The Shortlist Paradox

After making a succession of short story anthology submissions this summer, the inevitable rejections have begun to slink into my inbox. It is a part of every writer’s world, so I am not complaining about the process. However, this last couple of weeks has had me musing over whether being notified that you have been shortlisted, only to be informed of rejection in the final cut, could be worse than not hearing anything at all until the axe falls.

Every submission comes with a ‘dare to dream’ moment or two. If it didn’t there would be no motive to submit in the first place! I usually submit with suppressed hopes, then put the publication completely out of my mind until I hear either way. Otherwise I find myself daydreaming about the possibilities. About what I would do if I got a yes. What would I post on social media? How would I tell my friends and family? Then the flutter of desire kicks in, and the potential for disappointment grows.

I had this recently with the latest SNAFU publication, Last Stand. As I mentioned in a previous blog, this publication was the anthology equivalent of the Holy Grail for me, as it will be introduced by the director Tim Miller. Marvel are a huge fixture in my household, so the potential to be linked to anything involving the Deadpool director was a huge draw. I crafted the story as best as I could. I looked back at previous hints and tips that the editors had provided, keen to tick every possible personal preference box on their list. Then, I hit ‘send’, locked the hopes and dreams in a little box in my brain marked “Do not open”, and went about my business. Then I heard the news that the story had made it through the first round of shortlisting. Wow. That was a buzz. The flame of possibility grew. I dared to dream a little bit. I was honoured that they liked my story, and repeatedly rationalised that at this stage, even if it was a ‘no’ in the end, I could be proud that it made it so far.

To my absolute shock and delight, I made it through the next round of cuts. At the beginning of that week, I had seen on the publication’s Facebook page that the next refusals were imminent, and I was convinced I would be amongst them. But I wasn’t. Double-wow. Could it possibly be? I started to get really excited. I talked about it with my friends, which is something I wouldn’t normally do unless I’d actually made it into the book. I’m cagey about my writing at the best of times, having always had a fear of the old ‘pride comes before a fall’ warnings. But this time, it couldn’t hurt to talk about it. It was a huge deal after all, and I clung to the fact that it was something of an accolade that the story had made it so far.

Well, come the final round of cuts. And a rejection letter. Albeit a very positive, constructive rejection letter, but a rejection nontheless. Wow again. But this time, a crushing, “Wow, I really thought I might have had that, there. Damn.” This was the moment that I started thinking about shortlist emails. They are always a joy, don’t get me wrong. And there was a point in my writing career when I would have chopped a hand off just to get one (possibly a counter-productive move – don’t judge me, I was a neurotic, fledgling writer!). But that moment of daring to dream a little bigger…The moment the “Do not open” sign gets torn off the hidden box in my brain that shows me visions of what I might do if I got the news that I’d been accepted. The moment when I let my daydreams wander to potential future opportunities that a yes decision may have brought. That kicks in as soon as the shortlist email comes in my inbox.

And, you know what? In the end, they ARE a good thing. Because it is that little boost that verifies that we’re on the right path. It’s the feedback from almost making the cut and being told exactly why we didn’t in the end that makes us better writers. That makes the next story an improvement on the last. It’s the step towards the next acceptance, because we’re always learning. The shortlist email, even if it makes the rejection a little more disappointing in the end, reminds us of why we do this. The rush. The thrill of the chase. The potential for that elusive ‘yes’.

So thank you to those editors who take the time to let us know when we’re through to the next round. And to those who let us down gently with constructive words when we don’t quite make the cut. We need thick skin in this industry, and at certain times for whatever reason, it’s not easy to remain positive. The shortlist reminds us that we’re almost there. Even if it’s a harder fall.


June Goals

June was a fun writing month for me. I took on an extra day of work in my day job, so I knew I had to shake up my writing habits if I was going to keep any kind of momentum. I think it was the unexpected jolt I needed, in all honestly. I’ve been feeling a bit stagnant recently, experiencing days where I had free hours stretching ahead of me – a perfect day for a writing spree. But I just didn’t have the motivation to create anything new. I would wake up with the best intentions, only to find that three YouTube Unexplained Mystery videos, lunch out, a movie, and a long hot bubble bath later, that it was time for bed and I hadn’t managed to write a word! Having the extra day away from my computer really made me value the time I did have with my imaginary worlds. I missed them, as I knew I would, because I didn’t have the option anymore.

It just so happened to fall that a number of open short story calls were coming to a close on 30th June. With my restricted free time and a looming deadline, I actually managed to get my butt in gear and create four new stories to suit the submission requests. I was inspired by the themes, and I was thrilled to see so many fantastic horror opportunities this month! Horror inspires me like no other genre, so I thoroughly enjoyed planning, creating, and writing my attempts.

That said, I’m pretty sure three out of the four don’t stand much of a chance. There is one that I’m keeping a quiet hope burning for, but we shall see. Even if none of them get selected this time around, that’s four new stories that might be suitable for other placements later in the year, on weeks where I really don’t feel like writing, so it still feels like an accomplished month.

July is going to be all about the second edit of my full-length work in progress. I’ve got a number of chapter insertions to make, a timeline to perfect, and I’m sure a few plot-holes to iron out! I had a fantastic night out with my girlfriends on Saturday, which absolutely blew the cobwebs off! I’m still recovering from it, I have to admit, but it was a lot of fun letting our hair down, sinking a few wines, and having a good old girly catch up. For me, the night out heralded the end of my June goals. I gave them a good solid crack, and I guess it remains to be seen how successful the month’s work will be in terms of publication. But no matter what the outcome, I gave it my best shot. That’s all we writers can do! And, as I said on Saturday night, “I’ll drink to that!”