New Year Ships’ Log

It’s 2014 – a year that still sounds to me like the title of a Sci-Fi movie. And I’m hoping the spaceships I encounter over the next twelve months will be of the friendly variety .Veterans of this blog will know that when I refer to ‘ships’ I’m talking about all the texts/scripts which I’ve sent out on spec re publication, staging or broadcast etc… I have always liked the idea of my work as ‘ships’ as it somewhat relieves me of responsibility – once launched, they are out there and I can only hope they return to port in some form, preferably laden with a win or publication.

Last year I sent out a total of 59 ships. Some 17 returned to port, 39 never made it. Rejections/disappointments/ non-runs/PFOs are part and parcel with the writer’s lot and learning how to handle them is one of the most important (and difficult) lessons a novice writer faces.

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, decorated with adjectives and adverbs and with no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no? A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for another ten years.

That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or  mature enough to know that then. Ah, well. During my first year on my MA at UEA  (2009), I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. I sent out more, and then more and after six months, I had bagged the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award, the HISSAC, the Sussex Playwrights’, the Meridian, the Escalator Award. I’ve now got two broadcast radio plays under my belt (and am working on a third)  as well as signing with an agent and my novel is currently on submission to publishers. My  short stories have been published in seven anthologies/literary publications. I’ve had staged readings of my work in Norfolk, Brighton and Cornwall. I’ve served as writer in residence on the Aran Islands, lead workshops in creative writing in Ireland and the UK and teach writing for a living. These are all ships that came home to mama over the past five years but believe me, many had to sink before I saw the slightest hint of success.

Don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story/script/novel/play and send it out again. Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills. It’s all about not giving up.

The 2013 stats:

Ships sent out: 56


Ships sunk: 39

The 2014 stats thus far:

Awaiting news on 13 ships launched

Wins/acceptance/short-listings/publications: 1

Ships sunk: 3


About suehealy

From Ireland, Sue Healy is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre, London, a full-time Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln. Her book on theatre literary management is published by Routledge, December 2022. Sue is an award-winning writer for stage, TV, and prose writer. TV Her current project, a 6x60minute TV series, is under option. She is under commission with Lone Wolf Media, producers behind PBS’ “Mercy Street”, to co-write the pilot and treatment for a six-part TV series. Stage Her most recent stage-play, Imaginationship (2018), enjoyed a sold out, extended run at the Finborough and later showed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. Her previous stage productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s short plays have been performed at the Criterion (Criterion New Writing Showcase), Arcola (The Miniaturists) and Hackney Attic (Fizzy Sherbet Shorts). Radio Her radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. Prose Sue has won The Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award, Meridian Prize and has been published in nine literary journals and anthologies including: The Moth, Flight, Tainted Innocence, New Writer, Duality, HISSAC, New European Writers. She has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from annual artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy. An academic with a PhD in modern theatre history, specifically the Royal Court Theatre, Sue has presented her research internationally. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She has a PhD in modern theatre history (Royal Court Theatre) and is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumnus. View all posts by suehealy

32 responses to “New Year Ships’ Log

  • kathils

    Excellent post on the importance of sticktoitness. 🙂 What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger, right? I love comparing stories to ships. Good inspiration to launch us, a bottle of champagne against the hull, into the new year. Well done.

  • Diane

    I wish you fair winds for your ships and great success in the New Year.

  • jenniferscoullar

    A very wise post. I only found a major publisher with my fourth novel, and even then it was rejected by four out of the five editors I submitted to. Still, it just takes the one. Fortunately I found my champion at Penguin. Imagine if I’d given up after number two, or three! I felt like it plenty of times, felt like I was banging my head against the proverbial brick wall.

    This game is as much about persistence as it is about talent. Happy New Year Sue, and I hope all your ships come home.

  • mrsbongle

    You are much braver than me! I know I should send more stuff out but I get so crushed and disappointed if it gets rejected so most of the time I just don’t bother putting anything out there at all. I do have a friend who’s an agent who’s going to read my novel when its finished though.

  • elizabethannewrites

    I love the image of ships being launched. I will be launching several ships this year, after a couple of sinkings a couple of years ago made me realize I needed to work more on my craft. I think I’m ready to brave the launching process again. I know not all my ships will make it, but I think I’m learning how to deal with that.

    Thank you so much for this post!

  • lenleatherwood

    Great post. Thanks for the reminder that we have to send out our ships and not be discouraged with rejection. Some will return!

  • Judith Post

    20 ships making port is great! Congratulations! Good luck with the rest of them.

  • Dawn Pisturino

    An inspiring post! Thank you!

  • Patti Soldavini

    Good for you. I am amazed by all the crap I see in bookstores that has actually been published. How does THAT happen? who is the arbiter of great work vs. garbage today?

    • Amy Keeley

      I’m fully convinced now that “good” or “bad” has very little say in what’s actually published. I mean, it’s not that a publisher wants to put out garbage. I really doubt any editor looks at a book and says, “This is so bad, it HAS to sell!” I feel they try to find the best stuff they can, that they know the public will buy. It’s a terrible guessing game based on “trends” and what the public consumes in large quantities. Sometimes that means putting out something of lesser value because it’s a safer bet.

      As for who judges between great work and garbage…well, that would be whoever is reading the book. 😉

  • tmso

    I love the metaphor (analogy?), and thank you for sharing your numbers. I’m sure those 37 lost ships will find a port.

    Happy New Year.

  • Author Mary J. McCoy-Dressel

    Good luck with your launches, Sue.As writers we have to wear a tough skin to keep doing what we do. Like you said, it’s all in how we handle it. Rejections hurt. There’s no getting around it. I’ll be re-launching a couple ships this year. I hope they make it out and back again. From now on, I will look at my manuscripts as ships, too! Great post.

  • Rejection Letters | A Walk With Words

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  • Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson

    Thanks for such an encouraging and honest post. I’ve only sent stuff out four times. Had one positive, two negatives and one waiting… haven’t dared since. I have vowed to send more this year. Thank you

  • wightrabbit

    I have only ever received one rejection letter. This is because I’ve only ever sent one story out – but I have vowed to change that in 2012. Your post is what I needed to read today – so thanks for that!

  • Amy Keeley

    Fantastic post. It’s inspiring to know that you took the rejection hard (10 years hard) and still got up to try again. Some people would look at that time and say it’s been too long, why bother?

    Also, I laughed when I read how you described your early work. It was like reading a description of my own first efforts. Based on your progress, it sounds like you’ve improved. 😉

  • Susannah Bianchi

    Calling your submissions ships, quite wonderful.


  • bardessdmdenton

    Thanks for the tips and encouragement. Wishing you the best of sailing luck for 2012!

  • Linda Joyce

    Thanks for sharing your shipping story. I’m still working on my 2012 goals (and meaningful rewards) and am going to put a finite number down for that specific task. Keep us posted on your ships. 🙂

  • Marvin the Martian

    I think that’s a better ratio than the Allies had on shipping in the North Atlantic through the U-boat packs in 1942. Good job!

  • Mark

    20 out of 57 is incredible.

    I hate when I send out a story and never even get a rejection letter. Maybe now I can think of them as the Mary Celeste and feel a little better.

  • therhymeofyourlife

    Thank you for ticking my box!! Please accept my mutual box tick! Thank you also for the advice. Would you mind if I join the fleet?

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  • suzebell

    I love the image of ships being launched. It reminds me of a writer I love who rewards herself for a) stories written and b) submissions entered, and leaves the worry and stress of being selected for publication out of it. Lovely ideas!

  • PatrickOlila

    Very inspirational Sue – I’m glad you found the urge to keep your Titanic at float from sinking, or better yet the confidence to have it ship back on sail. 10 years sure is quite the vortex for re-consolidating with regrets; “better late than never, they say.” Cheers!

  • C Stuart Hardwick

    So true, Sue. I started much the same way, kept studying and working and seeking feedback, and this past December, I got the call that I’d won the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. It’s easy to be disheartened by rejection in this business, but ultimately, hard work and perseverence do pay off.

  • claidig

    I am dreading the day I start sending out my ‘ships’ (because I know I’m going to have to at some point this year), but I have a rehearsed reading at the coming Fringe, so maybe I’ll be less nervous at the end of it, ha!

    Curiosity: when you send your work away, are you sending to as many as you can find, or is a focused process? Feel free to not answer, I was just wondering 🙂

  • Pete Denton

    Great post on perseverance. Hopefully more ships will find their rightful home this year. Inspiring to keep trying. Rejection is just part of the dance. 🙂

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