Literary Success: The Rule of Ten

All successful writers write every day, at least most every day, no matter how they’re feeling or what mood they’re in.

But serious writing goes beyond this. After all, if we expect to get published, we must sell our manuscripts, which means submitting them to magazine editors and book agents, depending on what we’ve written. Here I’ll share a tip for submitting articles and short stories to magazines. It’s called “The Rule of Ten.”

The Rule of Ten

For every ten manuscripts we have in circulation, at least one will get accepted for publication. After its acceptance, send out another one to keep ten making the rounds. For those that get rejected, send them out again to another magazine. The more manuscripts we have circulating, the greater our chances of one of them finding a publisher. This is the rule’s basic idea.

However, I do not recommend submitting articles and stories to multiple magazines at the same time. This is called simultaneous submission, and though some magazines accept simultaneous submissions, I’ve never done this. I think it limits a magazine article’s chances of acceptance. Why? Because most periodical publishers like the idea of being the only one to print your work. Authors can sell various rights to them—first rights, second rights, one-time rights, all rights, reprint rights, etc. I may get into those in a later post.

One other good thing about this rule is that it softens rejection. If an editor rejects a manuscript…hey, we know we have nine more being considered.

I like this Ray Bradbury quote, something he said years ago in Writer’s Digest: “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who have been put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

Ray Bradbury by Alan Light

Literary Success: Perseverance

“Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as a writer.” Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

Photo by Alan Light

I’ve never been a fan of success seminars. For me at least, they’re a waste of money. Most attendees get excited and “pumped up,” ready to take on the world. Then, within days or weeks, this feeling abandons them and most return to their same old habits. I know, because that’s happened to me. It may not be true in all cases. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that in the majority of cases, it is.

The thing that’s helped me more than anything else in my writing career was what my father taught me: quitters never win. I’m thankful for this lesson. It’s seen me through many rough times in my life as well as in my writing.

Photo by Anastasiya Vragova on

To become a professional writer requires pit bull determination. So what if an editor or agent rejects our manuscript? That’s part of the business. Many famous writers experienced this: Isaac Asimov, Theodore “Dr Seuss” Geisel, Agatha Christie, Zane Grey, John Grisham, and Madeline L’Engle, to name a few.

Yet these authors and others, passionate about their craft, persevered. Whatever we do as writers, no matter how many times we get rejected—do not quit.

Literary Success: How to Handle Rejection

Let’s be honest. Rejection hurts. We pour our whole souls into a piece of writing, sweat over every word and phrase and clause and sentence and paragraph. Then we submit our story to an editor or agent. Weeks later, we receive a response: Thank you for considering us, but we cannot accept your story at this time because it does not meet our current needs. Ouch!

When we receive such responses, are we tempted to toss our hard work into the trash? Or delete it from our computer files? Or both? Don’t do it. Many of history’s greatest writers got them.

A Few Famous Writers and Their Rejections

  • John Grisham: His first book, A Time to Kill, was rejected 25 times before it found a home at Wynwood Press.
  • Madeline L’Engle: Her classic work, A Wrinkle in Time, won a Newbury Medal, Sequoyah Book Award, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, but publication didn’t come easily. After 26 rejections, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux published it.
  • Irving Stone’s bestseller, Lust for Life, suffered 16 rejections.
  • William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

True, poor writing is one reason for rejections. Poor grammar, spelling errors, weak content and subject matter all lead to them. However, don’t take rejection personally. As we’ve seen from the brief list above, even the best written novels and stories get rejected. Editors and agents have other reasons for rejecting a manuscript, and these have nothing to do with the quality of an author’s writing.

Rejections are not a rejection of us. Harper Lee, author of the famous work To Kill a Mockingbird, once told Writer’s Digest magazine: “I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent that he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”

Other Reasons for Rejection

  • The publisher just purchased an article or book on the same topic.
  • The book’s subject isn’t marketable.
  • The writer didn’t follow the publisher’s guidelines.
  • The writer didn’t study the periodical publication or book publisher to determine its audience and the sort of things it needs.
  • The editor was sick, tired, or in a bad mood and thus, rejected everything that day.

Dust off your laptop, put fingers to keyboard, and go at it again and again and again.

Literary Success: My Definition, An Introduction

Unfortunately, many young writers begin their careers dreaming of fame and fortune. Their book will become a bestseller, a movie, or maybe a play on Broadway. Alas, such things don’t happen for many writers. Most aren’t that well-known, but they are successful.

What do I mean by this? In writing terms, they have bylines, their names in print beneath the titles of their articles and stories in magazines, and on covers of books. Once beginning writers understand this, they’re less likely to give up. If a person possesses a small amount of talent, however, it can grow and flourish and he/she will enjoy seeing their names in print.

Now that I’ve defined success., look for future posts as I begin this new series.

Six Elements of an Effective Scene

Not all conflict has to be physical such as shown in this photo. But every scene must contain some kind of conflict. This photo shows the U.S. 23rd infantry in action in the Argonne Forest in World War One.

Scenes should be a mini-version of a novel. That is, they should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end of each scene should have a climax that hooks readers and leads them into the next scene.

Five Elements of a Scene

  • Point of View (POV): Write the same scene several times using different characters’  POVs to determine which POV is most effective. Once you make a determination, use that POV.
  • Purpose: A scene’s purpose should be to advance the plot or reveal something about a      character. If a scene doesn’t do these things, get rid of it. Also, a scene must include       action and begin in medias res (in the middle of things) and be able to stand alone. 

In my Civil War novel Vengeance & Betrayal, one scene shows its hero, Danny, a ship’s boy serving officers in a naval vessel’s wardroom, getting mocked. The purpose for this scene? To show the prejudice of certain characters, because Danny is an escaped slave this ship rescued.

  • Conflict: Be sure every scene contains conflict, either internal or external, or both. The     conflict must contribute to the plot or show us something about a character. Back to my hero, Danny.

When Danny is finally reunited with his wife, Nancy, after the battle of New  Orleans, he discovers she’s betrayed him by marrying her master’s butler. Danny fights  the butler and stalks off. This external conflict shows us Danny has a fierce temper,  which further develops his character. Also, readers see his internalsuffering over Nancy’s betrayal. The reader is left to wonder: Will Danny forgive her for what she did?

  • Characters: How should readers feel about the characters in a scene? Should the reader be pulling for or against a character, sympathize with or loathe a character? Every character should evoke some kind of emotion in a reader.
  • Tension: Scenes should include tension. By the end of a scene, readers should be asking, “What will happen next?”
  • Sensory detail: Every scene should include sensory detail. Include as many of the five senses as possible. What a character sees, hears, touches, tastes, smells.

I hope everyone found this helpful. Meanwhile, keep on writing, friends!