Tag Archives: rejection

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!

 

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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!

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!

Five reasons you shouldn’t be afraid of (Literary) Rejection

kamikazeI think a lot of us let fear of rejection keep us from taking the risks necessary to move toward our goals. I am certainly no exception. This doesn’t only apply to literary endeavors, of course. And I still work on it in many areas of my life. But one area where I absolutely don’t sweat it anymore is literary rejection. If I want to get published, I need to submit. If I submit, I’m going to get rejections. It’s just the price of admission. And, fortunately, it’s not so bad. Here are a few things I’ve learned in the course of submission and rejection that help soften the blow. I hope they encourage you to get your writing out there:

1. It’s not personal. Some of the fear comes from the idea of receiving an ego-destroying comment in the dismissal. In reality, you probably won’t receive enough content for your ego to latch on to in any form. Here’s a rejection I just received, stripped of the identifying information:

Dear <X>,

Thank you for sending us your work. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us.

Thanks again. Best of luck with this.
Sincerely,

<Y>

Since being on the accepting/rejecting side of the equation as the Poetry co-editor with Mud Season Review, I’ve actually developed a lot of sympathy for this. For most of the places you’re submitting to, sheer volume doesn’t allow for personalized response. They won’t have time to get nasty!

2. You may not hear back at all. I’ve been keeping stats on my submissions since 2008. So far, I have not heard back on around 28% of my submissions. Some of these are from the last 12 months, so they’re probably still in the consideration pipeline. But many of them are years old. I figure they probably aren’t going to get back to me if they haven’t by now. It isn’t good form on the literary journal’s part, but it does happen. Once again, no ego-damaging blow. Although the eerie whistling void can be just as unnerving…

3. Because of #1 and #2, when you do get feedback, it’s usually good. In between the form responses and non-responses, when they do feel moved enough to respond, it’s probably because there’s something about your submission they responded positively to. I’ve come to really appreciate the “this is strong, but not quite there”, “it was a semi-finalist, and we encourage you to submit again”, and “it felt like aspect X could have been developed a little more”, Not quite as encouraging as an acceptance, but these kinds of responses do keep me going.

4. It’s tough for them too. More than once, I’ve gotten an e-mail, or (gasp!) a piece of real mail, that I thought was a rejection notice. Instead, it was a literary journal thanking me for my support and reporting that they, sadly, are folding up shop. Or even soliciting me for donations! There are some journals that are hot right now, and other marquee names that have been around for decades. But, more commonly, lit mags and journals are underfunded labors of love run by unpaid or lightly paid staff, doing this because they believe literature matters. Which is what you believe as a writer too. It can feel like we’re the plucky stowaways trying to sneak aboard their luxury liner. But it’s more often like we’re all in a leaky rowboat together.

5. You can do surprising things with semantics. I mean, come on, we’re writers, right? At a certain point, the “rejection” tally on my tracking sheet started to bum me out. Not the number of items under it, but the word “rejection” itself. So I changed it to “nonacceptance”, which felt a lot more value neutral. This has worked for a surprisingly long time, but it’s starting to lose some of its effectiveness. I may change it again soon. “They missed the boat on the greatest lightly published writer of his generation” is a little ponderous, but something like that. I’ll keep working on it.

How about you? What have you found that helps lighten rejection’s stinging blow?

Do you remember your first? Acceptance/Rejection, that is…

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One of my major sources of inspiration as I was retooling my blog and website was taking a workshop on social media for writers from writing and editing powerhouse and truly lovely person Angela Palm. She had a ton of ideas I incorporated, and along the way also suggested some possible blog post topics once the site was once again ready for weekly positing. One of her suggestions that particularly struck my fancy was collecting stories from my fellow writers about their first literary acceptances and first rejections. Because we’re all in this struggle together, and some perspective always helps!

Let’s start with the gory side. I always knew I should be a writer, but I lacked the confidence to really latch on to this dream and follow through. Still, it rattled inside me. Thus, my Junior year at Berkeley, even as a seemingly cut-and-dried Political Science major, I found myself taking a poetry writing seminar. Encouraged by the weekly feedback in the class, I ended up submitting a batch of poems to a campus literary magazine, whose name I can’t even recall. I do recall scanning the acceptance announcements (in those days a literal piece of paper tacked up on a bulletin board) when they were posted. My name, alas, wasn’t there. And I rallied by…not submitting anything else, anywhere, for the next 15 years. Sometimes a plant has roots too shallow to bloom.

The idea never fully left me, though. Through years of graduate school, diving in to the turbulent world of international business, going down in addiction and washing up in recovery, marriage and divorce, I continued to scratch out poems and stories in my journals from time to time. Finally, in 2003, freshly into post-marital separation, I came back to what I had always know. I started taking writing workshops again, going to readings, and writing regularly, no matter what. One of my delights in this early period of returning to writing was stumbling across the darkling wonderful true tales of the unseemly and strange that Loren Rhoads was publishing in her magazine Morbid Curiosity. These were the kinds of stories i wanted to hear about, and to tell. And so, in 2004, I submitted my true tale “Kissing Girls in the Dark” to her, which I was delighted to learn was accepted. It came out in 2005. Morbid Curiosity is now sadly defunct, but you can read the story here. You shouldn’t stop there, either- Loren has put out an excellent collection of some of the highlights from the magazine over the years, Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues, and has several fiction and nonfiction works of her own you should check out.

My subsequent record has faded a bit from my initial 100% acceptance rate. It also took me a few years to get sufficiently tooled up to be as disciplined about regular submission as I was about regular writing. But I’m glad I did, because that’s the price of admission. For every acceptance for publication, there’s a rejection. Or ten. Or a hundred. (In my case, about a 6%-7% acceptance rate over several hundred submissions, so far.) Which is why, in retrospect, I’ve come to really appreciate my first experience of each.

So that’s me. I’d love to hear your story!