Rejected Again? Take Heart!

Take heart - Barbara Custer of Night to Dawn wants to read your zombie fiction.

Lately I’ve read a lot of posts on the angst people feel when they submit work and get the infamous rejection letter. With my NTD magazine, I’ve been on both sides of the desk, so when I reject work, I try to be careful with how I word my reply. I might make suggestions on improving the story. If I really like the story, but not enough to use it for NTD, I’ll encourage the writer to send more work. Let’s say you’ve read and reread your story to your critique group, gone through the piece for typos with a fine tooth-comb, and you can’t break into a publication. Howcumzit?

Look at your cover letter. You’d be surprised how many submissions I get start with “dear editor.” When someone doesn’t take the time to learn my name, I have to wonder if they researched the magazine at all. I’ve heard this complaint from other publishers, too.  Most editors frown on nicknames, too, but if someone called me “balloon lady,” at least I’d know the person sending was doing their homework. Lose the “you’ll love my story” approach, too. For short stories, keep it simple. A brief bio is great. Also anything that qualifies you to write the story. For example, I let people know I’m a respiratory therapist because my medical background gives technical detail to my stories.

Let’s say your cover letter is clean, and it’s time to read the submission. Well, for me, browsing through submissions like a trip down the party aisle at the supermarket. If a story or poem calls to me the same way a balloon does at the supermarket, that piece will go to print. So how do I select balloons? Glitter, unique shape, original design, and well inflated. How does this compare to submissions?

  • Glitter: The story should glitter with conflict and action from page one. Better yet, the first paragraph in a short story. Your protagonist should protag and not be a spectator. If you’ve cluttered the first two or three pages with backstory, you’ve lost the reader.
  • Unique shape: Butterfly balloons in particular catch my eye. With stories, I’m looking for unique takes on the vampire, zombie, and other conventional monsters.
  • Original design: I’m looking for a story told in a fresh slant. Recently I’ve rejected work because I’d already published similar stories.
  • Well inflated. I won’t buy a balloon that has soft spots because it may be leaking helium. So what qualifies as a “well inflated” story? The conflict and action keep me reading from start to finish. I’ve gotten some stories that started beautifully but fell flat at the end. Sometimes the ending stops me but I can’t say why.

Let’s say you jumped through those hoops and you still get a rejection. If an editor rejects your work with a personal critique, it means they cared enough about the story to make suggestions. Another editor may have a different, more positive perception. If the editor invites you to send more work, they mean it. So keep submitting!

To Lie or not to Lie; that is the question.

While lying with balloons, Barbara Custer contemplates novel ways to lie to her readers.

We lay in bed all day waiting for Barbara to lie down.

I’m referring to one of the verbs that give me and other writers a lot of grief –  the difference between lie, lay, and laid. That and certain words that mean one thing when used as a compound, and something else when used separately, can mess up an otherwise well-written tale.

And so therein “lies” the problem:

Lie as an intransitive verb: I am lying down with my balloons.

Lay as a transitive verb: John, please lay the balloon tree on the table.

Sounds simple but when we move to the past tense, complications arise. For example, the present tense of lie is lie. Example: He lies on the rug. The past tense is lay. Example: Robert lay on the floor. The past participle is lain. Example: He’d lain in that bed for some time.

The present tense of lay is lay. Example: I lay my purse on the table. The past tense is laid. Example: Barbara laid her balloons in the cart. The past participle is laid. She’d laid the bags on the table an hour ago.

Looking at compound words, I found that certain words, when used separately or as a compound, mean two different things. One example is setup. Is it set up, set-up or setup? So I went to my trusty dictionary.

“Setup” is a noun, while “set up” is a verb. But it’s not quite that simple. You always use “set up” when you’re using it for a verb, so….

You must set up your computer software.

Mary set up her balloon tree.

Frank set up a bank account for his client.

As a noun and adjective, you would use either setup or set-up and each means different things. Setup is the noun or adjective used pertaining to computers and their setup. Set-up is the noun or adjective used pertaining to things unrelated to computers and their setup. So…

This PC setup screen is unique.

The computer’s setup is compact.

But:

That bag of pot was a set-up from the beginning.

Some banks charge exorbitant set-up fees

The set-up of her entertainment center is precarious.

Sometime versus some time. It sounds simple, but isn’t…quite. When “some time” is used as a certain / unspecified duration of time, use “some time.” Example: I spent some time looking for the rose balloon. When “sometime” is used as an adjective meaning “former,” it’s one word. Example: That balloon salesperson is my sometime friend. If we’re referring to an unspecified point of time in the future, either “sometime” or “some time” is appropriate. Example. I plan to travel to the islands sometime / some time next year.

As I continue my work, if I find other compound words that stump me, I will post them in a future blog. For now, I have it clear in my mind which of the above words to use in my work-in-progress. Somehow, though, when I get engrossed in the heat of the scene, I’m liable to forget and mix up the verbs. A wise instructor once told me that English was the most difficult language to learn. I think she had it right.

Do you find yourself struggling with “lie” versus “lay,” or any of the compound words? I would like to hear about your experiences with compounds and words like “lie/lay,” and how you worked your way around them.

 

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