Tor.com can be expected to buy something from you right around the year 2145.

Along the way, you will have made approximately enough money to pay for your coffee habit.

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Talking points:
Same analysis as above, repeated on five semi-pro markets chosen at random.  The point is this:  moving from, say, eight cents a word down to two cents a word is no panacea.  Every publisher wants the awesome, as well they should.  Which brings us to:

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Talking points:
The one saving grace in all of this is that there really is no such thing as the average story.  Having read a fair bit of slush in my day, I can tell you that really good stories do in fact stand out.  Call me a pollyanna, but I believe the marketplace is reasonably efficient when it comes to identifying truly awesome stories.  If you write them, they will find the light of day eventually.

On the subject of fame:  think of it like a tie-breaking vote, and then stop thinking about it altogether.  I do believe the presence of a recognized name can make a story seem better than it is (to an editor or a reader), but I also think those recognized names on balance spend their days writing stories way to the right of the all important Threshold of Publishability.

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Talking points:
This is my process.  Yours may vary.  The main thing:  don’t labor in a vacuum, whatever you do.  It takes honest, professional feedback to get better – and the ability to hear it.  The best advice I can give is this:  the critiquer, as long as they are being honest (and not, say, being mean or making personal attacks out of pettiness or jealousy or something equally awful, which can happen) is always right.  Meaning, it is their job to give you their impressions, and your job to figure out what to do about them.  You don’t have to agree with their root cause analysis or suggestions, but if they react negatively to some part of your story, ignore that fact at your own peril.

That’s it:  my eight slides are up.  Honestly, I have no sweeping conclusions beyond what I’ve already said.  Writing is hard.  The process is hard.  Getting better is hard.

But it’s also just about my favorite thing in the world.

 

 

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The Story that Started it All

In the process of posting links to my stories last week, I realized that one was missing:  the very first story I ever sold, a flash piece for which I received a payment of $5.42 from an online magazine that no longer exists.  The venue was called Everyday Weirdness, and the piece was titled “Grand Opening”.  

So look:  I think its best if I exercise some combination of discretion and compassion here, and spare everyone from a detailed analysis of the long, tortuous journey that has been my ten-year effort to become more consistent as a writer.  Mostly because I doubt I have anything useful to add to the canon.  Writing is like every other form of kung fu (literal translation:  skilled person, and hard work) – if you want to write, write.  If you want to learn to play the piano, play the piano (including doing your scales, alas).  If you want to learn martial arts, train.  The trick is consistency – and with something as hard as writing, it can be quite a trick indeed.

Anyway, I found the story lurking in the depths of my hard-drive.  Near as I can tell, since I only sold the nonexclusive web publication rights for my cost-of-a-latte several years ago, there’s nothing preventing me from posting it here.  

Full confession:  I always kinda liked this one.  It came out of a homework assignment from an online science fiction writing course I took through Gotham Writers Workshop (quick shout-out to my teacher, Michaela Roessner, who is all kinds of awesome.)  The task was to write weird, giving yourself permission to just kind of let go, which was just super fun for me.

Even better, the story is about a squid.  And that’s *always* fun.

Enjoy.

 

Grand Opening

by Paul A. Dixon

 

The Rorschach squid!  We saw the Rorschach squid!  Oh, we saw it we saw it unquestionably we saw it and it was everything we thought it would be.

It’s what you’ll say tomorrow, my pretties.  When the show closes and you’re admiring your new paintings and my toxins are licking your minds.

The Rorschach squid!  Come and see the Rorschach squid!  Come tap on the glass and watch it swim circles and paint what you think you believe.

Those patterns, so complexly abstract!  So alien and what can they mean?  Black swirls on canvas in ink. Is it your childhood?  Just what are you seeing? 

It’s just art, my pretties.  Just a few harmless secretions, a pixel here, a pixel there, a little free-tentacle work for your viewing and purchasing pleasure.

Well of course you can buy the original to take home.  How could I deprive you of your very own portrait of poor little Rocko?  Such a cute Corgii pup.  If only the allergies hadn’t forced your folks to give him away.

And you – yes, you. By all means, keep my humble still-life of the daffodil and tulip bouquet you picked for your mother twenty years ago on the first of May.  If you like, you can also buy my little sketch of that Pashtun tribesman’s skull, after you put that M-60 round into the back of it.

And your ex-girlfriend – you can have her too.  I know you see her in there.  Yes, you know the time I mean.

Buy them!  Buy them all; take them home!  Did I not paint these things for you?

Oh.  Right.  There is one thing I should tell you.  It turns out I’m not just some new species of cuttlefish.  Not some blood-crimson Sepiid the size of a pizza pan your scientists found hanging about a couple kilometers under the surface of the North Pacific, one rainy Tuesday afternoon. 

Because actually?  They didn’t find me at all – I found them.  I had to; I’m not exactly from around here, you know?  Even if my ocean does resemble your own, except as seen from a couple thousand of light years away.

Well so what if I wanted to come?  So what if I swam into your clever oceanographers’ sneaky little pressure trap and waited patiently until I was acclimated to one of your Earth atmospheres?  Maybe I wanted to turn laps in a public aquarium, to secrete your thoughts while you eat waffle cones and listen to the seagulls and stare uncomprehending at this bizarre cephalopod on display.

If I didn’t, do you really think I’d be here? 

And there’s something else you should know.  The secret’s not in my patterns.  Not the swirls and whorls and blotches.  Oh no – it’s not those at all.

Lean in close tomorrow when you buy your very own Rorschach original.  And take a good long whiff. 

Then shuffle on home till I have need for you.  I’ll let you know when it’s time.

The secret’s not in my patterns, my pretties.

It’s in my ink.