Clarion West Update

In a recent blog post, I announced that I was applying to Clarion West. Well, on Friday afternoon, I heard back. Unfortunately, I was not selected.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad. I wish the decision had gone the other way. Not only would Clarion West have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I was also particularly excited about this year’s staff. But the good news is that on Saturday, my wife and I hosted our wine club. So a day spent cooking and an evening spent eating and drinking with friends helped take my mind off of the bad news.

So what’s next? Well, in the short term, I’ve submitted my application story for review by the Critters Workshop. It should come up for review on April 10 or April 17. I’ll clean it up and start submitting it for publication.

In the long term, well, more submitting is pretty much the idea. You see, one of the reasons I applied to Clarion West is that I wanted to know how good my stuff really was. “Good enough for Clarion” would have meant I’m more or less on the cusp of making a professional sale. So I guess I’m not quite there yet. Am I good enough for semi-pro? Low-paying markets? Token payment markets?

Coincidentally, I started reading Nascence by Tobias Buckell (Twitter). It’s a collection of short stories. But more importantly, it’s a collection of unsold stories, and Buckell offers an introduction for each story in which he talks about the story’s problems and what he learned from it.

Before one story in particular, Buckell talks about this doubt and uncertainty. Although Buckell discusses his uncertainty in the context of heading off to Clarion (ouch), I liked his reaction to it. He says he would confront it dead on. He would collect 100 rejection letters in a year. More importantly, he would only submit to high-caliber (and high-paying) markets. Although he realizes this decision is controversial, I think there is something to it.

Now, while I’m not completely certain this uncertainty ever disappears (it probably just changes or adapts to your new standing), I think taking the Clarion rejection as one letter among many is the right step. So how good am I? There’s only one way to find out.The best way to learn where I stand is to produce more and submit more. To aim high and work my way down the ladder until I find acceptance.

Hopefully I will get better at taking apart my stories, learning where the weaknesses lie, and improving upon them. And in time, I hope my stories start finding homes higher and higher up the publication ladder. Of course, at the same time, I’m just starting to outline a new novel as well. At least I’ll be busy. I may not be learning from bestselling authors and editors, but I will be learning.

And for those lucky people who were offered a slot at Clarion West, congratulations. I hope those six weeks exceed all your expectations. But please don’t forget how lucky you are. Please make the most of those six weeks. And please post a blog, so us outsiders can get a glimpse of life on the inside.

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