Tag Archives: writing

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

eight

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!

Let’s talk about someone else for a change…

Rottenecards_1149199_kkdt69n3n5Well, my goal of updating my blog once a week is off track, I could talk about reasons-work, vacation, blah, blah, blah. But the best way to get back is just to do it! I could also talk about something I’ve been up to creatively, my latest thoughts on writing, publishing, etc. But one of the things I really like about living in this area of Vermont is that there’s such a strong writing community here. And several members of that community have had some neat news recently, so I’d rather talk about that!

Andrew Liptak is the dynamo behind Geek Mountain State, a promoter of creative geekery in Vermont in all its forms, and the weekend editor at io9. He recently shared on his blog about how he is leaving his day job to focus more on his various pursuits, and maybe start a new thing or two. I’m always excited when any of us can pull this trick off, doubly so since he’s a friend , and makes such wonderful things in the world. Well done Andrew!

Angela Palm is one of the first writer-folk I met when I moved here, courtesy of her own dynamo-like involvement with multiple local presses and writing organizations. Her memoir Riverine is coming out early next year from Graywolf Press as a result of her winning their nonfiction prize. And she recently had an excellent essay published at Parent.co about the challenges of balancing work, kids, and marriage with really launching her writing career. I appreciate how she’s unblinking and honest about the impossibility of doing it all, and the cost of making decisions about the trade-offs involved. It’s sobering, and yet at the same time really inspiring. If you’re struggling with any of these issues yourself, you might want to check her essay out!

Michelle Watters is one the poetry editors I work with on Mud Season Review, and also a creator of some beautifully darkling poetry that I adore. I’ve been totally inspired by how much energy she’s poured into getting her poetry published over the last year, and the honesty with which she shares her ups and down around it. On her blog she recently talked about her bitter disappointment when she didn’t win a Poetry manuscript contest she had high hopes for. And then just a day or too later had some poems accepted for publication, and talked about how that turned her mood around. And also noticed that white butterflies seems to have something to do with literary acceptances…

The thing about being a writer is, it’s hard work. Not just the writing itself, and the emotions around that, but the constant ups and downs of the work it takes to put your stuff out there in the world. Hearing about successes (and struggles) from some of the others who are strapped in to the roller coaster of the creative life with me totally keeps me going. So thanks guys!

A Few Thoughts on Literary Masquerade…

masquerade

This isn’t what I’d planned on writing about this week, but sometimes current events overtake us!

If you’re a submitting writer (especially if you’re a submitting poet) you’ve probably heard about the recent literary kerfluffle wherein the very white Michael Derrick Hudson got a poem published in Best American Poetry using his literary pseudonym, Yi-Fen Chou. Quote Mr. Hudson: “As a strategy for ‘placing’ poems this has been quite successful … The poem in question … was rejected under my real name forty times before I sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou (I keep detailed records). As Yi-Fen the poem was rejected nine times before Prairie Schooner took it. If indeed this is one of the best American poems of 2015, it took quite a bit of effort to get it into print, but I’m nothing if not persistent.”

The Atlantic has a thoughtful musing on this whole situation here, including the viewpoint of Sherman Alexie, the guest editor of the anthology who decided to leave it in even after discovering the subterfuge. Therein, he talks about his own bias. This has kicked off a lively online dialogue among the current and past poetry editors of The Mud Season Review. This has taken part in a series on online postings, but I wanted to collect a few of my thoughts from that dialogue here.

First off, a truly blind submission process obviously eliminates this, beyond what might be gleaned, correctly or not, from the content of the poems themselves. For MSR, I pointedly do not read the bio, or any of the other reviewer’s comments, before doing my first read, precisely because I don’t want to be swayed by anything beyond the poem itself. The one thing I can’t help but see in Submittable, though, is the poet’s name.

And honestly, if the name indicates that the writer is a woman, or a person of color, sometimes my “ears” do perk up. I am more sympathetic to/interested in seeing what may be coming from an underrepresented viewpoint, not to mention a viewpoint different than my own. When the push comes to the shove of final selection, I don’t think this interest overcomes quality standards. And I won’t ever say I think a poem is good that I don’t really think is good, no matter what outside consideration. But it definitely can make me a little more open on a first read.

Interestingly, as far as the “nepotism” theory goes, this makes me more of an anti-nespot. But that’s a bias in itself. Despite being a straightish middle-class culturally Christian white man, my whole life I’ve felt more comfortable around, and in sympathy with, people who are on the contra side of many of those identities. We could go into the psychology and personal history of that, but, like I said, it’s there, and it’s a bias.

Now for true confession: I also have some understanding for the poet who did this! In despairing moments, I have sometimes thought, “Getting publisher’s attention would be easier if I were telling these stories as____.” Different things pop in to the ____ depending on the moment: an immigrant, a woman, a gay person, etc. However, I recognize that as a “despairing moment” thought, and am rather suspicious of its accuracy, given all the many, many ways I benefit from my class, my race, my sexuality and my gender.

Despite my understanding of motive, I don’t care for this kind of personal misrepresentation when anybody does it. Think James Frey (passing off fiction as memoir), JT Leroy (not an actual person with an actual biography), Vanilla Ice (never heard shells dropping and got out of there fast), etc. On the other hand, it wasn’t unheard of for female authors to create male pseudonyms in the 20th century to break through the power structure. And I feel much more okay with that. I think this must have something to do with power relations between who’s doing it, and what structure they’re doing it in. Mr. Hudson is not on the side of the angels in this regard.

Meanwhile, in one of the better responses I’ve seen, my friend (and fantastic writer) Caille Millner Twitter-posted a link to the Poetry Foundation’s overview of actual Asian American poets. It’s a great list, which further delighted me by including one of my favorite contemporary poets, Aimee Nezhukumatathil. She’s gotten in to the Twitter scrum on this story herself:

Aimee

That’s a fitting last word here. But I am interested in hearing your thoughts!