The Sign You’ve Hit Rock Bottom as a Writer

As your humble B&B writer continues searching for his first-ever publication, paid or not, as a fiction writer, I decided to enter some short story competitions, to earn recognition and pick up a little extra money here and there to pay some bills.

In February I submitted an 800 word short story to Highlights for Children, since they offer $140 for published stories. Now, the story I wrote isn’t going to win me a Pulitzer or Coretta Scott King award for literature, but I really wanted to pay my electric and cable bill this month with the earnings.

Three months later I got the response back (truncated for length):

“Dear Author:

Thank you for sharing your manuscript with us.

When you send a manuscript to Highlights, you compete with hundreds of other authors. You win this competition when your piece seems to be the best fit for our present needs. All editors have preferences…many a noted writer has climbed to success on steps built with early rejection slips. Don’t get discouraged!

We are returning your manuscript because:”

Now, this is some fun for ya. There were 17 possible reasons for rejection, multiple reasons possible. Here are 5 of the 17. Choose all the reasons I was rejected:

A. It lacks a fresh approach

B. It is not suited to our present needs.

C. it lacks a strong plot.

D. We do not believe the subject would appeal strongly to our readers (kids 8-12).

E. We have on hand, or have published, a similar piece.

You were correct if you chose only Choice B.

No explanation was given for what “present needs” was. Given the magazine and reader, I thought the story would work, but oh well. S/he who figures out the exact definition what they meant by choice B shall win a gift card prize from me. Offer not available to Highlights staff or their family members or any past employees.

Believe it or not, I’m not mad at them or anything…it was a one-time shot and it was worth my time to try. I understand they have so many options, and like all publishers, deciding who you shall grant favor to is a tough art. having said that, there IS a way they choose, but I won’t reveal my research until my debut novel comes out…

Now I mean no disrespect to Highlights; I read their magazines in the doctors’ and dentists’ offices, at least in the days before smartphones and iPads, and I enjoyed the Goofus and Gallant section. But seriously, If I can’t get even a short story published there…ouch. Woe is me. That brings me up to 33 total rejections for 2 book pitches and short story submissions, all since last July.

B&B: Short story submissions are a great place to try to a. get published in a low-risk setting for both you and your publisher, in terms of money and time; and b. practice the art of storytelling when your word limits are constrained.

I have short story submissions outstanding in: Baen Fantasy Adventures Award, L. Ron Hubbard Writer’s of the Future Award, and We Need Diverse Books Short Story Contest. As responses come in, I will share my experiences and what I learned from entering these contests and tips for how you could win, should you write in those fields.

Until next time, ladies and gents.

2 thoughts on “The Sign You’ve Hit Rock Bottom as a Writer

  1. Great tips and thank you for sharing your experience. I have always wanted to give it a go as a writer, but definitely sounds like a tough biz. I write short stories, I’m hoping to get published one day.


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