The Saga of a Short Story

This is a tale of luck.

It’s also a typical story of how a short story gets published. I’m relating this tale to assure those of you who may feel discouraged about selling stories and depressed about rejections, that rejection is common even for multi-published writers. And–in the shared misery category–to assure you that all writers hate to be turned down.

And how you persevere and sell the damn thing anyway.

My little tale goes like this: A couple years ago I read a news article that inspired me to write a science fiction short story. I finished the thing and thought it was quite good. Quirky, a little slow. But original and moving. And if you’ve been following my blog, you know I like stories that tap your emotions.

I promptly sent it off to a prominent SF magazine which, with lightning speed, said no. So, I thought, that is one benefit of being a published author: you sure get your short stories read and rejected right away.

Then I sent it to another magazine where they’d be sure to snag it. But no. A bit dismayed, I asked a couple of writer friends to read it. Don’t change anything they said. It’s good.

I searched their faces for signs of duplicity or pity. But nope, they liked it. Send it out again, they said.

This time–talk about a sure sale–I sent it to one of my best friends in the business who, like, owes me favors, loves my work and has bought almost everything I’ve ever submitted. This one is vintage Kenyon. You’re gonna love it.

He rejected it. It “wanted to be a novel.” It just didn’t come off as a short story. This criticism really stung because I often say that I don’t know how to write short stories, I just cram a novel into 15 pages and hope for the best.

At this point in the marketing, I am seriously aggravated. I’m aware that I just need to keep sending the story out, but I am on to other projects, and furthermore wondering if I need to revise that puppy, but resisting doing so. I fiddle with it, lose interest, put it in a file.

A few months later I’m at a convention–yes, in a bar, fellow introverts–and I happen to sit next to a guy who is an editor whom I don’t know very well. I politely ask what he’s working on, and he says it’s an anthology of optimistic science fiction. I say “oh, cool,” but I’m already thinking about something else because I don’t write optimism. There’s no story in that, I figure. “You got anything?” he politely asks. “No,” says the queen of marketing. Then, because I realize I so suck at putting myself forward, I say, “Well. I’ve got a story about a little girl stuck on an island of garbage and the world as we know it is over.” Even to myself this sounded awful. The editor says, “Does it end on an up note?”

I think for a moment. Well, half the characters die. The little girl loses everything of importance to her. But is there redemption? Is there light at the end of the story? I had to admit there was.

I told him a little about the ending, and he says, “Send it to me.” I did.

Six months later I still hadn’t heard from him.

I have totally given up on this dog of a story. Then the editor emails me, apologizing for the delay. He buys the story. It gets great reviews in the anthology. And this summer it was just reprinted in “Year’s Best SF.”

That is my tale of luck. The guy in the bar who wants a story about hope, and I tell him I have nothing. And I still sell it! This kind of thing, far from being unusual, is actually common. Lots of writers have stories like this. I hope someone collects them someday. And I hope you read my posts on cons, introversion and meeting people. Because people are the source of luck.

Oh, and also, never give up on a story. Someday it is likely to find the right desk on the right day.

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To check out the story:

3 Responses

  1. angelo says:

    congrats, Kay! inspiring!

  2. Jan-Erik L says:

    I read that short story. It was amazing! Very emotional 🙂 I can’t believe it was rejected.. and more than once o.0

  3. Kay says:

    Oh thanks. It is so amazing the different reactions people have to a story. I’m reading two series in fantasy right now that everyone raves about and I am so underwhelmed. One seems overstuffed, and the other so obvious and trite. The good news is: most stories can find an audience if they have key virtues. What key virtues? no one knows.

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