Category Archives: writing

Let’s Get Rejected! (October Update)

crash

We’re back with the latest update on my quest to get 100 literary submission rejections this year! I got the idea from several friends who did the challenge last year. So far I’ve found it’s an amazingly effective way to reverse the emotional charge of the submission process by making rejection the target, AND ensuring that you hustle enough in your submission volume to get some positive momentum. So, what’s happened in the month since our Q3 update?

First, the bad news:

In a serious failure of rejection, my poem “Twelve Steps to the New Israel of the Beats” got honorable mention in the 2017 William Faulkner Literary Competition. I was even invited to go the awards ceremony in New Albany, Mississippi, which unfortunately turned out to be unworkable schedule-wise. In any case, it’s definitely an honor, even if it hurt my rejection stats.

I also had an alarming close-call with the UK-based journal all the sins, who informed me that a poem I’d submitted made it past their first round, but ultimately wasn’t selected.

Now, on the plus side:

Feverish spreadsheet calculations informed me going in that, in order to get 100 rejections in the year, I’d need to do 143 submissions. So far I’m at 100, leaving me with 43 to go in the next two months and five days. That’s brisk, but achievable. And my rejection total so far is 58, leaving 42 to go. That would be a rejection every 1.57 days for the remainder of the year. I don’t know if I can make it, but I’ll do my best!

We’ll check in again toward the end of November…

 

 

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Let’s Get Rejected! (Q3 update)

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You may recall from my January post on this that one of the goals I’ve set for the year is to get 100 literary rejections. This was inspired by several friends who did it last year, and is a fiendishly clever mechanism for standing the usual submission dynamic on its head: Acceptances? Who needs ’em! I’m chasing rejections, and I’ll submit in whatever volume is necessary to get them!

In addition to being distracted by the fight against the forces of darkness for most of the year to date, I haven’t posted a lot on this due to some computer issues that prevented me from having all the stats I needed in one place for easy tracking. But that’s not your problem, and anyway, it’s all sorted out now. So, now that I have all the data together, how am I doing?

In terms of volume, I calculated going in that I’ll need to make 143 submissions in the year in order to get the desired 100 rejections. As of this weekend, I’m at 89 submissions. So that leaves 54 for about 3 1/2 months left, which is a quite doable 15 per month. On target!

That being said, there have been the following troubling failures:

Well, you can’t lose them all. I also had a few frightening near misses:

  • I got to the finalist round of the Poetry Matters Project’s Spring Robinson/Mahogany Red Lit Prize. But was not chosen. Whew!
  • Stirling Robyns Publishing didn’t chose my chapbook Visions: Fear & Hope / Humorous & Uncanny, but did have some very nice things to say about it, as well as suggestions about other places to try.
  • Although Muse / A Journal passed on my essay “Smells Like Middle-aged Reverie”, they sent a personal note to say they enjoyed it and to encourage me to submit again. I had similar experiences last year with this essay- people love to almost publish it!

The good news is, despite these acceptances and almost-acceptances, I’ve had plenty of rejections! 44, to be precise. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, that leaves me with a  pretty aggressive target of 16 rejections a month average for the next 3 1/2 months to hit 100. Still, I’m not one to quit.

I’ll update you again in late October about how my experiment in success with failure is going!

 

 

 

Let’s Get Rejected!

Forgive me, dear readers, for my lack of communication of late.

My goal for 2016 had been to do a post a week on average, with an awareness that I would certainly slip from that target. I ended up at 25, which is solidly every-other-week in some parts of the world. Hey, not bad!

As of this moment, I haven’t written any posts since early November. You can cite all the usual suspects- distracted by grief, and then rage, at the political boondoggle my country has embarked upon, the standard holiday swirl and subsequent recovery from it, a hideous confluence of project deadlines at work, a family issue- but the point is, I’m back. And rarin’ to go!

More specifically, I’ve decided that one of my goals for the year is to get 100 literary rejections. This idea has been floating around for some years, and is based on a simple premise: if your aim is to collect a mass of rejections, to get there you’re going to have to submit a lot. And if you’re submitting in that volume, you’re much more likely to get some successes along the way. It’s also a fun way to reverse the polarity, making the “no” the goal rather than a dreaded rebuff.

You can read some interesting recaps of other’s experience with it here and here.  For me personally, I was most immediately inspired by following the exploits of my friend (and coincidentally also the person who gave me my first publication) Loren Rhoads as she did it over the last year. In terms of logistics, I think it will have to look like this:

  • My submission stats from 2008-2016 indicate that I get some kind of response 75% of the time. This suggests that I’ll have to do 134 submissions (134 x 75%=100.5).
  • But wait! Sometimes, quite by accident, I get published! So far, an average of 6% of my total submissions over 2008-2016 have been accepted. So, really, I’ll need 143 submissions in order to get those 100 rejections. (134 x 1.06=142.04, and I’m a  “round-upper”)
  •  Around 3 submissions a week ought to get us there. My highest rate so far was in 2015, when I did 44  short fiction/nonfiction/poetry submissions, 7 novel draft submissions, and 7 poetry collection submissions. That’s 58 total, or a little more than one a week on average.
  • I’m going to have to step up my game! Ulp.

So there’s the challenge. I’ll be sharing my experience of it with you all along the way!

 

8 from 8: Things I’ve learned in eight years of submissions

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In mid-2008 I decided to get organized around what had until then been sporadic literary submissions. A color-coded Excel spreadsheet was born (of course). Over the years it grew to multiple tabs, and the 2008 tab tells me my first submission tracked there was June 26th, 2008. Since today is June 28, 2016, cursory mathematics indicates that I have been at this for eight years!

I aim for a submission a week. I’ve hit something like 70% of that target, racking up 297 total submissions. My stats (so far) are:

stats

Besides getting published, and having lots of fun with Excel along the way, I’ve learned some things. Here, for your perusal, are eight lessons I’ve learned in eight years of doing literary submission:

  1. There’s a lot of research involved. Not all journals are created equal- Some publish only a fraction of a percent of what they receive, and may not be worth your time, especially if you’re just starting out. Some have a reputation for being dynamic, others conservative and stodgy. Some have particular preferences for style & genre, or focus on a particular gender, geography, ethnicity, or subject. I needed to learn to pay attention to all of this in order to increase my odds.
  2. The process has its own rewards. There are many ways to go about this research. Duotrope can help. So can New Pages. Pay attention to where your writer friends are submitting. (If you don’t have writer friends, get some! Writing is a solo activity, which makes community even more invaluable.) When you see a bio of a newer writer you like, look at where they’re publishing. Flip through journals to see what you like. Subscribe to some, or read their online selections. After I’d done this kind of research a while, I started to see connections between my writing, others’, and the publishing world. Ideas about where to submit, and even what to write, bloomed.
  3. A rejection with content is worth its weight in gold. I’ve written about this before, but rejection is not the enemy. Form rejection, with absolutely no clue a human being actually read it, is. The vast majority of rejections I’ve received have been via form letters/e-mails. The rejections that mention something they liked or didn’t like, and maybe even have a suggestion or two, are totally welcome to me now. Both for their rarity, and the fact that they give me something I can use to improve.         
  4. You may never hear back from some places. If you look at my stats above, you’ll see that around 25% of my submissions are still pending. Some have been pending for years. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, for example, the 25 submissions I still have pending from 2008-2010 probably aren’t going to get published. Some journals will tell you up front that they do not promise a response. Some don’t, and you won’t hear anything except the eerie whistling wind echoing through the dusty, abandoned caverns of the Internet…                                                                               
  5. Being asked to send something else doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get published. This one was a surprise to me. But, in fact, when I submitted something new to places that had passed on something earlier but said they liked it and wanted to see more, they more often than not didn’t publish my new submission. After editing at Mud Season Review, I have some sympathy for this. Whatever the intangible “it” was about the almost accepted piece, the next thing they send often doesn’t have it. Maybe the lesson for publishers is to take the first thing?                
  6. Having something accepted doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get published.
    This was even more surprising to me. But, things happen. Editors leave. Editorial schedules and directions change. Journals run out of funding for the planned issue. Or journals run out of funding, period. Which brings us to..
  7. If you keep at it, you’ll outlast some of them. More than once, I’ve had the experience of getting an e-mail (or even, in prior years, a letter) that turned out not to be an acceptance or a rejection. Instead, it was a journal announcing, regretfully, that they were hanging it up for one reason or another. It turns out it’s a tough gig for everyone, publishers and writers!                                                            
  8. It’s totally worth it. Somewhere in the midst of the vale of research, rejection, missing communications, vanished journals, etc., a real live publication happens. Then another. Eventually, you have an actual body of Published. Work. It’s not only gratifying to see yourself in print, it leads to connections with readers and writers that can be inspiring and rewarding. You have to submit to get there. It’s worth it!                   

So there are eight things I’ve learned in eight years. How about you? I’d love to hear from you about what you’ve learned from the submission process!

Writing 2015, by the numbers

all-in-the-numbers

Happy New Year everyone! In the grand tradition of one year ago, I’m taking advantage of this time of transition to look back at my writing stats for 2015, and set some goals for 2016.

Writing Hours: My goal is to eventually get to the equivalent of one hour per workday, i.e. five hours a week, or 260 total hours for the year. It’s pretty challenging with full-time work, full-time relationship, new house with lots of things that need to be done, etc., but I still figure you get further with a goal you fall short on than with no goal at all. For 2014, I ended up with 65.75 hours, an average of 1.26 hours per week. So how’d I do in 2015? My records (maintained, of course, in Excel) show that I logged 70 hours. I am duty bound to report that 70 does not equal 260. But, hey, it was an increase! A 6.5% increase, to be exact. So even if I fall short of 260 in 2016 (very likely), this gives me something to beat!

Weekly submissions: I aim for a submission each week of poetry, fiction or nonfiction, which would come to 52 submissions a year. Of course, life intervenes, and some years it intervened quite badly. 2014 was my submitingest year ever, with 43 weekly submissions. No longer a record! In 2015 I did 44. Stats on the leader board at this moment in time are as follows:

statsWe’ll see how those “pending” submissions turn out. And of course, having done this, I now aim to get at least 45 submissions out in 2016!

Novel/Poetry Collection submissions: I try to get my unpublished novel Out in the Neon Night, and my poetry collection Pushing 40, out to contests and independent publishers once a month. Life, well, you know life… So, not quite 12 each this year, but I did submit the novel 7 times and the poetry collection 7 times. Several of those submissions are still pending, so I’ll keep you posted. In the mean time, you can read a chapter from the novel here, and several of the poems from the collection have been published over the last few years, and can be found at the Poetry section on this website.

As you may have detected above, I sometimes get frustrated by the limited time I have available for writing. Maybe you have a similar problem. It helps me (and maybe might help you too, who knows!) to remind myself what I have been able to do with those 70 hours:

  • Launch this website!
  • Get back into regular (semi-)weekly blogging through the website.
  • Complete the penultimate draft of my full-length screenplay, and start on the (please let it be so) final draft.
  • Produce a passel of new poems, and complete revisions on several in-process ones.
  • Brought a short story that I haven’t worked on for several years to workshop, and used the comments to start a revision on it.

My goals for 2016? How about:

  1. Finish that screenplay BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY and start sending it out into the world.
  2. Use the block of time that frees up to finish a first draft of a novel-in-process.
  3. Complete the short story revision mentioned above.
  4. Finish a new short story I’ve been working on.
  5. Use darkly bright and sparkly poet Kim Addonizio’s book Ordinary Genius to spur some new poetry.

So that’s my 2015 by the numbers, and some of my goals for the coming year. Tell me about yours!

Missed it by that much!

maxwell-smart-missed-it-by-that-much

Don’t get me wrong, I really like “acceptance” acceptances. But I’ve come to develop quite an appreciation for the “near miss” rejections as well. This is a species with which you may be familiar, wherein the publisher tells you that you didn’t make it, but were a semi-finalist, they were strongly impressed, etc. Often accompanied by the optional encouragement to submit again.

My latest brush with near-greatness was a few days ago, when the Editor of New Millennium Writings wrote to tell me that my short story “small disasters” was a semi-finalist for their annual fiction award.

Early on in my submission life, I sometimes found these “near misses” to be bitterly disappointing. But these days I actually find them to be tremendously encouraging. I think of them as being what the design people call a “proof of concept”- even if this particular prototype didn’t get off the ground, it’s a demonstration that you’re on the right track. Maybe the next thing I submit will make it, or this same thing, but with another publisher…

The other thing that this kind of rejection can also show you is where your trend is. As a data analyst in my non-writing life, I have a healthy respect for general trend over specific data point. That is, in general, if you’re getting a steady stream of these kinds of responses, it’s a good sign for where your trend is headed. So how’s my trend? In addition to the notice from New Millennium Writings, over the past twelve months, I have:

  • Had Big Truths let me know that my personal essay “Smells Like Middle-aged Reverie” was strongly considered for their Music Anthology.
  • Heard from Synaesthesia Magazine that, while they didn’t accept my short story “Somebody would have to clean this shit up” for a themed issue, they felt it was very strong and encouraged me to submit again.
  • Been told by Sundog Lit that while they didn’t feel my story “A Weird Ending That Begins Again” was right for them, they found it to be entertaining and well-written, and would like to see more of my work.
  • Learned from Latchkey Tales that my story “The Peculiar Mental Twist Already Acquired” made their short list.
  • Received encouraging feedback from PopMatters on “Smells Like Middle-aged Reverie”, saying that while it was a little too personal for them, it worked and could be good for another publisher.

Submission can be a long, grueling, lonely trek through a low-feedback wilderness. These kinds of notices really help provide fuel for the journey. So thank you to all the publishers mentioned above, and much love and encouragement to my fellow writers to keep going!

What are you working on?

working

I try to hold a few blocks in my weekly schedule sacrosanct for writing. Between work, home life, and Mud Season Review editorial duties, it can be tough. Sometimes it ends up less sacro and more sanct. But it gives me some regularity, and a steadyish stream of writing throughput. So what am I working on with this time?

  • Blogging– My target is to post something once a week, and keep it to 500 words or so. I try to set aside Monday lunches for this, though, practically speaking, it can slip to some other weekday lunch as scheduling requires. This is going out on a Wednesday, for example. In any case, it’s going pretty well. You’re reading it now, aren’t you?
  • Poetry– Pervasively, there is something poetry-related I can be working on at any given time, so I reserve one lunch hour a week for this. At this given time, I have a handful of new poems from the last year that I’m working on revising, and a new poem that I accidentally wrote last week which I have to transcribe from my journal to a typed version. Most of my poetry is kind of accidental bolt-from-the-blue initially, and usually comes out longhand in first draft.
  •  Full-length Screenplay– The damned thing is untitled. I’ve been working on the damned thing for years. I currently have a block of a few evening hours a week I set aside for it. The good news is, there’s light at the end of the tunnel- I’m probably not going to make my target of getting to final draft by end of year, but early next is eminently achievable. I really love the damned thing, but it will be good to have it done. Then it can start going out to make its way in the world, and I can work on an unfinished novel and a short story idea or two that is rattling around.
  • The Unknown– These are my current projects. I have half-baked glimmers of inspiration on an ongoing basis, though. Most don’t pass the threshold to “I actually want to work on that.” But sometimes, without warning, something- an idea for a personal essay idea, a sestina, a short story, etc. will appear and say “You WILL work on me NOW!” I plead in vain about all the regularly-scheduled projects and the time they require, but there’s no reasoning with my Muse when she’s in that mood. So you never know what could be on the list next week…

How about you, fellow writers? I’d love to hear what you’re working on!