There was a time when I took editorial rejection personally, allowing Dear Writer letters send me into a tailspin of despair. Having my work passed – even with praise – was so painful, that for a while I stopped submitting entirely – and delayed becoming published as a result.
Then, at a dinner party, I met a writer who had made it his goal to amass one hundred rejections in a single year. In the process, he placed eight stories.
By then, I was no longer writing short stories, but novels, and was seeking an agent. I researched likely matches, queried several at a time, received multiple requests for my manuscript, and eventually had two different agents interested in my work. Suddenly, I had a choice.
In hindsight, I can now see that in those early days of sending out short stories, I made three critical mistakes.
- I sent out too few submissions;
- I didn’t follow up on passes with personal notes;
- I took the rejections personally.
TOO FEW SUBMISSIONS
I sent my short stories to five journals total, rather than five journals at a time. Simultaneous submissions are nearly universally accepted these days, and there are many journals, both print and on-line, that accept them. But the truth is, many are inundated with submissions, and response time can be long. So it’s a good practice to identify up to a dozen or so journals that would be a good match for your work. It even helps to think of the editors as your audience. In fact, they are. Whatever you do to make their job easier increases your changes of having your work read.
Three simple ways to please a first reader include:
- Send only the kind of work their magazine asks for;
- Follow their submission guidelines exactly;
- Make sure your work is not only your best, but also properly formatted. (I’ve judged contests, and I can tell you: formatting matters).
Because editors are often inundated with submissions, because reading is subjective, and because journals may have specific needs, your submission might not make the cut this time. As soon as you hear from one magazine, send the story out to another. Have a list of suitable places for each story, and keep the story in circulation until either it places or you exhaust your initial list.
FOLLOW UP ON PERSONAL NOTES
Most of my stories were rejected with personal notes from editors who said something positive about my work. Rather than send them another story while my work was fresh in the editor’s mind, I wallowed in self-pity, which felt good at the time. But it’s really self-indulgent and counterproductive.
Especially at the beginning of the submission process, before you have any stories published, it’s good to think of sending out stories as a way of introducing yourself to the journals you’ve identified as a good fit for your voice. Consider submissions as a kind of networking, and when an editor responds, follow up with more work. Editors are human, and relationships matter.
DON’T TAKE REJECTIONS PERSONALLY
Reading is personal; selection for publication subjective. Just because a journal didn’t take your short story doesn’t mean it’s not any good; it really means it’s not right for that journal at that moment in time.
That said, if you strike out a dozen times with one story, read it again. Ask others to read it. And if you ask others for feedback, listen to what they have to say.
One of the hardest and most important skills to develop as a writer is listening to your readers’ responses without defending your work. But that’s the subject of another post.
Deborah Lee Luskin started submitting in the snail mail era, and amassed enough rejection slips to wallpaper a small house. Learn more at http://www.deborahleeluskin.com