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Welcome to my story blog. I will post one new story here every day. You are welcome to comment on any or all of them. Enjoy!
                   --Lee Pound

Day 33 - The Letter

It was the 15th rejection letter Liza had received in the last 15 days. The text was simple: “Thank you for submitting your story ‘The Lazy Dog’ to us. Unfortunately we cannot use it in our publication.”

That was it, she thought. Fifteen submissions, fifteen rejections, not one of them personal. She was right back where she started. Nowhere.

Now what?

Liza called her friend Amy, who had published a number of stories. “Any idea what I’m doing wrong?” she asked.

They met for lunch. Amy spent the first ten minutes reading the story and then set the pages on the table. “Has anyone but me and the 15 publications read this?”

“I edited it,” Liza said. “I know how to write.”

“Liza, I’ve been in this game for years. Why didn’t you show it to me before you sent it out?”

“You wouldn’t understand what I’m trying to do.”

“It’s obvious that none of these editors did either.” Amy said. “You want to know what went wrong or don’t you.”

Liza thought, okay, here it comes. Criticism like every other time she’d showed her work to someone. They never understood. “I’m listening,” she said.

“Let’s start with the title. Why did you choose it?”

Liza said, “It’s about a lazy dog.”

“Put yourself in my shoes. Let’s say I don’t know you. I see this story in a magazine. Why would I read it?”

“It’s a funny story about how my dog sleeps so much she misses walks and visitors. There’s this really funny incident in …”

“Liza, that’s not in the title.”

Liza’s eyes widened. Of course it was in the title. The title was hilarious. The story was hilarious. “But the story’s  … Oh, no. I know the story’s funny. The reader doesn’t?”

“That’s right. The title has one purpose, to get the reader to read the first line of the story. Your title doesn’t do that. It’s just a lame cliche.”

Liza stared at the words, just the words, and cleared every other thought from her mind. Three words. “You’re right. I wouldn’t read it.”

“Good!” Amy said. “Let’s look at the story. You talk about the weather in the first line. Is that relevant?”

Liza shook her head. “You’re right. It’s not relevant.”

“Here are some other basic problems I see here,” Amy said. “In brief, there’s no dialogue. It’s just told. Your main character isn’t well developed. In a three-page story, the funny part begins on page three. You tell us the end before you get to the funny part. Too many passives. Lots of weak verbs. Shall I go into more detail?”

For the next two hours, Amy and Liza went through the story line by line, marking possible changes in red ink. When they finished, the manuscript was a mess and Liza was smiling. “Thank you so much,” Liza said. “It’s odd. I’ve heard everything you said time after time in so many different places. I never realized I wasn’t doing what I already know.”

“It is odd,” Amy said. “It’s true nevertheless. We all have bad writing habits. When we write, we use those old habits. The only way to replace them is to go back and find them on your second draft. Before you can do that you have to know what to look for. You knew but you didn’t look.” Amy then explained the proper way to edit and gave her ten items to look for. “Rework it,” she said, “and send it to me for a final look. Then send it out again and see what happens.”

Two weeks later, the rejection letters started coming again. However, this time they contained comments about how good the story was and how sorry they were they couldn’t use it. When letter number 12 arrived, Liza held it for a second. Would this be like all the others? Almost but not quite? She sighed, slit it open, slid out the letter and unfolded it. She let out a shriek of joy. Accepted! They bought her story!

She silently thanked Amy and made a vow. Never again would she send out a story before a professional looked it over and gave her feedback. Never again.

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