Submitting work to publications, for many writers is frightening. I think the biggest fear is rejection. You put something out there that is from deep in your soul and then a stranger judges it not worthy. It is difficult to get past that, but to be successful writers we must.
I have some basic thoughts about the submission process that have been reinforced lately by a rejection that I received. I had submitted one of my most successful stories to a literary magazine. This particular story won an international prize, was published in a prestigious literary magazine in South Africa, and was recently included in an ESL short story collection published by Oxford University Press. Despite all of this, it got a rejection and the editor was kind enough to include the four editors’ comments (who were unanimous in their decision). According to them the story was “written too abstractly, without names or continuity of time”. Another editor found the relationships between the characters confusing. A third felt that the story was not complete in and of itself but rather a slice from a longer story. And one just flatly didn’t like it.
What I got from this is that everyone has an opinion and they are entitled to it. Sometimes the opinions are useful, sometimes not. But editors are people who know their magazine, know what they and their readers like, and that is what guides their decisions. What I mean by this is, an editor’s decision is nothing more and nothing less than his or hers educated decision taking into consideration their readers’ views. That’s all. It is not an indictment on your writing. And sometimes they are wrong.
I have some rules about submitting.
1. At no time should only one story be out in circulation.
When you submit one story and then sit and wait for the decision on it, you are setting yourself up for guaranteed craziness. I always have my stories out in the world. As I write this, I have 23 stories out to magazines and three out to contests. This is a buffer. So if I get a rejection today- I have so many others out there that I still have hope. In this way, rejections are not harmful. Submission is rejection medicine.
2. Stories should be constantly out there.
Why should you leave stories sitting in your computer? They should be continually out there trying to earn for you. I continually look through my stories seeing which have been resting for too long. There are so many markets. Duotrope is a fantastic resource for finding markets for your work. Keep your stories in circulation. Pay attention to guidelines and rights that they are buying.
3. If you know that your story is good, leave it alone.
I recently got another rejection for a new story, and again the editor was kind enough to send the readers’ comments. In this case, they were very useful and pointed out important places where my story needed work. I immediately edited the story and then sent it out to a different market. Your story might need a slightly different type of magazine. The nuances in magazines are myriad.
When I get a rejection, I read through the story. Tweak it if it needs it, but if I think it’s good and how I wanted- I send it out again. I have many stories that have been rejected, but have gone on to find good markets. You alone know what you want from your story. I admit guidance is important and most writing can always do with some edits, but if you know that your story is honest and true, let it alone and send it on its way. Don’t throw it to the side after one rejection; even after 20. Publishing fables abound of manuscripts rejected savagely and then going on to great success. Love your work and it will love you back. Leaving your stories in your computer to rot is doing no one a favour.
4. Editors are people with opinions.
That’s just it. Editors are people with opinions. Those opinions are guided by many factors. I recently finished a quite dated collection of Jeffery Archer short stories. I bet you that any story in that book sent out to any big name mag i.e. The New Yorker, if the name was withheld, would get a rejection straight away. It is not the writing style that is currently the flavour of the day. Fads and famousness play a role in publishing like everywhere else. I’m thinking of a certain wildly famous African writer. She is a good writer, but not always to the extent that she is adulated. She, by name only, will be grabbed up by all editors. The point I am making is that editors are just people. They have no magic eye. They choose stories based on preference. Don’t give them god-like powers they do not have, and likely would not like to have bestowed upon them.
So that’s it. My last words- send those stories out! I am proof to the fact that rejections, actually, do not kill you. There is a wonderful quote I have near my computer- “You’re only willing to succeed to the same degree you’re willing to fail” Wendell Meyers.
Let’s fail spectacularly- shall we??