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.

Ephraim Houser

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.

Mr. Houser,
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....

E. Smith

“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 to write.

Maybe he could finish that cat story he’d started last night. He thought he had an ending for it…

Dear Sirs,
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 soon.

Ephraim Houser

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 due rejection.

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.

Mr. Houser,
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…

Mr. Houser,
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 dollars total.

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 them all…

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 it.

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 reject it.

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 read.

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 them out.

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 cash it.

Another month. Ephraim still played at writing, but nothing came of it. Then came the letter. From Space Ways.

Mr. Houser,
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 or punctuation.
Unreadable manuscript
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.

Barry Mandrum
Assistant editor

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 somewhere!”

# # #

Rejection by Michael D. Turner
originally published September 14, 2009


Michael D. Turner is a writer from Colorado Springs, Colorado. His writing has appeared multiple times in Big Pulp, and in Aberrant Dreams, AlienSkin, Between Kisses, Flashing Swords, Every Day Fiction, and Tales of the Talisman.

For more of Michael's work,
visit his Big Pulp author page


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