Today, I was rejected.
I finally heard back from one of the publications I had submitted a piece to on a whim. Now, having said that, that does not mean that I did not care for the piece as much as any others, or that I did not sit and deliberate for a while–considering pieces previously submitted to this publication–before pressing the “submit” button. But it was on a whim, still. And having heard back from them now, i can cross that piece off of my list of pieces I’m waiting to hear back about.
Instead of being upset, I found myself feeling more resolved. I even created a rule/category in my email specifically for rejection notices. Praise and acceptance is important, but I want to remember all of the rejections. I want to be able to review the pieces and understand where they might have failed to meet the needs of the publication they are submitted to. I want to always improve.
Just as I remember fondly any failed or successful internships, conferences and editorial positions I’ve held and attended, I want to know that as an adult writer trying to officially “put myself out there,” that I’m always in the right mind-space for rejection as much as acceptance. Rejection is unavoidable.
One of the best points that Rachael Warecki makes is about what to submit to publications:
“Here’s the rub, though: at the most basic level, if you want to be published without ‘cheating,’ you need to be selective about what you send. Three years later, I’m still proud of ‘The Rites of Summer,’ as I am of every story I’ve published, but I’ve also written stories that I’ve stopped submitting for now because I know they’re not yet strong enough for the markets in which I want to be published.”
Which is true. You have to be sure that what you’re submitting is something you would be proud to submit–even in the face of rejection. Editors can tell unfinished work same as you can as the writer.
That doesn’t mean all rejection is in lieu of a rushed product. Sometimes work just doesn’t fit the feel and style that editors are looking for in their publications; and it’s their right to choose what that is, just as it is your privilege to submit to them and graciously accept their final answer. No writer is invincible to rejection, but every writer should be at least proud to look back at their work–rejected or accepted–and say that they did a good job.
Probably Warecki’s best advice is found at the end:
“The world of literary journals and publications can seem exclusive, insular, and elitist, and that reputation is in many ways deserved. But it’s not a completely impermeable membrane, and you don’t have to cheat to make inroads.”
Warecki is also sure to point out that building relationships with writers is not only good for networking but healthy as a creator. You want to be involved and exposed to as much material as you can be, and you want to know when opportunities are out there ready to be taken.
I think what is most problematic, from the beginning of Ross’ piece on cheating to get published, is the beginning, “[…] I keep no ‘detailed records’ of my literary submissions. I prefer to focus on the successes, few and insubstantial as those may be.” It’s almost a negation of the very idea that knowing who you are and where you have been as a writer has no impact on future successes or growth–which is obviously false when it comes to any aspect of life, not just writing. Ross still humbly admits that his successes in writing aren’t grandeur–at least not on his scale of literary worth–but he is dismissing the journey to earning a spot in the literary world.
Ross does go on to say, “I determined never again to follow the submission guidelines of any publication” after his first big hook in submitting a piece outside of fiction. Honestly, this isn’t a bad idea when it comes to certain publications, but it’s the slant I hold to in that that is why I think Warecki’s advice to play by the rules is more spot-on. There are the chances that you have written something that the publication wasn’t expecting to find or like, based off of their guidelines for submissions, but that doesn’t mean that it will happen every time. If you can’t read through the guidelines of a publication and feel the assertive sincerity of the editors’ wishes written in those rules, then you may not be looking at publications in the way you should.
Choosing a place to submit your writing is more than just throwing names into a hat. It takes critical thinking and an understanding of what the publication wants. It takes listening to the editors and not just tossing aside what they say or skimming the rules for any keywords that do/don’t apply to you and your work. It’s also about recognizing that there are thousands of submissions looked at each day by editors, so you’re not at the top of their priority list. And that’s okay. Be humble. Don’t be a hubristic writer only in it for the awards. Do it for the gains of the art and your own personal growth.
The point is: Take risks, but be mindful of the quality of your work and the guidelines set by publications. Don’t try to cheat your way to the top. Build relationships, work hard on your pieces–edit more than just once–be sure you’re mindful of where you’re submitting and what you’re submitting, but don’t be afraid to take leaps of faith in submissions and go outside of your comfort zone. You can still be respectful to editors as a writer while doing so.
Publishing is a tough job, on both ends of the business. But it is a business with a model for a reason. It’s okay to play by the rules. It won’t make you uncool.
Ross and Warecki have both done something incredible with their pieces, and that’s to open up a conversation about the process on both ends. For that, I’m grateful. And I can’t wait for my next rejection or acceptance letter–let them come as they may.