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Industry Advice: Paul Haines

by Paul Haines
Winner Aurealis Awards best Horror short story 2004

I had my writing ego broken before I had even received my first rejection slip. I attended a Tafe short course on writing speculative fiction in 1999 and handed in my first story -- a fantastic piece, I thought -- to the teacher, former Aurealis editor Stephen Higgins. His comments aloud to the class: “…clichéd and hackneyed…” Not a great start, really. But it prepared me. The ego has been crushed. And crushed…

I don’t remember my first real rejection slip -- I suppose I should, as it is filed away in a manila folder in my study. I’ve got too many slips in that folder to bother sifting through them though. The slips are in no specific order, I just pile them in there, one after the other. If they don’t come by snail mail, I save the electronic version in the electronic folder in my study. Everyone’s got them. The worthless ones say "Thank you for submitting your story to. It does not suit our needs at this time. We wish you the best of luck in placing your story elsewhere." Most of them say this. And after a while you don’t care -- it’s just another slip and someone else’s opinion. When you finally get a rejection slip with actual comments about your story, you feel almost like you’ve had a win -- they actually read the bloody thing! The whole thing!

I came out of Clarion South with fantastic critiques of the work I produced there. Great stories. Minor tweaking tweaked. Sure-fire sell. I haven’t sold any of them yet. They’ve been rejected over and over and over from the big slicks in the USA. After a while you get to recognise the ranks of sub-editors and editors and how far up that rank your story has gone before it’s rejected. (I’ve managed to acquire Gordan Van Gelder’s autograph on most of the Clarion stories I submitted to F & SF -- I’m informed that’s a great achievement as you don’t normally get past Joseph Adams).

And after a few solid months of rejection I still get depressed about it and question the worth of my writing. Should I give up? Am I crap? Will I never make it? Last year was the worst year for my writing, or so I thought. I was burned out, all my new stories were rejected. I didn’t want to write. I thought there was no place for my work. "The Last Days Of Kali Yuga" was rejected from the Australian market I sent it to. I believed in this story. It went on to win the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Short Story and has been nominated for the Ditmar. (NFG, the magazine who published it, have nominated that story for several other awards, all of them overseas). And yet "Kali Yuga" hasn’t made the Australian Year’s Best - -another rejection. It still hurts, and so far that’s been my most successful piece.

The best advice for dealing with rejections: on the day you receive the rejection, send the story out again.

The most rejections I’ve had for any one story is seventeen. I believed in this story as well. And finally, so did someone else. It’s being published very soon, and if you read it, I hope you’ll believe in it too.