Two story sales (and some notes on the MFA application writing sample)
Posted by R. H. Kanakia on January 7, 2013
I’ve now sold two of my MFA application stories. A few days ago, I sold “A House, Drifting Sideways” to GigaNotoSaurus (which is an online magazine that publishes one longer SF story every month). And, last spring, I sold “The Snake King Sells Out” to the Intergalactic Medicine Show. (I also have a third, currently unsold, MFA application story—“The Other Indians”—which is a realist story.) What’s interesting is that in both cases, the stories only sold after the editor requested a revision. Actually, in both cases, the requested revision was the same: the ending felt way too abrupt. And, in both cases, the solution was to add another scene at the end of the story.
So…yay! I am glad to have sold this story. It’s one of my favorites. After Ann, the editor at GigaNotoSaurus, pointed out the issues with the ending, they seemed so obvious that I couldn’t believe I’d missed them. But I definitely did miss them! Before I sent out this story to an ungodly number of schools (paying something like $100 for each application), I workshopped it, revised it, and then scrutinized it very closely for any and all possible flaws. But I didn’t see a pretty major one.
Since I now have decent evidence that two of my applications stories were flawed, it’s natural to wonder whether I would’ve done better during the MFA application cycle if I’d submitted the revised versions. After all, last year I got into a fair number of programs, but I also received a ton of rejections.
But that’s a silly speculation on a number of levels. First of all, I’ve written roughly 750,000 words since I applied to MFA programs in October of 2011. I’m a much better writer now. And I’m better, in part, because of the things I’ve learned at Hopkins. Part of being better is that I know how to fix the flaws in my older stories. So, yes, I’d probably do better if I applied today…but that’s just the difference that a year makes.
I think the main takeaway from this should be that while it’s difficult to get into MFA programs…it’s not as difficult as publishing a story. Both of these pieces were good enough to get me into graduate school, but they were not good enough, in that form, to be published. In a way, that’s kind of comforting. Everyone, no matter their program, still has to face plenty more hurdles before they start to “make it” as a writer.
Anyway, I also wanted to note that only Iowa saw all three of my application stories (because their max page count for writing samples is really high). Every other school only saw 2. I actually had five different writing samples that I sent out, depending on the school’s page limit. This is because I felt like “A House…” was my strongest story, but it was a fairly long one and I couldn’t fit it into the limits of about half of my schools (especially since I knew I wanted to include a realist story in my sample as well).
|# of stories||2||1||3||2||3|
|First Story||“The Other Indians”||“A House, Drifting Sideways”||“The Other Indians”||“The Other Indians”||“The Other Indians”|
|Second Story||“The Snake King Sells Out”||“The Snake King Sells Out”||“A House, Drifting Sideways”||“A House, Drifting Sideways”|
|Third Story||“The Gallery of Idols”||“The Snake King Sells Out”|
|Accepted by:||Columbia||Temple||North Carolina State, Johns Hopkins|
|Waitlisted by:||Houston, Lousiana State|
I only sent the 25 page sample to Temple and, maybe, Florida? I think those schools requested that you send only one story, so I sent the one that I thought was my best. The fourth application story, “A Gallery of Idols” only went to a few places.
Oh, also, in my title, I mentioned two story sales: yesterday I sold my story “Droplet” to We See A Different Future, which is an anthology of post-colonial SF stories. I like this story a lot, which is obvious, because it was the oldest story that I had under active submission. I wrote it in March of 2010. It’s also had the most number of near-misses out of any of my stories. It was held for a long time at Clarkesworld, it got a rewrite request from Strange Horizons, it was passed up be fiction editor at Cosmos.
So, the real takeaway point here is: yay! I just sold two stories!
An assortment of milestones:
- Longest story I’ve ever sold: After revision “A House…” is now a solid 9,300 word novelette.
- Most rejections before finally selling a story: “Droplet” has been rejected 14 times! And when it finally sold, it sold at pro rates, too!
- Longest time between writing a story and selling it: almost three years, for “Droplet”
- “Droplet” is also my 30th short story sale!
I love milestones. I am pretty sure that even when I sell my 131st story, I’ll be looking for the ways in which this acceptance is different from all the ones before it.