While searching for something else, I stumbled across this photo taken on June 10, 2001: my little writing table in the Baltimore apartment where we lived while my future wife attended a nearby university that summer. It’s amazing how fast time has flown by.
This is part meditation on the publishing business, part update for the authors who currently have stories under consideration for Cemetery Dance magazine, and at the end is a mea culpa.
We received 1,750 submissions this summer to fill 20 or maybe 25 slots in upcoming issues of Cemetery Dance magazine.
Approximately 50% of the stories have been read once, 25% have been read twice, and 25% have been read at least three times. Our goal is to have at least three members of our trusted first-reader team read each story before making any decisions about where the story goes next.
That said, you probably noticed above how many submissions there are for so few slots, right?
In this situation, there are always very good stories an editor has to pass on because you simply don’t have room. There will even be some GREAT stories you have to pass on because they aren’t quite right for your readership (wrong genre, etc) or for other reasons that might sound stupid to the author (already bought something too similar in theme, storyline, etc).
Ultimately, you buy the stories that hit you the hardest (in the gut, the heart, the head), were effortless to read (pulled you in from the first line and carried you through to the ending as if walking through a dream), AND also work best for your target market.
What this means is: I’ll be sending rejections to 1,725 or so authors who sent their very best work and have their fingers crossed that the work will spark a fire for us. I have to say: “Sorry, this isn’t for us.”
From watching Facebook, Twitter, and other places, I know most of the authors whose current submissions didn’t make the cut are taking it in stride and often with good humor. That’s the perfect attitude and I have to admit it took me a while as a writer to get there. Every rejection felt extremely personal to me in the beginning.
For those who do still take a story rejection personally, I completely understand. You worked hard on that story! I try to remind writers that a story rejection is not personal. It’s not a criticism of your writing ability or you as a person. There are simply so many good stories and so few slots. If you keep writing and pounding on doors (or forging your own way to reach readers, but that’s a topic for another day), you’ll get where you want to go in time.
So, we all know form rejection letters SUCK. Yet, you cannot send 1,725 personal replies. You’ll never get anything else done. But some kind of rejection letter is necessary, so the author can close out the file on the submission and target the next available market. (All while hopefully grinding away at the next story, too. Remember Alec Baldwin’s ABCs: Always. Be. Creative-writing.)
Last night it was time to send the first rejections for this batch of submissions and I decided to try to transform our standard rejection note into something at least a little more encouraging:
Thank you for sending us “STORY TITLE” for consideration.
We appreciate the opportunity to read your work, but unfortunately this one isn’t for us.
Please note we received more than 1,750 submissions for approximately 20 slots, which means a lot of very, very good stories are not making the cut. (There are even some great stories that just aren’t right for our market.)
Please keep on writing, revising, and submitting to the very best markets you can find. It can be an arduous journey, but a fulfilling and rewarding one as well. And with each new story you write, you’re honing your craft. No effort at your writing desk is ever wasted.
We wish you the very best of luck with your work.
I’m not an inspirational writer and that’s the best I could come up with on short notice, but I felt it was at least a little better than a cold, sterile “not for us, sorry” message.
Unfortunately, when I was rejecting a group of stories, the system glitched — or I glitched — and some authors were sent the letter two or three times. Or maybe more. Sigh.
Dammit and dammit were my first two thoughts when I realized what happened. And then I followed that up with another dammit for good measure.
That said, most of the authors who responded to the multiple messages handled the situation with a good dose of humor and grace IF they mentioned it at all.
There was also this guy:
Hey, I cannot blame that reaction. I’ve been there, although I try really hard to walk away from the keyboard and think about whether that sort of reply is how I want someone to remember my name in the future. (I’m much better at this than when I was a kid and I still feel dumb for all of the time spent BROODING over rejections when I was younger.)
My hope is that anyone else who also received multiple copies of the letter last night will take heart in knowing their story was read and considered seriously, we don’t enjoy sending rejection letters, and we especially didn’t mean to “rub it in” that a story didn’t make the cut.
My apologies go out to any authors who were extra bummed about the notification when it just kept showing up in their inbox like some kind of zombie rejection email rising from the grave. I can definitely imagine how annoying it would be for that same message to just… keep… coming.
For those still waiting for an answer on this year’s submissions, we’re moving forward as fast as we can while still seriously considering each and every story. The process will take some time. If your story sells elsewhere in the meantime, please let us know. We’ll congratulate you and kick ourselves for not reading it sooner!
If your story doesn’t make the cut this time, please keep writing, keep revising, and keep pushing your work forward.
Brian James Freeman
Cemetery Dance Publications
P.S. I should also apologize to my mother-in-law, who is the sweetest lady in the world and always hated when her kids used the word “sucks.” Sorry, Dori!
The eBook edition of The Painted Darkness has been discounted to just 99 cents this week, so if you haven’t read the novella yet, this is a great time to snag a copy! Please consider spreading the word about this sale if you know anyone who might be interested.
When Henry was a child, something terrible happened in the woods behind his home, something so shocking he could only express his terror by drawing pictures of what he had witnessed. Eventually, Henry’s mind blocked out the bad memories, but he continued to draw, often at night by the light of the moon.
Twenty years later, Henry makes his living by painting his disturbing works of art. He loves his wife and his son, and life couldn’t be better… except there’s something not quite right about the old stone farmhouse his family now calls home. There’s something strange living in the cramped cellar, in the maze of pipes that feed the ancient steam boiler.
A winter storm is brewing, and soon Henry will learn the true nature of the monster waiting for him down in the darkness. He will battle this demon and, in the process, he may discover what really happened when he was a child — and why, in times of trouble, he thinks: I paint against the darkness.
But will Henry learn the truth in time to avoid the terrible fate awaiting him… or will the thing in the cellar get him and his family first?
Written as both a meditation on the art of creation and as an examination of the secret fears we all share, The Painted Darkness is a terrifying look at the true cost we pay when we run from our grief — and what happens when we’re finally forced to confront the monsters we know all too well.
This review for The Painted Darknessmight be my favorite one star review I’ve ever received, and I seriously mean that:
How great is that? These are all lines I’d love to see in any review for my darker stuff:
* It was weird & VERY creepy…
* …bordered on the Stephen King – type insanity.
* …might very well cause nightmares!
Clearly, this is a case of the book being completely wrong for the reader’s tastes, which happens and isn’t something you worry about, but the reason I love this review is because there will definitely be readers who click on the one star reviews for The Painted Darkness, read this one, and think: “Wow, that sounds just like something I’d love to read!”
In case this book does sound like something you’d love to read, here are some links to consider:
Hot on the heals of Weak and Wounded, Cemetery Dance Publications has also published my new mini-collection of short stories, Dreamlike States, featuring an exclusive introduction by Ed Gorman, original interior illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne, and another beautiful cover by Vincent Chong. The signed Limited Edition is already sold out, but there are copies of the Deluxe Lettered Edition available for now.
About the Book: This collection by Brian James Freeman features six dark stories that are a little different from his other works. Some focus on unusual characters and some are simply told in unusual ways. The last two are closely linked pieces, although the connection is hidden under the surface.
* When Sam discovers the jogger dying in the middle of the road in “As She Lay There Dying,” he isn’t ready for what she has to tell him:Sammy, we can’t run anymore. He doesn’t know this girl, so why is she talking like his dead wife?
* Assuming Michael manages to escape “The Punishment Room,” he isn’t sure if he’ll be able to go on living with the knowledge of what he did to survive. But then again, that’s a dilemma he wouldn’t mind confronting, given the finality of the alternative…
* “The Gorman Gig” was definitely not going like the others, and Mike and Jimmy had no idea how badly this job was going to end for everyone involved…
* When “One Way Flight” begins, the man in seat 36-B awakens to find everyone else on his plane is dead, including the pilot. Now the clock is ticking and the man doesn’t have much time to figure out who he is, what has happened, and most importantly, how to get off the plane alive…
* In “The Silent Attic” Amy is haunted by the memory of her mother’s last days, but will one last trip to the room where her nightmares were born set her free?
* Daniel Walker is driving to his hometown for the first time in years because his father is dying, but he knows there’s more than a sick patriarch waiting for him in the house where he grew up. Daniel is traveling home with a heart full of questions, and all of his ghosts are patiently waiting with a few questions of their own in ”A Dreamlike State.”
These six thought-provoking stories show why David Morrell has called Freeman’s writing “elegant and haunting” and why Michael Koryta has said Freeman writes “a taut, memorable tale.”
This new collection by Brian James Freeman features characters who are searching for answers to deeply troubling questions.
Cemetery Dance Publications has published my new mini-collection of short stories, Weak and Wounded, featuring an exclusive introduction by Ron McLarty, original interior illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne, and another beautiful cover by Vincent Chong.
About the Book:
This new collection by Brian James Freeman features characters who are searching for answers to deeply troubling questions.
* In “Running Rain,” a devastated husband and wife try to pretend life can somehow be normal again after their son becomes a victim of a serial killer known as The Riverside Strangler… but the dark secrets they’re keeping from each other push their relationship to the brink.
* In “Marking the Passage of Time,” a couple approaches the end of the world in their own ways as the clock ticks down and they try to figure out where all of the time has gone…
* “Where Sunlight Sleeps” is the tale of a grieving father and his young son, both dealing with a shared loss the best they can, who take a trip down a memory lane lined with jagged edges and vicious traps…
* On “The Last Beautiful Day,” a devoted husband returns to the scene of the worst day of his life by volunteering for a job that is both morbid and profound.
* “Walking With the Ghosts of Pier 13” is the story of a young man visiting the beach front amusement park where his brother died during a terrorist attack. He wants to understand why a madman came to this place and blew himself up and killed so many innocent people… but the answer to that question might not be the only thing waiting for the young man when he starts walking with the ghosts.
These five hauntingly beautiful stories show why Publishers Weekly has called Freeman’s writing “skillfully composed prose” and why Tess Gerritsen has said, “Brian James Freeman managed to both scare me and move me to tears.”
Kevin Quigley over at FEARnet has posted a review of my new mini-collection of short stories, Weak and Wounded, which very well may be the best review my work has ever received.
Here is a little bit of the review:
Weak and Wounded plunges us into small worlds, in which people live desperate lives and struggle with impossible decisions. Loss permeates every page: these people survive the deaths of parents, children, spouses, and siblings, only to find that survival might be a fate worse than death. But the power in these pages comes not from what our protagonists suffer, but how they suffer it. How they continue to go on…. By tying these stories together by theme, feel, and intent, Freeman has created a work of collected fiction that stands as one piece. Each story beats with its own punctured heart, but taken as a whole, Weak and Wounded is even better than the sum of its broken and damaged parts.
If a reader ever asks you what I write about, you might want to point him or her toward the full FEARnet review.
The signed Limited Edition of Weak and Woundedsold out in one week after it was announced, but there will be affordable trade paperback and eBook editions next year.
Mario Guslandi over at SF Site has just posted a glowing review of new mini-collection of short stories, Weak and Wounded, which will be published next month.
Here is a little bit of the review because some readers might consider certain points in the full review to be spoilers:
Brian James Freeman is a brilliant writer whose horror stories do not rely upon vampires, zombies or werewolves, as the present collection (a slim book reprinting five of his previously published stories) clearly demonstrates. In these stories he portrays one of the true horrors afflicting human existence, namely the pain, the hurt and the emptiness created by the loss of loved ones. Freeman describes that horror with skill, insight and finesse, leaving behind a deep sense of sorrow and anger for the atrocities of life… Whether you’re a horror fan or not, it doesn’t matter: anyone fond of good fiction addressing and probing the deep secrets of the human soul will be enchanted by the sheer beauty of those stories.
The signed Limited Edition sold out in one week after it was announced, but there are still three copies of the Deluxe Lettered Edition left available from Cemetery Dance Publications and there will be affordable trade paperback and eBook editions next year.
Thanks to your tremendous support, the signed Limited Edition hardcover of Weak and Woundedsold out in ONE WEEK. My thanks goes out to everyone who placed an order. I suspect Vincent Chong’s amazing cover artwork convinced a lot of people to take a chance on this collection of stories, so I want to thank him again for his amazing work: