Dear Mrs. Smith,
I am submitting the enclosed manuscript for your forthcoming anthology Barbarian
Babes! I hope you enjoy the story.
This is my first attempt
at writing fiction. Hope to hear from you.
Pathetic. Almost as
bad as the story.
Ephraim clicked the “print” button
on the screen and the machine duly spat out the letter.
The story was as good as he could craft it. It had
no egregious spelling or grammar errors. The plot was
clean enough; the ending had punch and was neither
telegraphed nor out of synch with the rest of the narrative.
The story was, he judged, ok.
Besides, it was not like
he really expected to sell it. Ephraim just wanted
the rejection letter.
Sure, someday he’d like
to sell a story. Once he knew what he was doing. Once
he had paid his dues.
Ephraim remembered back
in college, Barry Mandrum in the next dorm room had
wanted to be a writer. He had a file full of stories
as thick as Ephraim’s arm, each with a collection of
rejection letters paper-clipped to the back. Form letters
mostly. A couple of personalized ones with ‘helpful
suggestions’ from the editor. Barry had stars stuck
on the front of those stories. And he’d practically
danced down the hallway their junior year when Great
Westerner magazine had actually bought a story
from him, waving the forty-three-dollar check over
his head and howling.
That was what the writing
magazines said was normal. It took years of dedication
to break in, to learn the writing craft and how to
polish your manuscripts so they’d sell.
The writing bug hadn’t
bitten Ephraim yet, then. Not for years. Now that it
had, he was ready to pay some dues. Twenty years of
dead-end jobs and dead-end relationships had prepared
him. He had plenty of time and nothing to lose.
Ephraim set the letter
atop his slim manuscript—carefully printed out according
to the guidelines he’d read in Writer’s Report—and
slid them into the mailer. Dues payment on the way.
I am pleased to inform you that I am accepting your story “Blood
on the Blade of a Maiden” for my anthology Broadsword Babes! Enclosed
you will find a check for....
“Ha, ha, ha!” Ephraim
shook his head as he chuckled out loud. Lightning
strike, first time out. He wondered what Barry
Mandrum would have said. He hadn’t seen or heard of
Barry Mandrum since Ephraim had dropped out of college.
First time out. Wow.
Still, it was just
a fluke. The writing game’s harder than that. He
tucked in his mush-grey uniform shirt. He’d have
to hurry now to drop off that check at the bank before
he had to be at work. Swing shift guard at the cement
plant parking lot wasn’t a great job, but he didn’t
want to lose it. Besides, it gave him lots of time
Maybe he could finish
that cat story he’d started last night. He thought
he had an ending for it…
Enclosed is the manuscript for “Cat’s Out of the Bag” for your consideration.
I hope you enjoy it. I have recently sold a story to Edith Smith
for the upcoming anthology Barbarian Babes!
Hope to hear from you
Ephraim handed the mailer
over to the clerk and ponied up the cash in due course.
This time he knew there would be no lightning. The
story wasn’t bad. He was actually very pleased with
the way it had come out. And it fit the parameters
of the magazine, if only in the broadest sense. He
knew that—he’d been a subscriber to Eldritch Stories for
years. But his story was humorous, and about a cat.
Eldritch Stories printed
funny stories only about once a year, and hadn’t done
a cat story since the mid-nineties. Still, he had submitted
a good story, fair and square. He’d get his justly
That was fine. He already
had a file for it in his old metal desk back home.
And there were other markets for the story, if none
so prestigious and well-paying as Eldritch Stories.
That was fine.
Ephraim now had four
other stories, three nearly done and one just starting.
He knew he should finish one and send it out, not wait
to hear from Eldritch Stories. Magazine slush
piles were legendary for their depth. Maybe that science
fiction piece he’d got the idea for while watching
PBS. All it needed was a good title and a little…something.
The next afternoon Ephraim
made another stop at the post office on the way to
work. I can handle multiple rejections. After all,
my writing is getting better.
Your story “Cat’s Out of the Bag” had me rolling out of my chair!
It’s a marvelous, wonderful story and I am glad you chose to offer
it to us here at Eldritch Stories. Enclosed you will find…
I am pleased to accept your story “Mistakes” for Exploding Spaceships
Quarterly. It struck just the right note with me and I believe
it will do likewise with our readers. Enclosed you will find…
Ephraim almost sobbed
out loud. So much for paying dues! No real feedback,
either. Just a couple of peppy platitudes and some
checks. He glanced at those. A hundred and ninety-three
Well, Ephraim knew he’d
never get rich writing short stories. You couldn’t
even make a living at it, not since the thirties. He’d
tried other routes for feedback. He’d joined the writers
circle at the local library for a couple of weeks.
But, they were mostly still kids, nineteen or twenty,
with a couple of bored housewives working on laborious
mystery novels. He’d gotten some useful stuff, but
not much. Not what he wanted.
He had eleven stories
in his desk now. Eleven unsold stories. If he tried
Ephraim looked nervously
at the pile of mailers spread across the passenger
seat. At least some of these, he was sure, would get
rejected. Some of them almost had to. The children’s
story with the talking badger and the bats—that one,
at least. He hated kids, and had never really written
anything for them before. And there was a hidden edge
to that one. Aesop Annual would never go for
Or the elvish princess
story. Fantasy Quarterly probably got forty
of those a week. They had to be sick of them. Hell,
he was sick of reading them. That probably showed in
the story. With a title like “The Very Last Elven Princess
Story, Ever!” it ought to. And Rune magazine would
never buy “Poppy and the Fish Gods.” At least Ephraim
didn’t think so from the one issue he had been able
to find of it. At a penny a word, he’d pay them to
The rest were pretty
much the same. The stories were all right, and going
to the right markets. All different markets, too. Everywhere
from Space-Time Journal to something called Diplodocus
Quarterly. All the genres he liked, science fiction,
fantasy, horror, weird stories. Nothing he wouldn’t
And all submitted in
good faith. Spelling and grammar checked, clearly and
cleanly printed. Each story crafted as well as he could
do with each plot. No cheating to get rejected on purpose.
Each market had been explored, considered for each
story he was sending. All eleven.
The postage is getting
steep. Guess that’s why it’s called “paying” your
dues. That would get the job done. Ephraim whistled
all the way to work.
Three months later, the
letters started trickling in. “Poppy and the Fish Gods” brought
a check for eighteen dollars and eight cents from Rune. Diplodocus
Quarterly sent five dollars and a thank-you-very-much. “The
Very Last Elven Princess Story, Ever!” garnered a hundred
and sixty-eight dollars! The Fantasy Quarterly editor
had to be off his nut!
By the time Space
Time Journal had checked in, at twelve dollars
and thirty-five cents and two copies, Ephraim’s writing
had tapered off. He still started new stories every
couple of weeks, but somehow they never seemed to
gel. Only two unsold stories haunted his desk.
One was a typical science
fiction thriller he was sure would sell. It was better
than most of the stuff he’d written. The other was
a piece of pornographic trash about a photographer
who gets abducted by aliens, he was sending that to
a men’s magazine called Honkers. It was as close
as Ephraim could come to cheating for a rejection. Honkers bought “fiction
of interest to our readers” which they had to have
sandwiched between their photo spreads so they could
ship to their subscribers through the U.S. mail. He’d
found a copy left in the guard house by another guard.
He decided to send the
other story to Space Ways, a prominent second-tier
genre market. Both stories sat in their mailers on
his desk for a week before he got around to sending
Four months later, Ephraim
still had not finished a single additional story, although
one of the others that he had already sold had been
selected for a Best of Fantasy Quarterly anthology.
Another sale, and
not a single rejection letter.
A week later, Honkers sent
him a letter, with a check for five hundred and sixty
dollars. A month passed before Ephraim bothered to
Another month. Ephraim
still played at writing, but nothing came of it. Then
came the letter. From Space Ways.
I am sorry to inform you that your story “The Typical Thing” does
not suit our needs at this time. Some of the more common reasons
a story is not selected that may apply to your story are listed below.
Poor spelling, grammar
Plot too obvious
Not character driven
Recently purchased similar story
Ending was just too cute!
I hope you will consider
submitting other stories to us in the future.
Ephraim laughed out loud,
leaping from behind his old metal desk and waving the
letter over his head, dancing.
“At last! Now, I’m getting
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