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Author Topic: Ignore rejection letters
adamatom
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This research is about TV, but application is universal. So many gatekeepers, whether print, screen, or stage, have been so wrong so many times. Lesson: just ignore rejections.


Prison Break - “The series was originally turned down by Fox in 2003, which was concerned about the long-term prospects of such a series.” “He subsequently showed the concept to other channels but was also turned down as it was thought to be more suited for a film project than a television series.” “Following the huge popularity of serialized prime time television series such as ‘Lost’ and ‘24,’ Fox decided to back the production in 2004.”

Desperate Housewives - “Initially Cherry had a hard time getting any television network interested in his new series – HBO, CBS, NBC, Fox, Showtime, and Lifetime all turned his offer down. Finally, two new executives at ABC, Lloyd Braun and Susan Lyne, chose to greenlight it. Shortly thereafter, Disney had both Braun and Lyne fired, following their approval of another new drama series: ‘Lost’ “

CSI - “Bruckheimer agreed and arranged a meeting with the head of Touchstone Pictures. The studio's head at the time liked the spec script and presented it to ABC, NBC, and Fox executives, who decided to pass.”

Law and Order - “Initially, the show was ordered by Fox for thirteen episodes with no pilot based on the concept alone. The decision was reversed by then-network head Barry Diller, who loved the idea but did not believe it was a Fox show. Wolf then went to CBS, which ordered a pilot, ‘Everybody's Favorite Bagman’, written by Wolf, which centered around corrupt city officials involved with the mob. The network liked the pilot but did not order it because there were no breakout stars in the show. In the summer of 1989, NBC's top executives Brandon Tartikoff and Warren Littlefield screened the pilot and liked it, but were concerned the intensity of the series could not be repeated on a week by week basis. However, there was enough faith from executives that the series was innovative and could appeal to a wide audience that the series was ordered by NBC for a full season in 1990.”

The Sopranos - “Chase and producer Brad Grey, then of Brillstein-Grey, pitched ‘The Sopranos’ to several networks; Fox showed interest but passed on it after Chase presented them the pilot script. Chase and Grey eventually pitched the show to then-president of HBO Original Programming, Chris Albrecht, who recognized the originality and potential of the show, and decided to finance the shooting of a pilot episode.”

Mad Men - “Weiner set the pilot script aside for the next seven years – during which time neither HBO nor Showtime expressed interest in the project — until The Sopranos was completing its final season and cable network AMC happened to be in the market for new programming. ‘The network was looking for distinction in launching its first original series," according to AMC Networks president Ed Carroll "and we took a bet that quality would win out over formulaic mass appeal.’”

Source: www. IMDB .com

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adamatom
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“One of the most successful producers of all time, Bruckheimer has been nicknamed "Mr. Blockbuster", due to his track record of commercially successful, high-grossing films. Overall, his films have brought in over $13 billion to Hollywood, and have launched the careers of numerous actors and directors.”


Seriously, Jerry Bruckheimer. You’d think entertainment executives would fall down and worship at his feet when he walked into the room. You’d think they would start throwing money at him before he has a chance to open his mouth.

But they said no to CSI. CSI not only became one of the most popular and longest running shows in television history, it became one of the most successful franchises.


I could tell you similar stories about Spielberg's efforts to get "E.T." and "Close Encounters" produced. Repeat, ignore rejections.

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wirelesslibrarian
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Some literary examples:

Dune, Frank Herbert - rejected 23 times
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell - rejected 38 times
Harry Potter book one, J. K. Rowling - rejected 9 times (other sources say 12)

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Robert Nowall
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"Scanners Live in Vain," Cordwainer Smith...reportedly rejected by every major SF short story editor of the 1940s till it washed up at a semi-pro called Fantasy Book...but the last report I had, at least two of the editors denied they'd rejected it...

Dune, published in the end by Chilton---the auto bible publishers...

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Merlion-Emrys
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I've been saying this for years.
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Brad R Torgersen
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Virtually every mega-successful book (or series) in the genre, was rejected numerous times in its infancy. Stephen R. Donaldson's wildly popular (for its time) Thomas Covenant books? "Lord Fouls Bane," the first in the series, got bounced 47 times before it found a home at Del Rey.

Publishing is much like the movie industry in this regard. Experienced producers will admit that they bounce as many winners as they buy, and they buy as many duds (or more) as they bounce. 'Tis the same with the novel editors in New York. Because the calculus of what can and does do well with the public audience is simply too complex and variable for any person to fully grasp. There are only hunches, positive or negative. And hunches can be and often are wrong.

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adamatom
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1) The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1897)

This alien invasion classic was rejected by publishers before it was serialized in Pearson's Magazine in 1897. One publisher's rejection letter described the book as "An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would 'take'...I think the verdict would be 'Oh, don't read that horrid book.'" Also, Wells' The Time Machine was rejected by one publisher with the note that it was "not interesting enough for the general reader and not thorough enough for the scientific reader."

2) Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)

This rejection story's got everything: a crusader against censorship being censored, a Soviet spy, and famous poet T.S. Elliot. When Orwell first shopped the book around in 1944, everyone viewed it as excessively critical of the USSR, while the USSR was helping Britain defeat Nazi Germany. Four publishers rejected Animal Farm, including Orwell's regular publisher. Another publisher accepted the novel, but then rejected it at the request of Peter Smollett, an official working in the British Ministry of Information. Smollett was later revealed as a Soviet spy. Faber and Faber also rejected the book, with T.S. Eliot penning the letter himself. Refusing the book for being "generally Trotskyite," he added, "We have no conviction that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the current time." In fact, the book would not be published until WWII was over.

After finding a publisher, Orwell wrote a preface to Animal Farm, "Freedom of the Press," about self-censorship during the war. In it he stated that, "Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness." The preface was not published. Source: Taylor, David John (2003). Orwell: The Life. H. Holt. p. 197. (Animal Farm cover by Shepard Fairey.)

3) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

The short story version, and even the original novel, had little trouble getting published. But back in the early 1950s, if you wanted eyeballs on your words or to get readers interested in your book you got it serialized. Not to mention that serialization rights sales meant you got paid again (sometimes more) for the same book. But nobody was willing to serialize Fahrenheit 451. Except Hugh Hefner. When no one else would serialize it, Fahrenheit 451 was published in Playboy magazine. Hefner and Bradbury recently appeared on stage together to discuss the history of this novel (video here) and Hefner explained that he'd just started Playboy in late 1953, and Bradbury's novel was already out in book form, but nobody had serialized it. "You have to realize what the 1950s were like. A story about book-burning in the future seemed so perfect for its time, and so perfect for the magazine that I was planning on publishing, that all I could do was contact Mr. Bradbury," says Hef. The novel appeared in the third, fourth and fifth issues of the magazine. Adds Bradbury in this other video, "So all of you young men who have stacks of Playboy under your bed, I put them there!"

4) The Once and Future King by T. H. White (1958)

White finished his masterpiece about King Arthur in 1941, only to have it rejected because the final section was considered too pacifist — and therefore against the British war effort. Various sections appeared in print thereafter, like The Sword In The Stone. White waited out the war and the publishers, and the book was finally published in its complete form in 1958. Source: Clute, John, and John Grant. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1999. Pg 1010.

5) A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1962)

This classic children's novel of time travel was rejected 26 times by publishers. Not only did it win the Newberry Award, it helped lure in a new generation of science fiction lovers (especially girls). And it sold some eight million copies.

6) Dune by Frank Herbert (1966)

Every book publisher — 23 of them — rejected Herbert's masterpiece before it was accepted, for almost no money, by Chilton, a small Philadelphia publisher of business magazines and automotive manuals. Writes Dune's friend Frederik Pohl:

No book publisher was interested in acquiring the hardcover rights to this rapidly expanding mass of manuscript, however, until an editor at the quite small publishing house of Chilton Books managed to stitch the several existing stories into a single huge novel. He called it Dune, and when he published the result, it became a runaway bestseller, said to be the most profitable sf book ever written.

Dune won the Hugo Award and the first ever Nebula Award. And it has gone on to sell some 40 million copies. (Dune cover by Tony Easley)

7) Nova by Samuel R. Delany (1968)

John W. Campbell rejected the serialization rights to Nova, Delany's ninth book. Delany had already won his first Nebula Award, and was nominated for two more that year. Campbell's reason for rejecting Nova? American readers weren't ready to read science-fiction with a black main character. And yet American readers turned Nova into a bestseller. It was also nominated for the Hugo. Delany writes about this rejection, as well as other race-related experiences in the science-fiction world in this fantastic essay.

8) The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)

Yes, this book won both the Nebula and the Hugo, but at least one editor didn't think it was worth publishing. Le Guin has the letter up on her website. The highlight?

The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material. My thanks nonetheless for having thought of us. The manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness is returned herewith.

9) The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (1974)

The Forever War wasn't just a best seller — it also won both the Hugo and the Nebula. And 18 publishers regret that they turned it down. Writes Haldeman in the foreword to one edition:

It was rejected by eighteen publishers before St. Martin's Press decided to take a chance on it. "Pretty good book," was the usual reaction, "but nobody wants to read a science fiction novel about Vietnam."

The book wasn't just rejected by book publishers, though — John W. Campbell rejected serializing the novel for Analog, because it had women fighting alongside men. His successor, Ben Bova, had no such qualms and agreed to serialize the book — but wouldn't publish the middle section, "You Can Never Go Back," because it was too grim. (That middle section first appeared in print, in a new edition of the book in 1991.)

10) Carrie by Stephen King (1974)

Stephen King's first published novel sold four million copies in paperback. And garnered 30 rejections from publishers. One of them wrote, "'We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell." Tired of rejection slips, King reportedly threw the manuscript into the garbage — but his wife fished it out again, and he decided to try one more time.

11) The Female Man by Joanna Russ (1975)

Russ wrote her second novel in 1970, but it took five years to find a publisher. Publishers rejected this classic of New Wave science fiction, writing things like: "We've already published our feminist novel this year, so we don't want another," and "I'm sick and tired of these kinds of women's novels that are just one long whiny complaint." Source: Larry McCaffery, ed., Across the Wounded Galaxies, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990), p. 194-195.

12) Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)

Butler writes that she had "years of rejection slips" before her first novel saw print. According to her obituary in the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

Kindred was repeatedly rejected by publishers, many of whom could not understand how a science fiction novel could be set on a plantation in the antebellum South. Butler stuck to her social justice vision - "I think people really need to think what it's like to have all of society arrayed against you" - and finally found a publisher who paid her a $5,000 advance for Kindred.

Kindred became the most popular book by the MacArthur Genius award winner.

13) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997)

The number bandied around the internet is that 12 major publishers rejected the first Harry Potter book, before someone was willing to take a chance. Rowling recently told Oprah Winfrey,

My agent knows better than I do... It was a lot of people. A lot of people just sent it back, virtually by return post. It was like a boomerang. I did really believe in it. I just thought, This is a good story.... For some reason, I can even remember being quite pleased with the rejection letters. "F. Scott Fitzgerald got these. It's all part of being a writer!"

One publisher held onto it for six months before finally rejecting it — and then when Bloomsbury decided to take it on, this other publisher suddenly decided they wanted it too. But Rowling decided that she should go with the publisher that wanted the book right away, rather than the one that kept her waiting and then turned her down. According to the BBC, the entire series has sold more than 400 million books worldwide.

14) Farthing by Jo Walton (2008)

Even after this book was published in the US, Jo Walton had trouble finding a publisher. At least 10 UK publishers rejected this alternate history classic, which is set in a Britain that entered a peace treaty with Nazi Germany. Wrote Walton, "'Slipstream' and 'Interstitial' clearly aren't as in as people tell you they are, at least not in Britain." The book was nominated for a Nebula Award, the Locus Award, John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel, a Quill Award and the Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

15 This Immortal by Roger Zelazny (1966)

This book tied with Frank Herbert's Dune for the Hugo Award for best novel in 1966, but it had a slightly rough road to publication — although not as hard as Dune's. Piers Anthony writes in his book How Precious Was That While that an editor at Doubleday had rejected this book, originally titled And Call Me Conrad. And then after someone else published the book and it won the Hugo, this same editor wrote to Zelazny to chide him for not showing the Doubleday editor the book before sending it elsewhere. Writes Anthony: Zelazny looked from one hand to the other, as if comparing the two letters from that editor: what was he to make of that?

Source: IO9

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Because the calculus of what can and does do well with the public audience is simply too complex and variable for any person to fully grasp. There are only hunches, positive or negative. And hunches can be and often are wrong.
I think this is basically right, especially the first part...its again, what I've said for ages and re-iterated quite a lot lately...you can't really figure out for sure what ANYONE wants, whether its a single editor or "audiences" as some nebulous whole.

However, I think things like a producer turning down a thing they already know to be successful is often, probably, linked either to another thing I often speak of...taste and opinion and the fact that publishers/producers/whatevers make decision based largely on their own personal ones...and the fact that I think some in the business become so arrogant, so convinced they know what "the people" want or have ceased to want, they make illogical decisions based on that arrogance.

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adamatom
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"Because the calculus of what can and does do well with the public audience is simply too complex and variable for any person to fully grasp. There are only hunches, positive or negative. And hunches can be and often are wrong."

Not so.

See the above story about Jerry Bruckheimer. They turned away a winner, a golden goose that had already delivered them many quality golden eggs and offered them yet another one.

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Merlion-Emrys
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Ok that was odd..
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shimiqua
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I agree with Merlion. I don't think you can ever figure out what an editor wants. I think the only thing you can do is write what you want, and then try to find people who think the same way you do.

The above examples give me hope.
~Sheena

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Merlion-Emrys
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I agree with Sheena agreeing with me.
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Nick T
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Hi,

If you’re permanently discouraged from writing because of rejections, then you’re in the wrong field (temporary discouragement is expected). Editors get it wrong. All the time. Editors get it wrong, agents get it wrong, critics get it wrong and readers get it wrong. Every year, a lot of readers buy books because they like the cover. Editors reject stories because they have the flu and don’t feel like reading stories. Don’t even get me started on what writers of media tie-ins have to endure when fans identify that they’ve “breached canon”.

Every agent and editor has a story about the one that got away. If they haven’t let a success slip through their fingers, that tells me that they’re not doing their job in looking for new work. For a magazine editor with open submissions, if they’re not rejecting work, then they have no vision for what they want their magazine to represent.

Life isn’t fair. Editors are trying to guess what their readers will like and it's impossible to know what they want. Most editors also care about stories and literature. If they didn’t, they definitely wouldn’t stick around because no one remembers the editor and no one makes money from editing.

quote:
See the above story about Jerry Bruckheimer. They turned away a winner, a golden goose that had already delivered them many quality golden eggs and offered them yet another one.
Yet, they couldn’t be sure that he had offered them a golden egg. Prior to CSI, he’d produced two made for TV movies and one TV series that lasted two seasons (according to Wikipedia). Every success he’d had was in movies and that’s where his focus was.

When you’re playing with that kind of money, making the wrong call often means goodbye to your job as well as many other people’s jobs. Corporations are inherently conservative.

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adamatom
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A slush reader, an editor, an agent, a producer, an executive should be able to recognize a winner. If they can’t, why are they sitting behind that desk. If a carpenter doesn’t know how to drive a nail, why does he have that hammer in his hand; if a doctor doesn’t know how to perform surgery, why does he have that scalpel in his hand. Furthermore, they should be able to make decisions based on track records.

Therefore, if your name is Stephen King or Jerry Bruckheimer and you hear the strange words, “This won’t work,” ignore it; if you’re not Stephen King or Jerry Bruckheimer and you hear the familiar words, “This won’t work,” ignore it. Even if the gatekeepers as a whole have a bad track record, you should be able to recognize that track record and not let the words, “This won’t work” spook you.

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adamatom
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23 rejections, 38 rejections, 47 rejections. Can't blame that on the flu.
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adamatom
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"Yet, they couldn’t be sure that he had offered them a golden egg. Prior to CSI, he’d produced two made for TV movies and one TV series that lasted two seasons (according to Wikipedia). Every success he’d had was in movies and that’s where his focus was."

Good point Nick T. He was indeed trying to transition. But he had mastered his element and screen skills are very transferable. If I were an executive, I would be inclined to get in on the ground floor if someone with unmatched success wanted to try something new.

But they didn't. But Jerry Bruckheimer ignored it. Aren't you glad he ignored it? Ignore it. Eventually a lot of people will glad you took my advice.

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adamatom
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Repeat: IGNORE THE REJECTIONS. DON'T EVEN FACTOR REJECTIONS INTO YOUR FORMULA.
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Merlion-Emrys
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Actually, I think for many people ignoring the rejections they get isn't as difficult as overcoming the fear of being rejected and getting started...but the same evidences hold for both. Being "good enough" has nothing to do with it. If you never submit, you won't be published (self publishing aside, that's a whole other discussion) and if you keep fiddling with things trying to make it "good enough" you will never submit.

So, along with "ignore the rejections" I would add SUBMIT. Ignore the tentacles and the seven-headed griffins of fear and SUBMIT.

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adamatom
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I'm not a gatekeeper yet. Just a cheerleader at this point. But I'm proof gatekeepers should be able to recognize a winner. I have picked many winners, authors as well as stories, that later got published. Several of them in heavy hitter markets.

The first winner I picked was “Crown of Thorns” by Sonia Helbig. It was later selected by Writers of the Future.

“Backlash” by Baen's editor Nancy Fulda was in Asimov's 3 years after I discovered it.

I immediately recognized Leah Cypess as an exceptionally talented author after I critiqued 2 of her science fiction stories “Stolen Breaths” and “Twelvers.” Turns out she's more of a fantasy author. Her first novel, “Mistwood,” was recently published by Greenwill Harper/Collins. Her short stories include “Silent Blade” in Strange Horizons, “Temple of Stone” in Fantasy Magazine, “Dead Silent” in HelixSF,” “Quest, Inc” in Kaleria and again in Papyrus, and “Changelings” in Odyssey. “Changelings” is a classic story - and she wrote it in high school! “Stolen Breaths” was published by Asimov’s.

All of the stories I've selected by Richard Zwicker, whose trademarks are mystery and humor, have been published, including a couple in Golden Visions and Raygun Revival. When he posted “Captured on Video” on the Critters Workshop, I told him, “This is your best story yet.” So his writing quality is going up. “Late Programming,” Golden Visions. “Radiance,” Golden Visions. “The White Knight is Talking Backwards,” Ray Gun Revival. “That Was So Funny I Forgot to Laugh,” New Myths. “Walden Planet,” New Myths. “Time Phone,” Speculative Fiction Iconoclast. “A Human Falling,” Writing Shift. “Selective Memory,” The Rejected Quarterly. “She Blinded Me with Silence,” Poe Little Thing. I finally told him, "You're cranking out bylines so fast, I can't keep up with your work."

I critiqued Adam Colston’s “A Lost Mind,” “An Empty Kind of Love,” and “Time and Motion” on the Critters Workshop and his “Drift State” through the Hatrack forum. He later won the Writers of the Future Award for “Not in the Flesh.” He sold “An Innocent Death” and “An Ending of Sorts” to Golden Visions, “The Quanta of Art” to Intergalactic Medicine Show, “Paradoxically Correct” to Redstone Science Fiction, “Not Like the Old Days” to Alien Skin, “Metal Fatigue” to Flash Me, “Shades of Stone” to Fear and Trembling, and “Our World” to Postcards From. “Cobalt Blue” was included in the Dark Spires anthology. “An Empty Kind of Love” was published in Escape Velocity and won the British Science Fiction Association Short Fiction Award.

Rhonda Porrett’s “Incorruptible” was one of the first stories I discovered. She masterfully blends two popular subgenres, regeneration and cloning. For seamlessness and symmetry, few stories I’ve read match it. It also has several ingenious plot twists and a classic ending. All of this is an awesome accomplishment considering it was her first story. She sold “Feeders,” which I read and critiqued on the Critters Workshop, to Allegory. She sold “River of Stones” to Quantum Kiss,” “A Breath of Ill Intent” to Lorelei Signal,” and “A Slice of Life” to Fear and Trembling.

I wrote a very short critique of Frank Dutkiewicz's “Intergalactic Nuisance.” "A dark comedy that just gets darker and darker and darker." It was later bought by Atom Jack and included in the Library of Science Fiction and Fantasy's Probing Uranus anthology. Frank has several other published stories to his credit. “One Wicked Day” in the Shadows of the Emerald City anthology, “Wizard’s Brew” and “Changing of the Seasons” in Alien Skin, “Playgel Riser” in Strange, Weird, and Wonderful, “Expired Benefits” in Flash Me, “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” in Space Squid, and “Precious Gift” in Twisted Tongue.

Carl Frederick is known for his hard science stories, which appear regularly in Analog. I critique all of the drafts on Critters and he credits me for major revisions. The first one I critiqued, “The Excoanthropic Principle,” snagged him his first Nebula nomination. “A Sound Basis for Misunderstanding” is probably his most sophisticated. It’s a masterful blend of linguistics, music, art, body language, biology, diplomacy, business, and culture. He’s still writing his old style stories while simultaneously evolving toward literary stories. When I read “The Architect's Playground,” I told him, "With this story, you have entered a new realm of blending human drama into hard science." Mark my word, this is his next award winner.

Two authors to watch are Tom Greene and Sean Green. Both are prolific and consistently write quality stories. Tom Green’s “The Turning” is a masterpiece of technology, sociology, culture, linguistics, and symbolism, and is very high on my recommended list. Sean Green’s “Once More, Onto the Beach” is a fantasy story destined for the best fantasy stories of all time lists. Postscript: Tom Greene, “Shift Work,” Fear and Trembling. Postscript: Community in Apocalyptic Worlds.

SO MANY WRITERS I HAVE DISCOVERED HAVE BEEN BEEN GETTING PUBLISHED SO OFTEN, I HAVE GIVEN UP TRYING TO KEEP THIS LIST UPDATED.

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adamatom
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"So, along with "ignore the rejections" I would add SUBMIT."

Take Fred Obermeyer as an example. I have critiqued several of his stories and corresponded with him about a few of them. His stories are creative yet grounded, uncomplicated, and not overly long. Over the last 10 years, some 50 of his stories have been published in about 25 markets. That’s an awful lot of submitting. He ain’t afraid of no rejection letters.

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