“Space Jockey” hits the digital shelves – Why writing is like waiting tables.

The Anthology “Space Jockey” is finally in print (well, digital print anyway). The book includes 315 pages with 14 different stories and, I’m happy to say, the first person who reviewed it on Amazon liked my story.

“Farsider – Ethan Rodgers: A sad story about a pilot in a bad place with no options, but much more a story about the greatest power we know of in our world today – the human brain and it’s unstoppable ability to adjust to any situation, adapt, overcome, persevere – and all by holding on to the smallest piece of hope, even if it’s not really there anymore. An interesting read.”

Always good to get a little positive feedback. Not that there’s anything wrong with constructive criticism (heck, I welcome it with open arms. It’s the only way to get better), but I’d certainly hate to be a black eye on an otherwise successful publication. The anthology is available here if you’re interested in purchasing it: http://www.amazon.com/Jockey-Science-Ficiton-Stories-ebook/dp/B00FEPGLB8. As Macklemore might observe – S!$&, it’s only 99 cents!

space jockey

One day after getting accepted for “Space Jockey,” I received an email from fictionmagazines.com, formerly “E-Fiction.” Their Horror publication “Under the Bed” sent me this: “Thank you for sending us “The Nonbelievers.” The staff and I love it, and we would like to publish it in an upcoming issue of Under the Bed Magazine (formerly eHorror). Congratulations!”

So, as they say, great news comes in pairs. “The Nonbelievers,” the story of a family living in a small village that’s gripped by a religious fanatic, will be featured in December’s edition of “Under the Bed.” If you’re interested, here’s the link to their website – http://www.fictionmagazines.com/underthebed/ (Facebook.com/underthebedmag; twitter – @under_the_bed_)

The fact that “The Nonbelievers” got picked up, despite my cold-query email stating “previously unpublished,” is extremely promising. When a submission from a no-name arrives in a publishers inbox, they typically only give it a couple paragraphs to “wow” them before tossing it in the garbage. When that no-name also has never been published (which, when I submitted it, I hadn’t been) it’s given to an intern to look over briefly before he spills coffee on it and throws it in his personal garbage can, or a shredder, or a fire pit. The fact that I can now add a previous publication list to my resume is very exciting.

Why is this? Well, I liken the writing world to the restaurant world. If you haven’t worked in the restaurant “bizz,” you may not know that breaking in can be difficult. It’s just waiting tables, right? What’s so hard? Any idiot can do it?

You’re absolutely right. Any idiot can wait tables – I’m living proof. But when I tried to find a job my sophomore year of college, I had a pretty solid resume. I’d held two different jobs for extended periods of time (one as a telemarketer at the age of 16, the other as a lifeguard). I was an Air Force ROTC (reserve officer training corps) cadet, a college student with a 3.9 gpa, letters of recommendation, and – without sounding like too much of a haughty ass – a pretty accomplished communicator, something very important to waiting tables. I thought I’d have a job in a week.

Olive Garden? Nope. Red Lobster? Nope. Chilis? Nope. I kept working my way down the food-chain (so to speak) until I hit rock bottom, applying to places that barely qualified as restaurants. I must have applied to a dozen establishments. I wasn’t even sure where else to apply. I know the old adage – “you gotta start somewhere” – but where the hell is “somewhere”? Golden Corral? Chuckie Cheese? Or did I have to ask if someone wanted fries with their order before I could walk up to a table and say “Hi, my name’s Ethan. I’ll be taking care of you this evening”? Did I have to serve fourth meal at Taco Bell before I could serve higher class patrons at a refined eatery?

The interviews always seemed to go well, but the managers always got hung up on one issue – “I see you don’t have any prior experience.”

I was dumbfounded. Would you rather hire a drug addict that spent six months at Sizzler because he/she has experience? What about a serial killer that was a sous chef at Piccadilly? Or perhaps a drifter that bounced around between the various buffets in the food court at the mall? I wanted to shout “I have pedigree! I have panache! I have pizzazz!”

No dice. I wouldn’t even get a second interview. Managers couldn’t get past the fact that they’d have to start with the basics if they hired me – an unshaped ball of clay. Months passed without luck. For whatever reason, the interviewer always assumed because I had never worked in a restaurant, that I wouldn’t be any good at it. No one would give me a shot.

After exhausting most of my options, I got a call from an Italian restaurant for a second interview. Not only was this a restaurant – it was a really nice one.

Biaggis, an Italian restaurant based out of Chicago, gave me that shot. The GM was an Army vet and said to me “I like hiring people with no experience and a good resume because it means no one else has taught them how to wait tables wrong.” It was refreshing to hear and, to a 20 year old kid, the $150 I brought home on Friday night was nice. Not only did a restaurant hire me, but a *nice* restaurant hired me. I worked there for eighteen months, and when I turned in my two weeks notice, the managers unanimously tried to talk me into staying. I only left because I got a better offer from Bonefish Restaurant, where I could work better hours and make more money. I went from being a leper to a pseudo hot commodity on the free agent market. When I sat down with the GM at Bonefish, he told me the interview was more of a “formality.” Simply amazing.

So what’s this long, boring, unrelated tangent have to do with writing? If you’re not getting accepted for publication, it may not be you’re writing. Actually, it probably isn’t you’re writing. It’s probably your resume, and it’s not your fault.

Without anything on there, it’s pretty tough to get people to give you the time of day. I certainly don’t have the best writing pedigree – far from it – but I’ve read some pretty awful stuff that’s in print and I’ve asked myself “How the hell did this get published?” Some are boring, cliche, or just stupid.  Others are filled with grammar issues, typos, tense issues – rubbish. My writing is rubbish, too, but at least it’s technically sound (I think).

God only knows how many publishers looked at my submission and said “I see you don’t have any prior experience.” They weren’t interested in the story – they were interested in my name. Big names draw readers, no names draw no one.

Publishers are overloaded with manuscripts every day. There are hundreds of millions of aspiring writers in the world sending their trunk stories to every website with an open submissions link, and most of them are crap. The safest way to sift through the pile is to immediately burn those submitted by authors with no previous success. It’s easy to assume that if someone hasn’t been published, they’re probably not any good. That’s what those managers who didn’t hire me assumed. If I hadn’t held a job in the bizz, I must not be a good employee. Honestly, it’s a far more likely scenario than the alternative – that you’re a great writer that just hasn’t been given a chance.

That’s why it’s so important to keep searching. Aspiring writers don’t lack ability, they lack doggedness. We live in a world of “now.” Instant messaging, instant connectivity, instant results. Writing doesn’t work like that. We all want to be 25 year-old millionaires. We all want to sit on a sailboat in the Caribbean and write nonsense in a journal that people drool over. We want to be the next Hemingway, but we want it to happen before we’re thirty.

But the truth is, writing doesn’t work like that. This isn’t software engineering. It’s not quantum physics. Pardon the expression, but it sure as hell isn’t rocket science. This is *writing*. Any idiot with a pen and a piece of paper can do it. It takes no training, no education, and certainly no pedigree. Granted those things help, but you don’t need them. And if you look back on major authors that changed the world, that are remembered as masters of their craft, most of them weren’t 25 when they gained notoriety. Look at modern day success stories – George R.R. Martin, JK Roweling – older, wiser, experienced. Who knows how many times someone told them their writing was rubbish when they were younger. Are there many 20-something Mark Twains changing the world? No – virtually none. You have a better chance of hitting the lottery, being kidnapped and probed by aliens, or jumping the grand canyon on a moped than being a teenaged Tolkien.

So don’t get worried when someone says “I see you have no prior experience.” That’s them using an easy out. That’s them being lazy. Find a publisher that’s willing to give new writers a shot, one that’s proud of discovering up-and-coming talents, diamonds in the rough. Find a publication that is suited to your style and prints stories in the same vein that you excel at. And, most importantly, just hope to get lucky. In a sea of garbage, it may be difficult for even the most attentive of publishers to find your story, and if they do, it might not be what they’re looking for.  The internet has made the ocean seemingly endless.

But there’s someone out there willing to take a chance on you, so be patient. Maybe your story will wash up on shore when you’re least expecting it, or maybe it’ll be the culmination of hard work to get your head above the water just high enough for that barge passing by to see your head floating above the rest of the proverbial flotsam. And, hopefully, when others see that someone has taken that chance, they’ll hop on board too.