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What do you do with something no-one wants?

Don’t worry – not the cat.

But seriously, what do you do with a story nobody will buy?

I know the obvious answer is: bin it.

After all if no-one wants to read it what is the point of it?

I confess I find that to be impeccable logic, and yet there remains a part of me that is reluctant to just put a story I really like, and think is worth reading, on the rubbish heap.

The subject of this particular dilemma is a Science Fiction story I wrote five and a bit years ago. I’m sure I have rattled on about it before on this blog, in general terms if not by name.

It started out life c12,000 words. Too short for publication as a standalone novella, and too long apparently for the adjudged attention span of most of the SF readership as a short story. I sent it out to the few SF magazines that still take stories of this length, though nearly all make it obvious they prefer shorter stories. There were a couple of very quick rejections, a couple of days, which at least removed the agony of hope and allowed me to move on to other submissions. Some took well over a year to get round to declining but a couple of these gave encouragement to try elsewhere and at least one sent a very helpful set of readers feedback comments. These buoyed me up quite a lot although it made me wonder why, if the majority of the readers liked it so much, it hadn’t got the nod. I was never clear precisely why the story wasn’t ‘quite right’ or ‘not what we are looking for at the moment’ beyond that niggling suspicion that what they were really saying was; ‘This is b******s’.

I cut it down to below 10,000 words, which probably didn’t hurt it. It remained the same story and was I suppose tighter for the effort, and I sent it off to the next batch of mags that had the 10K word limit. Similar experience, if somewhat faster rejections. Quicker to read I guess.

Trawling through the magazines I read or know about, and looking at online market compilations has made it clear that the market, perceived or real, for SF stories is geared to stories below 6K with a preference for 2-3K. There is no way I can cut a 12,000 word tale by three quarters and retain anything I thought was worthwhile. I don’t think. I might try just to see but I think there are so many of the interesting ideas that would have to go that it isn’t worthwhile. I might try and cut it down by half and see what happens.

If, as I suspect, it loses too much of what I wanted the story to say, what then?

It would work in an anthology of different authors, but access to one of those is going to be no easier.

I have a reluctance to consider the self publishing route – the money is flowing the wrong way for me.

I think a 12k or even a 10k piece is too long for blogging – unless I go the serial route again but I still think this is good enough for a single shot paid outlet which would be better suited than the blog format regardless of the money.

The time angle concerns me as well. I have of course been a good boy and submitted this in accordance with the requirements of the magazines – mostly no simultaneous submissions. I don’t mind this too much, especially with quick turnarounds but many take months to reply. I know the old publishing adage: ‘if you want a quick answer, the answer is “no”’, but this speaks to a different age when publishers controlled everything and could be like that. Can they still? I suppose they can do what they like but the world is moving on.  Some are very good and encourage simultaneous submissions as long as you let them know if you get accepted elsewhere. I am reluctant to do this or go behind anyone’s back however inadvertently because I have been caught out before. I sent a piece, not fiction but an article to a magazine and the editor sat on it for a couple of years. I wrote and said if he didn’t want to use it I would send it elsewhere. No response, so I did. I got it accepted by another magazine and sure enough the next month the first guy published it – no communication about it before hand. I had a lot of explaining and backpedalling to do with that one but fortunately the second editor was very understanding and I sold him several articles subsequently. So no matter how slow or awkward people are I generally stick to the rules as stated these days.

This does mean five years have gone by and I have nothing to show except greyer hair, a fixed unnatural smile and a horror of publishers’ emails.

So for the moment I guess I will hunt down the one or two c10K word limit mags which haven’t had a chance to say “no” and send it off again. I will continue to work hard on other SF stories (several running at the moment) to see if I can put an anthology of my own work together and perhaps concentrate on other genres.

In the meantime I could perhaps learn to write shorter stories, or longer stories.

Or maybe just better stories!

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