Behind The Story
The first story I ever submitted, on April 9, 2013, happened to be The Bookseller. It took three years and one day to get an acceptance for the story.
The way the story came about involved the time-sucking sinkhole of my Tumblr feed. I actually avoid Tumblr quite a bit because I can lose entire days to it. Unlike other sites with endless scrolls, the sheer variety and creativity I find on Tumblr doesn’t seem to get tedious at any particular interval. Anyway, my feed—maybe not surprisingly—has a lot of book-related follows. Pictures of books. Pictures of people reading. Discussions (in the strange, threaded Tumblr-way) of books and authors. Also a lot of pictures of full bookshelves.
One of these pictures—which I’ve tried to search for again and have not been able to re-locate—showcased a full bookshelf on an old, European-looking sidewalk. I was the kind of thing I didn’t think much about on first glance but then had to scroll back and examine more closely. A bookshelf outside, on the street. How charming and strange. Not, like, seven-headed dog with peanut butter saliva and toenails made of an endless, star-filled void strange, but. Quaint, and queer.
So I began to free associate a story about a bookshop outside a peculiar woman’s home, set up each morning and taken down again each evening. From this discovery writing I developed all the major story elements: Miranda and Jude, their flirtation and connection, the gifted book, Jude’s quest of self-discovery, and the quietly tragic ending.
I hadn’t quite built up my group of trusted critique partners at the time, so I had some friends and family look it over: my dad; a friend I’ve known since childhood; a co-worker who happens to be a fellow writer. They made their notes and suggestions and I drafted again. Then, somewhat brazenly, I submitted it. After about a month I got my very first rejection as well. So I simultaneous-submitted it to four other high-profile markets and began what would be a streak of 25 consecutive rejections.
A few months later I began shopping around for additional critique partners and got some new feedback on it. I tweaked and fiddled in between rejections, trimming down a good amount to tighten it up. About a year after the first submission I got a detailed personal rejection which suggested making the ending less spelled-out and direct. In other words, more literary. So I re-drafted the whole thing again, really tightening the ending, and send it out to another dozen or so rejections.
By the time WOLVES accepted the story, I had nearly given up on it. Well, more accurately I had almost moved on from it, which is maybe a subtle distinction. The Bookseller, as fond of it as I am, felt like I was clinging to it out of a certain nostalgia. The story is twee and painfully earnest, quiet and deliberate almost to a fault. It is not, by any stretch, a fashionable story. While these are, in a significant way, the things I like best about it, I was starting to wonder if perhaps there was no market for this kind of thing. Twenty-five is not the most rejections a story has ever endured before finding an acceptance; three years is not the longest time it’s taken a story to find a home. But by contrast I wrote literary stories after The Bookseller received its twenty-fourth rejection that got accepted before it did.
But here’s the thing: I’m happy I never completely gave up. I wanted to be able to tell Jude and Miranda’s story, to share it with readers. I wouldn’t have been satisfied with putting their story on a shelf. And if all it took was a little persistence to get there, it was beyond worth it.
I can only hope others agree.