Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Heinlein’s Rules and the Resubmission Blues

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 20, 2016

I understand that one of the key tricks to being successful as a writer (or, really, anything else in life) is perseverance. The first Harry Potter book was rejected a dozen times before it was finally accepted for publication. Which means that only one in thirteen editors that reviewed the manuscript thought it was good enough to be even moderately successful. Can you imagine being one of the acquisitions editors who passed that one up? Hoo-boy.

But yeah. I’m glad Rowling stuck with it. I just submitted a story for about the … fourth time, I guess. Which is nothing. I was even given some good feedback on it and told that it had made the second cut in one anthology. So… positive stuff. This is an older story, and I’ve improved since then.

It’s very easy for me to now assume that the story’s no good and that I should quit trying to submit it anywhere. I should focus on new stuff, right?

Now, I don’t think I’m writing at pro level yet. And with the effort I’m putting into game development, it’s not a constant part-time venture. I don’t think I’m good enough or professional enough yet to be able to fully embrace Heinlein’s Rules, but I am trying to move in that direction. Heinlein’s Rules (for professional writers) are:

#1: You Must Write
#2: Finish What Your Start
#3: You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order
#4: You Must Put Your Story on the Market
#5: You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold

The first two should be pretty obvious. Regardless of quality, you can’t possibly get published if you have nothing actually completed.  Even as a beginner, there’s a lot more to learn from a single finished manuscript than twenty opening chapters.

The third can get controversial, but I think if taken to mean “minimize edit and rewrite effort until told otherwise by your editor,” it’s still fairly appropriate. Technology has changed to reduce the necessary effort in the first place. I imagine that this has raised the competitive bar a tad from the days when Harlan Ellison started writing live in bookstores and tape the pages to the window as they came off his typewriter. But … bottom line… there’s a law of diminishing returns, so don’t keep tinkering with it forever.

The fourth and fifth go hand-in-hand. Submit, and then resubmit the rejections to another market. For the pros I know who write short stories do exactly that.  My three rejections so far are nothing. Right? Right?

I guess when it all comes down to it, if you are following (more or less) Heinlein’s Rules, by the time you get to the third or fourth rejection for a single story, you don’t have enough invested in the story to care. You’re already several stories down the road, or maybe a full novel down the road. No big deal. Keep writing, keep writing better.

At least that’s the theory. I’ll let you know if I have to submit it a fifth time.

Filed Under: Writing - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • Modran said,

    I try the NaNoWriMo every year. I’ve yet to finish a single one… I wrote some short stories, nothing that would get published, but, yeah, the rewrites are always so tempting, even if the first draft isn’t over :/.

    Keep at it (even if I still don’t understand how you manage those 5 jobs together (yes, being a family man is a job)) !