On Failure, and Not Giving Up

On Failure, and Not Giving Up 

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Are you neck-deep in a rising tide of rejection emails, and feel as though you’re about to drown in a sea of failure?

I suppose I could toss out an inspirational, feel-good quotaion such as “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor” (Truman Capote). But let’s not kid ourselves. Failure sucks. And if you’re like me, you face failure countless times each week in the form of those dreaded emails which begin, “Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately…”

When seeking solace in another bowl of chocolate ice cream, it’s easy to lose sight of an important truth: “No” means nothing more than “No, from me”. It does not mean “No, from the world”.

I have had a fair share of success in taking a rejected piecesometimes revising it, sometimes notflinging it to the fates once more, and in time seeing those blessed words. “Thank you for your submission. We’d love to…”

In the world of writing, few formats offer the compacted write-submit-results cycle of flash fiction.

To offer a concrete example, I once heard of a contest on its final day, wrote the requisite 55 words, submitted it, and learned I’d won the next day.  

I discovered flash fiction in 2011 when Janet Reid, a literary agent whose blog I follow, posted one of her contests. The rules were simple: write a 100-word story using five given keywords. If memory serves, my first attempt wasn’t even a story. But I felt there was potential in the underlying concept, and in short order expanded it to 600+ words. It still hasn’t found a home. But I like it, so I’ll keep trying.

There are a surprising number of establishments that publish flash fiction. Sometimes they offer nothing more than online or print; sometimes there is payment involved.

Which brings us to the Mash competitions…

I’ve entered about 3 or 4 now. I really appreciate this particular forum, since they offer valuable feedback to authors.

In July 2015, I submitted a piece called “Watching”. Unfortunately, I had looked up the keywords on my cell phone, and the limited screen view cut the “y” off from “jealousy.” So the folks at Mash rejected it. I’m sure I kvetched (privately) for a minute. But rules are rules. (And in a fit of literary pique I wrote in the span of an hour another piece using the correct keywords; that one generated a lot of positive feedback from the folks at Mash, so much so that I felt as though I’d “nearly” won.)

Flash forward to mid-February 2016. I read on a website called Cathy’s Comps & Calls about The Little Acorns and their flash fiction contest. I tweaked “Watching” (because for them it had to be EXACTLY 500 words), and submitted.

A few other recent successes include:

  • “Cinéma Vérité,” a horror-esque piece I wrote in 2012 (and saw rejected countless times since then) found a home with The Literary Hatchet.
  • “The Saving Breath,” originally a 100-word flash for a Janet Reid contest, was picked up by James Ward Kirk Fiction.
  • “Alone,” written for now-defunct Flash! Friday contest (and a winner there in 2015) was accepted by The Broken Plate.

For me, the secret to success is ruthless, dogged, organized persistence.

My dogged, organized persistence involves four basic steps:

Find sources

You can try something as simple as Googling “flash fiction submissions” or “short story calls.” But three good starting points I can suggest are the aforementioned Cathy, pw.org, and horrortree.com which, its name notwithstanding, does feature calls for other genres.

Make a schedule

I’ve managed to find about a dozen or so publishers of flash or short fiction. Their names, preferences, requirements, and submission details currently reside in recurring entries on my Google calendar. Every Monday at noon, I get a pop-up reminding me to “submit something to XXX.”

Keep good records

This should go without saying. The last thing you want to do is submit the same piece to the same publisher twice. If you need a place to keep track of your submissions, shoot me an email and I’ll send you a spreadsheet I developed.

Listen to feedback

Another no-brainer. If someone says, “I like your story, but it needs…” seriously consider the feedback. Perhaps you’ll decide you don’t agree with their suggestions. But more often than not, I wind up incorporating at least a few of the ideas provided to me.

As I write this, I am polishing up four different storiesall one-time cast-offsthat I hope will soon come back to me in an email with the words

“We’d love to publish…”

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Michael Seese is an information security professional by day. Or, as his son could say even at age three, “Daddy keeps people’s money safe.” He has published three books: Haunting Valley, Scrappy Business Contingency Planning, and Scrappy Information Security, not to mention a lot of flash fiction, short stories, and poems. Other than that, he spends his spare time rasslin’ with three young’uns. Visit http://www.michaelseese.com/ or follow @MSeeseTweets to laugh with him or at him.


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