What do you do?
One of the most difficult things to decide is when a story is rubbish and when it just hasn’t arrived on the right desk yet. If you listen to the myths, you’ll hear that many an award-winning story was almost relegated to the back of the drawer, or actually did get retired for a while, before some last opportunity dragged the pages into the light again, only to become a gold medal winner, an Oscar-winning screenplay or whatever. So how do you know whether your much returned short fiction is rubbish, or ready to publish?
There is no clear answer to this, and in my editorial role I see some stories that were clearly written six or seven years ago, still doing the rounds and still – to be honest – not publishable.
Of course you can’t say that to a submitter, but if, after half a dozen outings, your piece has not be snapped up, it may be time to revise it. Try taking out a sixth of the words; more good is often done by tightening than wholesale editing if the story is close but not quite there. If it doesn’t place after another half-dozen submissions, it’s time to read your story into a tape recorder or use voice software to ‘hear’ your words read aloud. Listen right through, then make notes as you pause the tape to pick up all the tiny glitches, slips and piddling annoyances that you can hear better than you can see. And if it’s still doing the rounds after another six submissions, and you’re not getting any encouraging ink from editors, put the story away (in a drawer or file, not the bin) for six months and look at it with fresh eyes. Often you can see the problem straight away, when you’ve had a good long rest from finicking with it.