It took me a long, long time to get my first story published. I spent a semester during my MFA program writing and editing the first draft. Then I probably tweaked it for another month or two. Then I spent a year and a half sending it out to 21 different journals. It got rejected by 17 of them, and then was accepted by two different places right around the same time. (The remaining journals I wrote to and rescinded the submission.)
So when I came across this article in Writers' Digest on getting out of the slush pile, I thought I would write a post listing a few of the minor things I did in between the time I first sent the story out, and when it finally got picked up. I think these little tweaks made a world of difference.
(Note: I read about the WD article on the Practicing Writing Blog)
1- When I got the first five rejections or so, I sent the story to some writer friends who kindly gave me feedback. They all agreed that it was ready to be submitted--but two of them questioned one particular part of the story.
That sent a red flag to me that something wasn't working in that area. I revised it.
2- After rejection 10 or so, I printed out the story and read it over from start to finish--something I hadn't done in months at that point. I found a few typos (egads!) and reworked a few parts that seemed clunky.
3- Around that time, I reworked the red-flagged area from item #1 yet again.
4- Right before I sent out this last batch of submissions, I tweaked the opening in a way that I think made a big difference.
The opening line went from:
On her first day in Paris, Chloe buys six postcards.
On her first day in Paris, Chloe writes a postcard to her dead husband.
The latter is much more engaging, no? It leaves you wondering, What happened to Chloe's husband? Is she crazy? The former might leave you wondering, Who cares?
* Work on your story until you really truly believe it is done.
* Have friends read it and comment on it (other writers are great for this, but I also have non-writer friends read my stuff and their comments are often just as helpful)
* If your story gets rejected a number of times, take a look at it with fresh eyes and see if there are parts where your interest flags, where the writing seems clunky, that could be cut, or that need clarification. Pay particular attention to the beginning, since that's what the editor will see first.
* Don't give up hope!